Hindu Nationalism and Policies Pertaining to the LGBTQ+ in India

My Research Paper addresses the growing effect of Hindu Nationalism on the treatment of the LGBTQ+ in India, more urgently the Transgender community, and the policies towards them. It provides background for biases and the establishment for Hindu Nationalism and solutions for the same.

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June 23, 2023

Inquiry-driven, this project may reflect personal views, aiming to enrich problem-related discourse.

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To this day, India is a ground for diverse religions, cultures, heritage, and identities in the subcontinent. From Muslims, Christians, and Sikhs to Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, and many more, part of being an Indian is living among those who, despite their religious differences, share the same love for their country. However, with a Hindu majority and a Hindu Nationalist ruling party, the rights of minorities living in the country are jeopardized by bias. Homosexuality has been a part of Hindu religious texts, ceremonies, and folklore in India since before the Islamic Mughal Dynasty. From the Rigveda’s phrase “Vikriti Evam Prakriti,” which directly translates to “what seems unnatural is also natural,” to the Swarinis (lesbians) mentioned in Kamasutra “who often married each other and raised children together,” the LGBTQ+ communities in India have been merged into both the societal and religious spectrums of the country since the beginning. However, the twist in the Hindu perspectives towards the LGBTQ+ in India came with the British colonization of India and the rise of Hindu nationalism.

Influenced by the Catholic Church’s bias against homosexuality, beginning in 1861, the British colonization of India criminalized all sexual and homosexual activities deemed “against the order of nature” under section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. In the following years, ignorant of Indian diversity in the fight for Indian independence, the political ideology of Hindu nationalism began to emerge in the 19th century. At its core belief, Hindu nationalism spreads the idea that “Indian national identity and culture are inseparable from the Hindu religion.” The rise of paramilitary organizations such as the RSS under the Sangh Parivar, a group of Hindu nationalist organizations often linked to communal violence, became the front of the ideology and the violence that preceded it. The idea that Indian national identity is inseparable from the Hindu religion discounts not only the identities and rights of those who do not practice Hinduism in India but also those against whose rights and livelihoods there remains a stereotypical bias in the Hindu community. A bias built out of both the religious conflict with Muslims – given the stories of homosexual activities within the Mughal Empire – and the conservative culture of society following the days of colonization.

The queer community comprises roughly 8% of the Indian population. As Hindu Nationalism continues to be used as a “populist political tool” by both Congress and BJP (two of India’s major political parties) to win the votes of the Hindu majority in the country, religious bias against homosexuality and the LGBTQ+ community continues to render policies in favor of these communities ineffective. Even though on November 26th, 2019, the parliament passed the Transgender Persons Bill, protecting the transgender community from discrimination, the bill did little to fulfill its purpose and was rejected by queer communities in India as it required proof of sex reassignment surgery to be issued by the district magistrate in order to be recognized as transgender in the country. In India, MSM (men who have sex with men) have a human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) of 4.3% compared to that of the general population, for whom the number is 0.3%. Along with barriers of stereotypes, stigma, testing costs, and support, two-thirds of the transgender community in India do not have access to treatment for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) due to discrimination. In January, the United Hindu Front urged the Supreme Court to disregard petitions for the transgender community, calling it against Indian culture. In a community governed by a Hindu Nationalist Party, where discrimination is prevalent in such large numbers, violence against the LGBTQ+ community demonstrates that the struggle for surgery and medical treatment in order to be seen as one’s true self is seen as a step backward for their growth.

Additionally, despite the select few, leaders of the political ideology of Hindu Nationalism in India continue to jeopardize LGBTQ+ rights by spreading homophobia. Sushil Modi, a BJP lawmaker, called same-sex marriage contradictory to “Indian ethos,” culture, and traditions. Through such comments, given the conveyed biased, heterosexual nature of “Indian ethos'' in this case, politicians of a political party that supports the majority religion intentionally or unintentionally merge “Indian” with “Hindu,” thus serving and observing the LGBTQ+ with negative religious bias. Similarly, in the face of a petition to grant the right to same-sex marriage, the courts declared that they could not be asked to “change the entire legislative policy of the country deeply embedded in religious and societal norms,” even though “the country” is made up of several religions, follows several religious norms, and openly reflects a positive ancient existence of homosexuals in the community. Given the power and positions of these politicians and leaders, their words continue to encourage homophobia and diminish any positive effects of policies in favor of the LGBTQ+ community in India. Even though the Transgender Persons Bill established just grounds for the rights of the Transgender community of India, the bill did not guarantee their rights since it did not change societal bias, stigma, or violence against the community. The transgender community of India, like every other marginalized community in the country, continues to face discrimination through the reservation system, religious bias, and the growing effect of Hindu nationalism on policies created in favor of LGBTQ+ rights.

In order to overcome the religious bias of policies towards the LGBTQ+ community of India, there remains a need for a change in the mindsets of the community. Even though India has come a long way in guaranteeing the LGBTQ+ community their rights, systematic bias, misinformation, and the negative sides of Hindu Nationalism continues to merge Indian ideologies with Hindu ideologies, giving the political system the power to observe the LGBTQ+ community with a narrow perspective. Apart from acknowledging the diverse perspectives in the community and guaranteeing equal rights to the LGBQT+ communities on all fronts, separating the acknowledgment of a transgender person's identity from proof of surgery and medical involvement would be effective in guaranteeing equal recognition for everyone and providing grounds for improvement in regards to discrimination in the healthcare system. In addition, legalizing same-sex marriage along with other activities criminalized solely for the LGBTQ+ in India would go a long way in assuring equal rights and separating the religious heterosexual bias rising out of Hindu Nationalism from the democratic ideals of the country. Installing extra measures of security and regulations to ensure equal enrollment of the Transgender community in educational institutions and equal treatment within these institutions would work towards building a community that normalizes the involvement of Transgender Persons in fields of education, jobs, and success in the same way as the involvement of other genders is normalized. In the long term, this would ensure the further expelling of stigma and gender bias


The Institute for Youth in Policy wishes to acknowledge Gwen Singer, Sarah Zhang, Paul Kramer, Carlos Bindert and other contributors for developing and maintaining the Effective Discourse Department and associated Fellowship programming.

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Aarya Chowdhry

Criminal Justice Team Lead

Aarya currently co-leads Criminal Justice Policy in the Policy department and is an Outreach Intern in the Education department at YIP. Fortunate to call Kanpur, India, her hometown, she is an avid reader, learner and poet.

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