Between Responsibilization and Welfare: Contradictions of Indian Trans Activism during COVID-19
with Aniruddha Dutta, University of Iowa
The COVID-19 pandemic and the Indian state’s response in the form of severe lockdowns without adequate notice or welfare measures had profoundly debilitating effects on socially vulnerable groups, including trans and gender-diverse people. As many have documented, these impacts, including livelihood loss and psychosocial isolation, prompted a flurry of mobilization and fundraising by trans and kothi-hijra (transfeminine spectrum) activists and organizations for both their own communities and other marginalized social groups. This burgeoning sphere of COVID-related activism helped mitigate the intensified structural vulnerabilities of trans and other groups during the pandemic, but evidences several contradictions. Since the immediate need for relief took precedence over challenging state policies, trans activism helped fill in for token welfare measures meted out to these communities, which intensified the process of neoliberal responsibilization wherein individuals and the “civil society” assume responsibility to make up for declining state infrastructure and social security. However, contradicting neoliberal tendencies, the state also utilized the pandemic period to institute undemocratic bodies for trans development and welfare. Both neoliberal and developmentalist tendencies reinforced hierarchies of class, caste and location among trans-kothi-hijra communities. Based on ethnography and collaborative activism in eastern India, this talk will explore the conundrums and potentials of Indian trans activism during an unprecedented crisis.
Aniruddha Dutta is Associate Professor in the Departments of Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies and Asian and Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Iowa. Dutta is interested in the study of contemporary globalizing processes, the political economy of gender and sexuality, transnational discourses and practices of development, and the institutionalization of gender and sexual identity politics, with specific reference to India and South Asia.
This is the second event in the Thinking Through South Asia as an Epistemological Framework series, organized by Vedanth Govi (Social Anthropology) with support from YCAR. This event is co-presented by the Centre for Feminist Research.
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