Shyam Divan: Our constitution greatly safeguards the rights of diversity and this should include LGBT
The Centre for StudiesÂ in Gender and Sexuality (CSGS) at Ashoka University hosted a thought provoking symposium on queer politics in India which raised questions on the issue of womenâ€™s safety. CSGS is a first-of-its-kind centre in India which aims to study the broader spectrum of questions relating to the issues of inequality, desire, identity, and politics in relation to both gender and sexuality in the society.
In her opening remarks, Madhavi Menon, Director, Centre for Studies in Gender and Sexuality; Professor of English, Ashoka University, said “Thinking about gender and sexuality is crucial to appreciating the complexity of various political and social relationships. In India, the policing of gender and sexuality forms the cornerstone of many inequalities perpetrated in society, yet these issues are not subjected to rigorous thought and analysis. Indeed, analysing questions of gender and sexuality seems to be inversely proportional to their importance in the world around us. Not only does the Centre hope to rectify this gap, but we also hope to emphasise the multiple ways in which matters of gender and problems of sex affect things as seemingly disparate as the functioning of the law and the constitution of the family.”
The symposium that saw the participation of distinguished speakers such as Anjali Gopalan, Founder and the Executive Director of the Naz Foundation (India) Trust; Â Geeta Patel, Director, UVA in India Program, Director of Diversity & Inclusion, Program in WomenÂ Gender & Sexuality Studies, University of Virginia; Shyam Divan, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India, also concluded the Centre’s Speakers’ Series ISHQ: Issues in History, Society, and Queerness that had been running for the length of Ashoka Universityâ€™s last academic year. The series invited noted scholars, activists, and other thinkers working actively in the field, once a month, to present their thoughts on some of the most pressing issues in Indian society.
Menon pointed out that “in keeping with Ashoka University’s promise of creating critical thinkers and ethical leaders who are not only the best in the world, but also the best for the world, the Centre is committed to studying the intersections at which we encounter questions about gender and sexuality, in India and around the world, in the realities of our everyday lives.”
In light of the curative petition against section 377 which is due for hearing in the Supreme Court and the current socio-political climate in the country, a panel discussion organised to discuss the significance of this juncture for queer politics in India, challenges in winning the legal battle, and possibilities for the queer movement ahead was the highlight of the symposium.
â€œThe case is not about the physical act. It is about identity, dignity and diversity. The theory that this issue is related to a minority is a canard in itself. The segment of society, irrespective of their number, demands nothing else but rights to complete moral citizenship rather than slurring their choices and individuality. The brilliance of the Indian constitutional system is that it safeguards the rights of every sort of diversity – in terms of caste, language, ethnic minorities – the same should be ensured for the LGBT communityâ€, Shyam Divan, pointed out during the panel discussion.
His views were supported by Anjali Gopalan as she emphasised, “For decades, section 377 has resulted in persecution of the LGBT community in this country. A curative petition being heard is not only a step in the right direction but also a victory in itself as the constitutional bench is now stepping in the issue’s addressal as a human rights issue rather than that of sexual minorities.â€ She further outlined “The need of the hour is to form larger coalitions, associating this with other movements such as conservation, child rights and so on where upholding the constitutional rights of an individual can be the common tenet underscoring the interests of the coalition members”
The evening concluded with Thoda Dhyaan Se, a powerful performance by Mallika Taneja that held a mirror to society on issues of womenâ€™s safety and gender-based violence.