A Victory For LGBT Rights In India — Just Not A People's Victory

Blame for the failure to take legislative responsibility for LGBT rights must be squarely divided among political parties across the spectrum.

Rainbow Pride march in Kolkata, India
Rainbow Pride march in Kolkata, India

NEW DELHI — While we have the Supreme Court to thank for the celebrations that will paint our safe urban spaces rainbow, let us be clear that this is not a result of a "people-power" movement. A legislative repeal of Section 377 in parliament (or through the promulgation of an ordinance) would have been directly associated with the extensive public advocacy campaign we have seen in India.

Thursday's event, meanwhile, was yet another instance of our legislators delegating the task to the judiciary to rule on an unpopular subject, allowing themselves the comfort of deflecting any criticism from the opponents of the LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, Intersexual, Asexual and other sexualities) rights movement and basking in the praise of its proponents.

Any layperson who has read the Indian constitution understands that the document goes a long way in outlawing discrimination. The grounds on which discrimination is prohibited was covered thoroughly by the makers of the constitution. And, while discrimination-based on sexual orientation doesn't find a mention, I believe it is fair to excuse the constituent assembly for this omission. After all, the LGBTQIA+ rights movement has gained prominence only in the past 50 years.

The lack of initiative cannot be pardoned.

However, the constituent assembly members were far-sighted enough to recognize the evolution of the rights and values governing society, which was why they structured the constitution in such a way that it would be open to progressive change. Thus, the lack of initiative shown by lawmakers in the past few decades in interpreting and expanding the anti-discriminatory clause in our constitution cannot be pardoned.

True, there have been attempts in the recent past to amend Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. The Congress party's Shashi Tharoor did attempt, on multiple occasions to introduce a Private Member's Bill addressing the issue. However, on every such occasion, even the mere introduction of the Bill was voted down. Spearheading the opposition was BJP MP Nishikant Dubey. But, let us also not forget that the Congress party had enjoyed ten years of uninterrupted power at the Centre. And, it was only two years later, after they had relinquished power, that Tharoor proposed the Bills. Therefore, he needs to explain why he neglected the issue during the tenure of the UPA governments.

A vestige of British colonialism

One would think that a party elected on the premise of "re-establishing" Indian values (read: Brahmanical Hindu values) would be keen on repealing Section 377, a vestige of the "Abrahamic" values imposed upon this country by British colonialism. However, the BJP had clearly indicated its stance on equal rights for the LGBTQIA+ community when it gave Arjun Meghwal — the party's MP who had introduced a bill in 2012 asking for re-criminalisation of gay sex after the Delhi high court had struck it down — a ministerial position, on multiple occasions. Therefore, it is a bit too late to put up a face-saving "the BJP-welcomes-any-judgement" discourse, if at all the party was aiming at creating one.

Pride parade in Chandannagar, India — Photo: Pacific Press/ZUMA

As for a party with absolute majority in the Lok Sabha — the lower house of India's bicameral Parliament — this has been yet another moment of disgrace. Judicial overreach has to be rightfully criticized. However, it is the meek fight put up by our elected lawmakers that has allowed, on numerous occasions in the recent past, the judiciary to encroach upon their right to legislate. On this occasion, the lawmakers more or less volunteered to cede their power of decision-making to the courts.

The victory that we now enjoy is not because our values have been recognized.

Blame for the failure to take legislative responsibility must be squarely divided among political parties across the spectrum. Their ignorance, in spite of countless civil society organizations working tirelessly to advocate the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community, is shocking. While ten years down the line, these activists might laugh off the instances when they were accused of being "foreign agents' trying to "destabilize Indian society", defending pedophiles and promoting "unnatural acts', the price paid by a section of citizens cannot be expressed in words. They faced persecution from the immensely-powerful state machinery, they were ostracized by the society at large and often disowned by their own families, in their fight for equal rights.

Who to thank, and who to blame

And yet, while the goal has been achieved, the struggle of human rights defenders hasn't materialized to its rightful extent. Remember, the judiciary interprets the values it believes are enshrined in the constitution and adjudicates accordingly. It has to remain impervious to prevailing public opinion and that is the only reason it has the ability to come up with unpopular decisions time and again. Therefore, while it would be a big mistake to deprive the LGBT rights organizations and activists the credit of bringing the agenda in mainstream public discourse, it is their legal arguments that have led to Section 377 being struck down. Our lawmakers have been impervious to their widespread advocacy campaigns. The victory that we now enjoy is not because our values have been recognized and represented, since the legislators we elected to represent us have failed to reflect them.

Therefore, the very least we should demand from our lawmakers at this stage is for them to ask for forgiveness, as Justice Indu Malhotra rightly noted. Forgiveness for having failed to fulfill their duty of protecting minorities, of having made the LGBTQIA+ rights defenders endure hardship for years, of having denied an entire community equal rights. And since we are getting ready to choose as our members of parliament individuals who best represents us and our ideals come 2019, let us tell all politicians through this medium: Consider yourselves warned.

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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