Opinion: Only Pinkwashing, No Gay Liberation in Kashmir

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A week after issuing travel advisory to tourists and yatris, Government of India (GoI) on Aug 5 announced the revocation of Kashmir’s autonomous status. Since then, Kashmir valley is reeling under the lockdown, along with communication restrictions. Ironically, GoI claims that revocation of the special status of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) would improve the lives of women and other marginalised communities. Various LGBT advocacy groups of mainstream India also claim that the striking down of Article 370, which automatically extends the SC judgement legalising gay sex to the state of J&K, is a major victory of LGBT rights in the region.

This entire narrative around Kashmir is being sexualised to the extent that the experiences of LGBTQIA+ people as Kashmiri and Muslim are wittingly overlooked and invalidated. The narrative that sustains around the myth that striking down of Art 370 would ensure that LGBT community of Kashmir enjoys the right to expression of sexual orientation and gender identity, pinkwashes the experience of Kashmiri queer body against state oppression. It plays on communal and racist stereotypes that Muslims and Kashmiris are all violently LGBT-phobic and terrorists. This colonial racist logic propagates islamophobia, which result in hate crimes like assault and lynching of Muslims. It is an attempt to dehumanize Kashmiri LGBT community by reducing their existence and the human need for identity, intimacy security and development to only sex. The motivation is to rebrand a violent masculine military state as champion of women and LGBT rights. 

It is an attempt to dehumanize Kashmiri LGBT community by reducing their existence and the human need for identity, intimacy security and development to only sex.

It is imperative to understand where Kashmiri queers are positioned, keeping in view the systemic exclusion they face within the LGBT community of India as Muslims and Kashmiris. Their queerness is not considered enough queer to be recognised, included and protected in the paradigm of sexual exceptionalism (where only white sexualities, or in this case, upper-caste sexualities of Hindus, are considered important), as explained by Jasbir Puar,  a U.S.-based queer theorist, in her book Terrorist Assemblages. Puar coined the term homonationalism or  homo-normative nationalism to describe the post 9/11 US. She perceives the US as a state of sexual exceptionalism where islamophobia has contributed to this phenomenon and has given resources to collaboration between certain homosexuals and the State. The emergence of a national homosexuality has placed queers of colour and queer Muslims outside of hetero and homo national discourses. Like Jasbir, Shobna Sonpar- a New Delhi based clinical psychologist and psychotherapist- in her book Violent Activism: A Psychological Study of Ex-Militants in Jammu and Kashmir also talks about sodomy, humiliation and torture of Kashmiri Muslim men by Indian Armed Forces and how this forms the image of dishonoured, Kashmiri Muslim bodies as feminine and mapping terrorism on their supposed sexuality. She opines that sexual abuse and humiliating torture is meant to “unman” its victim and often succeeds in doing so. And here Kashmiri Muslim body is that victim which is already and always anti-national and terrorist. 

In order to find space in existing social order, Kashmiri queer Muslims have been constantly fighting against imperialistic powers to liberate themselves from marginalisation and oppression. Ironically, the LGBT community of India, does not recognise them as victims of state oppression. This colonial homonationalism creates a feeling of disgust towards Kashmiri Muslim queer bodies, hence justifying the violence directed towards them.

Pinkwashing cannot overshadow our daily experiences of humiliation, harassment and ceaseless human rights violations.

If this colonial racist logic, which others Kashmiri queer bodies, makes a lot of sense to LGBT community of India, it says a lot about their hypocritical stand and their disposition to endorse and propagate homonationalism. As Kashmiris we cannot accept any effort, or be complicit with the effort to normalise this narrative. Pinkwashing cannot overshadow our daily experiences of humiliation, harassment and ceaseless human rights violations. Therefore any effort to make this narrative look normal is only the perpetuation of state violence directed towards Kashmiris.

This pinkwashing also works to strengthen various myths about Kashmir. It propagates this false narrative that Kashmiri LGBT community is striving with a lot of oppression and homophobia and that they could only be saved by the Indian state. This narrative sells to people the fantasy that their coloniser has their freedom while holding their freedom. 

Human rights are indivisible. Nation states cannot safeguard an individual’s right to sexuality and repudiate other basic human rights. Sexual orientation and gender expression does not exist in a vacuum. To safeguard these rights, it should first recognise the basic right to life, freedom with worth and dignity and right to self determination. In Kashmir, unfortunately all these basic rights are infringed upon on a daily basis. In such a scenario, guarantee to right to sexuality and expression of gender identity makes no sense to all of us. Therefore, there is no liberation for Kashmiri LGBT community as the violence inflicted upon Kashmiris is the direct violence to queer Kashmiris. 

Dr. Aijaz Ahmad Bund

Dr. Aijaz Ahmad Bund is a LGBT activist from Kashmir. He is the founder and Chairperson of Sonzal Welfare Trust that works for the welfare of gender and sexual minorities in the state of J&K, and can be reached at help.humanity@riseup.net
Dr. Aijaz Ahmad Bund