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Harsh Realities: The Travails Of The LGBTQIA+ Community At IIT Delhi

Updated: May 1, 2022

"One of my scariest and humiliating moments was when I finally opened up to two of my close friends on campus. I told both of them separately of me being gay and they both had the same reaction; Tu jhooth bol raha h na (You are lying, right?) and clearing out right now that I'm not interested in you."

The IIT Delhi campus, for many of us, is a home away from home. And home is there to make us feel safe- to be a place where we can freely express our identities, voice our beliefs and explore our horizons without fear. Sometimes to get here, we need to ask ourselves many hard questions. We need to see if the campus is truly a safe space for all of us, and if it isn't, then how can we go about changing it? Asking such questions is not just acknowledging that we are responsible for the bad on the campus, but also realizing that we can contribute and be responsible for the good in it. This motivation led to the conception of an article on the lives of students on the campus belonging to the LGBTQIA+ community. This article takes a deep dive into the lives of these students, raising important questions of inclusivity, empathy, and ultimately acceptance as we seek to understand what has to be done to make things better than they are.

We conducted a survey to gauge the inclusivity amongst IIT Delhi students and understand the scale of awareness. Out of the 306 responses we received, 12.4% of them identify with the LGBTQIA+ community. When asked how inclusive the campus is on a scale of 1 to 5, 34% responded with a 3/5 and 23.7% with a 2/5. The people who do not identify with the community possess a similar view of the prevailing conditions.

At this juncture, it is important for us to clarify that the form circulated can in no way be treated as a complete and accurate collector of issues since some questions can be interpreted in different ways. Therefore, statistics have been presented in this report only if they were significant and within the intervals of confidence. For further information regarding gender and sexual identities, kindly go through this appendix.

The Reception of Non-Binary

“People just need to normalize being queer. I don't want special treatment. I wanna be normal”
“When I came out, people around me, specifically in the boys' hostel, got awkward."
“The amount of casual jokes about the community is something that puts me off all the time. I think masking behind all this is homophobia and to a large extent ignorance which is quite sad”.

From the people of the LGBTQIA+ community who responded to our survey, 13% have come out publicly, while 63% have come out to their close friends. 13% haven't come out to anyone yet.

47% of the respondents who identify with the community believed that casual homophobic jokes are "widespread". 78% of the respondents who don't identify voted that they are at most "moderately frequent", if not rare. The difference in opinions hints at how the lens of the people are tainted by where they stand in the spectrum and the experiences they have on an everyday basis.

60% of the respondents identifying with the community believe that the campus is mostly accepting and there is no expression of hatred or aversion from the LGBTQIA+ community.

When going through the comments and suggestions in the survey, we came across a variety of reactions. From people opening up to sharing homophobic incidents they have faced, like being harassed by both students and staff for painting nails, or casual jokes to people mocking the use of pronouns and resorting to the popular transphobic meme of "attack/helicopter".

On a more positive note, a few of our respondents had welcoming experiences when they came out to their peers.

”Honestly, it was a bit relieving to tell someone and it turned out great. Like they were all very cool with it. And the best part of it was like some of them who I came out to became much more vocal about supporting queer people and becoming allies”

“The first person I came out to in college was my best friend and their reaction was also very heartwarming. They were asking questions- not at me, but for me. They were inquisitive, trying to understand me. I think that’s the best thing any person can do if they want to be an ally- asking questions to learn.”

We took in suggestions from our respondents on what could be done to alleviate the situation and make the campus a more inclusive space. We received some interesting ideas for the same.

“Status quo dictates hostels as boys’ and girls’ hostels, leaving no space for queer people to choose properly. Having gender-neutral hostels would hence be a step forward. This step has been potentially discussed for the newly constructed Saptagiri hostel as well. While it might be just rumoured at the moment, it will surely make the campus more inclusive.”

People from the queer community and otherwise believed that having compulsory courses relating to gender studies were required on campus.

“There still exists a deafening silence about specific topics”

To further our understanding of LGBTQIA+ inclusivity, we contacted a couple of professors at IIT Delhi to share their opinions and ideas and what measures the administration and the student community can take to improve inclusivity.

We interviewed Professor Arudra Burra, an assistant professor at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences. Prof. Burra teaches moral, political, and legal philosophies and is also the faculty advisor of Indradhanu, a student-run LGBTQIA+ collective of IIT Delhi.

When asked about his opinion on what inclusivity at campus corresponds to, Prof. Burra said he thinks of inclusivity as having three components in general. "One would be that there is no discrimination, where no individual is penalized for being themselves and embracing their identity. The next level would be where we have free spaces to display your identity without any fear or worry of being judged, a space where you can be comfortable in your skin and embrace your individuality. The third would be one more step ahead of where everyone celebrates their identity and respects each other for their identity," he noted.

Professor Tobias Toll, an assistant professor at the Engineering Physics department and a proud member of the LGBTQIA+ community, admits never facing discrimination at IIT Delhi.

Though he believes that it is important to promote LGBTQIA+ awareness and thinks that "it is important to listen to those at IITD (faculty, staff, students, and others) who identify as LGBTQIA+ when developing and expanding the scope of institutional boards for different kinds of complaint redressals, as well as affirmative actions. Being LGBTQIA + friendly is not only about redressals but also about actively building an inclusive environment that is open to all identities and backgrounds at IITD on an everyday basis. For this, their voices have to be heard."

Prof. Burra agreed that though there is no upfront discrimination based on sexual identities, there still exists a deafening silence about specific topics. He also believes that IIT Delhi may be a lot different from other IITs but is also more conservative. "People have different levels of exposure, it is not that they are always supporting discrimination or are homophobic, but it might be because they are not aware of these issues and someone has confronted them for the very first time," Prof. Burra remarked on the possible reasons behind the uncomfortable silence.

Finally, when asked about what measures should be taken to improve inclusivity, Prof. Toll thinks that we can expand the currently available gender sensitization training for professors to LGBTQIA+ issues and homophobia as well.

The widening ambit of Indradhanu

Over the years, Indradhanu, a student-run LGBTQIA + collective of IIT Delhi set up on 23rd January 2013 with an aim to create a safe space for everyone, has taken various initiatives to spread awareness in and around campus. The group orchestrated a pride parade at the institute in 2019 and actively conducted orientations for freshers as a part of the Tour of Stalls. Indradhanu also maintains an active social media presence in their efforts to create a safer and more open space.

The Student Affairs Council recognized Indradhanu as an official student body in IIT Delhi on 27th December 2021. Indhradhanu is currently trying to understand how inclusive the campus is by hosting workshops, panel discussions, and events in order to raise awareness about the issue of gender sensitivity and inclusion. They had conducted a recruitment drive in January and plan to aid the administration in making the campus a safer and more inclusive space.

IIT Delhi also witnessed the establishment of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, becoming the pioneering institution in the country to do so. Officially active since 16th January 2022, ODI aims to celebrate diversity on campus and create a more inclusive environment. According to a post released by Prof. Rao, the Director of IITD at the time, the broad mandate of the office will be working towards gender, sexuality, caste, language, disability, and mental health to foster greater inclusion.

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