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India’s national capital, Delhi, elects first trans city councilperson

The trans community faced discrimination for centuries but after Parliament passed a 2019 law things are changing



Bobby Kinner (Photo courtesy of Bobby Kinner)

DELHI, India – The Indian Supreme Court in 2014 issued a landmark ruling that recognized transgender people as a third gender, and not as a medical or social issue but a human rights issue. This decision paved the way for legislation — the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act — that came in 2019.

The law prohibits discrimination against trans people in education, health, employment and access to services. And India’s national capital, Delhi, at the end of 2022 elected its first trans city councilperson.

On Dec. 7, when the country woke up to watch the results of a high stakes election in Delhi in which the incumbent government, Bhartiya Janta Party, after ruling for 15 years, was in a tight race with the Aam Aadmi Party. The AAP’s Bobby Kinner, a trans woman, won in Sultanpuri-A ward, defeating BJP’s Ekta Jatav and the Indian National Congress’s Varuna Dhaka.

While talking with the Washington Blade, Kinner said that before joining politics, she was running a non-governmental organization that helped women in Delhi who faced abuse from their in-laws and poor widows. Kinner also said she made all the arrangements with her own money for the weddings of about 100 poor girls in Delhi. 

Kinner distributes rice and other food supplies to poor women and men in her area every month.

While recollecting memories from her old work, she said she used to bless people with the birth of babies, marriages and opening ceremonies of shops, and in return, people paid her money. But she said that she used all those money for the social welfare of the poor.

Trans women in India for centuries have lived under extreme poverty and social isolation. 

Trans women locally are called ‘kinner’ and they often dance and sing songs at weddings, birth and other auspicious ceremonies. They bless people, and people, in return, pay money. The trans community has faced discrimination for centuries in the country and is considered to be marginalized. But after Parliament passed the 2019 law, things are changing for the community.

Kinner said she has always participated in social work. Remembering 2011, when the Indian National Congress was ruling the country and was facing corruption charges and a massive anti-corruption campaign led by Anna Hazare, Kinner said that she also participated in that campaign. When the campaign ended current, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal formed his political party: The AAP. 

Kinner later joined AAP.

She said she was already doing social work for the poor without any outside donations. So, if she gets political power, she can impact many marginalized people with positive change.

“I have faced many problems to reach where I am at today,” Kinner told the Blade. “I do not think that heterosexual people face such problems as I have faced. People have taunted me. I have cried many times. People have told me that you are a ‘kinner’ (trans woman.) How can you serve the people? People have told me that your only work is to sing and dance at weddings and the birth of a newborn.”

She did not give up, even after she faced so much discrimination and taunting from the largely conservative society. She accepted the challenge and fought against powerful and experienced politicians.

“Is it necessary that if I am a ‘kinner,’ I cannot do what others can?” said Kinner with pain in her voice. “There should be a sense of serving people and those who need. If someone has these things, anyone can become a politician.”

Kinner said she has received threats from local politicians after her election. She said the local male politicians feel jealous as to how can a trans woman defeat a man. She said local leaders are jealous, and someone even tried to kill her by shooting at her home when she was inside.

Kinner said she is grateful to Kejriwal for the opportunity to fight the election. She wants to work extensively as a counselor in her area and help her people.

“I thank the honorable Supreme Court of India for the opportunity that I got today because of the ruling in favor of LGBTQ community,” said Kinner.” I wish every member of LGBTQ community work for the society.”

Ankush Kumar is a freelance reporter who has covered many stories for Washington and Los Angeles Blades from Iran, India and Singapore. He recently reported for the Daily Beast. He can be reached at [email protected] He is on Twitter at @mohitkopinion



India’s Odisha state launches program to empower Transgender people

Upwards of 300 trans people have received jobs through Sweekruti



View over Ananta Basudeva Temple by Bindu Sagara Lake in Bhubaneswar, India, on Feb. 4, 2020. (Photo by Arvid Norberg/Bigstock)

BHUBANESWAR, India — Despite being celebrated as iconic characters in ancient texts; dancing at a wedding for someone else; clapping and dancing while blessing a newborn baby at any home; Transgender Indians are still ostracized and not able to get a job, get married or live a decent life. 

Such was the consequence of 200 years of British colonial suppression in India, but things are changing for Trans people in India. Several states began to introduce measures to help the Trans community after the Indian Supreme Court‘s 2014 ruling that recognized a Trans person as a “third gender,” and the passage of the Transgender Person (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019 in the Indian Parliament. Odisha, a state in eastern India, is working to make Trans people part of mainstream society through its Sweekruti “acceptance” program.

The program provides critical health care, scholarships, counseling, legal aid, a certificate and skill training. According to a recent report, about 300 Trans people have received jobs through Sweekruti.

“It will help create an ecosystem of equal opportunities, social justice, protection of Transgender rights and full participation in society. It is opening various avenues of employment and self-employment for the community,” said Anushree Dash, a social reformer and human rights activist who founded the website ADiBha She Vision. “(The) focus is mostly on skill development and low paying jobs instead of higher education and high paying (so-called respectable) jobs. There is no Trans inclusion in social sector and government sector jobs. The government’s research and scheme need to be applauded, but it needs more and more public participation. I believe there is a scope for strengthening the existing implementation machinery.”

