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LGBT Cells in Political Parties: Is it Inclusion or Pinkwashing?

pinkwashing in indian politics, supriya sule, lgbt ncp cell

The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) launched its LGBTQIA cell. It claims to to be the first political part in India to have a dedicated cell for the LGBTQIA community. The cell was launched by President Jayant Patil and Memeber of Parliament Supriya Sule. Sule announed on Twitter that the reason for launching the cell is to bring members of the LGBTQIA community to the mainstream. In a series of tweets she further states that there is a need to eliminate prejudice towards queer community. There needs to be work done to make societies more inclusive and free from transphobia and homophobia.

Maharashtra Minister and State NCP Chief Priya Patil has been appointed as its State Unit head. Apart from Priya Patil the cell will have thirteen other office bearers. While this move has been hailed as a move in the right direction, the question that begs to be asked is, is this an instance of pink-washing in politics or will it lead to inclusion of members of LGBTQIA in politics?

Pink-washing in Politics?

In 2018 homosexuality was decriminalised in India by the Supreme Court which hailed the colonial era law to be violative of dignity, privacy and equality. While judgement has been hailed to be a step in the right direction, there is long drawn path ahead when it comes to realising these rights. In human rights discourses, it is often that more social, economic and political rights does not necessarily lead to equality or even bridges existing inequalities. It may sound like a paradox. But the harsh reality continues to be that all individuals don’t have access to rights equally. In such a context of not being able to access rights equally, what does a LGBTQIA cell mean for the community? Is it a form of tokenism and pink-washing or will it lead to inclusion? While there are no concrete answers, we have to look at this trend in light of recent development in politics.

Standing up for LGBTQIA rights is seen to be a sign of a progressive institution. Hence, if a political party wants to be seen as liberal to its voters and audience it must have a LGBTQIA cell or policy. This is part of an ongoing trend where organisations, multinational corporations and other brands wish to include LGBTQIA issues or members as a part of their marketing agenda, especially in and around Pride Month. Hence, these are instances of pink-washing where LGBTQIA issues are helmed at the forefront to meet political ends.

LGBT Cell and Representation: Who Gets to be the Voice?

The LGBTQIA cell is being hailed as a step in the right direction but one cannot ignore the question of representation that arises. The cell is headed by a cis-woman, who may be aware of issues plaguing the LGBTQIA community but lacks the lived experience to connect with the community. The thirteen office bearers of the cell who are supposed to manage it affairs, do even one of the belong to the LGBTQIA community? We have no clarity regarding this aspect. So who is representing this vast umbrella of LGBTQIA? If there are no queer office bearers then this become a cell created by cis-gendered individuals to appropriate LGBTQIA rights for political mileage.

Also Read: NCP Sets Up LGBT Cell In Mumbai, Claims To Be The First Such Indian Political Party

The question of representation is crucial because the person who gets to speak on behalf of the community also decides the issues that are brought at the forefront.

Members belonging to the queer community, especially from the grassroots will allow the cell to be more inclusive of issues and identities. The question of privilege also seeps in representation. Is the cell going to get on board popular queer members who come from sufficient privilege?

Our social location determines the issues we deem as important. Homelessness is as crucial a queer issues as same sex marriage is. However, one issue gets privileged over other because individuals with sufficient privilege speak on behalf of a huge and diverse community. Ultimately, will inclusion of queer members in the cell also means we might hope to see queer candidates in politics? This will perhaps be the acid test.

Also Read: 5 Judgements that Paved the Way for LGBT Rights in India

Why It Matters

The creation of the cell is recent news. Details on how the cell proceeds and the office bearers are awaited. While it might be tempting to say politics is changing and being progressive, I would lean towards caution. History is testimony to the fact that when ultra conservative spaces such as politics start to take in liberal and progressive agendas, there is an agenda waiting to be unveiled. Queer is the new cool, it is good for business and now also for politics. The acid test continues to be whether we will see a queer candidate contesting elections, will cells in political parties promote diversity and inclusion. And, ultimately, will queer people be in positions of power?