A talk on of gender-based violence with the LGBTQIA+ community

Session Report
Asra Malik

The 5th day of the “Ending Gender-Based Violence Cohort 2” online national spring school program organized by IMPRI and the Gender Impact Studies Center focused on raising awareness around policies and governance related to gender-based violence. 

The session started with Professor Vibhuti Patel intricately setting a transition of previous sessions into the session of today by recapping the historical context starting in the 1970s that drove actions to combat gender-based violence, as well as an overview of the policy frameworks that emerged after the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The pivotal role of women’s movements during the “Women’s Decade” in catalyzing macro and micro levels of institutional support was also highlighted. The initial campaigns against gender-based violence were built on sharing personal experiences of confronting violence, stirring a mix of powerful emotions.

This bonding over collective catharsis empowered women, children, and the LGBTQIA+ community to take a collective action. While there was initially total aversion to openly discussing the violence, the growth of mutual counseling and self-led support groups based on consent and respect facilitated healing. However, the speakers emphasized that the demand for change must precede any external intervention, as proxy battles cannot substitute for the main stakeholders being aided by the state through strategic actions.

Gender-Based Violence and the Queer community’s exposure to discrimination

Guest speaker Rituparna Neog, a trans leader and gender rights activist from Kampf Foundation, stressed the importance of examining the intentions and perspectives behind acts of gender-based violence towards the LGBTQIA+ community. Neog shed light on the lived experiences and observations from their advocacy work.

They explained how gender-based violence often starts at home with the suppression of one’s self-expression and denial of their very existence and identity by being forced into preconceived notions of how they “ought to be” rather than accepting them for who they are. This manifests as verbal abuse, mental violence through manipulation and coerced conformity measures like “conversion therapy” – the unethical practice of using psychological or spiritual intervention to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.  

Neog emphasized how this form of violence denies the fundamental right of LGBTQIA+ individuals to live authentically. It attacks their sense of self by propagating the belief that their identity is “wrong” or needs to be “fixed.” The use of phrases like “line par le aana” (get back on track) reflects this inherent bias. Such rejection and non-acceptance of one’s existence is psychologically scarring, especially for young people still developing their sense of self.

Neog cited the example of a bisexual woman who was forcibly married off before turning 18 due to pressure from family and society. Child marriage itself is a human rights violation, but this case intersected with denial of the woman’s sexual orientation. An institutionalized, legal intervention could have prevented this injustice, but the situation would likely have been different if she was 18 or above due to societal prejudices.

The pressure to conform to heteronormative ideals from a young age can cause LGBTQIA+ children and youth to overcompensate by suppressing their true selves. This internal conflict and violence through manipulation, negotiations and coerced conformity is extremely damaging to mental health. It perpetuates internalized prejudices, shame, and a multi-layered cycle of oppression that is very difficult to overcome without support systems.

Neog highlighted how gender-based violence against LGBTQIA+ people is inherently spatial – enacted in private home settings by family but also in public spaces like schools that lack inclusive environments. They cited the example of schools like DPS Ghaziabad where teachers themselves became perpetrators by discriminating against queer students and violating their child rights through exclusion, lack of gender-neutral facilities, censorship of self-expression and more. The trauma caused by these authority figures fostered an unwelcoming climate driving many LGBTQIA+ students to drop out or even attempt suicide.

Steps of redressal and a need for policy based approach

There is an urgent need for educational institutions to implement LGBTQIA+ inclusive policies, infrastructure, counseling support and accountability measures to prevent such injustices. Promoting awareness and sensitization of all stakeholders is key. Workplaces and organizational setups must also formulate clear policies addressing all forms of gender-based violence including discrimination based on gender identity and expression.  

Neog reiterated that an institutionalized, systemic way of examining these issues through an intersectional lens is the need of the hour. Despite progressive judicial precedents by India’s Supreme Court, higher education institutions continue finding excuses like binary gender options on application forms to discriminate against trans students. This highlights the collective responsibility to update existing laws, policies and systems to be truly inclusive.

Collective action by the LGBTQIA+ community through activism and movements has brought these issues to the forefront. But much more remains to be done through constructive dialogue that centers the lived experiences and identities of this marginalized group. Equal opportunity and acceptance is the only path forward – shifting mindsets from rejection and later compensating, to upholding the fundamental human rights of all individuals irrespective of gender or sexuality from the very beginning.

Conclusion

After an invigorating session, Prof. Vibhuti Patel drew parallels between the denial of a girl child’s existence through sex-selective abortion and the discrimination faced by intersex children who are neglected, only to be expected to care for the elderly later. Neog highlighted that even after Supreme Court rulings, colleges continue to exclude trans applicants using pretexts like application forms only having “male/female” gender options. The need for collective responsibility to update existing laws, policies and institutional systems to be more inclusive of diverse gender identities was emphasized. Equal opportunities and dialogue are required, rather than perpetuating cycles of prejudice, rejection, discrimination and manipulative compensation.

Acknowledgement: Asra Malik, Research Intern at IMPRI.

Read more event reports from IMPRI here:

Harassment Against Women: A Pervasive and Multidimensional Issue

Inclusive justice in the Indian Courts