The 2011 Census notes there are 20,322 Trans people in Odisha, but 14.5 percent of respondents who participated in an online survey the state’s Social Security and Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities Department conducted in 2017 reported no income and were living in poverty.

The Odisha government in 2020 tried to improve the social and economic conditions of the trans community by introducing a monthly pension program for elderly and differently-abled Trans people, but the Sweekruti program has been hailed as a successful initiative because it directly provides low-paying jobs to Trans people and helps Trans youth gain acceptance.

“First of all, I want to appreciate our chief minister, Naveen Patnaik, because he designed this project to empower the Transgender community. This scheme mainstreams the Transgender community by providing skills and jobs. So, this is a very good initiative,” said Meera Parida, a Trans woman who is a State Advisor for Urban and Housing Development under the MUKTA (Mukhyamantri Karma Tatpara Abhiyan Yojana) program. “On many areas under the scheme, the work is already underway. Although it is not sufficient that it can provide everything, it is a good project for any Transgender woman or man thinking about startups or wanting to get skills so they can improve their life.”

While talking with the Washington Blade, Parida said the Trans community started to feel respect after the 2014 Supreme Court ruling and the passage of the 2019 law. She said it is more about dignity.

“People and government have started to talk about us and started to respect and include us in different government schemes,” said Parida. “It recognizes our presence.”

The Odisha High Court in May 2022 ordered the state government to release the family pension of a dead government employee to a Trans person who was dependent on a pensioner. The Odisha government amended the pension rules nine months later. According to the new rule, a single Trans child of a government employee or pensioner who died on or after Jan. 10, 2020, will be treated as an unmarried daughter for the family pension.

“Sweekruti is a good initiative, and works well in Odisha, but sometimes it is not as efficient as it should be. So, the government should fix the issue,” said Ashisha Behera, a Trans activist who works with the Center for Advocacy and Research. “The initiative requires identification which is important, and it’s happening also, but sometimes the beneficiary belongs to a rural background, and many of them do not have idea about Sweekruti scheme, so government should spread awareness about it.”

While talking with the Blade, Biswa Bhusan Pattanayak, assistant director of the Bhubaneswar office of SAATHII, an LGBTQ+ and intersex rights group, said that one of the key components of the Sweekruti program is to facilitate access to social protection, livelihood and mainstream measures. This has been instrumental in addressing the livelihood needs of some Trans people. Pattanayak, however, said mainstreaming initiatives need much larger efforts, in terms of expanding the scale and reach of livelihood initiatives.

Pattanayak added the government also simultaneously needs to address the root causes, such as discrimination and exclusion, that lead to Trans and gender non-conforming children dropping out of educational institutions and being deprived of mainstream employment.

“The formulation of schemes is not enough. We need to see the issues around transgender persons from a development perspective,” said Pattanayak. “The development approach to the Transgender community needs to converge initiatives and stakeholders from all sectors. We need to stop seeing Transgender persons as just beneficiaries of governmental largesse; rather; recognize them as equal stakeholders in development actions.”

Ankush Kumar is a freelance reporter who has covered many stories for Washington and Los Angeles Blades from Iran, India and Singapore. He recently reported for the Daily Beast. He can be reached at [email protected] He is on Twitter at @mohitkopinion

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LGBTQ+, intersex activists in India prepare for marriage equality ruling

Country’s Supreme Court has agreed to hear multiple cases



The Indian flag (Photo by Rahul Sapra via Bigstock)

NEW DELHI — The world’s largest democracy is preparing to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples through the Indian Supreme Court.

The highest court of the land on Jan. 6 transferred to itself all marriage equality petitions that had been pending before other courts. 

Two same-sex couples on Nov. 14, 2022, filed a petition before the Supreme Court seeking legal recognition of same-sex marriages. The first petitioners are Supriyo Chakraborty and Abhay Dang, while the second couple is Parth Phiroze Merhotra and Uday Raj Anand. 

The petitioners argued before the Supreme Court that marriage only between “male” and “female” discriminates against same-sex couples by denying them adoption, employment, retirement and other benefits. The petitioners have requested the law be declared unconstitutional.

Justices D. Y. Chandrachud and Hima Kohli after they heard the petitioners ordered the federal government to respond to their petition. Lawyers on Jan. 3 asked the Supreme Court to transfer two similar cases from the Delhi and Kerala High Courts. The Supreme Court agreed to the request and transferred nine marriage equality cases to its jurisdiction.

The Supreme Court in 2018 struck down the colonial-era law that criminalized homosexuality. 

While delivering the judgment in 2018, Chandrachud said that the case is much more than decriminalizing a provision. 

“It is about an aspiration to realize constitutional rights and equal existence of LGBT community as other citizens,” he said.

Activists and the LGBTQ+ and intersex community are expecting the Supreme Court to issue a favorable ruling.

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), one of the world’s largest voluntary organizations and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party’s parent organization, has come out in support of the LGBTQ+ and intersex community, even though the organization is considered conservative, RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat in an interview with “Organizer and Panchjanya,” the organization’s magazine, said that the LGBTQ+ community too should have the right to privacy, and the organization will have to promote this view.

“People with such proclivities have always been there; for as long as humans have existed,” said Bhagwat. “This is biological, a mode of life. We want them to have their own private space and to feel that they, too, are a part of the society. This is such a simple issue. We will have to promote this view because all other ways of resolving it will be futile.”

RSS is an organization that supports Indian culture and values. 

