Anbumani Ramadoss is not a gay rights champion

Screenshot from Pinklist

“This bill will benefit a large number of transgender persons, will mitigate the stigma, discrimination and abuse against this marginalised section and bring them into a normal society.” Remarked[1] Mr.P.Raveendranath Kumar, the lone member of parliament from the AIADMK supporting the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) bill, 2019. It should be noted that the bill was widely rejected[2] by the Transgender community for being discriminatory.

Pinklist India’s State of the Qunion[3] lists the MP as one who has been vocal about trans rights. The website marks Mr.P. Raveendranath as an MP who “Spoke up on trans rights” as well as “Supported Regressive Trans Act”. The irony couldn’t be more visible.  While the website rightly mentions that this bill is regressive, the exercise of reviewing the stance of MPs on queer rights based on individual statements on a couple of issues is reductionist at best. Mr.Raveendranath Kumar has been one of the most supportive legislative allies of the ruling dispensation (even supporting the Triple talaq bill which his party, AIADMK, officially opposed). The member would likely have supported an all-out anti-queer bill in the same breath. Tweets and posturing for political convenience cannot replace substantive action and grassroot support.  One must also note that the members of Rajya Sabha are not featured in the list so far, a prominent exclusion being Tiruchi Siva from the DMK, who introduced and managed to pass a progressive trans rights bill[4] as a private member, a feat that hadn’t been achieved in over four decades.

Screenshot from Orinam

Secondly, as though queer issues are independent, such effort to review and classify people based on individual public opinions, have led to hindutwavadis, and caste supremacist leaders being hailed as heroes and champions. Pinklist India in an earlier campaign to highlight candidates who are friendly towards queer causes during the 2019 general election, referred to Dr.Anbumani Ramadoss as a ‘Changemaker’[5]; another queer collective, Orinam based in Chennai, called him a ‘champion of gay rights’, The reason being his opposition to Sec 377 in his tenure as the Union health minister. His opposition to sec 377 was focussed on the structural impediment it was for the anti-HIV interventions among MSM (Men who have sex with Men) and not based on LGBTQ+ rgihts.In an interview in 2008[6], he makes that clear and goes on to say that ‘India is not America’ and ‘I am only asking them to decriminalize it’. While he and his ministry[7] deserve credit for petitioning against the act in the court and being a high profile person to add voice against the draconian law which he did not speak about after, an important reason to reject this portrayal as a champion is the politics that Dr.Anbumani leads and represents. 

Ramadoss, PMK and nadaga kadhal 

The Pattali Makkal Katchi (The Toiling people’s party) was established in 1989 by Dr.S.Ramadoss, father of Dr.Anbumani Ramadoss, to bring political attention to the plight of the people belonging to the intermediate backward vanniyar caste. Its parent, the Vanniar Sangam, led several agitations that eventually led to the expansion of the reservation policy in the state. 

Over the years, the party which claims to owe its ideological roots to Babasaheb Ambedkar, Periyar and Marx, has been deepening ideas of supremacy of the Vanniyars (and other intermediate dominant castes). In meetings and conferences, their leaders boast the ‘kshatriya’ roots of the Vanniyars, and a recurring theme of these meetings is the targeting of the Dalit community. The community is accused of trying to ensnare women from other higher castes for money, etc. and stories about such ‘fake marriages’ are repeated. In one such meeting in 2012, J Guru, a leader of the party, openly called for the killing of those who touch their women[8]. This anti-Dalit rhetoric and the fanaticism soon led to real violence. 

In November that year, an intercaste marriage of a Dalit man and a Vanniyar woman led to violent attacks by the dominant caste mob which torched over 200 houses of Dalits. A fact-finding mission[9] found that the attack was planned and led by PMK functionaries. Unfettered, Dr.Ramadoss Sr. went on to organize[10] a coalition of dominant intermediate castes in opposing inter-caste marriages to curb what he termed staged love, Nadaga kadhal. “Dalit men sporting jeans, t-shirts and fancy glasses lure our women from other communities,” he remarked. 

