Until a few days ago, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) could have found a large support base within India's LGBT community; what with their promise to champion the cause of gender justice and gay rights.
And with most major parties shirking to even clarify their stance over the recent Supreme Court judgement criminalising homosexuality, this endorsement could have been another thing setting them apart from the traditional political units. It must, however, be noted that the Communist Party of India-Marxist has already included the rights of sexual minorities in their manifesto.
But that's not what happened, and it didn't take very long for AAP to lose the trust of the marginalised community who were pinning their hopes on them. AAP launched their manifesto yesterday, but failed to include the promised LGBT reforms in the party's election clarion call.
The inability to stand true to their words earned AAP the ire of the LGBT community and its supporters. Within hours of the manifesto release, social networking sites raged with criticism for the party from even those who had pledged their allegiance to the newly-formed party.
One such disappointed supporter is Harrish Iyer, well known LGBT personality and rights activist, who tweeted his shock and dejection:
AAP did a horrible mistake by excluding LGBTIQ rights from their manifesto. You cant promise and take it away.
— harish iyer (@hiyer) April 5, 2014
“I wanted to be a part of the change, but then the manifesto changed,” he tweeted.
i really wanted to be a part of change. and then the manifesto changed. mysteriously!
— harish iyer (@hiyer) April 4, 2014
He was joined by renowned film maker Onir, who questioned the party leaders on the reason for having abandoned the community's needs.
— Onir (@IamOnir) April 3, 2014
— Onir (@IamOnir) April 4, 2014
— Aditi Mittal (@awryaditi) April 5, 2014
In an attempt to clarify their stance, the Maharashtra State Secretary of the AAP Preeti Sharma Menon told dna, "When the Supreme Court upheld Section 377, the Aam Aadmi Party were in the forefront in the fight against it. We were among the first political units to categorically, and in writing, condemn it as violation of human rights. We will continue our fight to against criminalisation of homosexuality."
So then what held them from putting it into their manifesto?
Menon explains that there were other issues too that failed to find a place in the document, "We created over 20 policy groups over the last one year to determine the manifesto. And the final document contained the those urgent and key issues that we could deliver. But that in no way means that our commitment to the cause and its fight has lessened."
Menon further elaborates, "For instance, water resource management is another important issue, especially in Maharashtra. One of our prominent candidates, Medha Patkar, has dedicated her life to working on it. Yet, it failed to find a place in the manifesto. But again, this does not suggest that we aren't going to continue our work in that area."
On being asked, how they plan to accommodate the needs for reforms among the sexual minorities, she says, "The manifesto, like the party, is an evolving and growing document, not set in stone. While, I can't say if it will be edited at this point, I can assure you that we will continue to work on creating policy framework to deliver on human rights to the marginalised communities, including the LGBT community," says Menon.
In the meanwhile, AAP also attempted to clarify the rising questions on a live Twitter Q&A session with AAP leader Atishi Marlena. People tweeted their concerns at Marlena with the hastag #AskAtishiAAP. On the issue of decriminalising Section 377, Marlena's response was in line with Menon's statement. She tweeted, “Manifesto need not include issues on which our stand is already known.”
— Atishi Marlena (@AtishiMarlena) April 4, 2014
There is also a meet between the party members and representatives of the LGBT groups scheduled for tomorrow, April 6, that might yield more answers and possible solutions:
— Gaysi Family (@gaysifamily) April 1, 2014
Meera Sanyal's team also reiterated her stand on gay rights:
— AA Rajiv Bhatia (@AARajivBhatia) April 4, 2014
Harrish Iyer responded in detail when contacted by dna:
"While I am very happy that they do discuss issues and are visibly supportive... the manifesto is a testimony of their commitment for which they are accountable for.
"I feel that LGBT persons are treated like the quintessential 'keep' who is loved and lusted in private but given no commitment or legal status on paper. We may be a minority, but our numbers could be well more than some religious minorities in our country.
"And to add to that, we are major influencers, who have been ostracised for so long, that we agitate quite vociferously. we are thus are a majority vocal voice on social media. If this is what is being done for numbers and appeasing anti-LGBT votes, then they are doing a big mistake.
"The general audience is going to read what they don't read in the manifesto... and are going to consider AAP to be an indecisive party that doesnt have the guts and gumption to stand up for they say they strongly believe in. Mere talking would not help. It's time to bell the cat. Time to put it on paper. WE BELIEVE WHAT WE READ."
Harrish also added that it was not enough for AAP to express 'disappointment' on their website about the Supreme Court verdict on Section 377, as long as they didn't put it on paper.