What it means to be queer under a regime bent on remaking India on its own ideological terms
Recently one of my pictures was trolled by right-wing people on social media. These responses display that their frameworks to look at the world is disrupted by a visibly queer body. An important lens to look at the world for them is through marriage, which becomes the foundational principle of assigning gendered personhood. The comments were brutally transphobic and queerphobic. Throughout, one thread of reference remained the same, 'Who will marry this and how?'
When this subcontinent is witnessing an authoritarian regime, what does it mean to be a queer of this land?
The violent response of Hindu fundamentalists to the 1996 movie Fire illustrated what might be the nature of Indian State, should it become a Hindu Rashtra. The release of the movie saw theatres being burned down, and statements made by prominent leaders terming the theme of the movie "alien to our culture."
In the present, this violence, under the banner of the State, takes the form of oppressive laws and bureaucratic directives. Take the increasing regulation of bodies that do not snugly fit into the parameters of the Rashtra. This is evident from the militarisation and months-long internet blockade of Kashmir post the abrogation of Article 370 to the violation of the right to self-determination of queer and trans bodies through the passing of Transgender (Protection of Rights) Bill 2019.
This year also witnessed the Supreme Court judgment on Babri Masjid demolition, which effectively gave legal nod to majoritarian conscience reshaping the land through acts of barbarity that the judgment itself recognised as illegal. Hundreds of Muslims who were killed in the subsequent riots after the demolition went unrecognised by the court, their deaths forgotten. This silence is reminiscent of similar pogrom in history where women — mostly in the West were burnt alive in the pretext of being witches. While the courts later concluded that black-magic never existed, nothing was said about thousands of women burned at the stake.
Recently, another stroke has been taken to Hinduise the state in the name of Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens. While there are seemingly orchestrated disagreements between the Prime Minister's Office and the Union Home Ministry regarding the relation of CAA to the NRC, we have one example of Assam where NRC has been implemented.
According to the final list released by the government of Assam, 19 lakh people were excluded, including at least 2,000 transgender people. These acts of the Nation-State demonstrate how the bodies that bewilder, and thus haunt, them are controlled and their rights curtailed.
Keeping aside the invocation of a narrow, constrictive imagery of culture — which in and of itself is fluid and ever-changing — that incident stands as evidence to the proclivities of the self-styled gatekeepers of the culture to viciously repress all that does not conform to their rigid worldview. What it means to live in a regime that is bent on remaking this country on the terms of their "tradition", thereby fashioning it into a Hindu Rashtra?
We, the haunting "others" have always been here, borders emerged, state authorities changed, yet we are still "indisciplined", surviving extermination campaigns meant to obliterate our identity, and so we will survive even these draconian acts, be it TGA or CAA.
This haunting is nothing new. The same people haunting State apparatus now were also haunting British colonial State. If we were once made criminals through The Criminal Tribes Act 1871, we are now subject to bureaucratic humiliation in hands of District Magistrate under Transgender (Protection of Rights) Act 2019. We have learned to fight, and to remain as perpetual ruptures in the patriarchal, caste-ridden norms, and authoritative bureaucracies, because no matter what has changed, a nation-state built on the grounds of exclusion has always failed us.
Recently one of my pictures was trolled by right-wing people on social media. The comments were brutally transphobic and queerphobic. Throughout, one thread of reference remained the same — "Who will marry this and how?" These responses display that their frameworks to look at the world is disrupted by a visibly queer body. An important lens to look at the world for them is through marriage, which becomes the foundational principle of assigning gendered personhood.
This incidentally also serves as a savior of the Brahmanical family order. Everyone wants to save the family while queers find family as their first systemic oppressor. Through our mere existence, we haunt these social systems — be it the institution of marriage, family, or militarised Nation-State, its bureaucracies, and its modernity.
This haunting, however, is also a promise of social change, of caste-class struggle, and a world built through more humane and sensitive constructions. The moment we choose to live a life of gender non-conformity, we not only question strict gender rules, we also create fissures in every social matrix that molds its grid to make us invisible through exclusion, threats, violence and legal actions. The subjectivities around gender non-conformity create ruptures into not only those legitimised ways of conforming, but also into non-conforming resistances that are still closely intertwined with the vocabulary of the "Normal", thereby constantly reminding us that every space we access brings a shock to that space.
The places of non-conforming may get used to it after an initial distress, where the early laugh may turn into a healthy conversation, but in the places of legitimized conforming, the range of responses remain limited to mocking, trolling and verbal/physical abuse.
Many of us who do not conform acutely understand that the possibilities offered by a life lived on the dictates of a medico-legal definition are very limited. It's limited because the language that helps us understand these systems are finite, ridden with scientific rationality that pathologised all that lies beyond its margins. The tasks for not-conforming individual is then to deny these limits that the assigned personhood put on them.
In denial of these limits, one denies the subject formation and the procedures used therein. The best example of such a construction is the debatable status of the personhood of an intersex infant. The terminology of Disorders of sex Development limits the understanding of the body to a correct alignment of hormonal, gonadal and genitals, distinct for a male and female body. Anything that is beyond this heterosexual body becomes a pathology. Anything that falls out of this constructed Normal is labored on to make it palatable and less haunting. Yet we know that bodies do not come in such simplistic binaries, their subjectivities cannot be contained in physical and social monoliths. Thus, a new language is needed to study identity as an interactive point of culture and individuality, and not simply as a series of representations at any given time.
Indian parliament trying to pass NRC (alongside CAA) and TG-Bill, which is a direct bureaucratic attack on an individual's personhood should make us rethink the construction of the Normal human aspect and Citizenship. This, then is the correct time to think about what queers should be demanding when they are born in these systems of family, of bordered lands, of state bureaucratic personhood.
Queers have struggled for long, the hour has come to queer all the struggles against every oppression and social system that limits our existence by curtailing our right to be, to live and to love. We reject all chambers, from filial to rehab centers to state detentions, and stand firm in this fight against CAA, NRC, and every action taken to make this country a Hindu Rashtra. This we will do with pleasure and with community, throughout paving ways for better social interactions.
The author, a queer activist, is a research scholar in the University of Delhi and is the member of Hasratein, a queer collective
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