People’s Panchayats on Resisting Stigma and Homophobia

Action Plus - a Coalition for Rights, Education and Care in HIV and AIDS 

Action Plus is a network of 14 organisations working on HIV and AIDS, social justice and human rights in different parts of India. The coalition aims to confront the evolving and complex challenges raised by HIV and AIDS in India by developing strategic leadership and promoting linkages between organizations that work on common interests. Action Plus fosters an environment in which its member organisations share with each other their experiences and learn together to operate more strategically to address issues of HIV and AIDS.

Action Plus conducted a series of People’s Panchayats which sought out to understand and unravel heroic battles against Stigma and Homophobia through the voices of survivors and resistors. Through their testimonies the Panchayat sought to address the devaluation of livelihoods and life systems of entire communities of people who practice an alternate sexuality, to the absolute erosion of all notions of rights or dignity.  

This series of People’s Panchayats were held in 5 cities in Indiain 2009. The first one was in Bangalore on 28th January 2009, the second in Hyderabad on 6th February 2009 and the third in Chennai on 21st March 2009 and the fourth on 11th April 2009 in Pune. The fifth and final one was held in New Delhi on 24th April 2009. 

Each of the Panchayats followed a similar structure. The interactive meetings were structured to have affected members from sexual minority communities share their personal experiences of living with stigma and homophobia. These were the deposers. Then the two member expert panel shared their thoughts and ideas based on their experience in the field. The audience comprising of the general public, NGOs, media, opinion leaders and religious communities made their queries and comments at the end of the deposition. There was a brief audience interaction following which the jury or the panch gave its ‘verdict’.  

The structure of the programme in New Delhi on 24th April:

  • Five deposers shared their life testimonies. The deposers from sexual minority groups shared testimonies by narrating their childhood experiences, the harassment faced from family, friends, neighbors, teachers and public as they discovered their gender identity and sexual preferences.
  • Two experts who have worked on the issue of stigma and homophobia presented their analysis to the People’s Panchayat. They were Pramada Menon and Ashok Row Kavi. A brief write up about them is given below.
  • A Panch (jury) comprising of eminent personalities heard the testimonies and the experts and presented their observations before drafting a statement. The Panch members were Dr. Sayeda Hamid, Ms. Indrani Gupta, Mr. Salim Kidwai, Mr. Sunil Gupta and Mr. Sanjeve Sethi.
  • The audience was given a chance to interact with the deposers, experts and the Panch. 

Consensus Statement from the Panchayat

  • We believe that sexual minorities should have the same rights as all citizens of this country.
  • We believe that sexuality education at the school level is extremely important to create healthy growth for impressionable minds.
  • We believe that agendas of political parties across the spectrum should be compelled to state their position on sexual minorities.
  • We believe that safe spaces should be created to allow people of diverse sexual and gender identities to voice their experiences if they so choose.