By Aarti Tikoo Singh
September 12, 2018
Ajaz Ahmed Bund, an LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) activist
Though it’s not clear if Supreme Court’s decision to read down parts of Section 377 of IPC will apply to Jammu & Kashmir automatically, Ajaz Ahmed Bund, an LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) activist in the state talks to Aarti Tikoo Singh about more serious challenges the community faces in the Valley:
Why is there hardly any information about Kashmir’s LGBT community?
Kashmir is known for armed conflict which has overshadowed everything. Most social issues, including women and LGBT rights, remain least discussed. It is unfortunate that LGBT community has never been a priority of the literati and academics. LGBT community has been systemically marginalised and denied a space in literature, art and other scholarly works. The entrenched LGBT phobia is the reason that this community has been subjected to institutional marginalisation.
Why has there been no institutional or political or civil society movement fighting for rights of the LGBT community?
For every social reform movement what is required is to initiate a dialogue to reinforce a positive change in ideology to create a public opinion. It may be because of lack of awareness about issues of gender and sexual minorities that this dialogue was not initiated in our society.
You are the pioneer and the lone crusader for LGBT rights in Kashmir. Why and how did you begin this journey?
Being a student of social work the issues and vulnerabilities of gender and sexual minorities were not unfamiliar to me. I had read about them in books, heard about them, seen them but never talked to them or never visited them. I started working with the transgender community initially and eventually the movement became more inclusive.
I began with sensitising my family, my friends, and the people around me and eventually started working at grassroots level and advocating for rights of LGBT community. Now we are an organisation (Sonzal Welfare Trust) which is exclusively working for the wellbeing of gender and sexual minorities, and male victims of child sexual abuse.
Are transgender people slightly more acceptable than LGB in Kashmir?
In the LGBTQI spectrum, trans people are more visible. And it is this visibility which makes them more vulnerable to abuse, discrimination and violence. As this community is living a substandard life it is incumbent to prioritise them. We as an organisation have been working with LGB people as well at grassroots level since inception of this movement. It is true that transgender people have a bit of acceptance in our society, probably because of the fact that this community has claimed some of the heteronormative spaces in our society and people feel that they are the victims of institutional injustices. LGB people “violate” religion, so they are not accepted.
Is fighting for LGBT rights in Kashmir more difficult than the rest of the country?
Kashmiri LGBT movement is nascent and many things need to be done to reinforce a positive attitudinal change in people around gender and sexual minorities. It is very important to initiate a dialogue and to create a conducive environment for this community. Yes, it is relatively difficult to advocate for the rights of LGBTQIA community in Kashmir. Kashmir is a conflict torn, conservative society where talking about sex is a taboo. We are yet to do much for safeguarding the rights of women, not to talk of rights of gender and sexual minorities. It is very risky here, you never know when you will be shot dead.
What does the Quran say about homosexuals?
We need to understand that Islam is a gender and sexuality positive religion. Islam does not proscribe LGBT people. The homophobia, which is persistent in Islamic society, is more cultural and less religious. Despite contemporary perceptions that homosexuality is a Western phenomenon, same-sex dynamics of many varieties are an integral part of Islamic history and culture. The Quran contains no word that means “homosexuality” as an abstract idea denoting a sexuality of men who desire pleasure with other men or a sexuality of women who desire pleasure with other women.
The closest the Quran comes to directly addressing homosexual people is the phrase “men who are not in need of women or have no sexual guile before women.” The Quran presents this phrase descriptively in neutral tone, not linked to denunciation or legal proscription.
Do you and your small team of activists face intimidation and threat?
There are endless questions and accusations. People accuse us of having an Indian/ Western/ Zionist agenda. People are running hate campaigns against us. Character assassination and labelling is now normal for us. Quite often, we receive death threats.
DISCLAIMER: Views expressed above are the author's own.