Impacting the LGBT Community in Raipur

The screening of an IndiaUnheard video about LGBT issues in Raipur inspires change.

In mid-April of this year, a peaceful demonstration was organized in the streets of Raipur, Chhattisgarh.  Inspired by the screening of a May 2010 IndiaUnheard report by Sarwat Naqvi, which exposed the difficulties faced by sexual minorities in Raipur, protesters took to the streets and confronted the Chief Minister about their struggles and demands.

The original video, titled “Homosexuals Seek an Identity” and touted by Ravi Kumar as “the first attempt of anyone to help our community,” had a remarkable impact on the lives of sexual minorities in Raipur. Against the backdrop of an evolving LGBT movement in India, IndiaUnheard has raised awareness about the discrimination and abuse suffered by sexual minorities in the region. Further, the video screening introduced members of the LGBT community to MITWA, an advocacy and monitoring organization in the city aimed at supporting them.  But perhaps most importantly, Sarwat Naqvi has encouraged growing support and empowerment for sexual minorities with promises for more progress to come.

During nineteenth century British rule in India, Chapter XVI, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code was introduced, criminalizing sexual activity "against the order of nature."  The legislation describes “unnatural offences” as “carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal” and threatens punishment as severe as life imprisonment. But beyond a prejudiced law, Section 377 has encouraged a culture of intolerance, discrimination and harassment for sexual minorities and their communities.

In a 2006 Human Rights Watch Report, Indian state police and other officials were deeply criticized for the treatment of sexual minorities.  Program director Scott Long says in the report,  “They are able to do so because India’s government clings to the criminalization of homosexual conduct, which only prevents people from coming forward for HIV/AIDS testing, information, and services.”  However, on July 2, 2009, resulting from a movement spearheaded by the NAZ Foundation in 2001, the Delhi Supreme Court ruled that Section 377 should be amended to exclude “consensual sexual acts of adults in private.”

In addition to the legislative changes in 2009, the work of community activists and journalists such as Sarwat Naqvi are changing the public perspective of sexual minorities and empowering those minorities to act on their own behalf.  In fact, the homosexual and transgender communities in Raipur have submitted a list of demands to the Chief Minister including protection of fundamental rights such as housing, the introduction of sexual orientation curriculum in primary education and banning of derogatory terminology.  And many in Raipur support them.  According to Vikas, a leader at MITWA, “after watching this video, many people approached us and lent support to our cause.”

India has long been home to LGBT culture, from homosexual nightlife in Delhi to the custom of ‘badhai’, in which hijras (transgender community members) sing, dance and confer blessings in ceremonies. Still, mistreatment, discrimination and abuse plague the communities of sexual minorities and there is much work to be done.  Still, activism and advocacy around LGBT issues in Raipur and across India are promising. As Sarwat Naqvi reveals in this IndiaUnheard Impact Video, “It is a new beginning; a new wave of change is happening.”

Sarwat Naqvi is a community activist, social issue advocate and journalist for IndiaUnheard in Raipur, Chhattisgarh.  His experience with social issues and law has inspired him to address the diverse problems that face marginalized people in his region.  He was introduced to the abuse and discrimination in the LGBT communities in Raipur when a community representative approached him as a trusted community correspondent.  As this IndiaUnheard Impact Video reveals, the work that Sarwat has done is making a significant impact in Raipur and is an encouraging example of action for grassroots journalists and marginalized communities everywhere.

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