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Preeti Sharma Menon, AAP Maharashtra secretary addresses a packed room on Sunday, 6 April, at a meeting between AAP and queer citizens. Photo: Gaysi
Preeti Sharma Menon, AAP Maharashtra secretary addresses a packed room on Sunday, 6 April, at a meeting between AAP and queer citizens. Photo: Gaysi

Why didn’t Section 377 make it to AAP’s manifesto?

The party faced tough questions from queer Mumbaikars at a recent event

The Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP’s) national manifesto, which was released on 3 April, disappointed people across the gender and sexual diversity spectrum, given the party’s stand after the 11 December Supreme Court verdict that upheld Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. Section 377 condemns “carnal intercourse against the order of nature" and can be used to persecute queer people. At the time, a statement uploaded on AAP’s website said it was “disappointed with the judgement of the Supreme Court upholding the Section 377 of the IPC and reversing the landmark judgement of the Delhi high court on the subject...Aam Aadmi Party hopes and expects that the Supreme Court will review this judgement and that Parliament will also step in to repeal this archaic law."

On 6 April, a group of Mumbai-based queer people and supporters met AAP members at an event organized by Gaysi, an online queer community resource, to discuss their concerns. The meeting, which took place at The Hive, Bandra, was attended by Preeti Sharma Menon, AAP secretary for Maharashtra, and party candidates Phiroze Palkivala(Mumbai North Central), and Sundar Balakrishnan (Mumbai South Central).

Menon sought to clarify the process by which the party created its national manifesto—while subject matter experts across the country were consulted on various issues to include in the manifesto, the final decision was taken by the 23-member national executive. Consequently, several points collected by volunteers who reached out to various communities—including the queer community in New Delhi, in a meeting held last month—may not have found inclusion in the final party manifesto.

Menon said the four pillars on which the party is fighting the election are corruption, dynastic politics, criminalized politics and crony capitalism. She added, however, that the party will continue to fight for equal rights for all, irrespective of gender and sexuality.

Theatre actor and AAP member Mona Ambegaonkar, whose performance in Ek Madhav Baug, a monologue by a mother, whose son is gay, has won her critical acclaim, said she had read a party document while canvassing for Mayank Gandhi, AAP’s Mumbai Northwest candidate, which, “clearly stated ‘dignified livelihood for transgenders’". She wondered why that line was dropped. Queer and child rights activist Harrish Iyer, who recently left his corporate job to join active politics and signed up as a member of AAP, echoed her concern. “There was enough room in the document talking about gender justice and anti-discrimination, to bring in equality for transgender persons. These matters are connected—I am a bisexual woman, and my gender and sexuality are not disconnected. There was room to talk about sexuality in other sections of the manifesto, which hasn’t been done," said Sonal Giani, advocacy officer for HIV rights organization Humsafar Trust.

Menon argued that the manifesto doesn’t mention dams, although several party candidates and members, such as Medha Patkar, Anjali Damania and Vijay Pandhare, have been working on the issue of water resource management and livelihoods of people displaced by dams for years on end. This doesn’t mean, she said, that the party will not focus on this matter.

This led some members in the room to argue that there was no comparison, revealing an unfortunate tendency to not recognize the inter-connectedness of social justice concerns.

A question on what AAP thought of the Uniform Civil Code, however, also revealed that the party hadn’t formalized its own stand on rights-based issues. Menon also faced some flak for not being fully acquainted with the issue at hand. The AAP spokesperson referred to the need to repeal Section 377, whereas the demand of the queer community is to read it down and decriminalize consensual same-sex relations, are the Delhi high court verdict of 2009—which now stands upturned–had done.

“We’re a new party, but our intentions are clean," Menon said. “Whatever happens between two consenting adults is nobody’s business. It is a committed stance that we will fight against Section 377 in Parliament." She also promised to add the rights of transgenders and other queer populations in the manifesto for the Maharashtra state elections slated for the year-end or early 2015.

Menon’s statements were alternately placatory and defensive, but a month-long online survey by Humsafar Trust in March, is anything to go by, a line in the party manifesto could be an important decision-maker. Of the total 869 respondents, 487 respondents answered the question on which party they felt was most worthy of the queer vote. Of those who chose AAP, nearly 50% were confident that the party would support the queer community. In contrast, 67.2% of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters were Unsure to Not Confident of the party upholding their rights. Nearly 56.8% of Congress supporters were confident of the party working on the queer agenda.

While the Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) have included the issue of decriminalization of consensual same-sex relations in their party manifestos, AAP recently dropped all mention, and the BJP manifesto remains mum. BJP president Rajnath Singh, however, went on record in December supporting the Supreme Court verdict and stated that “homosexuality is an unnatural act".

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