The journey of 'Pink List India' and their newest portal 'State of the QUnion'

But two bright youngsters from Mumbai - Anish Gawande and Smriti Deora – have made Pink List India into a platform to address several issues, giving people a transparent window to understand & track politicians and their promises regarding LGBTQ issues

The journey of 'Pink List India' and their newest portal 'State of the QUnion'

Section 377 was decriminalized in India after a long hard struggle where many members from the LGBTQ+ community fought day and night for their right to live with respect and as equals. Though the law has been decriminalized, the stigma still exists, where several members of the society and the government look down on the members from the LGBTQ+ community.

While members of several political parties have promised to support and raise their voice for queer rights, not much is done at a later stage. Their words are conveniently forgotten after the elections and campaigns.

But two bright youngsters from Mumbai - Anish Gawande and Smriti Deora – have made Pink List India into a platform to address several issues, giving people a transparent window to understand and track politicians and their promises. Their newest portal, State of the QUnion, is an open-source archive that allows people to know more about elected representatives who have spoken up on LGBTQ+ issues.

Talking about the same, Anish Gawande told Mumbai Live about his journey and the idea behind this portal.

Starting the conversation with his interest in politics, Anish said, “It started off quite early with a realization that I was always interested in public speaking. I was into debates, theatre and other similar activities in school, and the culmination of many of these is what I’m today. A lot of it has also been imbibed through reading. It was one of the major reasons which led to sensible awareness, and a passion for multiple aspects and causes. Growing up as a queer, it also meant a personal struggle, but there was an assertion of identity, which has been denied to many. There is a cautious decision to hide and remain undetected, and the backlash or action to that manifested in all these ways. One of the earliest readings I had done was related to Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. I grew up in a Maharashtrian household and was told about him a lot. My parents helped me a lot in this, and it became a sort of exercise in excavation, which led to curiosity towards history and politics. It influenced me academically and shaped the causes I support. It developed a keen understanding of the conversation we have and listen around us. Growing up with one history and then moulding it has shaped the causes and my ethics in life. It is pointless unless effectively communicated. History led to a lot of questions, and that helped me raise voice against issues – it has inculcated that in me.”

Taking us through the foundation of Pink List India, he said, “The need for Pink List India came from the space of not having a voice in the political sphere for LGBTQIA+ community. It started in 2018, when we were also in a phase before the Supreme Court was thinking about Section 377. I came back to Mumbai to campaign for the Lok Sabha elections because I believed that the fight for LGBTQIA+ rights was a battle that had to be fought in the political sphere because no community can depend only upon the courts for its rights. Surprisingly, support for queer rights within politics didn't come only from known names like Milind Deora or Shashi Tharoor, but it also came from Raju Shetti and others standing from rural constituencies.”

Through Pink List India, Smriti and Anish have brought together a team of more than 10 volunteers with an aim to inform and empower people to help them understand that their voice matters. As citizens, they are entitled to know the stand of an MP on LGBTQ+ issues.

Sharing more thought about how the platform would evolve and benefit now and in the future, Anish added, “Ever since we launched, the idea was not just about endorsing an MP but rather about maintaining a record of every single statement they've made on LGBTQ+ issues. So the question was never about whether that list will change or not, or how many more will get added, but it was always about understanding if these leaders will actually convert their words into action. A lot of our tracking initially was based on the list of MPs who have supported transgender rights, but not spoken against the regressive transgender person bill that was introduced in the Lok Sabha, which the transgender community itself opposed as it had several problematic revisions. But very few MPs who had claimed to support the transgender community, actually took their opinion into consideration when they were debating and discussing the bill.”

Several companies in their HR policies today have introduced guidelines which support LGBTQ+ equality. With names like Keshav Suri, Parmesh Shahani and many others working towards the betterment of the community, a platform like Pink List India focuses on sharing the insights about the government who we choose for our support and rights.

Adding more about how the team at Pink List India is planning to expand the platform further, Anish stated, “For us, it's important to understand the aspect of expanding the list to more specific geographies and roles. One of the examples I can think is about whether we can talk about LGBTQIA+ issues during BMC elections, or any civic body election, which is highly localized. To start talking about these issues is important because, at the end of the day, these bodies control several departments in the city, including health and sanitation – which are the two biggest issues for the LGBTQIA+ community. This would allow us to push for access to gender-neutral restrooms and equal health care facilities for trans* persons and other individuals within the queer community who face stigma when they go to a doctor. We are trying to understand how can we get these systems in place. We've come up with a model that works for an MP - now, we want to build upon that.”

Concluding the conversation by sharing the thought on how the LGBTQIA+ community needs to work aggressively towards transgender rights, Anish said, “Two important aspects we have been pushing for are education and jobs for the transgender community. I think the crucial reason that this is always demanded is because many trans* persons are either thrown out of their house or leave their home before they turn 18, which means that most cannot and are systematically denied the ability to have an education. Unless one pushes for educational opportunities and demands an affirmative action, we cannot expect equality to magically appear. Employers also need to make anti-discrimination a part of their hiring protocol. Unless this is done, nothing will change. The same holds true for politics. Until the country had reservations for women in local elections, no women were coming forward despite the system having no ban. I believe that pushing the government for equal opportunities in education and job is very important, that pushing for equal representation in politics is important.”

Pink List India is currently supported by 10 volunteers who have built the ‘State of the QUnion,’ which is a report and an interactive map positioned as an intersection of current affairs, politics and technology. This simple model can be replicated and used for a new locality or purpose as Anish and his team have the documents ready to be taken up and created. The team is focused on not keeping it exclusive and aims to make it as a public resource to be available for people across the country. Just a year old, the team has received several requests for collaboration from multiple cities. What was once created as a pilot is now a platform that can be replicated very quickly!

One can be a part of Pink List India by visiting the website and signing up. An organisation or think tank can reach out directly to explore potential collaborations.

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