It runs 20,000 schools in the country and promotes free education for poor neighborhoods. RSS volunteers carried out relief efforts during last year’s flood in Assam state, and ran a rescue operation in Modi’s home state of Gujarat when an earthquake killed more than 20,000 people.

Tinesh Chopade, associate director of advocacy for the Humsafar Trust, told the Washington Blade he is positive and hopeful of the upcoming ruling 

“Justice Chandrachud is very positive towards protecting the rights of the LGBTQ community,” said Chopade. “It’s just we should be mindful of the technicality of the judgement as the court has asked government response of the case.”

Chopade also talked about Bhagwat’s statement. 

Chopade said it is a good sign because RSS was against homosexuality when the Supreme Court decriminalized it. Chopade added he strongly believes Sangh’s statement could have a positive impact on Indian society.

“RSS has a large following in society, so definitely the chief’s statement would help change the attitude of the individuals towards the community,” Chopade told the Blade. “If we have a conversation as a community with them (RSS), then we will be more than happy to engage, not only with the chief (justice) but also with other workers to see how we can work together. We definitely see that as positive towards the influencing the larger society.”

Chopade further highlighted how the LGBTQ+ and intersex community is preparing for the Supreme Court’s expected ruling. He said that even though it has little control over the decision, the community is hopeful.

“As a community-based organization, our job is to prepare the community on the ground for such legal proceedings. We have so many beautifully written judgments in past by the Supreme Court of India, but when it comes to implementation, that’s the challenge,” said Chopade. “We can prepare the community for the responses or implementation. For example, if tomorrow we have marriage equality, then as an LGBTQ organization, our job is to disperse the judgment.”

A spokesperson of the Sappho for Equality, an LGBTQ+ and intersex organization based in the Indian state of West Bengal, told the Blade that equality must extend to all the spheres of life, including the home, workplace, and public spaces for the LGBTQ+ and intersex community.

Decriminalizing homosexuality, according to Sappho for Equality, is not enough.

“We deserve all the rights and privileges that people who are at the center of society receive through legal recognition of their interpersonal relationships such as marriage,” said the Sappho for Equality spokesperson. “With the help of various queer-trans* activists and leaders, we are trying to bring to the surface the lived realities of many queer-trans* couples from across the country who’ve had to fight with their (birth) families as well as the legal institutions at the cost of their mental, physical, social health and wellbeing. Marriage equality is an absolute necessity of the hour as it lies in the fact that many queer-trans individuals who come from multifarious intersectional backgrounds will at least be able to tell their (birth) families about the legal recognition of their relationships which ensures security.”

Ankush Kumar is a freelance reporter who has covered many stories for Washington and Los Angeles Blades from Iran, India and Singapore. He recently reported for the Daily Beast. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is on Twitter at @mohitkopinion

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Annual Delhi Pride parade resumes after 3-year pause

India Supreme Court to hear marriage equality case in March



The annual Delhi Queer Pride parade took place in New Delhi on Jan. 8, 2023. (Photo by Asma Hafiz)

NEW DELHI — After a three-year pause, more than 10,000 members of India’s LGBTQ and intersex community took part in an annual Delhi Queer Pride parade in the country’s capital on Jan. 8.

Four gay couples have asked India’s top court to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples to them, and a hearing in their case is scheduled to take place in March.

The India Supreme Court in 2018 issued a historic ruling that decriminalized homosexuality. LGBTQ and intersex Indians, however, continue to face stigmatization and discrimination.

(Photos by Asma Hafiz)

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School club promotes acceptance of LGBTQ+ students in India

Although adolescents are vulnerable to societal pressure, the GSA group, Prism, have shown much courage to develop a language of resistance



Calcutta International School Kolkata, West Bengal, India (Photo Credit: Calcutta International School)

KOLKATA, India – A handmade poster appeared on a school noticeboard at the Calcutta International School in Kolkata, the capital city of India’s West Bengal state.

“Prism is a gender and a sexuality alliance. It aims to provide a safe space for the members of the LGBTQ+ community and a space for allies to show support and learn,” it reads. “Contact us for doubts, questions or if you just want someone to talk to. We won’t bite or assign quadratic equations — but we’ll help in any way possible.”

Prism is the Calcutta International School’s club for LGBTQ and intersex students. (Photo courtesy of Prism)

It is one of those rare moments in the country when a school starts a movement to provide visibility for the LGBTQ and intersex community and creates awareness among school-age children.

Sara and Vashudah, who have now graduated from the Calcutta International School, before the pandemic started Prism, a support group that supports and provide safe space to LGBTQ and intersex students. 

The group died out because of the pandemic, but it was reborn this year and started to provide a safe space for LGBTQ and intersex students. 

Group aims to spread awareness, sensitivity

Prism started with 21 members and is and reached up to 40 members in 2022. Prism members have held one assembly and talked to the students inside and outside of the classrooms without forcing anyone to come out. 

“GSA was created to provide safe space to LGBTQ+ students and for those students who want to be an ally. The main goal is to give a feeling of community within school space, where they can open up and explore their identity as well,” said Prism President Abonti Mukherjee while talking to the Washington Blade. “We want to do (assemblies,) sensitize and do workshops with students.” 

“This term, we have been able to do one session with eighth graders on allyship and Prism, in general,” added Mukherjee. “We aim to do more because many students are insensitive toward these issues or do not know enough, which makes them hostile toward LGBTQ students. Even for those who are part of community, if they do not have sense of community or supportive teachers or students who can relate to them, it becomes a place where they would not want to come every day, and they do not have accepting home either.”

