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New Delhi high school students champion LGBTQ+ rights

Tagore International School’s Breaking Barriers program making a difference

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Tagore International School in New Delhi (Washington Blade photo by Ankush Kumar)

NEW DELHI — New Delhi woke up to a frosty morning on Feb. 3. The air was crisp and biting, as a thick blanket of fog enveloped the surroundings in a ghostly haze. Amid this wintry scene, Tagore International School – Vasant Vihar bustled with life, its buildings standing strong against the chilly breeze while teachers hurried for an outdoor tour on the weekend. 

In India traditions and customs sparkle like jewels in every corner. In the vast land, where old beliefs often hold strong, Tagore International School in South Delhi is a special place where something magical is happening. The school is becoming the beacon of inclusivity. 

The Washington Blade visited the school and talked to the students, board members and its project coordinator. 

While talking to the Blade, Vaanya Kalra, a 12th grade student at the school, said her parents are understanding and supportive. Vaanya, with a smile on her face, said she had free access to the internet when she was younger. It was during this time that she discovered a campaign called Breaking Barriers at her school that aims to support and raise awareness about LGBTQ+ rights.

“Breaking Barriers has existed for the past 10 years at my school, and I kind of always wanted to join it,” said Vaanya. “I did when I had the opportunity to join it.”

Vaanya, with a mixed feeling of sadness and anger in her eyes, opened up about her journey and said people were reacting differently to people who were different. Vaanya, who has always been an empathetic person, saw unnecessary hatred around gender and sexuality over the internet, and it became difficult for her to ignore it. She excitedly said she had time, energy and empathy and decided to join Breaking Barriers at her school.

Vaanya told the Blade she had the conversation with her friends and family before she joined the campaign. Her family was accepting of everything. She confidently shared that she enjoyed her journey in Breaking Barriers while supporting the LGBTQ+ community in her school and campaigning for it in other schools. Vaanya said she is considering higher studies in international relations.

While talking to the Blade, Vaanya expressed her extreme displeasure with an Indian news outlet for accusing Breaking Barriers members of ‘brainwashing children.’ She said that when she went online for a meeting on Breaking Barriers activities, random people took over the platform to dictate how wrong this campaign was.

“It was a very difficult journey,” said Vaanya.

Tagore International School Student Development Advisor Shivanee Sen joined the interview virtually from New York and discussed the campaign’s background. 

She said Safina Ameen and Sohini Chakrabarti were student leaders and participated in the South Asia competition for an expansive school-wide social background and Shivanee chose to join the group. Sohini, Safina and Shivanee, at their young age, sat together and decided to work in gender space. While the discussion was going on, Shivanee suggested working in the field of gender and sexuality, and the other two happily agreed to work.

Shivanee said the initial group discussion was about working on women’s rights issue, but her idea was to work on other populations who suffer discrimination in India. Shivanee’s idea led the group of three young women to work on LGBTQ+ rights in India. Shivanee sent Sohini and Safina home for their parents’ consent and they luckily gave it. The group then started to work on LGBTQ+ rights at the school level.

From left: Sohini Chakrabarti and Shivanee Sen at a UNESCO conference.(Photo courtesy of Priyanka Randhawa/Breaking Barriers)

Sohini, one Breaking Barriers’s founders, said that there was an institutional void around this thematic area across schools in India.

“These things are not being discussed in schools. I was also 13 years old when we began. So as a young kid who was trained by professionals from NGOs, and because we were on the field working on gender rights at the same time, I was talking to students older than I was, and teachers about sexuality which was quite strange and jarring to some people to have like a school-wide campaign on this thematic, because of its central kind of overarching challenge,” said Siddhi Pal, one of Breaking Barriers’ original members. “It was really hard for us to take the campaign to different schools as our work was labeled as criminal, illegal and brainwashing. Those kind of things were a huge barrier, but apart from that we were so onboard. We pushed through it and made it work. But 10 years ago subject mattered the most as we were all kids.”

While answering what kind of resistance the campaign faced from the parents, Shivanee said not much because all members joined in with pre-parental consent. Shivanee further said that in the past 10 years, her Breaking Barriers campaign that supports the LGBTQ+ community at schools rarely faced parental resistance.

“I am quite surprised that in past 10 years we haven’t really had parental pushback,” she said. “They might not be okay with their kids joining the campaign, but no parent has taken it upon themselves to try and stop the workshops happening at school.”

Expressing concern about how an Indian news outlet published a homophobic article about Breaking Barriers and Tagore International School, Vaanya said with extreme confidence that when negative news about the campaign and the members, especially in a newspaper, comes out that means the campaign is making a change.

Siddhi joined the interview from London and said the biggest source of support is when new students enroll each year. That’s when they see what their peers are doing and that helped further inspire the campaign.

“What I have heard from others over the years, people actually aspire to join the campaign as they get into more leadership position,” said Sohini. “It’s interesting to see as it was hard to start it off, and there were lots of challenges in the beginning, not to say there are not now, but to keep it going has been easier because every year more students come in, there is more and more information about the campaign. So, to keep it going has been really amazing.”

Tagore International School students (Photo courtesy of Priyanka Randhawa/Breaking Barriers)

Tagore International School Project Coordinator Priyanka Randhawa told the Blade the campaign selects the office holders from ninth, 10th, 11th and 12th grades — its president or vice president typically comes from the older classes, while any interested students can join it. The Breaking Barriers team at the school is turning the campaign into a movement and taking sessions in other schools as well.

“We go to other schools and take up sensitive issues with them,” said Randhawa. “At the workshop, we show a presentation in other schools, and explain terminology related to Breaking Barriers, we share the stories of transgenders and we try to touch on emotional aspects also.” 

“These workshops are meant for high school students only. We also do workshops for educators for sensitization,” added Randhawa. “We have also collaborated with NGOs like Naz Foundation, they train our students and sensitize on LGBTQ community.”

Priyanka said the campaign encourages other schools to start their own Breaking Barriers groups.

Jiya Chawla, a student at the Tagore International School and member of Breaking Barriers, told the Blade in New Delhi that she, along with Vaanya, joined the campaign four years ago.

“We have been to multiple schools. At least 20 schools offline and online we have been to more than 40 schools,” said Jiya. “We faced questions that were a homophobic point of view or a transphobic point of view. But we never said no you are wrong. We always take our time and try to understand where they are coming from. We try to break that stigma. We know that one session is not enough to break down generational prejudices, so we do face a lot of backlash sometimes, but social media has really come to our aid now. Because everybody is already aware of what this community is all about. So now, we don’t have to explain what the community is, but why equality is important.”

