The text below was written as an email on many LGBT lists in India. Followed by the text of the email are a few after thoughts on the email itself and the reaction to it.
It’s been interesting to watch all the reactions to A.P.Shah’s unfair retirement. This has been from various quarters including the LGBT community.
One must admit, among all the communities whose lives his judgments have attempted to change, we have been rather vocal in thanking him profusely. This is a good trend to set in general as sometimes I feel others working on various issues whose work has been vindicated rather literally by him have not taken the time out to do an analysis and express their gratitude towards the existence of a judge like him, in the otherwise difficult judiciary in this country. This might make a difference to him. He is hurt by the judiciary which he dedicated his life to which has now slighted him through opaque, undemocratic processes, thus going against all that he stands for and what the judiciary claims to stand for. So am glad we are doing this!
Even the mainstream media has spoken extensively about his judgment in the 377 case among others. of course!
I am writing in to point out that A.P.Shah’s judgmenets collectively could be an interesting accumulated version of a possible worldview/political vision for Queer (including but not restricted to LGBTIKMH) politics in India. He has in one life time increased the standards of justice for various communities such as same-sex loving people, slum dwellers, rickshaw pullers, ‘illegal’ residents on city land, and of course Right to Information for all citizens.
This could be an oppurtunity for us to look more closely at all of his judgements and see how he made a clear connection between them.
His judgements are based on legal rigour, an element of practicality and the values of justice and equality for all. All of this, while holding the state as well as society at large acocuntable to make this ideal a reality.
Thus, while we thank him profusely for making our lives a little better, let us also use this oppurtunity to make the connections he made.
Why should we make them? Simply becuase these connections are a reality. Same sex loving people are also often rickshaw pullers and slum dwellers and those who need the right to information. It is only such a holistic perspective that is going to make an equal and just world a reality at the end of the day. A.P.Shah has no choice but to know this beyond any doubt as as a judge he was faced with these realities- the limitations of the legal version of them notwithstanding.
Even his individual judgments, written with other judges, including the 377 one, does not make a case for rights to individual communities alone but places those rights unabashedly in the context of broader justice and democratic politics. And of course they do because these rights are effective only when connected to each other. The elements of oppression and denial of rights also are effective only when connected to each other. Now comes, what is left for us to do because the struggles to assure these rights will ALSO only be effective if connected to one another.
So lets thank A.P.Shah for all that he did. For so many in the world. Because he could not have made lives better for one community (LGBT for instance) without making it better also for another (rickshaw pullers for instance) as that would then be logically and ethically inconsistent.
Something for us to think about.
Just my two cents.
The reactions to this email on various LGBT lists was largely along the lines of wanting to read his other judgments and someone or the other promptly sent a link. Yet another was to thank him publicly and ‘include’ other communities in that exercise. Some others brought up various other judgments and reflected on the connections which I argue are in them.
This made me think further on how one can communicate what I am actually trying to say. Identity based politics and rights langauge has conditioned us in the mode of ‘inclusion’. The natural reaction then to a call to make connections and to explore an intersectional politics is to ‘include’ other communities. However, that is’nt my intention. The email is actually a call to imagine a world view that sees these oppressions and the sturctures as being connected and thus to imagine our dissent also as one that needs to make these connections so as to be effective, democratic and ironically even ‘inclusive’. The email is also a critique of the queer movement which has gone a long way in assuring rights on the basis of numerous identities. The ‘acheivements’ as it were have come much more quickly when compared to various other movements. It is precisely for this reason that if we do not critique this framework at this crucial turning point, the queer movement runs the risk of losing it’s ‘radical edge’ and bordering on one that is not based on a broader world view but simplsitic rights of a few to the exclusion of many others and thus keeping thr structures of oppression intact or even strengthened. The ‘normalising’ effect of a positive court verdict for any otherwise oppressed community heightens this risk even more.
This is already happening in the public persona of the movement being primarily upper middle class and urban except for the hijra communities and some organisations and individuals who work with LGBTHKQ people from other and less privileged class and caste backgrounds. Even these few groups and the individuals they work with are not addressed or portrayed often in the public sphere as not just LGBTHKQ (some of the alphabets are random additions, a consciously cracked joke to show their limited nature in the long run!) individuals but also ones who are poor and maybe dalit and/or disabled. This has always been apparent in the way we view a politics of gender and patriarchy within LGBT discourses. The assumption that by our very existance we challenge patriarchy and thus there is no need for any further interrogation has put us in trouble I think. Further, if the movement is based on a check list of issues, patriarchy is often not on it in the way that lets say, the women’s movement(s) in this country may imagine it. We are still faced with the realities of individuals who are either self-identifying or socially identified as women, within the LGBTHKQ communities, not having access to public spaces or mobility to go make their lives as they like it. While the gay man is on the ‘target’ list of the LGBTHKQ movement, not only is the woman he marries without her knowing that he is homosexual absent from the list but is irrelevant even in the context of LGBTHKQ advocates intervening to better the life of her husband.
This movement, whether we like it or not, has it’s roots as much in feminism in india as it does in HIV/AIDS funding. This history will also then structure and limit the struggles. HIV/AIDS realted movements as we know is famous for its complete lack of engagement with any form of holistic dissent against a system but is primarily a service industry. The one thing we need to do is publicly critique ourselves and make it known that we are constantly aware of the limitations of our strategies, language and advocay. We need to evolve a language of critique that is not reactionary but responsible and well-thought out while being uncompromising. In this respect the queer movement (and I say queer movement and not LGBT rights movement consciously) can then be a pioneer among social movements in India. Maybe?
Just reading the above paragraphs and the email, shows us the inevitablity of both the rights discourse and identity as a trope within which any process of social change has to be described. A critique of this then has to be placed alongside it at all times so that these frameworks are used strategically and consciously so as to not let their overwhelming limitations bordering on oppression take over our movement.