So while theoretically we should all have the right to make our own decisions about matters to do with our sexuality, have the right to sexual and reproductive health care, the right to love who we want to, and the right to be free from violence and discrimination based on our sexual choices, to name just a few sexual rights, even today many people do not have these rights.
It may be useful to visualise sexual rights as a large tree with deep roots and a vast canopy of leaves. Or as a giant umbrella. Or a big tent. Whatever tickles your imagination and allows you to see it as a conceptual and practical tool to make claims for any aspect that relates to how we express sexuality.
Parents and significant adults in the lives of the Neelams of the world have been programmed to see age-appropriate sexual behaviour through the very narrow lens of “problems and disorders”. Their engagement of professionals like myself is mostly restricted to seeking to curb in the Neelams what is natural and joyous.
As development professionals, our tasks involve reflecting on the norms that service providers, colleagues and field staff engaging with communities hold on to so strongly. How can programmes create safe spaces to match up to service providers’ professional and personal beliefs so that they can challenge those norms in their own families and be non-judgmental?
In some of the country’s most conflicted regions, activism on issues of sexuality (if it's aligned to human rights) is both a risky affair and one of secondary importance in the midst of larger socio-political and historical issues. The topic of human rights tends to center on gun violence, AFSPA, statehood and insurgency.
Choices in the sexual area should remain personal while maintaining the dignity and the rights of all people who must be able to make fully informed choices in this area. It is the duty of the state to provide the education and information to its people in this area but not intrude into their personal choices.
Working as a sexuality rights activist in a repressive environment can take a huge toll on people’s wellbeing. It is therefore important that we as social workers, activists, advocates and everyone else involved in this work take care, take care of ourselves and each other, be supportive, give that extra push to someone who needs it, and allow ourselves to make mistakes.