Mukherjee told the Blade that when the group held an assembly with other students at the school, she realized that many of them are confused and provided politically correct answers about the LGBTQ and intersex community. Mukherjee also said the group gets positive feedback from the students as well. 

While talking about her experience, she said that a few high schoolers visited her and showed their willingness to join the group. But according to Mukherjee, the group does not let many students become members because there is concern about those parents who resist such an initiative. 

The purpose of the group is to provide a safe space for those students who do not have an accepting home. Mukherjee also talked about a misconception about GSA — that the platform is not a club, but a support group and everyone should be able to join it. She invites any LGBTQ and intersex organization or individual who wants to collaborate with Prism to contact them via Prism’s Instagram page. 

Prism has two teachers as advisors.

Abonti said the group in 2023 wants to organize events to spread awareness about same-sex relationships on Valentine’s Day. Archi Shah, Prism’s social media administrator and a member of the group, also talked with the Blade.

Shah said Prism’s main goal is to promote empathy and tolerance, and it’s less about trying to impose a certain ideology. Shah recognizes the group cannot eliminate homophobia overnight in a conservative society, but she believes it is crucial to eliminate the stigma around the LGBTQ and intersex community. 

Shah has been a part of Prism as an ally and a member ever since it started when she was in eighth grade.

“I am in charge of the social media page of Prism. We have posters around the school in which we have provided contact of the members, and an Instagram page, they can contact if they have any information or just wants to talk to someone,” said Shah. “This is a very important thing, because not many schools have such things right now.”

Rohani, another Prism member, while talking to the Blade said that she has been a member of the group for the last four years.

She said the idea of forming Prism was to provide a safe space for LGBTQ and intersex children with membership not limited only to LGBTQ and intersex people, but to create a space where all allies can join to provide a sense of safety and acceptance for LGBTQ and intersex students. She also said she was very young when she joined the group and knew nothing about the LGBTQ and intersex community. When Rohani joined the group, however, she tried to extend her support as an ally and learn about the community. 

Calcutta International School Principal Tina Servaia told the Blade the inspiration behind Prism arose several years ago when the school learned that some students were struggling with their gender identity and sexual orientation.

“We realized that some of their classmates did not accept them and wanted to change that,” said Servaia. “Inclusion and acceptance is a very important part of our school ethos, and we felt that needed to extend to gender issues as well.”

It is sometimes difficult to make other parents understand these changes because Indian society remains largely conservative, but the Calcutta International School has managed to encourage everyone to support them. Servaia said parents understand Prism is an important part of her school’s culture, and they appreciate it provides students an opportunity to explore their identity and a safe space.

On Feb. 24, 2022, a teenage student of Delhi Public School, a premier private school in India, died by suicide when he jumped off his apartment building. 

His mother in the police complaint said he was harassed over his sexuality, but school administrators ignored it. Police later recovered a suicide note in which the teenage boy blamed “the school” and its “higher administration.”

“We do provide counselling services and hold regular sensitization sessions on a variety of topics to educate the school community and create awareness,” said Servaia. “Providing a safe space on its own may not prevent harassment but it needs to be part of a more holistic, consolidated approach consisting of creating awareness, a spirit of acceptance, provision of direct and indirect counselling and creation of a safe space support group.”

Even after Indian Supreme Court on Sept. 6, 2018, struck down the colonial-era law that criminalized homosexuality, the ruling did not change society’s outlook towards the LGBTQ and intersex community. It faced hostility and seeking mental health in the country remains taboo. Many LGBTQ and intersex Indians cannot talk about their sexuality without being humiliated or bullied.

Ankana Dey, a program associate at Sappho for Equality, an organization in Eastern India that works for the rights and social justice of sexually marginalized women and transgender men, spoke with the Blade. 

She said that creating a safe space within a school is a step towards social acceptance, social visibility and embracing diversity. 

“Although adolescents are vulnerable towards societal pressure, the GSA group, Prism, of Calcutta International school have shown much courage to develop a language of resistance against forced normativity,” said Dey. “It gives us hope to see these students question the imposed structure and challenge the binarized understanding. Nonetheless practicing inclusion by creating a safe collective space within various institutions is a herculean task which the younger generation are ready to take up.”

Although Calcutta International School has created a safe space for LGBTQ and intersex students, the history is not all positive. On Feb. 5, 2018, Avijit Kundu, a mathematics and physics teacher at Calcutta International School, was fired after his autobiography “Amar Shamakami Ejahar” (“My homosexual confession”) came out at the Kolkata International Book Fair. 

The school refuted the allegation of homophobia at the time.

“This said, it is important for us to remember that there has been many instances of internal violence within the very premises of Calcutta International School,” said Dey. “It cannot be forgotten how homophobia, transphobia and queerphobia are still ingrained in the mindset of many individuals who hold power and privilege on and of the grounds of various such schools and colleges. The students comprising the GSA group have made a conscious informed decision about making themselves aware of the repercussions that pertain to (the) visibilization of non-normative identities. They are trying to address many misconceptions and stereotypes regarding self-identity which is a very important aspect during the adolescent period. We can only continue to hope that more local schools allow children to make avenues to create a space and discuss their differences in a dignified manner whilst standing by students who fear coming out to their contemporaries.”

