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Pride Month

Parmesh Shahani: ‘We are still not equal today’

Print edition : Aug 04, 2022 T+T-

Parmesh Shahani: ‘We are still not equal today’

Parmesh Shahani.

Parmesh Shahani.

Interview with Parmesh Shahani, author, culture curator, and inclusion advocate.

Parmesh Shahani, award-winning author and LGBTQIA+ inclusion consultant, is a trailblazer in creating conversations and spaces for the  community in the corporate world. His most recent book is titled Queeristan: LGBTQ Inclusion in the Indian Workplace (2020). Excerpts from an interview he gave Frontline

Your observations on the LGBTQIA movement in the wake of the 2018 Supreme Court judgment on Section 377?
The judgment has to be seen in the context of the ongoing struggle for equality and dignity for LGBTQIA citizens. Even before 2018, there were several progressive judgments such as the 2009 Delhi High Court judgment which first decriminalised LGBTQIA, the 2014 NALSA judgment for transgender rights and the 2017 Right to Privacy judgment.
Queer people want active anti-discrimination laws, so that struggle will go on.  I am excited to see fundamental changes taking place across the country. At workplaces, there has been a huge revolution under the umbrella of diversity and inclusion, including hiring more people and changing corporate policies.
Could the change occur at a faster pace?
In all of this we are only scratching the surface. Queer citizens had to wait more than 70 years after Independence to be non-criminals. I don’t think we should wait more decades to be equal.  Between non-criminality and equality, there is a huge chasm.
Could you tell us about the progress in the workspace and the road ahead?
The judgment unleashed a powerful positive force towards queer people. A lot of companies mistakenly imagined Section 377 was a deterrent to them behaving decently with LGBTQIA+ employees.  The judgment removed that misconception.
Your view on corporates using the movement in marketing or to create a liberal image for themselves?
Corporates exist to make money. But alas many want to piggyback off LGBTQIA+ branding without substantially contributing to the queer community.  I don’t have a problem with corporates wanting to sell products as long as that is accompanied by a genuine commitment to improving LGBTQIA+ livelihoods.
A white paper Parmesh Shahani co-authored as part of the Godrej India Culture Lab.
A white paper Parmesh Shahani co-authored as part of the Godrej India Culture Lab.
You founded the Godrej Culture Lab, a pioneer in creating a space for the LGBTQIA+ community in corporate India.
I spent 11 years in Godrej and it was an incredible journey of taking an old and venerable company through the entire cycle of changing policies, recruiting actively on college campuses by talking about LGBTQIA+ inclusion, and hosting conferences so that the Godrej campus became a destination for LGBTQIA+ conversations. It is important to note that because we were such a desi company, so many other home grown desi companies followed.
As a consultant for LGBTQIA+ inclusion, what has been corporate India’s response?
I want the organisation to give back to the community as there are so many queers who need help. COVID has not been kind to the queer community. LGBTQIA+ people need jobs and support. I’m seeing companies understanding more and more that they have to be LGBTQIA+ inclusive for their own interests, and data show that when you are inclusive you become more innovative.
How do you see the movement evolving?
A lot of the hope comes from smaller towns and cities. For example, LGBTQIA Chhattisgarh recently did a huge Pride talent show; there was a queer Maya Bazaar in Shimla; the Queer Collective, Dehra Dun and Ya All are some examples of queer organisations in smaller towns. I think queer activism is vibrant. It exists in the physical and in the online space like Dalit Queer Project or Queer Muslim Project.
Marriage, having children/adoption, these are issues the community continues to grapple with.
Why should I not have the same rights as everyone else? Marriage and parenting are a very important part of India’s social fabric. When these rights come, it will be a further move towards integration.