“I am straight. I don’t think that should make a difference.”
These are the words Monica starts the conversation with, and although they ring in my ears, brimming with impact, I don’t think she’s had to carefully choose them. This, is exactly what she feels, and exactly what I wish a lot of others felt.
A 21-year old engineering student from Mumbai, Monica Kulkarni’s life would be incomplete without the boon and bane of almost every other Mumbaikar’s life- the local trains. It isn’t rare for commuters to encounter hijras, or eunuchs, or simply put, transgender people asking for alms on the train, neither is it rare for several people to cower in unfounded fear and at times, disgust at the mere sight of them.
“People have strange beliefs about them. They are said to ‘bless’ people who give them alms. I, for one, think that is utterly ridiculous”, says Monica.
As a heterosexual woman living in the financial capital, she believes herself to be privileged to be able to lead a life the way she wants to, and that is one of the major reasons she stands in solidarity with people from the LGBTQ community, those who do not sadly enjoy the same privileges.
“They have the same mental and physical abilities as us, it beats me why they have to beg to survive. They could very well pursue a respectable profession”, she wonders.
When asked about Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code and her answer is simple, yet something most people seem to overlook.
“Yes, it criminalises straight couple engaging in anything other than peno-vaginal sex too, but they can do whatever they want behind closed doors and get away with it. It is gay people who have to live their lives shrouded in fear and be branded criminals without having done anything wrong.”
The conversation shifts to why heterosexual people are hesitant to come out in support of the LGBTQ community, and Monica echoes my confusion.
“I don’t know why it’s so difficult for people to use their voice to support those who aren’t given a voice. Most people feel like if they support LGBTQ rights, everyone will think they’re gay, and somehow that deters them. Why is that such a bad thing? I have a lot of bisexual friends, and they’re just like the rest of us. It’s just that they are biologically programmed to love differently, how is that a problem?”
“There is also another way people look at this issue. They don’t mind other people coming to terms with their sexuality, but if it were their own child, they wouldn’t know how to react to it. I ask, who are you to decide if someone gets rights or not?”
As I get cheerier by the minute with what she has to say, Monica’s next question gives way to a thousand questions in my own mind.
“But do you really think this will materialize? Will India ever actually grant them rights?”, she asks, and then goes on to say, “I think it’s time a young crop of politicians took over, those that would actually regard LGBTQ rights as an issue that needs to be addressed and not a topic to make fun of.”
Every word she speaks, makes me want to say, “Yes, exactly!” and it’s ever so refreshing to see young, rational people stand up for the ones that truly need representation. After all, what is the point of our privileges if we don’t use them to empower those without?