Queer people in India remain cautious of pinning their hopes on the Congress

Queer people in India remain cautious of pinning their hopes on the Congress

This edition of The Next Wave wades through what the recent election results mean for queer and transgender people in the country. What are their anxieties, aspirations, hopes, and expectations?

Sri City, 17 June: Amit Bisoi tells me they did not care about politics for a long time. This changed in May when the state of Odisha went to vote. “It was only when I started engaging with queer issues that I realised my responsibility as a voter,” Bisoi told me over an online call. Based in Bhubaneswar, the 27-year-old is an activist working for the rights of LGBTQIA+ people and people living with HIV (PLHIV), and a drag artist.

What prompted Bisoi’s first vote in about a decade of their adult life was the sense that the political environment in the state is changing and that these winds of change might bring difficulties for queer and transgender persons in the state. “My friends and I had a feeling that this would be the last time that the BJD [Biju Janata Dal] comes to power, after which a different party would take over the government,” they said.

They were wrong. As the results of the Lok Sabha elections were declared on June 4, the BJD, whose supremo Naveen Pattnaik ruled the state as its chief minister for 24 years, had lost all seats. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won 20 of 21 seats, with the remaining one going to the Congress. BJP also won the Assembly elections in the state, making cracks in BJD’s stronghold.

“We were terrified,” Bisoi told me about their immediate reaction to the election results. They work with the Solidarity and Action Against The HIV Infection in India (SAATHII), a non-governmental organisation working towards gender- and sexually marginalised groups’ access to rights, and health, legal, and social services. Since 2007, SAATHII representatives in Bhubaneswar have been communicating with the state government, carefully sensitising them about matters of gender and sexuality. According to Bisoi, the BJD government was taking baby steps towards ensuring rights for queer and transgender persons in Odisha.

With the BJD dethroned and the BJP coming to power, Bisoi is worried that they will have to start their work with the government once again and from scratch. “What will happen to schemes and projects that the BJD government started for the benefit of transgender persons?” they asked. 

Bisoi informed me that the day after the election results were declared, private hospitals temporarily stopped accepting the Biju Swasthya Kalyan Yojana, a universal health coverage scheme of the BJD government of which transgender persons were also beneficiaries. In addition, Bisoi said, several Ahar Yojana centres have begun shutting down. In these centres, any person can get a cooked lunch and dinner for a subsidised rate of Rs 5. Many working-class queer and transgender persons relied on these Ahar centres for their meals, according to Bisoi.

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