Deepa Vasudevan, a representative of Sahayathrika, an LGBTQ and intersex organization based in Kerala state, said safe space is an important first step. Other first step includes visibilizing the spaces to make sure other people know they exist and doing generalized awareness training for school faculties and students. 

“I have read that suicide rates for LGBTQIA+ youths go down when there are broader social acceptance and acceptance legal measures like marriage equality,” said Vasudevan. “So, we need to create intervention spaces as a first response, and also work on the broad social level of acceptance and equality.”

Ankush Kumar is a freelance reporter who has covered many stories for Washington and Los Angeles Blades from Iran, India and Singapore. He recently reported for the Daily Beast. He can be reached at [email protected] He is on Twitter at @mohitkopinion

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Indian insurance company appears to recognize same-sex couple

Life Insurance Corporation of India is public sector entity



India flag (Photo by Rahul Sapra/Bigstock)

MUMBAI, India — 2019 was a year of celebration for the Indian LGBTQ+ community. It was the year when the Indian Supreme Court struck down a colonial-era discriminatory law that criminalized homosexuality in the country, but same-sex marriage is still not legal. 

The nation’s LGBTQ+ community has been continuously fighting to bring change. 

The Delhi High Court is already in the process of hearing the petition on same-sex marriage. 

Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC), a public sector insurance company under India’s Finance Ministry, last month shocked the country while replying to a question — “if a gay partner can be named as the nominee in the insurance policy or not?” under the Right to Information Act, RTI. The company in its reply said there is no legal bar for anyone to make their same sex partner a beneficiary in insurance policies in the name of that person. 

A queer couple, Suchandra Das and Sree Mukherjee, who live in the eastern metropolitan city of Kolkata, initiated the RTI.

While talking to the media, Das said LIC mentioned in its reply that there is no legal bar to nominate any person, including strangers. 

“In effect, this means that there is no bar for a policyholder from making a person not related to him or her by birth, consanguinity, marriage or adoption as his or her nominee,” said Das to Times Now News.

Though the LIC is under the government of India, which continuously opposes the law for same-sex marriage in the Delhi High Court, the RTI reply is in contradiction with the government’s stand.

“I welcome LIC’s move on inclusiveness,” said Kalki Subramaniam while reacting to the news. 

Subramaniam is a transgender and climate rights activist. 

“Inclusive steps by corporate companies to recognize LGBTQI communities are on the rise in India, which is very welcome. It helps us with opportunities for a better living through jobs and improved economic status.” she said.

Supreme Court judges have recently shown encouraging and positive support for the LGBTQ+ community in the country. In August, one of the top judges, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, while talking at an event in Delhi, called for structural and attitudinal changes in society to let the LGBTQ+ community live a life of autonomy and dignity.

While talking with the Washington Blade, Chetana Salunkhe, a digital creator with the LGBT Navi Mumbai, said that it is contradictory, but it’s still a stepping stone for equal rights. 

“Marriage, adoption, inheritance are a few rights we are looking forward to. These rights not only give us the sense of equality, it gives is a sense of security and dependency,” said Salunkhe. “Talking about this step taken by LIC, at least queer couples get to be the depends of each other legally, which makes it a very happy news for every queer individual. And as it is correctly said ‘it is better to take small steps in the right direction than to take a great leap forward,’ this little step is also going to be a great one for queer individuals and legal system to understand and formulate safe and equal laws in regards to marriage, adoption, etc. for the community.”

Kanav Narayan Sahgal, a communications manager at Nyaaya, Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, also expressed happiness on the LIC’s written reply on same-sex partners being a beneficiary in life insurance policies.

“LIC’s response to the RTI is a welcome move. And while the central government continues to oppose the legalization of same-sex marriage, one should welcome small steps like these in the long march toward equality,” said Sahgal in an email to the Blade. “However, it should be noted that even though a same-sex partner is a nominee, they don’t automatically get succession rights. LGBTQ+ organizations like Varta do have legal solutions to overcome these loopholes, but these issues can be fixed if the central government were to simply legislate on marriage equality and settle the matter once and for all.”

Ankush Kumar is a freelance reporter who has covered many stories for Washington and Los Angeles Blades from Iran, India and Singapore. He recently reported for the Daily Beast. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is on Twitter at @mohitkopinion

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Trans Indians turn to courts for rights

Nursing student last month won right to enroll as Trans person



Madras High Court in Chennai, India. (Photo by Eugene Ga/Bigstock)

CHENNAI, India — Respect, loyalty and strength are synonymous with India’s Transgender community. 

According to ancient Indian texts, Rama granted Trans people the power to confer a blessing on auspicious occasions. But 200 years of British colonialism changed the environment for them. Indian courts, however, have tried to remedy some of these abuses through landmark rulings.

In October, the Madras High Court, one of the highest courts in India, ruled Trans people are entitled to a special category for admission to post-basic nursing and post-basic diploma in psychiatry nursing courses. 

The Madras High Court directed the secretary of the Tamil Nadu Health and Family Welfare department, the director of Medical Education, and the secretary to the Selection Committee to treat the petitioner S Tamilselvi as the third gender and place her in a special category for admission to the course for the academic year 2022-2023. 

The present exam in the course has been issued only for male and female candidates. 

The top court also said that if any other Trans person applied for the same course, a separate category of merit list shall be prepared by the secretary consisting of only trans candidates and based on merit among Trans candidates. 

