God’s own country embraces the rainbow
“Leaving no one behind”, the title that echoes the agenda of the sustainable development goals set by the UN, has been largely ignored by the Indian Government and people in regards to the LGBTQ community. Each state has a different policy and level of acceptance, so for their most advanced policy stances, this article will concentrate on the southern state of Kerala.
Kerala’s society, like all other Indian states have a rocky relationship with it’s LGBTQ community. Legally, the state has been more supportive and proactive than others, with multiple schemes to support the community. But first, the organisations that have worked to help push the government to take these steps need to be highlighted.
Collectively known as Queer Pride Keralam Group, Queerala and Sahayathrika and the state foremost organisations working for the betterment of the conditions of the LGBTQ community. The collective organises the Kerala Pride, with the most recent one being held in Kochi on 12 August of this year. The Pride has been running for 8 years, earlier organised in Thrissur, it shifted base to Kochi in 2014 and has been held in various cities since then.
Queerala is a support group for the community and their family and friends. Jijo Kuriakose, a research analyst, started it as a secret Facebook group in 2013. It’s now a full fledged online support group that conducts offline events to increase support and inclusion. One of which was the family get together of LGBTQ peoples and their families in July of this year. Sahayathrika is an organisation that concentrates on lesbian and bisexual women, Female to Male(F2M) Transgenders, Queer, Intersex and Asexual peoples. It was initiated by Deepa Vasudevan against the backdrop of rising number of lesbian suicides in the state. Like Queerala it has it’s operations both online and offline.
Another prominent support group is Queerythm, based in Thiruvananthapuram, they meet every month. They recently organised an event this year to commemorate International
Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia, which falls on May 17. The events included an exhibition of books d magazines regarding the LGBTQ community and even a series n the history of the queer movement in the state. A documentary screening and a panel discussion was also organised.
These organisations have helped bring a lot of concerns of the LGBTQ community to the forefront and have it addressed by the government of Kerala. Resulting in major policy changes to create a better space for the community.
Policy Change and Governmental Support
In terms of the scale of change or being the agents of change, politicians from Kerala have led the way. Thiruvananthapuram MP, Shashi Tharoor, has been the one to introduce a bill in the Lok Sabha for the repulsion of Section 377; not once, but twice.
After the Supreme Court recognized hijra as a third gender, Kerala went a step further and introduced a transgender welfare policy in 2015. It entails the “provision of equal access to social and economic resources, protection of the right to equal treatment under the law, the right to life, liberty and justice, and the right to non-discrimination based on sex”. Furthermore in 2016, the state introduced free Sex Reassignment Surgery in government hospitals and also allocated a part of the budget towards it. Kannur, a northern district, also allocated a part of their budget towards the employment and training programs for the transgender community in the district. Last year the Kozhikode collector opened the country’s first official grievance redressal cell for the LGBTQ community.
The Gender Park inaugurated by Pranab Mukherjee, the then President of the country, in 2016 is a pioneer in the field of gender studies in the country. It is managed by the department of social justice of the Government of Kerala. Located in Kozhikode it aims at researching policy for the LGBTQ community and their empowerment. This initiative has borne fruit and hasn’t just been a project to make the government look progressive on paper. Their most lauded effort is the introduction of “SheTaxi”, which has given rise to “G- Taxi”. The former being a fleet of cabs driven by women for women, and the latter being one driven by the transgender community for themselves.
On April of this year the state also held it’s first ever sports meet for transgender athletes in Thiruvananthapuram. It was conducted by the Sexual and Gender Minority Federation (SGMF) in collaboration with the state government.
Kochi has seen the first school opened specifically for the transgender community who have had to leave their education incomplete due to discrimination and lack of familial and societal support. The school, opened in 2016, is headed by transgender activist Vijayraja Mallika. It allows the individuals to get an opportunity to eventually gain employment. And talking about the employment of transgender individuals, Kerala paves the way once again. The recently opened Kochi Metro, has implemented the earlier mentioned transgender welfare bill into action and employed 23 transgender women and is hoping to increase the number to 60 next year.
These policies although a step in the right direction have not always been met with complete enthusiasm.
There have been complaints alleging the inefficiency of the sex reassignment surgeries and the inexperience of the doctors.
The employees of the metro have also quit their jobs due to the social stigma attached to their identity thus showing that simply policy cannot magically make things better for the community.
Faisal C, a transgender woman employed by the Kochi Metro had these choice words to say about the governments policies in an interview with live mint, “Let’s take the case of the government handing out a scholarship for transgender students in schools. Foolishness! Who in Kerala will enrol their kids in schools as transgenders?”
This statement echoes at the core of almost every LGBTQ policy in the world, the lack of societal acceptance of the community that hinders the effective implementation of the policies. Policy change has to be coupled with educational programs and initiatives for the general public. This includes better news coverage and use of the correct terminology while identifying people of the LGBTQ community. This being said Kerala is the most progressive in the country in terms of creating legal provisions for the community and they have been consistently doing their part to ensure the for the community, a safer and more accepting environment.