In December 2013, the Supreme Court of India reinstated Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC 377), a colonial–era law that criminalizes any ‘carnal intercourse against the order of nature’. Similar to the ‘sodomy laws’ established in many other parts of the erstwhile British Empire, the law targets certain sex acts rather than any sexual or gender identity. However, the law is widely understood as specifically criminalizing homosexuality, and for many activists as well as the media, it has become a powerful symbol of discrimination against LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) Indians.
At the same time, other activists have criticized the movement against IPC 377 for ignoring more substantial concerns facing disenfranchised LGBT people such as working class transgender communities, as 377 has been a relatively minor cause of discrimination compared to the quotidian forms of violence and stigma faced by such people.
In this panel discussion, Elakshi Kumar, Kareem Khubchandani and Aniruddha Dutta, three scholar–activists who have several years of experience with Indian LGBT communities and movements, will discuss the politics of the movement against IPC 377.
Aniruddha Dutta is an assistant professor in the departments of Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies and Asian and Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Iowa, and is also associated in advisory and voluntary capacities with several community–based organizations for transgender and queer people in eastern India. Dutta’s current research project, “Globalizing through the Vernacular: The Making of Gender and Sexual Minorities in Eastern India”, examines how gender/sexual identity politics in India challenges, reconfigures or reproduces structural hierarchies of class/caste and unequal access to citizenship.
Elakshi Kumar is a PhD candidate at the Dept. of Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Minnesota. His research examines the complex embodiments and sociocultural articulations of female–masculinities at the intersections of Hindu nationalism, globalization, Queer and lower caste social movements in Indian public culture. He is affiliated with community–based groups like Sampoorna and Qashti, that organize and advocate for trans masculine people in India. He is also an alum of the Brown Boi Project.
Kareem Khubchandani is a PhD candidate in Performance Studies at Northwestern University writing a dissertation titled “Ishtyle: Queer Nightlife Performance in India and the South Asian Diaspora.” He is an activist working with the LGBT South Asian organization Trikone–Chicago, and with the Bangalore Campaign for Sexuality Minorities Rights. He is also a performance artist working in storytelling, drag, and dance.