Sikkim hosts first LGBTQIA+ symposium, opens talk for awareness and visibility of queer folx from the state
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many queer folx into living with their families. While some have familial support for their sexual and gender identities, many on the margins of Sikkimese society does not. This is only part of several larger challenges, namely a lack of protective and/or empowering legislation for the community, a dearth of media coverage, an absence of discourse on their issues, wilful governmental ignorance of the community in the political and social spectrum. As such, the community has been further marginalised.
During the 2019 general elections, the Election Commission of Sikkim listed two transgender people as registered voters at a press conference. The Commission later said that no such persons existed in the state and that the listing was an error. Sikkim also has a financial grant available for children of trans persons which allows them to avail of monetary support until graduation but laws for the primary community are non-existent. Rules are framed by the Transgender Panel of Sikkim, under the Social Justice and Welfare Department (SJWD). The panel has no known LGBTQ+ representation.
It is also necessary to inquire into if the Sikkimese government has assisted the queer community during the current pandemic. The lack of concrete facilities like basic healthcare, welfare representation and reports on the LGBTQ+ community in a mostly rural state needs attention, given how poorly even privileged groups in the region have been affected.
With regard to this and more issues that plague the queer community in Sikkim, a symposium on LGBTQIA+ and the law was organized by Sikkim High Court Bar Association (SHCBA) in collaboration with Rainbow Hills Welfare Association (RHWA) on March 9th with the attendance of Justice A.P. Shah (retired Chief Justice of Delhi High Court) and Joyita Mondal, the first transgender judge of Lok Adalat.
An event that witnessed actual participation of LGBTQIA+ folx along with people from the media and policy-making bodies that mattered, this came as a positive sign for those who had been rallying for the cause for years, whether it was in private or public.
Given Sikkim’s ‘modern’ exterior with people trying to embody Western culture more and more, it is the underlying truth that speaks volumes. Violence and discrimination against queer people in the state is an ugly reality, with one of the members who had attended the event being verbally harassed on their way home by local miscreants.
This is only one of the many occurrences that queer people in Sikkim confide in their trusted friends and allies about. Apart from one singular incident, there are several stories of being thrown out of houses, public humiliation and violence that are passed amongst the small circle that has identified itself. When there are no laws for the marginalized, what can one ever hope to achieve, even if the hope is something as simple as living a quiet life?
Despite the frequent setbacks, having a legal body step in and atleast amplify the necessity of talking about it to raise awareness is a welcome step. For now, an event hall became a momentary safe space for queer folx, maybe in the future, the streets could finally be one too.