I entered the Delhi queer movement in my early 20s, as a complete outsider in terms of language, origin, race, class, and caste identity. I wanted to bring change to the status quo and challenge the existing caste and class hierarchy that pervaded the movement. I started my initiative and became a vocal part of the Delhi queer circuit. Thinking back, I like to believe that I played my part to help make the movement a bit more ‘intersectional’, especially in the university scene. Ultimately, after around three years of activism and organising, I decided to abruptly leave the queer community. It wasn’t because I didn’t care about the community or that I no longer cared about amplifying subaltern voices within the community. I felt like I never truly belonged in the community, like I did not have a space. I simply could no longer take the covert discrimination that I was subjected to on account of my marginalised identity.
I have observed countless other non-UC, non-mainland queer people who have also felt alienated by the movement and had decided to step away from the mainstream movement as the community is being white washed and dominated by all these queer activists/influencers having caste and class privileges, who call people out from their high horses while trampling over all the Dalit, Bahujan and indigenous voices they pretend to always listen to. A few weeks ago, a UC trans activist Dr.Trinetra Haldar Gummaraju and her model friend Meera
Singhania-Rehani ridiculed and mocked a Bahujan queer person who had much less following than them on their instagram live, making insensitive casteist comments all the while insinuating that the person is faking their caste identity. They both eventually released press statements eventually after being extremely defensive, blocking multiple DBA folks while justifying their actions. I’m bringing this incident up because the responses from their fellow UC queer activists/influencers is a reminder and an example of the role caste and class plays when it comes to community building and belongingness within the queer movement.
These UC queer influencers, who are very vocal when it comes to the discriminations faced personally, who call out people left and right when it comes to their personal issues were defending themselves and their friends, publishing their articles justifying their casteism online once the people close to them were ousted as casteists. Had Trinetra and Meera been from an oppressed caste, without a doubt these people would’ve cut ties or called them out within a matter of days. With their social capital and thousands of followers, they attacked a queer bahujan person and basically forced them to prove their caste identity. These people are not only queer; they are queer people with influence, following, and power. They are looked up by many of their fellow young LGBT+ folks who aim to emulate them. The caste solidarity they exhibited is not something new or shocking, it has always been looming and festering.
For years and years, prejudices like these haven’t been foreign to socially marginalised folks within the queer community but the concerns are often ignored in favour of maintaining harmony in the community. It has just become more visible in the age of social media because people can now openly broadcast their casteism online. I think it’s time we start having ‘uncomfortable’ discussions around this. If we look at who is steering the narrative of the Indian queer movement especially in metro cities, it is the upper caste, upper class, able-bodied, “socially acceptable” queer people because when folks from the margins try to make an impact and get their issues heard, the UC queers feel threatened about losing their spotlight and momentum.
They may not always express their disdain in such undisguised manner but their
micro-aggressions are definitely felt and internalized by oppressed queer folks. This incident reminded me of my own experiences back during the years I was active in the queer scene and the times UC queer activists would scrutinize and check my every move on and off social media and on campus, constantly reminding me of my mistakes, silencing me, spreading rumours behind my back, and later even warning my friends to stay away from me because of my “bipolar disorder”, an illness they have labelled me with on their own accord. It had reached a point where I had to file a complaint with the SC/ST grievance cell in my university. This, and many other micro (and not so micro) aggressions I have faced within the community had compelled me to never look back.
Instead of always having to fight for our place within the queer movement, I think it’s time for queer folks like us who have been invisibilized and never heard, to continue to create our own communities and stop trying so hard to educate people who will never truly empathise with us or listen to us. Why should the burden of education always rest on the oppressed? It’s also time for online and offline UC queer influencers who add “unlearning casteism” or “anti-caste” in their bio and call it a day to stop pretending that they actually care about us. They should stop claiming that they are anti-caste if they are never going to pass the mic and are going to continue being upholders of upper caste supremacy within the movement. Almost all UC queer activists are now claiming to be anti-caste, intersectional and anti-racist but it’s time we’ve come to the realisation that they do not want to face the discomfort of actually listening to oppressed voices. It’s time they’re transparent about the fact that they are only claiming to be intersectional and anti-caste to make themselves seem more woke and to one up their fellow UC people on being socially aware.
Sophia is currently a Master’s student and researcher. She is trying to live a quiet life with her exceptionally perfect dog.