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Sumithra Chand

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[00:00:00] This recording was made at the second the Asia Pacific Outgames human rights conference held in Wellington, New Zealand in March 2011. [00:00:09] I am from India, I live in New Delhi. And what brought me to the conference for us to present a workshop on the recent decriminalization process in India. And with that, the possibility of learning more about indigenous people [00:00:33] and linking that to cast issues in India. [00:00:38] The decriminalization process in India, that's a very recent thing, isn't it? [00:00:41] Yes, get it. It happened in July 2009. And it's currently awaiting consideration, appellate consideration of the Supreme Court of India. What does that mean? It means that the judgment of the Delhi High Court which decriminalized consensual, same sex relations in private, between adults is has been challenged in the Supreme Court of India and is awaiting hearing, which will be soon next month. And the Supreme Court will finally decide whether or not the judgment of the Delhi High Court remains in the meanwhile, the judgment continues to have its effect. So effectively, the decriminalization remains. [00:01:33] Can you tell me about the journey to decriminalization we did that began. [00:01:38] The journey to decriminalization began in 1994, with an AIDS group, which was called aids paid by bureau the untold a be we a file limited petition in the Delhi High Court seeking for repeal section 377. Unfortunately, that petition, did not survive and was dismissed for lack for non appearance in about 1998 99. A few years later, in 2001, and NGO working on AIDS issues with men who have sex with men, and transgender persons filed another petition in the same court in the Delhi High Court, stating primarily that a law that criminalizes same sex sexual conduct is an obstacle to carrying out HIV AIDS intervention work. That case, which was filed in 2001, was dismissed by Delhi High Court in 2004. on grounds that, well, look, this is an NGO working on HIV AIDS, what local standard does an NGO have, where are the really affected people. However, this was restored by the Supreme Court of India bit said that this is a public infrastructure, and it does not matter whether it is brought by attractive person or not. And finally, in 2009, there is a judgment from the Delhi High Court, which upheld the rights of LGBT persons and decriminalized consensual sex between adults in private. And that's where we are now, [00:03:22] throughout that period, wasn't just a legal challenge, or were there things like actions like protests and public demonstrations? Was it a very public action? [00:03:36] Again, again, in the early 90s, Delhi recorded its first public demonstrations on gay rights. So this was before ABB filed its petition in 1994. And legal challenge for for the rights of LGBT I, jus, and however many alphabets individually has been always supported and sometimes marked by Mark more prominently by demonstrations, public demonstrations, the people invested in these processes are sometimes the same, and sometimes may be different. But the two, the two courses of action, what happens in the court and what happens in the public sphere in a demonstration, are entirely important and complement each other. [00:04:32] So when it was illegal, how was the queer community treatment, [00:04:38] the criminalization had an impact of amplifying stigma for the community, already the community is was stigmatized. For the social anomaly. The law, the criminal ization of a private aspect of the lives of people, multiplied many fold, the stigma and shame that stigma and shame could be emerging, internally could be from could be internal. And even if there were individuals who are courageous, and were able to overcome that internal shame and stigma, they would still have a long way to stand up to the stigma and shame leveled against them, by the society at large, and law played an important role. So even for the lives of those many courageous people, who in the time of criminalization came out, and were willing to live their lives with honesty, they will still the challenge of, well, this is criminal. And regardless of how much dignity with which you may hold your head, high Wade, in the eyes of law, you are criminal, and that affects all aspects of your life that will affect your employment that will affect your access to other rights. Where do you go from there? [00:06:17] Have the queer communities in India, and I guess I'm just using the word queer just as an inclusive term. And I'm not sure if it's an appropriate term to use in the Indian context. I think [00:06:28] queer is a entirely appropriate term to use in the Indian context. And I would express the same hesitation with which you asked me that question that I cannot answer this question confidently. And I can only answer this question for myself. There isn't any one cohesive community in India, for which there might be one president of the queer community, which might be able to answer that question for you. And I think for my personal life, I, for my own personal identity, I would use square to define not only my identity, but also my sexual politics. Beyond that, I would say that there is great diversity in India or not only on gender and sexuality, but on the note of religion, on the count of ethnicity, on the count of access to resources amidst that vast diversity, there is always the possibility of people to lead their lives according to personal convictions. So some people [00:07:30] would