On the question of changing behavior outside the Breaking Barriers, Sohini told the Blade she expected the backlash and when she was going around campaigning for the LGBTQ+ community at Tagore International School in New Delhi. Her parents curiously asked her to do a presentation for them.

“It is a taboo topic, people don’t want to engage with you. But I was personally surprised by how curious people around me were,” said Siddhi with a big smile on her face. “My parents, once were like oh you are going around, doing this presentation, so why don’t you do it for us? I think that was one of the toughest initial presentations for me because you sit down with your parents and you go through talking about sex and sexuality.” 

“It was really surprising in the beginning, even when we started doing presentations for teachers, I think teachers had a lot more questions than students in the beginning,” she added. “My friends were more willing to engage and then family, of course there are people who do not want to engage at all as well.”

A 15-year-old student at Delhi Public School in 2022 died by suicide after being bullied for his sexuality at school. The administration did not take any action, even though his mother filed a complaint. 

Vaanya said it is important to create a safe space for students at school in order to adequately respond to these concerns. She said administrators and teachers were very supportive.

“Ensuring kids that it’s okay to feel different, it’s okay for you to have a different sexuality or act differently is very important. We have created a safe space, people understand that you do not have to bully others for it and they do not have to hate others for it,” said Vaanya. “Nobody is hating someone for this or actively bullying someone for this. We have a very strict anti-bullying policy as well, so we have managed to create a safe space for everybody.”

Ankush Kumar is a 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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Schools in India’s Kerala state adopt gender-neutral curricula

Initiative encourages administrators to change uniform policies

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A page from the Kerala state government’s new textbooks that introduces non-traditional gender roles to students. (Photo courtesy of Kerala State General Education Minister V. Sivankutty’s Facebook page)

When schools in India’s Kerala state reopened on June 3 after a long summer break, students walked into classrooms with the usual excitement. This year, however, they were greeted with a surprising and groundbreaking change. The textbooks they received were unlike any they had seen before — filled with gender-neutral images and instructions.

The initiative, driven by the state’s commitment to fostering equality from a young age, aimed to break down traditional gender roles and promote inclusivity. Students found pictures of boys and girls engaging in various activities without gender-specific expectations.

One of the images showed the father grating coconut in the kitchen while his wife cooked food. Another picture showed the father cooking food for his daughter.

In an unprecedented move, some schools in Kerala have committed to gender neutrality beyond textbooks, introducing gender-neutral uniforms. This change marks a significant departure from the traditional Indian school uniform, where boys typically wear shirts and pants, and girls don skirts, often in different colors. Many schools in Kerala have introduced the same school uniform for all students including shirts and knee-length pants.

More than 12 schools in Kerala have shifted to gender-neutral dresses so far. While there are a total of 4,504 government-run schools in Kerala, the Kerala Child Rights Commission last year decided to remove the use of words like “sir” and “madam” for teachers and instead encouraged to use of universal terms like “teacher” on school premises, but the Department of General Education, a state government body that overseas education in schools, refrained from any changes.

The National Council of Education Research and Training, a government-autonomous body of India’s Education Ministry, in 2023 introduced a manual that directs schools to implement transgender-inclusive curricula, safe washrooms, and gender-neutral dress for students to prevent gender-based discrimination and violence.

The Mumbai-based Aditya Birla World Academy, a private international school, in 2022 adopted gender-neutral uniforms and language in its 138 branches across the country. The school replaced “ladies” and “gentlemen” and other gender-specific words with “dear guests” or “hello everyone.” The school sent an email to parents that told them how to reduce gender differentiation in uniforms so students of various genders and those who are gender non-conforming or questioning their gender can feel safe discovering and expressing themselves at the school.

The Aditya Birla World Academy has also established the Rainbow Club, an LGBTQ support group led by students and guided by teachers, to create an environment of activism in the classroom, shifted to allow students to choose the length of their hair as long as it is neatly tied up, along with other activities that include workshops with teachers and parents under the initiative of “move away from the cis heteronormative environment in the education world.”

While talking to the Washington Blade, Harish Iyer, an equal rights activist, said children should be allowed to dress the way they want. He also said the idea of uniforms in schools is that a student should feel included, regardless of what strata of society to which they belong.

“Adding gender-neutrality to uniforms would only extend the whole purpose of the uniforms,” said Iyer. “It should be appreciated by all as there is no question of any debate here. What should be debated is that some people are forced to wear what is not part of their gender identity.”

Iyer told the Blade there should not be any gender assigned to clothes. He said uniforms should be based on comfort and not based on gender.

Indrani Chakraborty, a mother of a trans child and an LGBTQ activist based in northeast India, told the Blade the Kerala government’s decision to implement gender-neutral uniforms is welcome. She said her organization, Annajoree, is also trying to sensitize people on the same issue in Assam state.

“We are promoting safe-spaces in schools in Assam so that kids can complete their basic education without any mental harassment at school,” said Chakraborty. “Kerala is doing great work, it’s a great initiative and everyone should come forward to support it. It should be everywhere in our country.”

Indrani Chakraborty (Photo courtesy of Indrani Chakraborty)

She also told the Blade that schools not sensitized to LGBTQ issues creates a fear of bullying. Students, according to Chakraborty, in particular face bullying and they are not allowed to join classes in their preferred uniforms and do not have access to gender-neutral bathrooms. 

She has started an initiative called the “No More Holding Pee Initiative” in schools.

Ankush Kumar is a 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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Fewer Indian MPs are ‘vocal’ on LGBTQ issues

Parties backed relationship recognition, trans rights ahead of general election

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Meera Pradhan is a transgender politician from Odisha state. (Photo courtesy of Meera Pradhan)

The Indian LGBTQ community is gradually gaining momentum in their fight for rights; bolstered by increasing support from courts, the public, NGOs, and even some politicians. 

According to Pinklist India’s 2024 report, which archives politicians supporting LGBTQ rights, only 108 MPs have been vocal on LGBTQ issues, a notable decline from the 161 MPs in the previous parliament. In this context, “vocal” means that politicians have made public statements on LGBTQ issues, whether positive, negative, or controversial.

As India prepared for the 2024 general election, various political parties included LGBTQ concerns in their platforms. 

The Indian National Congress, for example, has promised to introduce a bill that would recognize civil unions for LGBTQ couples after wide consultation. Similarly, the Communist Party of India has pledged several commitments, including amending the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act 2019 to address community concerns and ensure legal recognition and protection for same-sex couples similar to marriage.

The Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party and its coalition partners, meanwhile, had promised in their campaign platform to include the transgender community in the Ayushman Bharat Yojana, a national health insurance program for low-income citizens. The BJP also pledged to incorporate the trans community into the Garima Greh program, which provides shelter, food, medical care, and recreational facilities for destitute and abandoned trans people.

No official records exist on the LGBTQ population in India, but the 2012 Census estimated it at 2.5 million. Population data on LGBTQ people is scarce, with the government only tracking those who identify as “third gender” or “transgender” and are registered.

Only a few LGBTQ candidates ran in this year’s general election, with the majority of them withdrawing. Of the three candidates who ran, none secured a sixth of the total valid votes, resulting in all of them losing their deposits.

Election Commission of India (ECI) data indicates there are 48,000 registered trans voters. Only 20 percent of them participated in the general election.

Pinklist India data in 2020 revealed that only 27.8 percent of 543 MPs had addressed LGBTQ issues in their political careers. The highest number of these MPs belonged to the Nationalist Congress Party, the Indian National Congress, and the Communist Party of India. Pinklist India also created interactive tiles on India’s map, titled “State of QUnion,” recording statements on LGBTQ issues made by each MP.

Data from 2020 offers deeper insights into how politicians’ stances on LGBTQ issues evolve after joining a particular party. 

Jothimani Sennimalai, an Indian National Congress MP from Karur, Tamil Nadu, for example, has consistently supported queer issues both before and after entering politics. Conversely, Bengaluru South BJP MP Tejasvi Surya, who previously supported marriage equality, has remained silent on the issue since his election. The Washington Blade reached out to Surya multiple times for an interview, but received no response.

Interestingly, previous data revealed a curious trend among many MPs. 

Although they were vocal about trans issues outside parliament, they never engaged in debates on trans laws within it. Their silence in parliamentary chambers contrasted sharply with their public statements, painting a complex picture of political advocacy.

The Blade uncovered a striking disparity: Despite political parties pledging inclusion of the LGBTQ community in their election platforms, no major politicians addressed LGBTQ concerns during their campaign rallies. It was as if these promises, vibrant on paper, vanished into thin air when it came time to speak on the campaign trail.

The Blade reached out to Meera Parida, a trans politician from Odisha’s Biju Janata Dal, for her thoughts on the issue. 

“It is very sad that it has happened,” she said with a mix of disappointment and resolve. 

Parida lamented that during the passage of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act in 2019, only regional parties stood in support of the bill, highlighting a gap in broader political commitment.

“Unfortunately, we have to meet and sensitize new parliamentarians about the issue,” said Parida. “It is very sad that those leaders and members of Parliament are doing this who are supposed to raise voices for everyone including LGBTQ people of the country. We say that India is the world’s biggest democracy, we talk about equality, we talk about Sabka Sath Sabka Vikash (inclusion and development for all, a slogan Modi used during the election campaign), so does LGBTQ people not come under ‘all’? If parliamentarians behave like this, what will be the impact on the society?”

She raised a question stating that LGBTQ people are born naturally just like males or females, so why there is so much stigma regarding the community? Parida told the Blade that despite so many Supreme Court rulings and parties including LGBTQ issues in their election platforms, not a single party gave the opportunity to LGBTQ people to fight the election from the party platform.

Ankush Kumar is a 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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Transgender Indian parliamentary candidate vows to continue fight for equality

Rajan Singh, 26, is from New Delhi

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Rajan Singh ran for India's parliament (Photo courtesy of Rajan Singh)

The storm that was India’s general elections has finally settled, leaving behind a landscape transformed by democratic choice. 

The Bharatiya Janata Party, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, clinched a decisive victory with a majority in parliament with 293 seats. The daily hum of life is returning to normal as the country resumes its rhythm amid the sweltering heat of summer.

Beneath the surface of political triumph and routine, however, there lies an overlooked narrative: The story of the transgender community. In the vibrant tapestry of this election, trans people remained a subtle but significant thread. A few trans people for the first time boldly stepped into the political arena, running for office and asserting their right to representation.

Rajan Singh, 26, was the youngest trans candidate.

She hails from New Delhi, the bustling heart of the nation. Singh secured 300 votes and lost the election, but as the first and youngest independent candidate to run in the recent general elections, her story is one of ambition and audacity. In a political landscape dominated by well-established parties and seasoned politicians, Singh’s decision to enter the fray as an independent was both bold and inspiring.

With her soft and humble voice, Singh told the Washington Blade that even after 75 years of independence, India still lacks even 75 public restrooms dedicated to the trans community. She highlighted a stark reality: There is no platform available for trans people who want to raise their voice on important issues.

Singh expressed her frustration and disappointment, pointing out the irony in India’s highly regarded constitution. 

“Our constitution begins with ‘We, the people of India,'” she said, “Yet in these 75 years, that ‘we’ has never truly included us.” Her words shed light on the ongoing struggle for recognition and equality faced by the trans community in a country that prides itself on its democratic values and inclusive ethos.

“That was the main reason I decided to fight in the 2024 general election,” said Singh. “I am the first, youngest candidate from India’s capital, New Delhi. When I was born in 1997, my identity was male. In 2022, the government certificate indicated I was transgender, and in 2024, the Election Commission of India (ECI) issued a certificate stating me as third gender. When I apply for a government job, I become ‘others.’ so one person has four identities. Most strikingly all these identities are not mine. I identify as a trans woman and no one recognizes my feelings and identity.”

Singh told the Blade that when she filed her nomination for the election, her primary goal was to bring the real identity of the trans community to the center stage of the country. She explained her candidacy was a means to breathe life into the identity of her community, asserting that if people had acknowledged the trans community’s presence over the past 75 years, they would have been granted the same rights as other citizens.

With a voice tinged with pain, Singh told the Blade that if the trans community had been truly recognized as alive, there would have been moments when people saw the community speaking out. 

“There would have been a time when we had a leader to represent us, a chief minister, and even a prime minister,” she said. “But there is no one for the transgender community.”

During her interview with the Blade, Singh shared a slogan she coined for her election campaign: “Sauchalay se Sansad Tak” or “From the toilet to parliament.” This slogan encapsulated her mission to elevate the trans community from the margins of society to the heart of the nation’s decision-making process.

Singh told the Blade only a few trans people voted in the last election. However, this time, however, 228 trans individuals cast their votes in Delhi, a significant increase fueled by the community’s belief that someone was finally standing up for them.

