“Caste is everywhere,” recalls Grace Banu, a Dalit-transgender activist, while conversing with Faye D’Souza about the time she ran away from home and joined a transgender community. She talks about how a Dalit-trans person is oppressed in a twofold layer- One for being transgender and the other for being a Dalit.
Dalit queerness is an often suppressed topic of discussion or rather an unknown perspective. But it exists. It is comprehensive and clear. One of the primary reasons could be the perception of equality from the LGBTQ+ point of view. As the community’s struggle is based on access to equal rights, one might think that this equality is a spectrum of inclusivity in all senses- caste, color, and gender. But various anecdotes suggest otherwise.
“For many of us, “coming-out” as Dalit has been more difficult a journey than “coming-out” as gays,” says Dhiren Borisa, a lawyer and prime voice of anti-caste notions among queer spaces, in his journal essay “Hopeful Rantings of a Dalit Queer person.” In the same essay, he highlights the unheard voices among the rainbow community. As inclusive as the concept of rainbow suggests, the space is often dominated by segregated perspectives of the upper-caste privileged members. When the voices for the struggle for gay marriage rights, adoption rights, and employment rights rise, the voice of the anti-caste movement within the community dilutes.
“Queer, Dalit, and Proud” read the popular slogan of Telengana’s first Pride parade inaugurated by Kancha Ilaiah- an anti-caste advocate and political theorist. This sparked a culture of addressing caste within the LGBTQ+ community as a sub-movement. But who are the frontline revolutionaries in this sub-movement? Does everyone who is a Dalit LGBTQ+, takes part in it?
Well, when caste is discussed, every marginalized stay woke. But within the rainbow community, transgender and queer are on the frontlines. In the context of a 2013 court trial, Dhiren writes, “Must we take the same logic ahead just because visibility for cis-gendered gay bodies come with privilege and access, and the visibility of trans and non-conforming bodies results in routinized violence?” It is suggestive that sheer targeted discrimination is often faced by the trans and queer colors of the rainbow spectrum alone. Just like the abbreviation LGBTQ+ keeps trans and queer towards the end, the Indian LGBTQ+ movements seem to have literally implemented it.
Caste holds the soil of Indian mentality stronger than gender and patriarchy do. For instance, in a historic move, the mother of a popular LGBTQ+ activist placed India’s first-ever gay matrimonial ad, preferring an “Iyer” for her 36-year-old unmarried son. While it was a commendable step for the rainbow community, the ingrained casteism is boldly presented and accepted. Intriguingly, on a later clarification through a Facebook post, the advertiser posted,
“IYER PREF was meant to be a tease. Though I should admit, that is typical that mothers wish their children should be married to families whose culture we know of.” I think the clarification speaks for itself.
Often, people in dating apps are blatant about matching only with people of a particular caste or community. In similar cases, people are also fetishizing Dalit men because of their inherited masculine features, a legacy of the labor class. Thus, comes the firm reference to sexual preferences motivated through caste and physique, which does seem to be very problematic and dangerous in nature. As this type of attraction is also discriminatory, various types of physical, mental, and emotional casualties are faced by the Dalit-LGBTQ+ community.
However, being Dalit and Queer inevitably attracts all the extremities of conforming to a revolution. Especially the poor and underprivileged queer spaces are either left unrecognized or cast over mainly by the hegemony of privileged cis-gendered authority. They are often questioned about why is there a need to bring caste into everything? And to questions like this, Dhrubo Jyoti, a Dalit-queer journalist, replies, “We bring caste up because caste is everywhere and in my everything, Caste is in my shirt; Caste is in my pant, Caste is in my sex, Caste is in my being and Caste is in every part of you too!”
Disha is a media graduate hailing from Kolkata. She is a writer, reader, and cinema lover.