In a welcome move, the Tamil Nadu government recently amended its police conduct rules to bar harassment of LGBTQIA+ individuals and persons working to help them. The amendment was made based on the Madras High Court’s directions. The court was hearing a case of a lesbian couple who, along with activists supporting them, were harassed by the police and issued a set of guidelines and directions to state authorities on dealing with members of the community. Subsequently, the police had started becoming more sensitive when handling members of the community. The amendment will, no doubt, build on this.
While Tamil Nadu has had progressive policies for trans persons for decades, activists have pointed out that this is the first time the state is acknowledging the entirety of the community, rather than just some sections. However, this recognition has not seeped into all parts of society—including medical fraternity and law enforcement—and even now misconceptions are freely reinforced by persons in positions of power. The acknowledgement of the wider spectrum of sexuality and gender will hopefully be the first step towards more inclusive services.
However, the law does not take effect on its own. Sensitisation of police not just on the rights of LGBTQIA+ persons, but also on the rights of adults to live their lives freely, must be done in earnest. Too often, police are found extending sympathy and support to angry or upset family members at the cost of ensuring the safety and rights of vulnerable persons.
Similarly, sensitisation must be done with every section of government that comes in contact with LGBTQIA+ persons, especially the medical, mental health and judicial systems. Conversion therapy, denial of identity and stigmatising of LGBTQIA+ persons persists, with serious and sometimes even fatal consequences. By itself the amendment, although welcome as it signifies intent, will have little value unless it is followed with systematic reviewing and sensitising of police as well as other key sectors.