“I was manhandled and threatened on the streets just for announcing my candidacy in the 2024 General Elections,” said Singh. “I was told ‘Chakka’ (a slang word for trans people), I was told how could we fight in election. When I went to the cops to file a First Information Report, they did not file my report. On April 29, Delhi High Court provided me heavy police protection and with that I went to file my nomination for election. If High Court would not have given me the police protection, I would not have been able to file my nomination.”

She told the Blade that society has been conditioned to view the trans community as only beggars and prostitutes, a misconception that is far from the truth. Singh emphasized these stereotypes have long overshadowed the diverse and significant contributions of trans people. Her campaign sought to challenge these harmful narratives and showcase the true potential and worth of the trans community. 

While talking to the Blade, Singh said India’s trans community has not seen much progress in the last 75 years. She acknowledged Modi has taken some steps for the community, notably with the passage of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act in 2019, which has increased awareness among ordinary citizens.

Singh, however, emphasized these efforts are not enough and much more work needs to be done. With great hope and determination, she called on the prime minister to establish a National Transgender Commission. This, she argued, would provide the necessary platform and resources to address the ongoing challenges faced by the trans community, ensuring their rights and dignity are fully protected and promoted.

“The world has seen for the first time in the last 75 years, that during the prime minister’s swearing-in ceremony this year three transgender people were invited,” said Rajan. “I was one of them.”

With immense pride and positivity, Singh stated this is not a loss for her or the community. She views it as a significant victory. For the first time, the trans community voted for one of their own. It marked the historic moment when a trans individual’s name appeared on the Electronic Voting Machine, an integral part of India’s voting system. This election symbolized a newfound self-respect and empowerment, as members of the trans community proudly pressed the button on the EVM, voting for representation and a brighter future.

“We will prepare and fight for the establishment of National Transgender Commission in the country,” said Singh. “We will pressure those political parties who will support the creation of the National Transgender Commission and basic services for the community, we will support them. I will again fight the election.”

Ankush Kumar is a 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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Narendra Modi to form coalition government after winning Indian election

LGBTQ+ issues largely absent from campaign

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (Photo by shganti777/Bigstock)

NEW DELHI — In a vibrant democracy like India, the anticipation surrounding election results is always palpable.

On Tuesday, the stakes were incredibly high, especially for the LGBTQ+ community. The air was thick with suspense, and social media platforms buzzed with the anxiety and hopes of millions. As the night wore on, discussions flourished, emotions ran high, and the country collectively held its breath. The results, which trickled in at their own unhurried pace, promised to shape the future landscape of India’s social and political climate.

The Election Commission on Tuesday announced the much-awaited results.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, led by its charismatic leaders, not only retained power but also strengthened its position with a clear majority. With 293 seats, the coalition comfortably surpassed the majority mark, ensuring a third consecutive term for Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Despite supporters’ hopes and high expectations for a resounding victory, the election results did not fully meet their aspirations. This sense of disappointment was palpable, especially considering the extensive campaigns and efforts made ahead the elections.

All the regional and national parties came together, forming the formidable Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance to challenge the Modi-led National Democratic Alliance. This INDIA alliance, a vibrant coalition of 34 parties, stood united, mostly in opposition to Modi’s policies and leadership.

The BJP has recently articulated its position on LGBTQ+ rights in India.

The government’s opposition to marriage equality in the Supreme Court highlighted their stance against nuptials for same-sex couples. By acknowledging the commitment made by the Supreme Court on issues faced by the LGBTQ+ community, however, the government did establish a dedicated committee to address them.

This committee, formed in April and chaired by Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba, aims to address critical concerns that include healthcare access, pension entitlements, and property rights for LGBTQ+ people.

The inclusion of secretaries from various key ministries signifies a comprehensive approach to addressing these multifaceted challenges. The committee’s creation also underscores the government’s recognition of the LGBTQ+ community’s unique needs and its commitment to ensuring their rights and well-being are systematically addressed.

Despite their alliance, the opposition parties approached the election with individual manifestos rather than a unified platform. This disjointed strategy meant that only two of the 34 parties made explicit commitments to the LGBTQ+ community.

The Indian National Congress, one of the major opposition parties, promised to introduce a bill that would recognize LGBTQ+ couples’ civil unions. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) also pledged to enact pro-LGBTQ+ laws and underscored the need for legislative measures to protect and promote the rights of LGBTQ+ people.

The LGBTQ+ community throughout the election campaign found itself largely overlooked in the opposition parties’ public discourse. LGBTQ+ rights were conspicuously absent from Indian National Congress leaders’ campaign speeches, despite the promises they made in their platforms.

Rahul Gandhi, the prominent Indian National Congress figurehead, failed to address LGBTQ+ rights in his speeches, even in Uttar Pradesh and other states with significant LGBTQ+ populations.

Twenty-eight percent of India’s transgender population lives in Uttar Pradesh. The state, along with others with substantial LGBTQ+ communities, saw no mention of issues that are critically important to them during Gandhi’s rallies and public speeches.

This disconnect between the promises made in manifestos and the topics discussed on the campaign trail underscores a broader issue within political campaigning, where marginalized communities often struggle to find a voice. Despite the written commitments to LGBTQ+ rights, the lack of vocal support during the campaign highlights the ongoing challenges in bringing these important issues to the forefront of political debate.

Several independent LGBTQ+ candidates, in a remarkable display of political participation, entered the fray during election campaign. They include Sunaina Kinner, a trans woman who ran for office in Jharkand state’s Dhanbad constituency.

Kinner faced considerable challenges and lost the election.

She received 3,462 votes, a modest number in the face of entrenched political dynamics. The NOTA (None of the Above) option received 7,354 votes in Kinner’s constituency, indicating a substantial number of voters were dissatisfied with all available candidates.

The BJP’s election manifesto reflected a limited focus on the broader LGBTQ+ community, opting instead to highlight specific initiatives for trans people. The party has promised to improve healthcare access for them.

By promising to include trans people in health programs and offer free health insurance coverage through the prime minister’s Ayushman Bharat Scheme, the BJP aims to provide essential medical support and financial protection. This initiative could potentially improve healthcare outcomes for many trans people, ensuring they receive the necessary medical attention without the burden of financial constraints.

The brevity of the party’s mention of trans issues and the absence of broader LGBTQ+ legislation, however, indicates the party’s stance on LGBTQ+ issues.

After a key meeting of the NDA on Wednesday that the BJP led, Modi was elected party leader and will submit to President Droupadi Murmu on Friday a formal request to form the government for the third consecutive time. The INDIA alliance will sit in opposition.

