Election Promises and Queer Realities: Navigating Inclusion in Indian Politics

Election Promises and Queer Realities: Navigating Inclusion in Indian Politics

As election manifestos address LGBTQ+ issues, activists and individuals scrutinize the sincerity of promises amidst a landscape of cautious hope and enduring challenges.

Anil*, a 29-year-old queer student leader at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, felt a mix of gladness and cautious optimism as the election manifestos of various political parties addressed queer issues. As India prepares for its 18th Lok Sabha election, Anil observes this inclusion with a blend of hope and reservation.

The Congress party's manifesto stated, "After wide consultation, the Congress will bring a law to recognize civil unions between couples belonging to the LGBTQIA+ community." It also suggested that the party would expand Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of 'disability,' 'impairment,' or 'sexual orientation'.

The Congress party's pledge of a "civil union" falls short of marriage equality, lacking the same legal recognition in personal law as traditional marriage.

The CPI (M), in its manifesto, spoke of "giving legal recognition and protection to same-sex couples similar to marriage - "civil union", "same-sex-partnerships", legislations on similar lines as the Special Marriage Act, 1954 so that the partner can be listed as dependent, for an inheritance, alimony in case of divorce." Additionally, the party proposed a comprehensive anti-discriminatory bill to cover LGBTQ+ rights, advocated for reservation in educational institutions, and emphasized equal treatment under the law for crimes against LGBTQ+ individuals, aligning them with those against non-LGBTQ+ persons.

The manifestos represent significant strides, particularly following the Supreme Court's October decision to refrain from legalizing same-sex marriages. This decision came five years after the landmark ruling that struck down Section 377, a colonial-era prohibition on gay sex. The Court clarified that it lacked the jurisdiction to legalize LGBTQ marriages, affirming that such a decision rested within the purview of Parliament.

"Most of these promises fall flat when it comes to standing up for queer rights in the Parliament. They are just election talking points to get headlines in the press," Anil* told Mojo Story.

"More than the manifestos, we need real representation and legislation in favor of the queer community that is rarely seen in current political discourse," he added.

Like Anil, thousands of queer people in the country, the pursuit of rights like marriage and civil union remains a pressing issue, despite these pledges often appearing as mere election rhetoric aimed at grabbing headlines.

The Supreme Court of India, in its judgment in October 2023, ruled against legalizing same-sex marriages in India by a 3:2 verdict. In fact, the SC Judgment put the onus of framing laws for same-sex marriages on the legislature. Therefore, it is no surprise that several parties have made it a part of their manifesto. However, measured optimism and a general sense of skepticism exist, and with good reason.

While the LGBTQIA+ issue finds itself in the news at least once in a ruling Government's term, none of the major political parties have followed it up and seen it through to its logical conclusion, or at least paved the path for the same. While it is necessary to understand that legislature takes time, it is important to note that no party across the political spectrum, has pursued it actively. The measured optimism and general scepticism have their foundations in this perception of LGBTQIA+ rights being mere "lip service" by the political parties.

"We all are looking for the specifics of what they would do for queer inclusion and representation in the political arena and not just some feel-good talking head points," said Harish Iyer, an equal rights activist.

Believing that the discourse around LGBTQIA+ issues in electoral politics has changed, Iyer told Mojo Story, "You can't run a progressive government with a non-inclusive mindset. Previously, the LGBTQIA+ community was considered to be a niche community at the margins. Now, when we speak about LGBTQIA+ people, we're talking about friends, families, lovers, and ourselves.

He added, "There are some people in the parties who have the guts and gumption to prioritise the rights of the queer community in their manifestos. While some only pander to a certain vote bank."

According to a 2019 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, there has been a notable shift in societal attitudes towards homosexuality in India, with 37 percent of respondents indicating acceptance, a significant increase from the 15 percent reported in 2013. Findings from another Pew survey released in June of the previous year revealed that a majority of adults in India, totaling 53 percent, expressed support for the legalization of same-sex marriage

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) promised to fund more shelter homes for transgender persons in its recently released election manifesto. Apart from this, the manifesto does not promise anything significant for the country's LGBTQIA+ population.

"I think it is important for every single political party, regardless of ideology, to talk about queer issues. We are gradually moving toward every party, acknowledging that they have to address LGBTQ+ people. So, it is no longer an 'unacceptable community'. They could also have avoided mentioning it entirely," said Anish Gawande, the founder of Pink List India, the country's first archive of politicians supporting LGBTQ+ rights.

Expressing his disappointment, he said, "Unfortunately, I don't think there have been any systematic efforts by any party to actively reach out to LGBTQ+ people to ask them what they want in the manifesto ... Queer inclusion in manifestos is a good step, but I would not say that it is something that needs to be celebrated as a game changer, or some sort of momentous decision that is going to change the lives of queer people."

On the notion of queerness as a voting identity, Gawande points out that in the current political landscape, factors like caste, religion, and region wield greater influence than sexuality. "Queer rights are human rights. Queer people need to be acknowledged in the election manifestos not because they are voting blocs, but because they deserve equal rights and representation in the country."

Next Story