In conversation with Assistant Professor Gowthaman Ranganathan, and Sanjeev Gumpenapalli, a student at NALSAR University of Law.
The impact of the coronavirus pandemic brought the world to a standstill, and has adversely affected millions of people across the world. Although everyone was impacted by the lockdown, some were impacted more than the others. One such group is the queer community who, already living on the margins, were subject to an exacerbated level of violence, fear and material insecurity as a result of the lockdown.
Professor Ranganathan explained how the violence which working class gender and sexually diverse people experience on a continuum of public and private spheres. This violence is imposed both by the state, the family and the public. It manifests in various forms, some apparent and some non-apparent, and in every sphere.
The violence which working class gender and sexually diverse people experience is on a continuum of public and private spheres.
The existing laws are discriminatory against the queer community, and there is a gross lack of policy that adequately addresses their needs. Laws such as the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019, have denied their gender and sexual diverse identity and enforced restrictions and definitions that violate their fundamental rights. The impact of these restrictions worsened since the lockdown. Sanjeev pointed out that “the punitive nature of both the Disease Control Act and Disaster Control Act shows the state’s desire to control bodies.” In an attempt to stop the spread of the coronavirus, the actions of people were controlled, monitored and punished. This control of people manifested as controlling the “impure bodies” which, to the state, are Dalit queer people, amongst others.
It resulted in increased police brutality as these people who mostly work and reside on the streets, were punished for being there and forced into their private households, which for many are places of violence. By controlling their bodies, subjecting them to violence and excluding them from policies, the queer community is thus made invisible by the state in legal services, health care and other services.
Because of the stigma attached to their identity worsened by caste and class discrimination, a large portion of working class gender and sexually diverse people engage in sex work and begging for their livelihood. The lockdown, by forcing people into their homes, put a strict and immediate halt to both activities, which directly impacted the workers, rendering them unemployed and without any income and minimal savings. They thus had to primarily rely on donations by NGOs for food and sustenance.
These acts of violence happen in spaces where official records have no place for them so they will never get captured.
The rate of evictions and the threat increased grossly since the lockdown. Working class gender and sexual diverse persons who engaged in traditional livelihood means like sex work and seeking alms for blessing, which is characterised by the state as beggary, were completely out of work due to the strict lockdown, making it difficult for them to afford rent. The stigma attached to transgender people meant they were not only denied tenancy but were also forced to evict their rented homes. In Hyderabad, posters were found around the city that targeted Transgender people and blamed them for the spread of COVID-19.
“The punitive nature of both the Disease Control Act and Disaster Control Act shows the state’s desire to control bodies.”
The violence and invisibility that the queer community is subject to by the state machinery shows a lacuna in the approach to achieving justice for them. Professor Ranganathan and Sanjeev both separately emphasised the need for an imagination of achieving justice beyond the law and highlighted the gaps which the dominant LGBT movement that has unfortunately left out many gender and sexually diverse people from the conversation. The emphasis on equality and the right to love, while important in its own right, does not give enough focus on the other issues that queer people face, such as health, housing and job insecurity and police brutality. There is still an exclusion of these individuals from receiving access to justice, which only worsened as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.