Gender and Economic Policy Discussion Forum XVI:

Gender and Economic Policy Discussion Forum XVI:

The Queer Question: Socio-Economic and Political Costs of Exclusion

The Queer community in India has been struggling for years to get their rightful place in the society. The contemporary Queer movement started off as a response to violence against the community or in the context of HIV/AIDS epidemic. Increasingly, however, the movement has begun to shift away from a discourse solely centered on violence and AIDS prevention to one rooted in rights, identities and the celebration of one desires[1]. The Delhi Queer Pride Parade which is held by the Delhi LGBT community every November since 2007 is a case in point.

The legal debate surrounding the Queer community centers on the Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. This section criminalizes homosexual intercourse and was a basis for routine and continuous violence against sexual minorities by the police, medical establishment, and the state. However, in 2009, a Delhi High Court decision found Section 377 and other legal prohibitions to be in direct violation of fundamental rights provided by the Indian Constitution and repealed the draconian law. But again, on 11 December 2013, the Supreme Court set aside the 2009 Delhi High Court order again criminalizing consensual homosexual activity[2].

Nonetheless, not all recent legislations have been regressive in respect to the Queer community. In a significant step, the Supreme Court in April 2015 recognised the transgender community as a third gender along with male and female. This was done for the purpose of safeguarding their rights under the Constitution. The court also directed the Centre and States to take steps to treat them as socially and educationally backward classes and extend reservation for admission in educational institutions and for public appointments[3]. Even in the 2014 election at least three major political parties - the Aam Aadmi Party, the Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) - had included support for decriminalization of homosexual relations in their election manifestos[4]. In addition in January 2015, independent candidate Madhu Bai Kinnar was elected as the mayor of RaigarhChhattisgarh becoming India's first openly transgender mayor[5]. Although these legislations have given a new life to the transgender community, a lot still needs to be done for the Queer community who is still struggling to establish their identity.

Even though a lot of Queer activism has taken place around Section 377, Queer politics and Queer economics has recently emerged as a site of scholarship and activism in India. According to Bhan and Narrain, Queer politics is not simply a minority issue of communities defined by their sexual orientation but a broader questioning of normative assumptions around sexuality and gender. This proliferation of identity and identity politics is closely tied to both a new political language that uses rights-based and community centric ideas as well as emergence of support spaces where the lives of sexual minorities can be validated and shared[6]. On the other hand, Queer Economics talks of various issues like the loss of income generating and employment opportunities or exclusion from benefits that might accrue from entitlements due to the biases built into the economy against sexual minorities.  Similarly, the economy accrues certain benefits (such as additional manpower, which in turn, will increase the value added to the economy) by including this community.