In yet another shameful and discriminatory move, India has decided to stand by a Russian-drafted resolution in the United Nations that had proposed removing benefits for same-sex partners of the UN staff. India joined 43 other nations in voting for this resolution, including its neighbours China and Pakistan. Thankfully, this resolution did not receive the requisite majority, as there were 80 countries that voted against it, and therefore it did not get passed.
Let’s look into the source of this issue. It all started last year when the Secretary-General (Ban-Ki-Moon, who has always spoken out clearly in favour of queer rights) planned to make a change in the existing benefits policy, which had held that benefits could be provided to the same-sex partners of the UN Staff depending on their marital status as per the national laws of their country. This effectively means that if, say, I were to work in the United Nations, and had a wife, her right to get spousal benefits from the United Nations would hinge entirely on the whims of the Indian legislature and judiciary, which has not shown much consideration for the rights of the queer community to even exist, far less marry.
Ban-Ki-Moon had sought to change this by introducing a policy that held that the partners of all the members of the UN staff who were in same-sex marriages would be entitled to these benefits, regardless of whether their marriages were permitted by the laws of their nationality.
While international legal principles repeatedly carry a caution against infringing on national state sovereignty, it is this columnist’s humble opinion that when the state’s legal systems commit gross and evident violations of human rights such as the right to equality and the right to life with dignity (ironic that these are enshrined in the Constitutions of most of the 43 nations that voted in favour of the Russian-draft resolution), the international community is obligated to raise their voice in every way possible against this. It is extremely heartening to the members of the community worldwide that the resolution above failed, as it shows that there is still some semblance of equity left within the world.
That said, let me come to the extremely sobering reality of what this means for us within India. The state of India, as it pursues its agendas of economic growth and attempts to carve a niche within the constellation of developed nations, is no longer being subtle about its queer-phobia. To take a public stance in an international forum in favour of actively denying marital rights to couples who are legitimately married is contemptible, and there needs to be public condemnation for the same for being anti-constitutional and against basic human rights. Yet, as the shadow of Section 377 of the IPC continues to loom over us, criminalising our very existence, I am not being cynical when I say that the road ahead for the queer community in India is going to be full of near-insurmountable challenges before we can attain any semblance of equality.