Dear savarna queer men, let’s talk about casteism within our movement

Remember, it’s your caste preference that makes you choose that Mylapore vegetarian hotel for your queer meet-up
Dear savarna queer men, let’s talk about casteism within our movement
Dear savarna queer men, let’s talk about casteism within our movement
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By Moulee

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Heterosexual privilege allows a person to not hide their sexuality and relationship to the world. Our society is built on the norms of heterosexuality, that’s why we have Gay Pride March and not straight pride march. From time to time I do hear someone insist that they need straight pride march saying that queer people push their ‘gay’ agenda and the queer mafia threatens the supposedly straight world. The queer community has learnt to laugh it off. We are unapologetic about wearing our sexuality on our sleeves. We are normalizing the world by queering it. In India we are still in early stages. But we will soon be there, because the queer community has no qualms about fighting for our civil rights.

But when I walk shoulder to shoulder with my fellow queer people, fighting for our rights, I am being oppressed by queer comrades on different fronts. The oppression is blatant, subtle, behind my back and violent. But I am not allowed to talk about it. Because in the queer world and in the queer movement in India, I am allowed to only carry my queer identity. I am allowed to talk only about the discrimination I face for being a gay man. Because the oppressors are them - straight people. The few straight allies in the discussion are tuned in and sensitized to the extent that they feel guilty when we talk about the homophobia in society. They don’t feel uncomfortable in our safe spaces when we talk about the discrimination.

The queer community and its allies acknowledge heterosexual privilege, and cis-man privilege. But why do we have problem acknowledging caste privilege? The queer community has come a long way from defending ourselves from people who called us unnatural, deviant and perverts. We no longer defend ourselves on these fronts. We demand our civil rights, the human dignity that we are entitled to.

But the sad thing is, the anti-caste movement – which is older than the coining of the term LGBT – still struggles with basic questions of caste. This is something that we must learn from our straight allies who do a good job of acknowledging their heterosexual privilege. But savarna people within the queer movement have a hard time acknowledging their own caste privilege.

The queer community, which is dominated by savarna cis-men, provides lip service to the acknowledgement of caste within the community. But the problem is that savarna people act as voices of the oppressed. Appropriation of voices is also a form of discrimination and violence. If a savarna person wants to talk about caste, the first step is to acknowledge your privilege; then to talk about the kind of oppression that you make people like me to endure. Unless you realize this, you cannot talk against caste and about intersectionality. If I am allowed to talk about the discrimination I face as a gay man, I am equally entitled to talk about the discrimination that I face as a Dalit-Bahujan person. I don’t want you to talk about my experiences. Because you have not experienced what it is to be a Dalit-Bahujan. It is my experience and I will share it.

The queer space across India is dominated by savarna cis-gay-men. Some of them are in lavender heterosexual marriages, reaping additional privilege from the heterosexual world. Do not say caste is a thing of the past. Listen to our stories. Listen to us when we point out how you bring your caste preferences within the queer movement. Do not play the victim when we point out your privilege. Do not say ‘not-all-upper castes…’. Do not say that you are helpless because you were born into that ‘unfortunate’ caste - you still carry your caste privilege.

Do not say you are casteless - that is offensive. When you plan a queer meet-up at that vegetarian hotel in Mylapore, remember that it is your caste preference that makes you choose that hotel. And do not think we are demonizing you when we point out your privilege based on the choices you make. And if you feel uncomfortable, it most likely means that you haven’t acknowledged how your privilege benefits you. Learn from our straight allies on how to acknowledge privilege.

For long, the queer identity was built around shame. We know how it feels like to hide our sexuality. We know how it feels to lie about our relationship. I was naive enough to think that every queer person - savarna included - would understand how it is to live with the Dalit-Bahujan identity that has been built around shame.

The queer movement is not organized in India. But savarna men dominate it through their savarna social capital, and NGOs. There is a calculated power structure and dominance by these individuals in the queer scene. Those of us who fight our way to share our experiences as Dalit-Bahujan individuals in the queer community are shunned, ridiculed and ignored. A Tam-Brahm ‘equal-rights’ activist from Mumbai mocked the three Dalit queer persons who asserted their Dalit identity at the Delhi Queer Pride parade last year. The ‘activist’ mimed that the Dalit persons sharing their experiences on stage were mad.

Early this year a Brahmin gay activist blatantly told me that the queer community in Chennai is not ready to deal with caste issues within. It was then that I realized the mistake I made two years ago by suggesting that the Chennai Rainbow Pride March name in Tamil be changed from Vaanavil Perani (rainbow parade) to Vaanavil Suyamariyathai Perani (Rainbow Self-respect* Parade). We had a discussion and formally changed it. Today we have Suyamariyathai in name, but without being true to the ideology.

Savarna queer activists and individuals must understand that it is not just their voices that need to be heard. They are not the sole representatives of the diverse queer community. Stop antagonizing those of us when we criticize how a few savarna men and their NGOs are hijacking the current queer movement. It is a shame that I have to say this, but Dalit-Bahujan individuals are as much a part of the queer movement. Our stories and experiences - both within the queer community and outside - need to be shared. We are unapologetic about asserting our oppressed caste identity as much as we assert out sexual and gender identity. We will call you out when you oppress us. And that doesn’t mean we are diverging ‘our’ queer movement. We are just steering it towards the right direction.

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