Section 377 Read Down, But What About Kashmir’s LGBTQ+ Community?
A prevalent but hidden subterranean conflict in Kashimiri society today is that of identities as hierarchies. Each one of us carries a multiple, potentially contradictory identity, and which of them we bring to the fore and identify with, depends on societal expectations.
With patriarchy holding sway, the transgenders in Kashmir have most often been excluded from the structure and have had to invent themes and ways of inclusion in the society.
Sighting a transgender at a wedding is not uncommon in Kashmir. The extravagance is in fact incomplete without them singing and dancing. Special care is taken to please them because if they get upset, they might curse the newlyweds. While they grace the weddings of others, their right to such bliss is unacceptable to society and the law. So what do they do when they are not singing and dancing in a marriage ceremony?
No one knows and no one seems to care either. The only response they get on streets, in buses and everywhere else is ugly stares and eye rolling. The crossdressers are invited to perform during religious ceremonies from time to time, the tradition believed to have come from Afghanistan. Otherwise, so narrow is their visibility, that at a public event, a transgender claimed that they had seen the dead body of one of their fellows on the road, without anyone coming forward to help with the burial rites. They live, they die, and society at large chooses to remain oblivious.
But unlike in many other parts of the country, one doesn’t find them at singing at traffic signals in Kashmir, as has been portrayed by mainstream media. They keep away from the public eye.
Coming out of the closet is the toughest part, and the first response to their coming out is often either abandonment, or forced counselling by religious leaders. Similarly, those who intend to come out as lesbian or gay, have other identities that they need to keep intact, for example, that of a son who must settle down with a woman and be the dominant partner.
The only time when I heard about lesbians in Kashmir was during my college days, when, apparently a quarrel between two lesbians turned bloody. Everyone in the college was talking about it, but with a sense of disbelief and disregard. Parents then were inclined to sending their daughters to all-women’s colleges. The college had no way of dealing with the problem except hushing up the “rumours”. That is precisely how society negates their existence too.
A Struggle Within a Struggle
Within the college, however, the rumours stayed for sometime, with all curious to know more about who these students were and more importantly. Some said that their parents were called to handle their “problem”, others said that they were suspended. It was found out soon after, that the incarcerated women were actively involved in sports; this confirmed the belief of many, that they indeed were lesbians. The college gym was seen as a ‘lesbian hangout’, and was thus, avoided by many.
Singledom is not socially acceptable. In a situation where both singledom and homosexual marriages are not possible, those belonging to the LGBTQ+ are forced into marriages. The partners are left to discover each other’s sexual orientation only after marriage. The pretence and taking procreative heterosexuality as the normative process can prove detrimental to both partners.
Large sections of society in Kashmir have already started negating the passage of legislation in Kashmir, fearing the spread of ‘immorality’. Belonging to a marginalised community in a politically conflicted region brings with it unique challenges. On the one hand there is a struggle for identity, and on the other hand, there is a struggle within the struggle. In this sub struggle for identity, the marginalised are always pushed to the periphery because their identity does not matter to the larger cause.
Human Rights in Kashmir
Kashmir, which has been fighting for human rights for decades, has rarely seen the defence of rights of sexual minorities within the larger frame of human rights. Now, let’s assume for a moment that the legislation is passed in the J&K Assembly. Passage would mean right to life for Kashmir’s LGBTQ+.
But the negative perception is so deep rooted, that the legislation will not change societal attitudes at once.
The response that the leaders from Kashmir came up with to the legislation was opposition on grounds that it would promote ‘immorality’.
Political pluralism in Kashmir should mean plurality of identities that it (ought to) allow individuals to assume. While the Valley fights for freedom of one form, declining freedom of another form to a minority is utterly against the principles of justice.
So when, through the deafening thumps of a tumaknaier and dafli (musical instruments) one catches the sight of a transgender person performing with jubilation, one cannot help but be awed by their resilience.
(Arshie Qureshi is a freelance journalist based in Kashmir. She tweets at @ArshieQureshi. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)