Ankush Kumar is a 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 government committee to study rights for same-sex couples

Country’s Supreme Court last October ruled against marriage equality

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Indian flag (Photo by Rahul Sapra via Bigstock)

NEW DELHI — The Indian Supreme Court seven months ago declined to grant legal status to same-sex marriages. 

At the time of the verdict, however, the Supreme Court instructed the federal government to establish a committee to address the myriad issues faced by the LGBTQ+ community in India. These include matters such as pensions, joint property ownership, healthcare access, and child custody.

In compliance with the Supreme Court’s directive, the Indian government on April 16 established a committee with Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba appointed as its chair. The committee, consisting of six members, will include secretaries from the Home Affairs, Women and Child Development, Health and Family Welfare, Social Justice and Empowerment, and the Law Ministries.

“The Hon’ble Supreme Court vide its judgment dated 17.10.2023, in Writ Petition No. 1011/2022 Supriyo@Supriya vs. Union of India, has directed the central government to constitute a committee to be chaired by the Cabinet secretary to examine the various issues relating to queer community,” said the gazette notification.

A 5-judge constitutional bench led by Chief Justice Dhananjaya Yeshwant Chandrachud refused to recognize the right to marry as a fundamental right for same-sex couples. The country’s top court stated, while delivering the verdict last year, that parliament must decide whether to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.

The Supreme Court acknowledged it cannot make laws but can only interpret them. It also recognized queer people cannot be discriminated against. The court had said that the material benefits and services given to heterosexual couples and denied to queer couples violate their fundamental rights. 

Chandrachud and Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul in their dissenting opinion advocated for civil unions instead of marriage, arguing this approach would grant legal rights to same-sex couples without extending full marriage rights. They emphasized that while marriage may not inherently confer rights, it offers certain “intangible benefits in the form of expressive advantages” and provides a “bouquet of rights” for couples to exercise.

“For the right to have real meaning, the State must recognize a bouquet of entitlements which flow from an abiding relationship of this kind. A failure to recognize such entitlements would result in systemic discrimination against queer couples,” said Chandrachud. 

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, the country’s second-highest law officer, at the time had stated a committee chaired by the Cabinet secretary would be formed to delineate the rights that should be available to LGBTQ+ couples in a union.

The Supreme Court had outlined several entitlements for the LGBTQ+ community that include the right for queer partners to be treated as part of the same family for ration card purposes, the ability to set up a joint bank account, jail visitation rights, recognition as “next of kin” by medical practitioners, and the right to access the body of a deceased partner to arrange the last rites.

“The committee shall set out the scope of the benefits which accrue to such couples,” stated the Supreme Court in its 2023 ruling. 

In last year’s judgment, the Supreme Court said “legal consequences such as succession rights, maintenance, financial benefits such as under the Income Tax Act 1961, rights flowing from employment such as gratuity and family pension and insurance.” 

The Income Tax Act 1961, provides some benefits to married couple in India, such as a maximum deduction of 199,654.44 ($2,400) that can be claimed in a financial year. Married couples can opt for a joint home loan with tax benefits on interest paid and principal repaid, and also get a higher loan amount. These financial benefits, however, are not available for LGBTQ+ couples in the country. Similarly, as per the rule of family pension in India, if a deceased government servant or pensioner is survived by a spouse, they will be the first to receive a family pension. Children and other family members become eligible for it only after the spouse of the decedent or pensioner become ineligible for a family pension or dies.

Activists say the establishment of a committee chaired by the Cabinet secretary to address the issues faced by LGBTQ+ couples in a union is a promising step forward. 

“The Supreme Court’s verdict on October 17 last year marked a significant milestone in recognizing the rights of LGBTQ individuals, and this committee could play a crucial role in translating legal recognition into practical and effective policy changes,” said Souvik Saha, an LGBTQ activist and founder of People for Change. “The formation of this committee is particularly important in a state like Jharkhand, where LGBTQ individuals face unique challenges. According to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), LGBTQ people in India, especially in rural areas, continue to face significant stigma and discrimination. In Jharkhand, these challenges are compounded by socio-economic factors and a lack of awareness and acceptance among the general population.”

He also said this committee’s effectiveness will depend on its ability to engage with LGBTQ+ communities, understand their needs, and implement policies that are both inclusive and practical. 

“As someone working on the ground, I would emphasize the importance of including voices from all parts of the LGBTQ spectrum, particularly those from marginalized communities,” Saha said.

Ankush Kumar is a 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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India’s general election heats up

Transgender issues are among those being discussed

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Barkha Trehan (Photo courtesy of Barkha Trehan)

NEW DELHI — Amid heatwaves in the Indian capital of New Delhi, the world’s biggest election is raising the temperature even higher.

The temperature in the Indian capital on the morning of April 18 reached 107 degrees, and the sun blazed like a furnace. In the political corridors, however, the sweat wasn’t just from the heat, but from the fervent preparation for and in anticipation of the election results.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, the current ruling party, aggressively prepared for the 2024 general election months ago but the other regional and national parties still seem to be preparing while the election has started in the country. 

The Washington Blade traveled to New Delhi and witnessed the political party’s campaign and preparations. 

Home Minister Amit Shah, representing the BJP, was aggressively campaigning in Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar in Gujarat state. BJP National President Jagat Prakash Nadda was campaigning in Assam state.

The Blade interviewed Barkha Trehan, a political activist in New Delhi. She said that while various political parties in India address transgender and women’s issues in their campaign rhetoric, the Indian National Congress fails to translate its promises into action at the grassroots level.

“Political parties, especially the Congress party in the country, have talked and written enough in their election manifesto, but in last many years they have done nothing,” Barkha told the Blade. “In the last 10 years, we have seen that whatever Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) says or has written in their election manifesto, we have seen that work done on the ground level. Let’s say it is a women’s issue or transgender community issue, or any other issues like infrastructure issues, everything is visible.”

Barkha said that discussing an issue and taking tangible action on it are distinct endeavors. 

She emphasized the BJP’s efforts at the grassroots level, whether concerning trans issues or other matters, deserve recognition. The BJP, according to her, has undertaken numerous initiatives for the trans community that skill development programs and providing loans for startups.

“BJP wants to work for all without any discrimination,” Barkha told the Blade. “They want to create a good image of our country in the world, but the Congress party always pulls down the fame. They always go abroad and discredit the country by talking negative all the time. They think this is the only way to win election in India, but this won’t work out for them.”

Talking about trans issues, Barkha said Prime Minister Narendra Modi has met people from the trans community. She told the Blade that he is trying to motivate the trans community to take advantage of employment opportunities. 

