While media coverage of the Lok Sabha election 2019 is largely restricted to high-profile candidates from national parties, some candidates for the election are making their mark for representing the interests of some of the most marginalised sections of society — the LGBTQ+ community.
One of them is 25-year-old Aswathi Rajappan, the first openly intersex person to have contested the Lok Sabha polls. They will contest from Ernakulam in Kerala.
Rajappan has completed a BSc Electronics degree from IHRD College in Thodupuzha in Idukki district. They describe themselves as a "queer-Ambedkarite" candidate.
Speaking to Firstpost, Rajappan said, "If I get elected to power, among the most important things I plan to do is to ensure housing for all. It is a basic need of citizens. I will especially take care of the housing needs of migrant labourers and trans people. I have seen a lot of migrant labourers who have to live below the Kochi metro rail. I will ensure proper shelter for them."
Rajappan also promised to bring finishing schools to Ernakulam, which would "help students in their extra-curricular activities". They also promised ensuring the welfare of farmers and finding a solution to pollution in the constituency.
Asked about the standpoints of mainstream political parties in Kerala about LGBTQ rights, Rajappan said, "I hope that mainstream politicians discuss the problems that are faced by queer persons, including intersex persons. The problems for intersex persons start before their birth. There are many cases in which foetuses are aborted after doctors find ambiguities in the genitalia of unborn babies. There should also be a law to prohibit corrective surgery for intersex individuals without their consent."
"I want to protect the rights of people to be the way they are," they asserted.
Rajappan also insisted that their identity should not be viewed only as a trans person, or a Dalit. “Many people do not want to accept my identity as a whole — that of an intersex individual, an Ambedkarite and a Dalit. However, some people only accept some of these aspects, and not others.”
While Rajappan aspires to be a rare political representative for the LGBTQ+ community, most of the promises made in their manifesto relate to the society at large. Among the prominent assurance made is ensuring that "land is given back to the original inhabitants of the forest, the Dalits, through the implementation of the Forest Rights Act".
The implementation of the Forest Rights Act may well have a significant bearing on the parliamentary election, in the aftermath of the Supreme Court order to evict people from forest land if their claims under the Act have been rejected. While the court has now stayed its order, the legal battle is on.
Another assurance in Rajappan's manifesto is that of putting pressure on the Centre to implement the Gadgil report for the protection of the Western Ghats. The Gadgil committee report, which had recommended that the entire stretch of the Western Ghats be declared an ecologically sensitive area, had become the subject of renewed discussion recently in the aftermath of last year's floods in Kerala.
Rajappan is one of the "trailblazers" named in The Pink List, a website that highlights candidates who have publicly supported LGBTQ+ rights. Other such candidates, who are members of the community themselves, are transgender candidates Radha (Chennai South), Sneha Kale (Mumbai North Central) and Chirpi Bhawani (Prayagraj), and Jogati Kinnar community member Jatin Mummy (Mumbai North East).
Among politicians from national parties mentioned as “changemakers” on the website are Shashi Tharoor (Congress), Baijayant Jay Panda (BJP) and Milind Deora (Congress).
In an interview to Firstpost, Deora, who is contesting elections from the Mumbai South constituency, said, “The Congress party has a non-discriminatory policy. We were the first national party to have appointed a transgender as our office bearer in the Mahila Congress. I personally support LGBTQ rights, and if the Congress comes to power, I will work towards ensuring an equal place for the LGBTQ community in India.”
To a question on whether he believes there is greater acceptance in society about LGBTQ rights now as compared to earlier, Deora said, “Yes, there is greater acceptability. But we have a long way to go.”
On the question as to why the Congress did not read down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (which, earlier, effectively criminalised homosexual relations), Deora said, “If you recall, the Congress was the only party that supported the scrapping of (Section) 377 by an earlier Delhi high court judgment. Once any matter is in the court, it is very difficult to bring about a legislative intervention.”
Deora is known to have publicly supported decriminalisation of homosexual relations since the mid-2000s, when Section 377 of the IPC had not yet been read down by the Delhi High Court.
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Updated Date: Apr 28, 2019 17:36:24 IST