Centre Sets Up Committee Amidst Queer Visibility in Politics: Will BJP Embrace Change?

The Central Government has formed a committee with the Cabinet Secretary as Chairperson and members including Secretaries from various ministries such as Home Affairs, Women and Child Development, Health and Family Welfare, and Law and Justice.
Delhi Queer Pride Parade
Delhi Queer Pride ParadeCourtesy- NDTV

New Delhi- The Union Ministry of Law and Justice has taken a significant step forward by establishing a six-member panel dedicated to addressing the multifaceted issues and social welfare needs of the LGBTQIA+ community in India.

Interestingly, this step comes after both the Congress and CPI(M) included promises for the queer community in their poll manifesto. The only promise for the community included in the BJP’s 2024 manifesto is “expanding the network of Garima Grahas to cater to the needs of transgender individuals” and “issuing identity cards to ensure their recognition nationwide.” Furthermore, it said that all eligible transgender individuals will be covered under the Ayushman Bharat Yojana.

This panel has been tasked with devising effective strategies and recommending concrete measures to prevent discrimination and violence against individuals belonging to this community.

This development comes as a response to a directive issued by the Supreme Court in October 2023, which underscored the importance of recognizing and safeguarding the rights of LGBTQIA+ individuals while refraining from granting legal recognition to same-sex marriages at that time.

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The Central Government has opted to establish a committee with the following structure:

- Chairperson: Cabinet Secretary

- Member: Secretary, Department of Home, Ministry of Home Affairs

- Member: Secretary, Ministry of Women and Child Development

- Member: Secretary, Department of Health and Family Welfare, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare

- Member: Secretary, Legislative Department, Ministry of Law and Justice

- Convenor: Secretary, Department of Social Justice and Empowerment, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment

According to the officially released gazette, the Committee is tasked with examining and submitting recommendations on the following issues:

(i) Ensuring non-discrimination in access to goods and services for the queer community by both the Central and State Governments.

(ii) Implementing measures to prevent violence, harassment, or coercion against the queer community.

(iii) Ensuring that queer individuals are not subjected to involuntary medical treatments, surgeries, etc., and developing modules to address the mental health needs of queer individuals.

(iv) Ensuring non-discriminatory access to social welfare entitlements for queer individuals.

(v) Addressing any other pertinent issues as deemed necessary.

The Mooknayak spoke to Kanav, a Queer writer and researcher with Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy to know what they feel about the constituted committee.

The writer stated that he was "deeply disappointed" that the committee doesn't mention queer marriages or unions, except for the "vague clause stating that the committee would review 'any other issues as deemed necessary."

He continued, " It's important to remember that the reason four judges on the bench declined to grant any relief to the queer community under the Special Marriage Act was due to the potential trickle-down effect that tinkering with that legislation would have on ancillary laws."

Addressing the imperative of addressing matters concerning marriage equality, he emphasized that while the topics outlined in the cabinet's agenda hold significance and resonate with Justice D.Y Chandrachud's minority judgment, it is essential for this committee to explicitly incorporate marriage and unions into its agenda.

Failing to do so would undermine the essence of the prolonged struggle for marriage equality within the judicial system and the fundamental ethos of the Supriyo judgment, which fundamentally aimed to bestow equal social recognition and dignity upon LGBTQ+ couples in India.

It is also important to note that, till now no queer person has been made a part of the panel, which will be discussing their rights and dignity. Time will tell if the panel will directly engage with the community and work towards the goal.

BJP’s History of Visible Queerphobia:

While no political party in India has directly voiced its support for the community, the Bharatiya Janata Party has come out time and again to oppose same-sex relationships and any personal bill that has tried to legalize the same.

The BJP-led government at the Centre opposed the idea of legally recognizing same-sex marriage, citing the current understanding of marriage in Indian law as between a biological man and a woman.

Although the government did not oppose the decriminalization of gay sex in 2018, it reiterated its stance against recognizing same-sex marriage during the hearing, “fearing” it could “upset the balance of personal laws and societal norms in the country.”

The BJP's view on homosexuality has evolved, as evidenced by its objection in January 2023 to the appointment of Saurabh Kirpal, a senior advocate, as a judge of the Delhi High Court, citing his sexual orientation as a factor.

During the Supreme Court's hearing on pleas to legalize same-sex marriage, the government was asked to clarify its position. Leaders like Sushil Kumar Modi, a former Deputy Chief Minister of Bihar and a Rajya Sabha MP, firmly oppose legalizing gay marriage, expressing concerns about its potential impact on personal laws.

Sushil Modi, speaking in the Rajya Sabha, emphasized that legalizing same-sex marriage could “disrupt the delicate balance of personal laws in India.”

In 2015, Shashi Tharoor, a Lok Sabha member from the Congress, made an unsuccessful attempt to present a private member’s Bill aimed at decriminalizing consensual same-sex relationships. Rishikant Dubey, representing the BJP, then rose to oppose it.

Tamil Nadu - The First Indian State to Constitute a Committee for LGBTQIA+

The Tamil Nadu government has established a drafting committee to finalize the policy for the LGBTQIA+ community in the state.

In a Government Order (GO) dated June 21, 2023, the Principal Secretary to the Social Welfare and Women Empowerment Department announced the formation of an 11-member committee chaired by the director of social welfare. This committee was tasked with submitting the policy to the government within 45 days.

In October 2022, the State Planning Commission presented a draft policy for the LGBTQIA+ community to Chief Minister MK Stalin, who subsequently forwarded it to the Social Welfare and Women Empowerment department in November 2022.

In February 2023, the Director of Social Welfare proposed to the government the formation of a drafting committee, which would include members from the LGBTQIA+ community, to develop a final policy.

The committee comprised transgender activist Kalaimamani Sudha from the NGO Sahodharan, trans man Arun Karthick, psychologist Dr. Vidhya Dinakaran from the Tamil Nadu Transgender Welfare Board, vice president of NGO SAATHII L. Ramakrishnan, co-founder of Queer Chennai Chronicles Chandramoulee, intersex, disabilities, and Dalit activist Vinodhan, LGBTQIA+ activist Busaina Ahamed Shah, Madras High Court advocate Ajeetha BS, and IIT Madras Associate Professor Tiju Thomas, with the joint director of the Directorate of Social Welfare serving as the coordinator.

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