Before leaving the United States, I never imagined visiting the New Delhi Police Academy as part of my AIF Banyan Impact Fellowship journey. However, my project and placement with the Naz Foundation (India) Trust eventually brought me there.
Since its start in 1994, Naz has been at the forefront of activism in India for LGBTQIA+ rights. Naz filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in 2001 to request the decriminalization of homosexuality under the colonial penal code 377. After a 17-year battle, consenting sex between same-sex partners became legal on September 6, 2018.
Even though homosexuality is no longer a criminal offense, the LGBTQIA+ community continues to experience mistreatment, discrimination, and violence.
In the short time that I’ve been at Naz, the need for institutionalized sensitization and training has been emphasized to me repeatedly. Though striking down Section 377 was a huge victory for LGBTQIA+ rights, it is not enough on its own. The problem will persist if there is no training, no knowledge of the community, and no understanding of current laws.
Naz conducts trainings aimed at sensitizing the greater Delhi community for a variety of industries. The New Delhi police are among those who receive LGBTQIA+ sensitivity training on a monthly basis.
This training is intended to educate and sensitize New Delhi Police officers about the nomenclature, gender, sex, sexual orientation, 377 ruling, laws, and other rights associated with the LGBTQIA+ community.
On this particular day, I was present at the training to take photographs and observe as two other members of Naz’s LGBTQIA+ team sensitized the police.
Upon entering the building, we were greeted by members of the academy’s staff. We were then brought into a room containing seventeen Delhi police officers. I took a seat in the back of the room and prepared to observe, absorb, make notes, and take photographs.
As my colleagues prepared to present, I began to survey the room. I observed that the majority of officers were men, while there were only three women in total. The ratio of men to women in the Delhi police force is about 6 to 1, so this was not a surprise.
As the session got started, the room became quieter, and I noticed that the participants’ level of enthusiasm was generally low. The LGBTQIA+ sensitization session concluded a ten-hour day of training for the police.
There was a large screen at the front of the room on which the training presentation was displayed. I observed officers taking notes while others listened quietly. There was initial hesitation, but eventually the officers opened up to respond to the facilitators’ questions. Police gradually felt at ease participating and started to interact more as time went on. The Naz staff presented the material in a manner that assessed the participants’ knowledge and prompted discussion. Overall, the session was a success, and the facilitators were pleased with the conclusion of this training.
During the session, one thing stood out to me in particular. A question that arose repeatedly caught my attention.
“What is the difference between being gay and being trans?”
This question was asked and answered not once, not twice, but three times throughout the session.
During the training, many questions were posed, but this one stuck with me because it was asked so frequently. At first, I didn’t understand why it was asked more than once during a session. I wondered if the response wasn’t clear or if one of the officers didn’t realize that this question had already been answered. Then, rather than questioning why the group was asking this question, I began to consider why I was surprised by it. The information required to answer this question was available to me early on. This was a time when I had to reflect on my education, past experiences, and background because the information I had taken for granted was not readily accessible to the officers serving the Delhi community. For many, the information about the LGBTQIA+ community, such as what LGBTQIA+ stands for, was new. It takes time, questioning, and great effort in order to fully grasp new concepts and information. The significance of sensitization was reinforced in my mind at this time.
The establishment of a supportive environment for police to ask clarifying questions about LGBTQIA+ issues and to be surrounded by professionals with extensive knowledge of the community is crucial. Observing the training highlighted the significance of initiatives like Naz’s police sensitization sessions. To support a community, it is necessary to continue to learn, unlearn, and reflect; none of these, however, can be accomplished without adequate access to education and resources. Currently, small-scale sensitization occurs through organizations such as Naz. It is essential that sensitization be institutionalized and expanded across the nation. Without access to education on LGBTQIA+ topics, the community will continue to struggle with issues of understanding, acceptance, and equality.
Looking forward, I hope to continue expanding my knowledge of LGBTQIA+ sensitization and gaining a deeper understanding of the education and knowledge gaps surrounding LGBTQIA+ issues. This experience has served as a stepping stone for my fellowship journey, and it will influence me as I continue to work on initiatives pertaining to LGBTQIA+ programming.