As the country waits for the Supreme Court to pronounce its verdict on Section 377 of the IPC, hundreds of members part of Xukia, Assam’s only queer rights’ collective, scattered across the state are tuning in to news channels. Incidentally, the roots of Xukia go back to December 2013 when the SC had set aside the Delhi High Court’s verdict decriminalising homosexuality and ruled that it will continue to be an offence. The same evening, a group of individuals did a spontaneous demonstration in protest in Guwahati’s Dighalipukhuri area — it was one of the first ever “public” demonstration of queer activism to have happened in Guwahati. Eventually, it led to the formation of Xukia — a platform which brought together queer rights activists for the first time in Assam, as well as “anyone else who wanted to reach out and talk about it”. Today Xukia, even though it is not a “registered” organisation, through its Facebook group, connects the LGBTQ+ community of Assam. And every year, since 2014, they have been instrumental in organising the city’s Pride Parade.
“That is why this day is even more important to us,” says Sanjib Chakravorty, 45, one of the four people part of the meeting which led to the formation of Xukia. “We consider Xukia as a platform to connect people more than anything else,” he says. Chakravarty work as a technical officer at the National Aids Control Organisation, a division of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, in Guwahati. He feels that “if the verdict is positive, delivery of services will become barrier-free.” “We work to curb HIV — we deal with sex workers, addicts and the transgender community. Many laws, including 377, continue to stigmatise them. If this is decriminalised, our community outreach will be more effective.”
It is only in the past four years that the LGBTQ+ community have started expressing themselves in public in Assam — the organisers of the pride parade, in its first two editions, got several threats but the more recent editions have proceeded calmly. Local media reports too, after the first pride march in Guwahati in 2014, described it as an “an antic by Hijras”.
Despite the SC’s NALSA verdict of 2014 recognising the fundamental and civil rights of transgender persons, Assam has no transgender policy in place. After a PIL by transgender activist Swati Bidhan Baruah in March 2017, it was in May 2018 that the Gauhati High Court directed the state government to implement it within six months — a move welcomed by transgenders across the state.
“I did not even know of the word ‘transgender’ till I was 21,” says a 28-year-old transman from a small town in Upper Assam, who did not wish to be named, “In 2009, when I saw that the Delhi High Court had decriminalised it, I felt hopeful. In fact that is when I learned of the word ‘transgender.’ It gave me confidence that no matter what people said, the law was on our side. Later, it changed again in 2013. Now I am really hopeful about today’s judgment.”
While he educated himself through google searches online, today many young people from the LGBTQ+ community in Assam connect through the Xukia network. “The network mostly has students and working professionals. Before this there was very little awareness,” says Gayatri Bhuyan, part of Xukia.
“The Collective has a few core members who manage the regular activities of correspondence and coordination. Hundreds of supporters join us during events like Pride Walk,” adds Chakravorty.
The platform also publishes an annual multilingual LGBTQ+ magazine, Forbidden: Ek Xukia Dristanto (Xukia’s perspective of the forbidden) in Assamese, English, Bengali and Hindi.
“We can’t deny the fact that we all are quite apprehensive about the verdict today. But we are hopeful too — we are planning to meet in the evening regardless. It is a historic day,” says Bhuyan, whose younger brother came out a few years ago. “I was not there for him when he needed me. That is why I started working in this field — to make up for the lost years.”