Towards Inclusivity: The Need for Queer Inclusive Thought in Public Policy

    • By,
      Aryaman Chatterjee – Academic Associate, Kautilya

While public policy deals with laws, measures and regulatory frameworks, its purview extends to public space. By public space, I refer to its architectural connotation. This space is also constitutive of the Habermasian public sphere which comprises public citizenry. The politics of visibility has long privileged cis-gender heterosexual individuals. They can use public facilities such as restrooms and commute routes without inviting unwelcome attention. Notions of queer visibility and its consequent politics are entangled in India, as Sagnik Dutta explains. In his review of ‘Pink Revolutions: Globalization, Hindutva and Queer Triangles in Contemporary India’ by Nishant Shahani, he explains that India is on the crossroads of contradictions in relation to globalisation, modernity, and conservatism. A notable aspect of this review highlights how vulnerable sections of the queer population, such as transgender persons, hijra communities and queer sex workers are denied privileged access to public spaces. This can be exemplified by them being oppressed by social ridicule, public humiliation or outright exclusion.

While public space accessible to Indians is limited, inclusivity in usage and accessibility is hard to find. Shruti Koppikar says that one cannot forget that the LGBTQ+ community routinely uses pavements and walkways. Public parks often serve as meeting spots for cruising and leisure. Marches and parades are of vital importance for the community in their assertion of awareness, self-identity, and rights. Physical spaces where the community receives acceptance and acknowledgement is critical to their survival. Heteronormative violence that impinges on the community’s sense of safety and security includes them being subjected to a gaze of shame and rejection. This in turn perpetuates exploitation and vulnerability. Sexual harassment is an immense and potent barrier for LGBTQ+ individuals using public transport. Kalki Subramaniam opines that non-binary and transgender people are a case in point, for their visible differences in appearance and visage make them easy targets in schools and workplaces. The solution lies in policy makers and governments designing public spaces specifically for queer people, constructing them at the heart of a city and favouring accessibility needs over land value and gentrification.

Public data offers a window to the community for the enjoyment of rights. Identification documents such as birth certificate, aadhar card, voter card, ration card and driving licence certify an individual’s legitimacy as a citizen by the State to the right of equal recognition and equal protection under the purview of law in the form of official state records. However, population-related datasets generated by various government bodies are influenced by political considerations of the order of the day. An element of these considerations include an erasure of gender and sexuality in enumerations and data. Demographic indicators are created in line with the government’s scheme of policy making. The 2011 census and the 2014 Election Commission Records have several individuals belonging to the transgender community who were undercounted due to their inability to access identity documents. Despite various pro-LGBTQ judgements from the centre, a public data system is yet to be initiated and gender-disaggregated socio-economic indicators are unavailable. Policy makers need to realise that the community is a distinct marginalised group with needs of its own and unique sets of challenges confronting them.

The community is caught between being judged due to societal morals and being accorded their democratic rights. On the one hand, the state is committed to democratisation by focusing on building an egalitarian society based on equitable rights and principles. On the other hand, the state is hindered by its sexual minorities being susceptible to socio-cultural stereotypes. The deepening of democratic ideals is hindered by the hold of orthodox moral codes, such as patriarchal codes banning LGBTQ+ individuals. A major shift the striking down of Section 377 in 2018 signalled was moving beyond tolerance and towards embracive acceptance of LGBTQ+ individuals. This contrasts with the government’s stance which has ignorantly decried the community’s needs. Identity, dignity, health, and privacy of the community were upheld in the verdict. Individual choice was celebrated and hailed as the ‘essence of liberty under the law.’

The verdict signalled a set of progressive policies: For instance, Kerala enforced the transgender option in applications related to identity documentation. In fact, a transgender policy was introduced to ensure implementation of the Right to Equality for transgendered people in the state. As per the judgement, the policy gave way to self-identification of individuals as transgender. A district-level transgender board was also set up for the registration of identification cards. In line with Diversity and Inclusion Policies, Godrej Industries created the Indian Culture Lab to create an atmosphere of community inclusion and involvement through human rights advocacy. Keshav Suri Foundation has several similar initiatives within the hospitality industry. Tata Steel’s Diversity and Inclusion Initiative, MOSAIC focused on knowledge building on certain key elements of employment such as sensitisation, workplace development and retention.Although policy has a long way to go before becoming actionable, one must realise the argument that diversity of individuals from the LGBTQ+ community improves the economic efficiency of workplaces, promotes wellness, and supports vital pillars of work, such as productivity, performance, and retention. This has been bolstered by the fact that the needle has moved towards equality due to legislations. The road towards gender neutrality and gender-friendly policy-making might seem onerous. However it is easily traversed when organisations and industries begin the journey.

*The Kautilya School of Public Policy (KSPP) takes no institutional positions. The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and do not reflect the views or positions of KSPP.