“Before Modi, nobody used to look at the transgender community,” said Barkha. “No one used to talk about them. When the prime minister’s video went viral on the internet and television while he had a conversation with the transgender community, other people started and felt inspired to work for the transgender community and talk to them.” 

indian prime minister narendra modi speaks with a transgender business owner

Barkha told the Blade these things send a message to the trans community that there are people who are listening and who will always stand by it. 

She noted the trans community has always faced discrimination, neglect, and abuse in India. This political outreach, according to Barkha, sends a strong message that the trans community is as important as anyone else, they have the same value as any other citizens in the country, and they deserve a better life. She told the Blade trans people can make money when they can learn new skills, and they will have self-confidence and self-respect when they can earn a living.

Discrimination based on gender identity remains commonplace in India

India’s trans community has suffered discrimination for many years.

An openDemocracy report notes 80 percent of trans Indians are either engaged in sex work or begging. India in 2019 passed a law, Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, with aims to protect the rights of trans people, their welfare, and matters connected therewith and incidental thereto. 

The Indian government and BJP in 2022 came up with a socialist scheme for trans people. Support for Marginalized Individuals for Livelihood and Enterprise is a program to support trans people who are engaged in begging. It provides them access to medical facilities, counseling, education, skill development, and economic linkages with the support of state governments and local urban bodies along with volunteer and community-based organizations. 

The Congress in Telangana state was recently accused of disrespecting the trans community when Revanth Reddy, the Congress party’s sitting chief minister, sent anti-trans slurs that targeted the state’s opposition party.

The Blade reached out to the Congress party’s office in New Delhi, but it denied the interview request.

BJP’s position on LGBTQ+ issues questioned

The Blade while in New Delhi also visited the Aam Aadmi Party’s headquarters.

Despite the scorching sun overhead, Delhi residents sought refuge from the sweltering temperatures. The Blade, amid the election fervor and campaign hustle, interviewed Aam Aadmi Party spokesperson Preeti Sharma Menon. She said the BJP is regressive and seeks to intrude into a person’s bedroom, dietary choices, and other aspects of their personal lives.

“If BJP comes back to power, the party will keep doing what it is doing now, not supporting LGBTQ rights,” said Menon. “I think, there is no doubt in the LGBTQ community that one cannot have BJP in power and live safely. If we want to give equal rights to every citizen of this country, then only the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance is the only chance.”

She said the Aam Aadmi Party always tries to give LGBTQ+ people a chance, but the party in this general election has few seats (in parliament) for which to fight because it is part of the opposition alliance.

“We always think if you want the change, the LGBTQ community must have a representation in the parliament,” said Menon. “So, we always try to make LGBTQ community in the country politically active.”

Ankush Kumar is a 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 political parties for the first time include LGBTQ rights 

The world’s largest democratic exercise will begin in India on April 19 as citizens begin to cast their votes in the country’s election

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Candidates from the Indian National Congress campaigning in Mumbai. The Indian National Congress is the world's largest democratic political organization. (Photo Credit: The Indian National Congress/Facebook)

NEW DELHI — The world’s largest democratic exercise will begin in India on April 19 as citizens begin to cast their votes in the country’s election.

This year’s election is different because national level political parties for the first time are promising to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples as part of their election platforms. 

The Indian National Congress, one of India’s oldest political parties, promised after wide consultation that it would introduce a bill that would recognize civil unions between couples who are part of the LGBTQ community. The party, which has governed India for the majority of the period since independence from the U.K. in 1947, has refrained from taking a stance on laws that include Section 377, which criminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations.

Then-Health Minister Gulam Nabi Azad in 2011 when the INC was in power said homosexuality is a disease. He made the controversial comment while speaking at an HIV/AIDS conference in New Delhi, the Indian capital.

“Unfortunately, this disease has come to our country too,” said Azad. “Where a man has sex with another man, which is completely unnatural and should not happen but does.”

When the Delhi High Court was hearing the Naz Foundation case, the Home Affairs Ministry opposed the striking down of Section 377 based on its belief that homosexuality cannot be morally condoned. The INC never struck down Section 377, which criminalized homosexuality, in parliament.

A 5-judge panel on the Supreme Court on Sept. 6, 2018, decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) on April 4 unveiled its platform with a range of socialist commitments, including support for LGBTQ rights. Among these pledges is to amend the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act 2019 to address community concerns and ensure legal recognition and protection for same-sex couples akin to marriage. 

The platform also outlined plans to introduce a bill similar to the Special Marriage Act of 1954, which allows partners to be listed as dependents and facilitating like inheritance, alimony in the event of divorce and other issues. The party further pledged to enact a comprehensive anti-discriminatory bill that would include LGBTQ people, ensure quotas in educational institutions and implement horizontal reservations in employment. 

Addressing the issue of crimes against LGBTQ people, the platform promised to treat such offenses on par with crimes against heterosexuals. The platform also calls for tackling bullying, violence and harassment of gender non-conforming and LGBTQ people in educational settings, enforcing anti-hazing policies and combating hazing based on sexual orientation and gender identity. 

The platform further touched issues related to transition and informed consent.

The Special Marriage Act of 1954 is a law that provides for civil unions among Indians and Indian nationals who live abroad, regardless of the religion or faith followed by either party. This law enables people from two different religious backgrounds to enter into marriage. Parliament in 2019 passed the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act that extended rights to trans people.

Brinda Karat, a former member of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian Parliament, and leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), spoke with the Washington Blade and said the current government has homophobic ideas that are not acceptable to the party.

The ruling government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi is striving to secure more than 400 parliament seats in the upcoming election, aiming for a substantial majority. 

Various polls conducted by Indian news organizations indicate a probable victory for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. In response to the BJP’s dominance, Congress and several national and regional parties have joined forces as the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance. 

This alliance comprises 26 opposition political parties. Despite its formation, however, there is no clear coalition strategy in place and only two parties have included LGBTQ-specific policies in their election platforms. 

The Blade reached out to Congress’ spokesperson for comment, but has not received a response. The BJP also did not respond to a request for comment.

The party has yet to release its election platform. 

Ankush Kumar is a 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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New Indian immigration law excludes LGBTQ+ people

Government to offer fast-track citizenship to nationals from neighboring countries

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Indian flag (Photo by Rahul Sapra via Bigstock)

NEW DELHI — The Indian government on March 11 implemented a law that allows undocumented people who entered the country from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and other neighboring countries before Dec. 31, 2014, to receive fast-track citizenship.

