Agnivo Niyogi writes about the lessons that LGBT community can learn from the popular agitation by social crusader Anna Hazare
For the last four months, one man has ruled our television sets and reached out to people across cities in India. Baburao Hazare popularly known as Anna has changed the course of political protests in modern Indian history. Suddenly, the urban youth, perceived as selfish and indifferent, came out to support this phenomenon. We can always debate the merits of the movement led by Mr Hazare, but we cannot take away from him the credit of revolutionizing the concept of protests.
As a member of the LGBT community, I was rather amused at the events that unfolded throughout August. Keeping aside political beliefs and the cause for which Anna stood, I definitely salute him for the mass frenzy that he created. Also, it intrigued me, could we as a community not emulate Hazare to dispel the social ostracization that we face? To this effect I jotted down the following lessons we could learn from the massive outpouring of emotions in favor of Anna Hazare:
Undoubtedly, media played the most important role in creating brand Anna. With 24X7 electronic media virtually filling in for a PR medium and the constant updates on social media, Team Anna made sure people were kept abreast about their actions whether or not they wanted to.
LGBT community (or the “elite” section of it) has an effective presence on social media. From groups on Facebook to accounts on Twitter, almost every NGO working for queers can be found on the web world. India already has several online magazines with a massive reader base. Social media platforms are well used by the community. But the target audience is rather limited. Except for community members, hardly anyone is deeply involved with these pages (unless they are connected to the movement). For that matter, for many community members, online media begins and ends with socializing and dating sites.
A few days back I was watching this video on YouTube where employees at Pixar were telling their coming out stories. Why can our community not promote more such videos and views in the mainstream? If the people are unwilling to lend an ear, why can’t we scream them out of slumber?
The engagement of the queer community with mainstream electronic media is also limited to specific days like July 2. If a public opinion has to be built up, media has to be used to its optimum. I feel we are lacking to that effect.
Unity in Diversity
The divisions within the LGBT community are not unknown to any. The “manly” guys look down upon the pansies, transgenders and bisexuals are untouchables, like the mainstream society lesbian females are neglected in the queer society! Lest we forget, “Voices against 377” brought together over thirty NGOs under one umbrella. Such a unity is normally hard to come by. Here too, we have a lot to learn from Team Anna.
India Against Corruption was a motley of several NGOs bordering from the ultra left to the reactionary right. Ideological differences forgotten, they came together to fight a cause which they thought was necessary – Jan Lokpal Bill. Even in the core group, there were elements that were allegedly close to the government and some who were explicitly unwavering to any proposal that came from the enemy ranks. Maintaining such a coalition is an arduous task, which was well supported by the image that Brand Anna enjoyed among the public.
Does the battle for social and legal equality of gays have a face? Think of Nepal, Sunil Babu Pant- who also happens to be a member of parliament – represents the queer community. In India, we lack that. Instead we have a health minister who compares homosexuality to a disease bred from foreign shores. Even if we can come up with a face, can we make a show of our strength and unity?
Political & Celebrity Support
A huge cause of the apparent success of Team Anna was the constant support it received from a large section of the Bollywood celebrities, Page 3 socialites, and of course a section of the anti ruling party politicians. That immensely helped in mobilizing the campaign for the JLP. Anupam Kher, Chetan Bhagat, Arindam Chowdhury, Shekhar Kapoor had virtually become the spokespersons of the “Democratic Party of Anna”. The Ram Leela stage was used by and large by almost anyone who had a mission to fulfill – whether it was Aamir Khan or Ashoke Pandit.
The queer community does enjoy the backing of several social icons. Filmmaker Onir is himself a part of the community and has been rather active on the social sphere to promote the cause we wish to champion. That apart, celebrities like Celina Jaitley have always rendered their support whenever necessary. People like Rituporno Ghosh who enjoy a cult status in Bengal have risen over salacious gossip and inane criticism for sexuality and shown the world that he stands for what he is.
But sadly on the political front, the gay community lags far behind the Anna phenomenon. Although the last Bangalore Pride Celebrations had the blessings of Janata Dal (S), and the Left parties have always “spoken” of their support to the cause of LGBT (more from their theoretical and ideological point of view and less in practicality), most national or regional political parties go tightlipped on the issue of a legal sanction of same sex marriages. In this era of vote bank politics, hope a feeling of “Sadbhavana” brings together right thinking people together to deliver justice to the community.
This may sound a bit too harsh but truth always sounds bitter. The Team Anna has been (and quite fairly) accused of obstinacy from many quarters. Refusing to budge from their position, they harped on passing the Jan Lokpal Bill (although several flaws in the legislation had been pointed out by many noted lawyers and constitutional experts; but that can be settled in some other article). And even after the temporary truce with the unanimous resolution passed by Indian parliament, Anna has queered the pitch for passage of ONLY his team’s version of the Bill sans amendments.
Should the queer community emulate him? Should we hold the whole system at ransom to get our demands passed? A legislation decriminalizing article 377 and guaranteeing legal status to same sex marriages is long pending. Is the community’s patience not thinning away? After all, United Nations has recognized LGBT rights as human rights and India is a signatory nation.
Shall Ramleela witness more leela after the highest court of the nation passes its verdict on the judgment delivered by Justice A P Shah on July 2, 2009? Time will tell.