Tamilselvi, a candidate for the course, petitioned the Madras High Court to find the Post Basic-Nursing Course and Post Basic Diploma in Psychiatry Nursing Course for the year 2022-2023, as illegal for not categorizing trans candidates under a special category. 

For the same course, communal reservation is available. But there were no separate reservations available for the third gender, which made Tamilselvi approach the court, according to her lawyer, Reshmi Christy. 

While delivering the ruling, the Madras High Court also cited the Indian Supreme Court’s decision to treat the third gender as a special category. 

“Even though special reservation has not been made horizontally for Transgender candidates,” said Justice Suresh Kumar while delivering the decision. “The non-inclusion of the petitioner in the special category meant for Transgender is against the judgments given by the Hon’ble Supreme Court as well as this court and also against the provisions of the 2019 Act.”

While talking with the Washington Blade, Kalki Subramaniam, a Trans rights and climate activist, applauded the ruling and said that reservation is very important for the rise of the economic and social status of the Trans population of India who because of the colonization by the British and their colonial laws have been completely marginalized and till today suffer stigma, exploitation and poverty. Reservation will help them raise their social and economic status sustainably. 

Reacting to the Madras High Court ruling, Chetana Salunkhe of the LGBTQ+ group Navi Mumbai expressed her happiness. 

“It is indeed a great news that the Madras High Court came out with the ruling that Transgender people in India deserve to be provided special reservation with separate merit list of their own,” said Salunkhe. “As per the Indian society Transgender people are not given much opportunities when it comes to studying, working or even generally. But even though this is a start I still believe that merit does not really need to linked with gender, cast creed and that it should be given on knowledge and potential to everyone equally.”

Salunkhe also said that the ruling would lead to greater opportunities for Trans people in India as they have been denied even basic rights. 

“Due to this one step they will at least get access to education and work which can help them have a stable lifestyle for them and their family and overall even the societies viewpoint will change towards the community when we are seen successful,” said Salunkhe. “I also believe, all we need to grow in life, is to be seen equally in the eyes of the society and be treated right.”

Kanav Narayan Sahgal, a communication manager at Nyaaya, the Vidhi Center for Legal Policy, also applauded the High Court’s ruling. 

“I think it’s a progressive step forward. From what I understand, the court held this decision unwaveringly,” said Sahgal. “While this case related to the admission of Transgender people for Post Basic (Nursing) Courses and Post Basic Diploma Courses in Psychiatry Nursing for the academic year 2022-2023, courts and legislators will ultimately have to think about how to expand the ambit to this judgment (and its reasoning) to possible challenges to discriminatory admission processes for other courses, especially those that are quite unfamiliar to LGBTQ+ issues such as finance, business, and real estate. The real question in my mind is how can we include Transgender people in all walks of life, beyond just healthcare.”

Sahgal also added that it is the most progressive step forward, and it would be pertinent to listen to trans activists themselves who has spoken widely on the issue of reservations. 

“Grace Banu, whose activism I deeply admire, has been a fierce advocate of horizontal reservations for Transgender people,” said Sahgal. “This will give SC, ST and OBC Transgender people greater opportunities and will ensure that policy makers truly take an intersectional approach while trying to include Transgender people in matters of law and governance. In 2021, Karnataka become the first state to provide one percent reservation for transgender persons in employment for civil services posts across caste categories. This was a result of an intervention filed by Jeeva, an organization working on the rights of sexual minorities in Karnataka in Sangama v. State of Karnataka. I hope that other states in India follow suit.”

Ankush Kumar is a freelance reporter who has covered many stories for Washington and Los Angeles Blades from Iran, India and Singapore. He recently reported for the Daily Beast. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is on Twitter at @mohitkopinion

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Bollywood films increasingly explore LGBTQ+, intersex issues

Actress Celina Jaitly has appeared in U.N. ‘Free and Equal’ campaign



Celina Jaitly (Photo courtesy of Celina Jaitly)

MUMBAI, India — Music, dance, color, compelling stories and drama: Welcome to the world of the Indian film industry. 

With the production of more than 1,500 films every year, the industry is the largest in the world. Movies like “Dangal,” a 2016 film about wresting, impacted Indian society’s views towards girls. In a country with limited awareness of Tourette’s syndrome, the 2018 film “Hichki,” which means “hiccup” in Hindi, successfully sensitized audiences.

But the Indian film industry before 2015 failed to highlight an integral part of Indian culture: The LGBTQ+ and intersex community.

The 1971 movie “Badnam Basti,” which means “Infamous Neighborhood” in Hindi was dubbed as India’s first gay film. The movie disappeared into oblivion soon after its release, and the 35 mm film print was only recently discovered in a Berlin archive. The Central Board of Film Certification, a film certification body under the Indian government’s control, in 1971 certified the film as A-rated, meaning for adults only. According to Hari Om Kapoor, the son of “Badnam Basti” director Prem Kapoor, the film never explicitly showed homosexuality but implied it through scenes.

When India was going through a tumultuous time in 2004, and the political landscape was changing, “Girl Friend” appeared on large screens. 