Parliament in 2019 passed the Citizenship Amendment Act, which provides citizenship to undocumented people who are minorities — mainly because they are Hindu, Jain, Sikhs, Buddhist, Parsi and Christian — who face persecution in their countries of origin. The rule that took effect this month does not include LGBTQ+ people.

LGBTQ+ Pakistanis face discrimination based on gender identity, violence, homicide, threats and hate speech, discrimination in accessing employment and access to housing. Lesbians, in particular, face challenges that include sexual harassment, violence and a greater chance of losing housing and jobs if sexual orientation is revealed. 

According to the Human Rights Watch report in 2022, Afghanistan’s gender minorities have faced grave threats to their safety and lives under the Taliban regime. Even before the Taliban took over the country, former President Ashraf Ghani passed a law that criminalized consensual same-sex sexual relationships.

According to the Taliban’s statement given to the Built, a German tabloid, before the fall of Kabul, the country’s capital, in 2021, gay people would be punished in two ways, either by stoning or by standing behind a wall that will fall on them.

A 2016 Human Rights Watch from 2016 notes the killings of several LGBTQ+ activists and illegal arrests by police in Bangladesh. 

Bangladesh’s National Human Rights Commission in 2013 asked the government to protect the LGBTQ+ community from discrimination. The commission acknowledged police physically and sexually assault LGBTQ+ people, and make arbitrary arrests based on an individual’s appearance. 

Although India’s CAA does not fast-track citizenship for new arrivals but sticks to the cut-off date of December 2014; there are no records of any LGBTQ+ Muslims coming from Pakistan, Afghanistan or Bangladesh to India. 

The Indian Home Affairs Ministry says the applicant must provide six types of documents and specify the “date of entry” in India. 

“These rules will now enable minorities persecuted on religious grounds in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan to acquire citizenship in our nation,” Union Home Minister Amit Shah said in an X post on March 11. “With this notification PM (Prime Minister) Shri Narendra Modi has delivered on another commitment and realized the promise of the makers of our constitution to the Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians living in those countries.”

More than 1,000 members of the LGBTQ+ community protested against the law in New Delhi, India’s capital, after Parliament passed it in 2019. Tejasvi Surya, an MP from Bengaluru and a member of the ruling party, said those who are protesting against the CAA, especially LGBTQ+ members want Pakistani Muslims to come into India. 

“Let me assure all of you, you’re seriously misplaced. There is no iota of idea or freedom or recognition of LGBTQ rights in Pakistan,” said Surya. “You are proudly going about your LGBTQ rights and living a dignified existence here and fighting for a more dignified life in India because we are not Pakistan. So, if you let all the Muslims of Pakistan to come into India, then there will be no questions of LGBTQ rights in India.”

The applicant can apply for citizenship in India through an online portal with listed documents that include birth certificates, tenancy records, identity papers and any license, school, or educational certificate issued by a government authority in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The applicant needs to produce an eligibility certificate issued by a reputable community institution that confirms they belong to the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, or Christian community and remains a member of it. 

Rani Patel, an activist, and founder of Aarohan, a nonprofit organization that works with Transgender Indians, said the LGBTQ+ community is always neglected.

“Every country has a set of rules and regulations,” said Patel. “We cannot encroach on other’s area. We can take care of our LGBTQ community. We cannot say that we can take your LGBTQ people. We have a huge population, and this is the government’s call.”

Guru Prasad Mohanty, an LGBTQ+ rights activist in Uttarakhand, told the Washington Blade that the Indian government has always excluded the LGBTQ+ community. 

“The LGBTQ community in India has been left out in every sector and in every form, so I am not surprised that they left the community,” said Mohanty. “I would have been happy, not only me but all the members of the community, if LGBTQ community has been included in this.”

Ankush Kumar is a 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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India broadcast authority asks TV station to delete video deemed offensive to LGBTQ+ community

Activist Indrajeet Ghorpad filed complaint

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India Today broadcast (YouTube screenshot)

MUMBAI — India’s News Broadcasting and Digital Standards Authority on Feb. 28 asked a television station to delete a video that contained objectionable remarks against the LGBTQ+ community. 

The India Today video report’s headline was “Nudity sparks outrage at USA Pride parades: How India’s LGBTQ+ lead responsibly.” The clip reportedly contained factual inaccuracies, spread fear and demonized the LGBTQ+ community.

NBDSA has asked India Today to remove all hyperlinks to the video from every one of its platforms. The regulatory agency has issued guidelines for broadcasters about the LGBTQ+ community and asked to circulate it among all its editors and members. The broadcasting authority announced the directives after hearing a complaint that Indrajeet Ghorpad, an LGBTQ+ rights activist, filed.

Ghorpad said the program did not comply with the principles of “accuracy, neutrality, objectivity, good taste, decency and others.” Ghorpad also said it portrayed Pride parades in the U.S. in a negative light and unfavorably compared them with India’s LGBTQ+ community.

The NBDSA had received several complaints on the community’s portrayal. It issued five guidelines to sensitize and bring objectivity when covering the LGBTQ+ community in India, apart from the existing code of ethics and broadcasting standards.

The NBDSA on March 1 issued guidelines on how to report on issues faced by the LGBTQ+ community with accuracy, objectivity and sensitivity, and further said that non-sensitive and inaccurate reporting regarding the community has serious social repercussions.

The guidelines say “reporting should not sensationalize or create panic, distress or undue fear among viewers.” They also state broadcasters must avoid broadcasting any news that sensationalizes the issues related to the LGBTQ+ community, perpetuates stereotypes or creates fear in respect of the community.

The recommendations say broadcasters should refrain from using any expression or slur that may be construed as “hate speech” against the LGBTQ+ community. They also note broadcasters while covering any issue concerning the LGBTQ+ community must ensure their reporting does not promote homophobia or transphobia, or negative stereotypes about the LGBTQ+ community.

The guidelines say broadcasters must respect the privacy of LGBTQ+ people and not disclose personal information, including gender identity or sexual orientation of a person without their consent. The guidelines further state broadcasters should use inclusive and gender-neutral language, and respect the individuals’ preferred pronouns and names. Broadcasters, according to the guidelines, must strive for diverse representation in their coverage of the LGBTQ+ community and ensure voices from different segments of the LGBTQ+ community are provided a platform to express their views.

The incident is not a first Indian media. 

TV9 Telugu, a Telugu language television station, in 2011 did a sting operation on LGBTQ+ members of a gay dating site, over which the news channel faced the community’s wrath in Mumbai, India’s financial capital. The channel at that time broadcasted the operation all over the country and released profiles and pictures of the site’s users. 

