In September last year, the Supreme Court read down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalised homosexuality.
Since then, the issues of the LGBTQ community have found their way into mainstream political narratives. Many well-known politicians, irrespective of their party’s posturing, have extended their support to the LGBTQ+ community.
In December, TMC’s Derek O’Brien promised to not let the Rajya Sabha pass the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016. And Indian National Congress’ Shashi Tharoor has been at the forefront of those advocating for LGBTQ+ rights.
Amid all these popular figures, there are many transgender political candidates as well as allies who are contesting in the ongoing Lok Sabha elections.
However, most of us aren’t even aware of them.
The young creators
A trio of youngsters – Anish Gawande, Devina Buckshee and Smriti Deora – have come together to give these candidates the attention they deserve.
Gawande recently graduated from Columbia University and is the director of the Dara Shikoh Fellowship. Buckshee recently graduated from the University of Edinburgh with an MA in Sociology and Politics and is a journalist with The Quint based in Delhi. Deora studied Economics and Communications at the University of Southern California and is a freelance designer based in Mumbai.
They have prepared a list called ‘The Pink List’ which includes the name of political candidates (across party lines) contesting in the 2019 elections who have supported LGBTQ+ rights.
Queer political representation in India, as Buckshee said, is very vague. “It’s really hard to know where your candidate stands on certain issues – and this was an issue that was important to us,” she said.
The list, she said, aims to eventually build “a network of politicians across party lines to make queer issues a political imperative.”
The list also demonstrates that these issue are not limited to one particular section of society.
“Queer issues are not just confined to metros or urban/ elite areas. It is something that spans party lines and constituencies and runs into smaller regions. We have many regional parties who are coming out in support,” she added.
The youngsters have, however, noted that this list is only limited to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and, therefore, doesn’t include the names of all the politicians who have extended their support to the LGBTQ+ community in India.
More importantly, the creators state that they don’t mean to endorse any of the candidates featuring in the list.
The candidates, as the creators say, may or may not have inclusive views with respect to caste, class, religion and gender.
As the intersectional feminist portal Feminism in India noted, Anbumani Ramadoss is a former union health minister and is one of the first Indian MP’s to speak in favour of LGBTQ+ issues.
However, he had allegedly made casteist comments and has also violated the Model Code of Conduct this year by hinting at a possible booth capture at an election rally in Kancheepuram.
Hence, the creators of the list have entreated the citizens to check the full history of their candidates before going out to vote to make a “truly intersectional and informed choice.”
According to the Pink List, the candidates have been divided into four categories – Trailblazers, Changemakers, Outspoken Allies, and Allies.
- Trailblazers are political candidates from the LGBTQ+ community contesting the elections. If elected, they will be India’s first elected members the LGBTQ+ community. These include Ashwathi Rajappan (Independent candidate) from Ernakulam, Radha (Independent) from Chennai South, Sneha Kale (Durbal Ghatak Aghadi) from Mumbai North Central, among others.
- Changemakers are the ones who have unequivocally supported LGBTQ+ positions and have significantly contributed to changing the trajectory of queer and trans rights in India. Shashi Tharoor (INC), Jay Panda (BJP), H.D. Deve Gowda (Janata Dal Secular) and many others are grouped under this category.
- Outspoken Allies are those who especially fought against Section 377 and against the Transgender Persons Bill (2016). Outspoken allies include Rahul Gandhi (INC), Supriya Sule (NCP), Jagadambika Pal (BJP) and a few others.
- Allies are the ones who supported Shashi Tharoor’s Bill to scrap Section 377. This category includes Saumitra Khan (JP), Jitin Prasad (INC), Arpita Ghosh (TMC), among others.
The list focuses on individuals and attempts to acknowledge their contributions.
“We focus on candidates because party manifestos are unclear most of the times and there is no one to hold accountable. Here, we focus on the individual so that you know who to reach out to to talk about queer issues,” Buckshee said.
Amid the plethora of homophobic statements casually dropped by politicians on the regular, a list like this, as Buckshee states, comes as a ray of hope.
“It was pretty interesting to see that there was support from across India and not just one party. It shows that the support is wider than we think it is,” she added.
In the future, the group intends to make the list more diverse and inclusive as they keep updating it. Besides, they want to engage with political candidates and take the conversation out into offline spaces as well.
Featured image credit: Smriti Deora