Although it was not the first lesbian feature film, it portrayed a lesbian character as evil and stereotypical. The film explored a love triangle between two girls’ best friends and a man. One girl — Tanya, who played by one Bollywood’s biggest stars, Isha Koppikhar, soon realizes she is in love with her best friend, Sapna, who Amrita Arora plays. But Sapna is in love with a man, Rahul, played by Ashish Chaudhary. When Rahul realizes that Tanya is too close to Sapna, making him uncomfortable, he vindicates Tanya for the troubled relationship. The film then ends with the gruesome murder of Tanya by Rahul and Sapna, portraying Tanya and Rahul as heroes, and a lesbian character, Tanya, ends up becoming evil. This film received poor reviews from film critics.

“Indian cinema has played an important role in conditioning the mindsets of Indians of all backgrounds, and while the recent it has made great leaps in the types of cinema being attempted, most Hindi films still thrive on the offensive and stereotypical portrayal of the non-binary gender characters,” said Celina Jaitly, a former Miss India and one of the most popular Indian actresses. 

Jaitly, through her performance in various big films, won millions of hearts in India and globally. Her activism in India for LGBTQ+ and intersex equal rights attracted the endorsement of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, which in 2013 made her an Equality Champion. Jaitly has supported the U.N. Free and Equal campaign to counter homophobia and transphobia. 

“I have always wondered as an actor, why a gay or a Trans person is constantly seen as outside the bounds of ‘normal.’ Ironically, despite the rampant transphobia, one particular trope is extremely popular in Bollywood, even after so many years, and that is cross-dressing men,” she told the Washington Blade. “Trans people are abnormal but cis men in drag are applauded. Every time a ‘hero’ dresses in drag it is considered to be iconic piece of performance, it’s always been difficult to wrap my head around that one. Casting Trans and gay people in Trans roles is still a challenge as cisgender actors consider it as a loss of opportunity to win awards, and producers/directors would rather cast cis actors who pull in an audience rather than a trans or a gay actor who pulls in the character.”

Jaitly, who have worked in the Indian film industry for more than a decade, appeared in “Seasons Greeting” last year in which a trans person is the lead actress. 

Jaitly said she has fought for LGBTQ+ and intersex rights in India for years, and the reason for which she agreed to work in “Seasons Greeting” is that the director Ramkamal Mukherjee cast a Trans woman for the first time in a Trans lead film. Jaitly told the Blade that she believes in the importance of Trans/gay cast in a Trans/gay role, and only they can and should portray and become the beacons of reflections of the agonies and ecstasies of their journeys no matter what the script.

“Filmmakers hold supreme responsibility in being sensitive, empathetic, and rational while attempting to make films on the said theme,” said Jaitly. “And as complex, as it may seem, the underlying principles of treating people respectfully and equally is a no-brainer and requires no special education. Cinema like literature is the reflection of society and not only does it influence the society but has great impact on successive generations.”

In 2008, the star-studded romantic comedy film “Dostana,” which means “friendship” in Hindi, also attracted criticism and praise for depicting a gay couple. 

Hollywood sensation Priyanka Chopra played a central role, with megastars like John Abraham and Abhishek Bachchan. The film explores the world of two men living in Miami who pretend to be a gay couple so they can live with a charming girl (Chopra), and they both eventually fall in love with her. Many critics argued that the film mocked LGBTQ+ and intersex people and making fun of the serious subject. But some critics also said that the presence of megastars like Chopra helps make audiences feel comfortable about the issue.

The Blade reached out to Chopra for a comment, but the actress did not respond.

With the advent of cheaper mobile data in India after 2015, more people are aware of LGBTQ+ and intersex people, and the Indian film industry is making LGBTQ+ and intersex-based films more than ever. 

Maanvi Gagroo, a prominent Indian actress, in an email to the Blade said that there was hardly if any, LGBTQ+ and intersex representation in Bollywood for the longest time. And whatever little there was, was almost always comedic. Gagroo believes comedy can be a great tool for social change.

“it was always the manner or the nature of the humor that was problematic for me. Often the jokes were at the cost of the gay/queer characters, and audiences were meant to laugh AT them rather than WITH them. These characters never had any sort of redemption, no arc and often created and/or perpetuated outlandish, garish stereotypes!” said Gagroo. “There is hope though. I see makers becoming much more sensitive towards the community. And this change is parallel in society as well. I mean we only decriminalized homosexuality a few years ago. Now whether Bollywood is mirroring society or vice versa, I can’t comment but the change is positive for sure.”

Gagroo’s first LGBTQ+ and intersex film was “377 AbNormal,” is based on the Indian Supreme Court ruling in 2018 that decriminalized homosexuality. The film explored the five people who challenged Section 377, a colonial-era law that criminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations.

“‘377 AbNormal’ was actually very educational for me. While I pride myself as an ally, I was completely ignorant about the journey of the movement and what led to the monumental verdict of 2018. I knew I had to be a part of the film from the time I first heard the concept,” said Gagroo. “Again, that was another film where the director, Faruk Kabir, was extremely cautious of not only getting the film factually right but also portraying the entire process sensitively. We would often choke up and would have to stop shooting because all of us would get so emotional.”

“In terms of preparation, I didn’t need to work on sensitizing myself on the topic,” added Gagroo “I was there. I was ready to tell that story and I felt I had to do it well without minimizing anyone or anything related to the film.”

Although “377 AbNormal” was the first LGBTQ+ and intersex film for Gagroo, it was not the last. 

Gagroo in 2020 appeared in “Subh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan,” a film that Hitesh Kewalya directed.