Then on, the PMK has made opposition to inter-caste marriages a major part of its political organizing. In its manifesto for the 2019 elections, PMK had promised[11] to make parental consent mandatory for intercaste marriages of people under 21 to “prevent young girls from falling prey to “fake/staged love”, protect the existing family system”. The party has continued to oppose love marriages, amidst growing honour killing cases in the state. While it might be tempting to ascribe these comments to fringe leaders to sanitize Dr.Anbumani, we should note that he might moderate his views in meetings with a view to expand the PMK’s reach beyond the Vanniyar dominated districts of northern Tamilnadu. He echoes his father’s opposition[12] to ‘staged love’ in interviews and has also used the  anti dalit rhetoric to his political advantage. In the run-up to the elections, his campaign was charged with distributing inciting propaganda material to the public. [13]

‘Masculinity’ and its role in Preserving Caste order

Endogamy, as pointed out by Dr.Ambedkar[14], is the essence of caste and the construction of the staged love bogeyman to stop intercaste marriages is aimed perpetuating the Brahmanical caste order. The onus of marriage and reproduction in furthering their caste essentially falls on young people and expressions of masculinity and femininity become sacrosanct. Queerness puts into question such ideas of marriage and gender expression. As a result, caste deeply affects queer people in intermediate castes who are often forced to choose between a heterosexual marriage or face violence or flee their homes. 

Further, masculinity is often invoked to justify violence against Dalits. The argument is premised on the construction of the dalit man as a threat who is out to lure and cheat upper caste women. It should be noted as Ambedkarite activist Kiruba Munusamy points out, any kind of mobility and assertion of dalits is painted as an act of masculine expression by the Caste agressors and brahman academia alike. It is this idea that leads to Dalit men being beaten up for sitting cross legged or even growing a moustache.This threat of the Dalit man is used to provoke dominant caste youth.We see this consistently with dominant caste leaders of all regions including that of the PMK. The kshatriya roots and/or fetishized idea of a millitant farmer is added to accentuate their argument of supremacy and it is often implied that it is only the logical manly reaction to “hack those who touch our women”[15]. This hyper masculization to preserve ‘protection of the family system’ and of family values puts Dalits as well as queer persons across caste in face of violence. 

Can these parties be counted in securing other rights? No. The opposition to anti discrimination laws such as the PoA act has also been a major campaign that PMK has taken up along with parties like the Kongunadu Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (whose origins are ascribed to the opposition to POA act[16]) It is laughable to think that parties and outfits that oppose relationships and marriage of  two consenting heterosexual adults and basic anti discrimination laws would bat for expanded rights for queer people. 

Reducing the queer rights discourse to sec377 and now marriage rights in isolation from such a real and deeply ingrained issue as caste would only be beneficial for those at the top of the social ladder, the brahmin savarnas. As Moulee, a queer activist captured it succinctly about a recent court order “Uthrakhand high court has acknowledged that adult same-sex couples have the right to live together. Madras high court justifies father’s anger to murder an adult daughter’s Dalit husband. And let us question what same-sex marriage means in this casteist society, and who are entitled to it.”

Ambedkar and Periyar were aeons ahead in their opposition to notions of masculinity, recognization of individual rights and in speaking about the oppressive role of institutions like marriage. Fellow queer friends from intermediate castes must join in supporting and furthering the anti-caste movement in all ways possible under the leadership of dalit leaders because the anti caste movement aims to break ideas and structures that confine us and deny rights. 

To pinkwash casteism is to ignore the oppression and violence that the brahmin savarna and dominant intermediate castes perpetuate. A world where we gain from the oppression of others is not an equal world. There can be no queer liberation without annihilation of caste.

Saadhi Ozhippey, makkal Viduthalai – Dr. Thol Thirumavalavan.

Annihilation of caste is people’s liberation – Dr. Thol Thirumavalavan.

I thank Arun Selvan, Kiruba Munusamy and Moulee for their consistent support in ideation and for their feedback, which were crucial to writing this piece.

















Editor’s Note:

Following the critique by Krishna, Orinam has revisited their stand on listing Anbumani Ramadoss as “champion of gay rights”.

The Pink List India has issued a clarification regarding the changes and measures they have made after the critique.