Pride Over Prejudice: In conversation with Dr. Pragati Singh

Pride Over Prejudice: In conversation with Dr. Pragati Singh

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“Gender sensitization is a concept of gender sensitivity, where there is recognition of gender roles, identification of privilege and discrimination within genders, and most importantly creating gender awareness.”

Dr. Pragati Singh is an internationally renowned asexuality activist from India. She is the founder of IndianAces, which is India's first initiative working for asexuality, and also of AsexualityIndia.com, Indianaces.org and HumansOfQueer.com. She is featured in the BBC's list of 100 most inspiring, innovative, and influential women from around the world. Her independent work on the subject of sexuality and asexuality has been published internationally, and she organized a pan-Asia level, PanACEa, focusing especially on issues related to asexuality, in 2021 and 2022.We got an opportunity to interview Dr. Pragati Singh on issues and challenges that queer communities face ,especially in colleges and steps that can be taken to further their interests. In collaboration with Ambar ,IIT Kharagpur we present excerpts from the interview.

Q: What does the acronym LGBTQIA+ stand for? Could you please explain the term each letter represents?

Dr. Pragati: To begin with this I would like to mention that the LGBTQIA+ is ever evolving and ever growing which is why there is a plus at the end because any of these letters, even a combination of these letters, actually does not truly encompass the breadth , the depth ,the intersections, and the nuances of the diversity around gender and sexuality. So, with that context LGBTQIA is the acronym that is commonly used for referring to people who are diverse when it comes to their sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics as well.

Here, L is for lesbian, G-gay, B-bisexual T-transgender , Q is for queer, I for intersex and Ace for asexual. Now again having said that some of these letters actually stand for multiple identities. For instance Transgender T, once referred to transsexual, but is now relatively a redundant term. Transgender is the more accepted term now. And similarly Q is queer, but it's also for “questioning people” referring to those who are beginning to realize that there's something different about them when it comes to their orientation. Even within the LGBT unfortunately it becomes more and more apparent as you work in the LGBT spectrum -communities and organizations, you'll realize that that becomes another place where people feel like they have to fit inside a box. Which is an unfortunate reality! But then for all the people who are still figuring things out or still finding themselves, not neatly fitting into one of those boxes, queer or questioning is usually a better term for those people .But sometimes people also come up with the term by gender for themselves. Some may refer to “A as Ally “ but I think allies also have their own place in the larger movement. But that does not mean that it replaces A for asexual. And even with the LGBTQIA+ we're still not mentioning a lot of other identities that still exist somewhere in the periphery usually, but are getting more integrated.

Q: What issues do you think students belonging to the LGBTQIA+ community are likely to face in college and on campus?

Dr. Pragati: Keeping up with social cultural developments ,political developments around gender diversity could be a struggle with rigorous college curriculum in technical institutions like IITs. And then the second thing is that in most of the colleges they usually have student bodies running them, but they don't necessarily have support from the college administration in the same way that any other college (like Delhi University, where these communities are very well established).So it's a struggle in terms of resources, support, visibility ,engagement, opportunities and then beyond that the stigma, which exists within the students is magnified, due to lack of inclusion in general. The system, the infrastructure, the entire ecosystem is still not the kind where a student or a student body could themselves bear the entire burden of making it better for a queer person. I feel like this needs to come from the top and support the movement that is building from the bottom.

Q: What are some steps that can be taken to make life better for queer students in a technical university such as IIT Kharagpur? What can allies do to help the queer movement and further the interests of the queer community on campus?

Dr. Pragati: The context that I will want to set before answering that question is that things just take time .Since these movements have started a bit delayed in for say, IITs, it will take time because it has started late, it will take longer, it will end longer. In my opinion some steps that can be taken to make life better for queer students could be-

  • forming a student body of queer, people and allies, but then also considering partnering with other established NGOs because that is one way to accelerate the rate of development that you might not be able to achieve single-handedly

  • by involving external partners and external collaborators. For example, inviting external speakers external workshop, trainers capacity, building trainers etc.

  • larger courses could be offered to students around diversity,inclusion and LGBTQIA+. There's a variety of topics in diversity and inclusion for example, disability, or cast, or religion, or class, LGBTQIA+ being one of them.

Q: Would you say that India’s LGBTQIA+ movement has seen quicker progress in the recent past - say in the past 5-10 years - than in the years before? What progress have we seen, in terms of rights and social acceptance?

Dr. Pragati: I personally do think that we've made much faster progress in the last five to ten years, for sure. And a lot of it probably is to be attributed to the Internet and social media.

In any society for inclusion to be achieved, to any extent or any level, it has to be a back and forth game between legislation and policy, and social awareness and sensitisation. A change of policy[ like annulment of Article 377] would not make such a great impact if we lack social acceptance for LGBTQIA+. So ,it is a cyclical movement where awareness and acceptance brings about policy change and the strengthening of laws and policy feeds back into the society. Thus if we have changes happening in both of these fare then it is greater than the sum of its parts.

Q: Where is India’s queer movement headed? What demands are taking centre stage right now, and how are we going about getting them fulfilled?

Dr. Pragati: With my understanding ,I would say that one of the largest demands historically had been marriage equality. Again in the last five to ten years, a lot of the focus has been on transgenders rights. Moreover, there's also work happening around, in other kinds of identities as well. For instance,my passion lies mostly in the niche of asexuality. I advocate for consent and what kind of reforms we can have, which support a single person's lifestyle- example tax benefits, laws against marital rape ,which is a grave issue in India. Recently, marriage equality has taken a center stage and rights of the “Third Gender”. [The term “Third gender” in India is used to refer to all kinds of diversity when it comes to gender and sex characteristics.] Typically their right to employment, right to education and inclusion and about their medical legalities has been given a lot of focus in our country.

Q:How can technology help in shaping the queer movements?

Dr. Pragati: So when it comes to technology, there's both good and bad. And it does matter how we will leverage technology to make anything positive out of it. Recently, I heard the news that somebody was assaulted in the Metaverse. It just came to me that this real world will just copy paste into our futuristic world unless somebody actually does something about it or regularizes it, conclusively they are the same issues, the same biases, the same problems of exclusion. On the other hand, the entire acceleration and penetration that has happened in the last five to ten years of the LGBTQIA+ movement in India has been largely because of technology, Internet, smartphones, social media.


Interviewed and written by: Akansha Agarwal, Nidam Kumar Jha