The film explores the story of a gay couple who have trouble convincing their parents to accept their relationship. The film generated a buzz at the box office. While talking about the film, Gagroo, who also starred in it alongside megastars like Ayushmann Khurrana, Jitendra Kumar, veteran actress Nina Gupta, and Gajraj Rao, said that the film came with empathy and a respect and that the intent of the film is clear.

“Our director, Hitesh Kewalya, was very clear right from the start, that he didn’t wish to delve into the gruesome hardships that the gay community is subjected to, but aim to normalize a lot of the conversation around it,” said Gagroo. “It dealt with so many different social issues even beyond LGBTQ. Even while shooting you could see the cast and crew evolving and their growing comfort with the topic was palpable.”

While talking with Blade, Kewalya said that things changed, and people became more aware of the issue, which led to the making of “Subh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan.” He argued the Section 377’s abolition made it possible to make such films. Kewalya also noted that Indian society was already talking about the issue, so making such a film became easy.

“It was challenging because there was no precedent to it. In a commercial film like this, where a top star is headlining the film, and a top production house is backing it, and all the great actors backing it,” said Kewalya. “It was also challenging because it is a sensitive topic in our society. Even the LGBTQ community was never happy with the kind of representation that was happening in the cinema.”

According to Variety, India produces films in staggering 41 languages, mostly regional. In 2017, Lokesh Kumar released “My Son is Gay,” a Tamil language film. The story revolves around a school principal and her only son. The mother-son duo shares a strong bond, and the mother soon finds out the hard truth that her only son is gay, which leads to a drastic change in her life.

“I am glad many people supported and showered a lotta love for our little indie feature film ‘My Son is Gay.’ I have attended an LGBTQ film festival once, where I have seen many queer films across the world and also got to meet many community members. That’s when I realized there are only very few Tamil films which showcased queer characters and there are no full-length gay-themed films as such,” said Kumar. “I really felt the need to tell the stories like ‘My Son is Gay.’ So, I have decided to meet LGBTQ members and their parents and did my research, wrote the story which is based on many real incidents. It wasn’t an easy journey at all, as there were very less support from people around me considering the theme of the film. Many actors and technicians were hesitant to involve. There weren’t many producers who wanted to back this project. However, producer Anil Saxena, an Indian citizen who lives abroad, Cyril D’souza and actor Anupama Kumar understood the importance of this story and they backed me. Finding the right cast and making the cast, crew understands the importance of such stories and making them confident and comfortable to play the characters was really a challenge. Am glad I didn’t give up.”

While LGBTQ+ and intersex films are doing well in India and globally, in 2022, another film, Junglee Pictures’ “Badhaai Do,” generated a buzz among the masses. Star-studded films with casts like Rajkummar Rao, actress Bhumi Pednekar, Sheeba Chaddha and Chuma Darang helped the film highlight the LGBTQ+ and intersex issues in India. The film tells the story of a gay cop who enters into a sham marriage with a lesbian teacher to convince their family that they are living a normal life.

“The films that came before us had already placed the LGBTQIA+ issues and concerns in the mainstream space. Not having the burden of explaining an ‘issue’ was liberating for us as we could focus on aspects of representation while negotiating with our own heteronormative conditioning without worrying about having articulate and politically correct sounding characters,” said “Badhaai Do” director Harshavardhan Kulkarni. “It helped us locate the film in familiar realities of caste, class, and patriarchal family units. I feel that too often, we tend to gloss over the fact that sexuality is only one aspect of our being, and it exists within the many other aspects which govern daily life in large parts of our country. I feel that we need to do more to understand and educate ourselves about this. Until we do that, our understanding of the real-world problems faced by the LGBTQIA+ community will remain limited.”

In recent years, the Indian film industry has released some critical films that show real-world issues of the Indian LGBTQ+ and intersex community. Films like “Badhaai Do,” “Subh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan” and many more have not only created an impact on Indian society but also started the discussion. 

Samantha Ruth Prabhu, an Indian film star who won millions of hearts across India and numerous awards for her contribution to Indian cinema, told the Blade that Indian movies and the film industry are constantly evolving.

“I do believe we have a long way to go before mainstream films refrain from crudity, insensitive humor and homophobia completely,” said Prabhu. “I am extremely proud of having been a part of a path breaking and ambitious film like ‘Super Deluxe.’ The film tied many intricate stories to an overarching philosophy, so I wouldn’t say it was only about a transgender person. The characters portrayed by me and Mr. Vijay Sethupathy (an actor who appeared in ‘Super Deluxe’ with Prabhu) were similar in that they both exhibited their own brand of bravery.”

Prabhu has joined the cast for her next LGBTQ+ and intersex film, Arrangements of Love. Wales-based BAFTA-winning director Philip John is also joining the team as director. The film will revolve around an Indian man in Wales who visits his homeland to find his estranged father. Prabhu will be playing a bisexual detective who becomes part of the search.

“The industry is evolving-slowly but surely. There was a time when people were forced to tuck away a very real part of themselves in the way they told their stories, in a bid to conform. That thankfully has changed,” said Prabhu. “Directors and scriptwriters are being more real, and the audience is here and ready for it!”

Ankush Kumar (Mohit) is a freelance reporter who has covered many stories for Washington and Los Angeles Blades from Iran, India and Singapore. He recently reported for the Daily Beast. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is on Twitter at @mohitkopinion

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