Disclaimer: All the opinions expressed in the articles are those of the individual authors only. The Fifth Estate does not endorse any of the views mentioned in the article. The views are not to be construed in any manner as the official views of IIT Madras
Ahead of the Pride march in Chennai, Vijay Rengarajan discusses the results of the gender and sexuality survey conducted by Vannam and describes the way forward
On 22nd May 2015, a rainbow appeared over the city of Dublin. Some said that it was a work of God, some said that it was just a coincidence, and some quoted the law of large numbers. Ireland is going to legalize same-sex marriage following a referendum in which over 62% of the population voted for it. While it would take many years from now for such a thing to happen in India, we, at IIT Madras, must at least provide an environment in which everyone in the campus feels safe and accepted.
The survey on gender and sexuality was conducted last semester by Vannam – the LGBTQ support and resource group of IIT Madras through an online form. The participation is very poor compared to the total strength of IIT Madras (around 9000). Only 582 students participated in the survey. Almost half of the participation is from B.Tech. students, followed by close-to-a-quarter from Ph.Ds.
Gender and Sexuality
Along with cisgender students[note]Cisgender: Denoting or relating to a person whose self-identity conforms with the gender corresponds to their biological sex; not transgender.[/note], our campus is also home to students who identify themselves as transgenders — 11 students out of 582. Do they face any issues, do they need any help, are we providing an equal space for them are some of the questions that this survey raises. Those who need help can always approach Vannam through the Facebook page or Google groups, and we willmake sure that your concerns reach the administration and all issues get resolved.
As per the results, the statistics for sexuality (in percentage) are as follows: Heterosexuals – 72.7, Bisexuals – 9.7, Homosexuals – 4.7, Asexuals – 3.3, Unsure – 0.5, Unaware of the terms – 9.1. Out of the 550+ students who participated in the survey, 83 students have said that they have an attraction towards their same sex.
The Existence of Phobia
Transphobia and homophobia refer to teasing, bullying, and abusing (both physical and verbal) transgender people and people who have same-sex attraction, respectively. 99 queer students have said that they have not experienced any form of abuse. Nevertheless, though the number is small, 31 students, LGBT and non-LGBT included, have said they have faced transphobia or homophobia or some form of sexual abuse in the campus. The main source of the phobia is the student community itself. Some students, who are insensitive, pass comments on their fellow classmates whom they feel are “different” from the “normal.” In fact, 38.5% of the 582 students reported that they have observed the presence of phobia (against them or others) in the institute.
As a part of the survey, students were asked to provide their comments about the LGBTQ community. Overall, the comments were positive, including, “…there seems to be very little awareness among the general public. This needs to change.”, and “Not just LGBTQ, but a discussion on the expression of sexuality is also needed.“. On the other hand, a student says, “lgbt is purely a pschyological [sic] disorder, they need treatment”, while another student feels, “[LGBTQ issues] are not my problems. I’ve got problems of my own to take care of which may not be important to others but affects me everyday. Who helps me? No one.”. The need for inclusivity and awareness becomes all the more important that one student says, “I have friends who belong to the community. … Even they themselves do not believe that there’s nothing wrong with them.”.
The month of June is celebrated as the LGBT pride month worldwide[note]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gay_pride#LGBT_Pride_Month[/note]. Chennai has its own set of events, including the pride march on June 28. Other events[note]Pride month events in Chennai : orinam.net/Chennaipride/events/ http://nirangal.org.in/en/158/ [/note] range from parents meet to staging plays and screening movies. More countries are becoming inclusive [note]Pitcairn Island, the ‘world’s smallest country’, legalises same-sex marriage : http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/australasia/samesex-marriage-legalised-in-pitcairn-the-worlds-smallest-country-10335680.html[/note], and there is no doubt that India will join the league in the near future.
In our campus, we cannot sideline the issues of gender and sexuality as merely personal. Students spend the core of their formative years in the institute, and none of them should feel estranged in the campus. Around 85% of the 582 students feel that discussing and attending to issues of gender and sexuality is absolutely relevant. Not only do we learn engineering and science here, but also culture, conduct, and humanity. And, there are no “higher” and “lower” issues; it is not wise to wait for “all other” issues to get solved and then tackle these issues. The need for Vannam, the LGBTQ group at IIT Madras, is stressed by most students with 82.5% of those who filled the survey supporting the presence of the group.
There are two sides to LGBT issues; one, the self-realization of LGBT students that there is nothing wrong with them, and the other, awareness among the rest that the LGBT students are as normal as they are. It cannot be emphasized more that attending to both is important.
The link to the google group maintained by Vannam can be found here.