Representational Image. Image Courtesy: Human Rights Watch
New Delhi: The Karnataka Sexual Minorities Forum (KSMF), Samara Society and Jeeva, the community organisations working towards, defending and protecting the human rights of working class sexual minorities in Karnataka, protested on September 19 against senior BJP leader and Rural Development and Panchayatraj Minister K S Eshwarappa. As Newsclick reported earlier, the minister, while addressing a gathering organised by Hindu extremist outfit, Sri Ram Sene in Bengaluru on September 15, had said that the several MLAs of the Congress had approached the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for joining the party; but they finally decided not to include them because “they wanted votes of Muslims,” adding, “there are many such hijras (transgenders) in Congress.”
This, of course, triggered protests by various feminist and sexual minority groups in the state. KSMF, Samara and Jeeva protested on Thursday evening at Mysore Bank Circle in Bangalore. In their statement of protest, the organisations said, “Mr. Eshwarappa, we are hijras but our “mentality is not hijada, your mentality is filthy.”
The protesting organisations have demanded that the minister publicly apologise to the community.
Also Read: Muddled Morality: An Attempt at Criminalising Transgender Community
This isn’t the first time that a BJP leader is being called out for his choice of words. In 2018, during the uproar regarding the Sabarimala issue, PS Sreedharan Pillai of the Kerala BJP had said that Congress in the state was like a third gender, because they kept changing their stand on the whole issue. In January 2019, Sadhana Singh, an MLA from the BJP in Uttar Pradesh had said that Mayawati, former Chief Minister of UP and Bahujan Samaj Party leader “is a blot on womankind” and “worse than a transgender.” BJP MLA Surendra Singh had come out in support of this remark.
Speaking with Newsclick, Mallappa Kumbar of KSMF, said, “we (sexual minorities) have been struggling for more than a decade now, trying to sensitise the society, politicians, and leaders about not using derogatory terms to address the community; and to not use the name of the community as a slur. If a minister and a senior leader of the ruling party speaks such a language, how can we expect any different from the common people?”
The community has been struggling to free itself from stigmatisation in society. When an elected representative speaks like this, it is almost a justification of stigmatisation.
It is a slim rope that the transgender, transsexual and other queer communities are walking on, in this country. It is only in 2014 that the Supreme Court of India recognised the third gender; and it is only in 2018 that the Court decriminalised homosexuality, thus the community has a long way to go in terms of gaining social acceptance.
Also Read: ‘Transgender Bill Legitimises Violence Against the Community’
To begin with, as Newsclick in its previous report highlighted, in this particular event organised by Sri Rama Sene, the minister and Pramod Muthalik, the leader of the Sene, delivered communally charged speeches. The minister reportedly accused the Congress of minority appeasement and termed them “hijras.” The question here is, as Mallappa also asked, why did the minister choose to use the word “hijras.” He explained, “it is known that the word “hijra” is used as a slang to basically label someone as a useless person, because historically transgenders and hijras are considered “useless.” Especially when the community is visibly fighting against the social, political and economic oppression, the comment by the BJP reflects not just irresponsibility but also the attitude of the BJP about the community.
Transgender Bill, Karnataka Transgender Bill and BJP
“How do you expect a political party that hesitates to talk about sex, to take the questions of sexuality, gender diversity and sexual orientation seriously?” said Mallappa. He said this was obvious with the way in which the Transgender Bill was passed in Parliament. The Bill, which has been criticised by the community for its patronising outlook, was passed in both houses without even a debate.
“How could they do that? It is a Bill that would determine many lives of this democracy, how can they be so casual?” he said.
The Union Cabinet in a move targeted towards the supposed “empowerment” of the community and to crackdown on the instances of violence, passed the Transgender (Protection of Rights) Bill on July 10. Activists have been waging a long struggle highlighting how the Bill puts the transpersons on a lower plane in comparison with the rest of the society, legitimising the violence against the community.
As Mallappa explained, “this Bill says nothing about housing assistance to the community, the education plan for the community, adoption rights and even that of marriage. For that matter it doesn’t even speak about action against the violence against transgender persons…. What is this government doing about the 2014 Transgender judgment by the Supreme Court”. He also said that nothing has been done in the state regarding the transgender policy.
Also Read: Another Karnataka BJP Minister Gives Communal Speech, Calls Muslim Votes ‘Irrelevant’
“The state took four years to act upon the Supreme Court judgment and come up with a policy. Due to the pressure by the community the Congress government then finally decided to come up with a policy in 2017, just before election. We also should note that the state’s policy, even though is not perfect, it is much better than other policies in the country. The problem is, it is not possible to get in touch with women and child development ministry at all. In the present BJP government, it has become even more difficult,” Mallappa said.