be more keen [00:07:33] to identify as gay, some would be more keen to identify as lesbians and may not [00:07:38] want to may not endorse [00:07:41] queer politics or queer identity. And that would vary. But I can only speak for myself. And I would say that I'm queer. And I was asked to [00:07:50] any more questions about [00:07:51] my desires? And my x? I would say those are largely private. And my identification may well be in different times. But my personal conviction, a political conviction is clear. And I had optical even as my personal identity, [00:08:10] the environment in India at the moment, is it a lot more conservative or liberal? Is it easier to be queer in India now then 10 or 15 years ago? [00:08:23] I think yes. [00:08:26] And more than saying yes or no to that question. I think the larger part of that question would be the reasons for that, yes or no. And I think 15 years ago, there wasn't the kind of visibility that there is in media. So first aspect that I will say is media. [00:08:49] And that media includes films. [00:08:53] Initially, 15 years ago, they were Hollywood films, which were talking which had gay characters, [00:09:00] most of them [00:09:02] may have conformed to stereotypes, but there was still some visibility [00:09:06] 15 years hence, there are films which are being made in India, about Indian people about their lives, which are talking about people who are living differently from the mainstream. That's one very big two. And films are very popular media, and they make a big difference. [00:09:24] Newspapers [00:09:26] and magazines are another form of the print media is also not only visibility, not only visual visibility, but also literature. Next form of media books, I think there is a lot more literature available. So 15 years ago, if I was struggling with my sexuality, I had very limited resources, [00:09:50] I had very limited representation in media to gather from 15 years hence, there is a lot more. So if I was keen, and looking to go to supporting what is of support, I would find them more accessible, more readily available than I would have 15 years ago. [00:10:12] So I think that's a big difference. [00:10:15] second aspect, I would say, certainly law. [00:10:19] Now that [00:10:21] section 377 has been read down, I think is a big boost to the community. Before that, there was the stigma and shame, social segments team compounded by legality compounded by criminality, then at least that criminality has gone away. And there is an assurance that a validation, which is very important, the legal validation, that criminalization is a violation of human rights. And the human rights of queer people in India are equally valid as that of the let's as that of Muslims, [00:11:04] as that of [00:11:07] minorities [00:11:08] as that of women. [00:11:11] People are equal. [00:11:14] So this conference now, what would you like to take away from it? [00:11:18] All? The first thing that I want to take away from this conference is lots of inspiration over work with indigenous persons as Mallory's or will work with Aboriginal Australians. My workshop on Friday morning is on Carson sexuality. And I have recently started thinking about working on Dalit and queer people. It's a pioneering area, there is very little work done. And as with all pioneering works, there is excitement. But there is also fear that you don't know where you're going on, you feel lost. So I'm really hoping to carry with me a lot of knowledge information that is already here, in this part, with queer Maori people with queer Aboriginal Australians. [00:12:14] What do you think the biggest issues facing queers in India are today one of the biggest things [00:12:22] I think the biggest thing is social mindsets. Although legal legal laws would be a very big part of challenge as well. But social mindsets, I find a bigger challenge and in some ways, social mindsets. Impact influence the law in some ways, laws in practice, social mindset, so they do a little dance together. But if I had to identify the biggest challenge, it would have to be social mindsets. And then the next step to that would be a comprehensive strategy that engages with the social mindsets and [00:13:06] influences towards [00:13:08] towards a more harmonious [00:13:10] atmosphere, which was equally respectful for all people, and is rooted in principles of equality in principles of dignity, and really lends itself for the happiness of all people, regardless of their religious beliefs, regardless of their ethnicity, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, a social mindset which really supports liberty and sets people free and lets them achieve the true potential. [00:13:45] If somebody was listening to this in 30 years time, as an archival document, what would you like to say to them, [00:13:52] I would say that life is a joyful journey. And and [00:14:02] that joyful journey [00:14:05] always has and will have obstacles and the obstacles that I understand right now, will or will not remain, and surely the person listening to this in 30 years time will have his or her own share of obstacles. What is important is the spirit to not be defeated by obstacles and to continue struggling. Escape is may seem like temporary relief, but the opportunities that struggles provide to live a fulfilling life should not be missed, and we should tackle our obstacles head on and fight and survive.

This page features computer generated text of the source audio. It is not a transcript, it has not been checked by humans and will contain many errors. However it is useful for searching on keywords and themes.