The LGBTQ+ community protested outside the channel’s office in Mumbai by wearing condoms on their middle fingers.

NBDSA in April 2022 sanctioned TV9 Teluguand Sakshi TV, another Telugu-language 24-hour news channel, for sensationalizing a police raid in Hyderabad after neighbors complained of loud noise. The two channels broadcasted visuals of the party and individuals attending it, violating privacy and highlighting their sexual orientation without their consent.

Negha Shahin, a Transgender Indian actress, told the Washington Blade that social media today has become an unsafe, toxic and hate-spreading tool with regards to Trans and queer people.

“Mocking LGBTQIA+ folks is becoming a new trend. Content creators are creating content against queer folks, dangerous things are getting attention and triggering homophobia and transphobia,” said Shahin. “Meanwhile TV media like India Today is playing major part and considered as responsible news network. If they did not follow the guidelines then how will the society will follow? Journalists, politicians, actors, police, lawyers whoever addressing issues related to (the) minority community in India, should mind the glossary. They cannot be transphobic or homophobic. They cannot oppress, misgender, following stereotypes and creating false statement or news in the media.”

Shahin said news channels in India that do not following the guidelines are showing their hatred against the LGBTQ+ community. She said these incidents remind everyone that uprooting stereotypes and homophobia from society in every form is important.

Harish Iyer, a prominent equal rights activist in India, told the Blade that accepting different sexuality is not a Western or Indian concept, but rather a scientific one that cuts across geographies and sex.

“If channels are broadcasting this, they are not doing against gender or sexuality but against science and humanity,” said Iyer. “More than expunging and deleting the video, the corrective actions like watchdogs will ensure corrective actions are required. The guidelines are in sync with what the Supreme Court of India and the Constitution of India stand for. With a name like India Today, they stand against the very tenet of Indianism which is enshrined in the constitution that provides equal opportunity and equal protection of the law against any discrimination regardless of gender and sexuality, so I think, India Today, should not have the India in their name because that goes against the tenet of Indian constitution and the Supreme Court’s verdict as well. There should be something mandatory for the news channels, and not just the guidelines.”

India Today did not respond to the Blade’s multiple requests for comment.

Ankush Kumar is a 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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India court allows Trans woman to participate in Armed Forces’ youth wing

Feb. 29 ruling in Kerala state upheld other judge’s decision

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Indian flag (Photo by Rahul Sapra via Bigstock)

KOCHI, India — A Kerala High Court judge on Feb. 29 upheld another magistrate’s ruling that allowed a Transgender woman to participate in the Indian Armed Forces’ youth wing as a female.

The High Court set aside a part of the order that directed the central government to amend the NCC Act to allow Trans people to enroll based on their gender identity.

“When the petitioner has been given the identity of a female, she is certainly entitled to be enrolled in the NCC under section 6(2) of the NCC Act,” said Justice Anu Sivaraman. “In the light of the aforesaid provisions of the Transgenders Act and also in the light of the dictum laid down by the Apex Court in National Legal Service Authority (NALSA).” 

The judge said that the court cannot direct the government to amend the law, but expressed hope that the Indian government would amend the NCC Act to expressly allow the entry of Trans candidates to the NCC.

The Kerala High Court said that the fact that the National Cadet Corps Act does not recognize the third gender cannot be a reasonable justification to deny entry to a Trans person.

Hina Haneefa had filed a petition with the High Court that challenged a section of the NCC Act that only allowed males and females under Section 6 of the law to enroll in the Cadet Corps.

“In view of the specific provisions of the 2019 act, a Transgender person has the right to be recognized not only as a Transgender but also a right to self-perceived gender, i.e. the female gender,” said Sivaraman. “The denial of enrollment is unsustainable. The petitioner will be entitled to participate in the selection process on the basis of her application. If she is successful, the petitioner will be enrolled in the NCC Unit.”

Haneefa is a Trans woman who applied to enroll in the NCC after undergoing gender-affirming procedures and getting her identity card. The NCC denied her application. 

Parliament in 2019 passed Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act of 2019, which extended rights to Trans people.  

While talking with the Washington Blade, Kalki Subramaniam, an Indian Trans activist, queer artist, entrepreneur and actor, said Trans people in the country have to fight for the inclusion of Trans people in all sectors.

“We have to go to the court, we have to fight with the system, then the high court directs the state and the central government to take inclusive steps. Again and again, repetitive,” said Subramaniam. “Why should Trans people should struggle for everything? I am sure, the central government is working towards equality and inclusion because they recently published Equal Opportunity Policy for Transgender Persons. The government will consider this to include trans people in NCC. What I am looking for is the inclusion of Transgender people in the Indian military. That could be a long term plan, but it is possible and ultimately rests in the government’s hands.”

Subramaniam expressed her firm belief that all Indian citizens, including members of the Trans community, deserve the opportunity to serve the country. She emphasized the potential of Trans individuals to contribute to national defense and public service, highlighting both the military and civil services as avenues for their inclusion. Subramaniam voiced her confidence in the central government of India’s willingness to address this issue and expressed hope for future action.

Souvik Saha, an LGBTQ+ activist and founder of People for Change, one of India’s premier advocacy groups, said he supports the Kerala High Court ruling.

“This decision is a significant step towards inclusivity and recognizing the rights of Transgender individuals to participate fully in all aspects of society,” said Saha. “The NCC Act currently only allows for the enrollment of male and female cadets, which is discriminatory against Transgender individuals and reinforces harmful binary gender norms. By ordering the central government to amend the NCC Act to accommodate Transgender individuals, the Kerala High Court is acknowledging the need for legal protections and equal opportunities for all genders.”

Saha said the decision will set a positive precedent for other institutions and organizations to follow suit in recognizing and accommodating Trans people. Souvik added it sends a clear message that discrimination based on gender identity is not acceptable and that Trans people have the right to equal opportunities and access to resources.

“Moreover, allowing Transgender individuals to enroll in the NCC provides them with valuable opportunities for personal development, leadership training, and civic engagement,” he said. “By participating in programs like the NCC, Transgender individuals can gain skill, confidence, and a sense of belonging, which are essential for their overall well-being and success.”

“Overall, the Kerala High Court’s decision to allow a Transgender woman to enroll in the NCC is a significant victory for LGBTQ rights and a crucial step towards creating a more inclusive and equitable society,” he added. “It is imperative that the central government swiftly amends the NCC Act to ensure that Transgender individuals are not excluded or discriminated against based on their gender identity.”

Ankush Kumar is a 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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