© Copyright 2019 The Rakshin Project By Sakshi
What does “non-binary” refer to?
The term “non-binary” refers to those who do not exclusively identify as a man or a woman, or who may identify as both a man and a woman, or may fall outside of these categories altogether. Non-binary folks can also identify as transgender, though not every non-binary person is necessarily transgender.
Non-binary people can be masculine, feminine, or androgynous. Non-binary people can look like anyone, and can have any pronouns or can even have more than one pronoun. Non-binary folks do not have to present themselves in a certain way in order to be non-binary. There is no right or wrong way to be non-binary, and the only indicator that someone is non-binary is if they identify as non-binary.
Non-binary people have always existed in history and all around the world. Unfortunately, we currently live in a time where the LGBTQI community is attacked and demonised, especially non-binary and trans people.
Historically, the strict gender binary is attributed to British imperialism. The British prided themselves on their ideas of rationality, which they condescendingly and oppressively did not attribute to the nations that they colonised. The Age of Enlightenment informed their ideas of scientific rationality, which also informed their ideas about categorising race and sex. They believed that there was a hierarchy to race (where white people were superior to other races) and that your biology strictly meant that you were male or female.
The Hijra community of India have existed prior to British imperial rule. They were prestigious in their communities, who were given important tasks such as collecting taxes in the Sultanate and Mughal courts. However, the British believed the Hijra community to be a “criminal tribe”, and created laws to criminalise the Hijra community and reduce them to second-class citizens. This was a concerted effort by the British rule to make the Hijra community “extinct”.
The Hijra community have been a part of South Asian history for thousands of years. Pre-colonial India had a culture that demonstrated sexual fluidity that can be traced back to ancient Sanskrit texts such as Vatsyayana Kamasutram (8th BCE), or Rheki (13th CE) which was the Sufist tradition of erotic poetry. Yet, the moral panic that informed the British’s decision to criminalise the Hijra community pathologised the medicalisation of all behaviours that were non-cisheteronormative. British colonisers asserted their power and control over the Hijra community by constructing narratives about them as a deviant group in order to pathologise and criminalise them.
Unfortunately, this moral panic and anxieties around trans and non-binary peoples’ existence continues till today in India. Trans and non-binary people continue to fight against laws that are now instruments of oppression and prejudice, to move beyond the gender binary, but to also challenge and fight back against the fragments of prejudice that date all the way back to colonial rule.
This is a week to celebrate non-binary people around the world. The various struggles and violence, be it state and interpersonal, continue to lay ahead of them. Yet, despite that, there is hope, because we believe we are also in a time where non-binary and trans people are gaining visibility. Visibility for trans and non-binary folks is not always a blessing, as it makes them more vulnerable to harm and prejudice, but we also believe that their growing presence in the public eye is an inherent good.
It is Non-Binary Awareness Week. International Non-Binary People’s Day is observed on July 14th because it falls exactly in-between International Women’s Day (March 8th) and International Men’s Day (November 19). We extend our solidarity and love to trans and non-binary people.
The Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports has given a directive to our NGO – Sakshi to design, customize and deliver Workshops on Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act 2012 (POCSOA 2012) for the NSS Students of 40,000 Colleges across India. Workshops started in 2018.