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India LGBTs disappointed as political party omits promised LGBT reforms in manifesto

Well known gay supporters including filmmaker Onir have withdrawn their support of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) for failing include its support of decriminalizing same-sex relations
Filmmaker and gay activist Onir

The 17-month-old Aam Admi Party (AAP) was widely expected to state its support for the decriminalization of Section 377 in its much-awaited manifesto which was finally released last week.

The party’s failure to do so in the party's 26-page manifesto has led to several prominent gay activists expressing their disappointment and anger.

Filmmaker and gay rights activist Onir on Friday announced his withdrawal of support to the AAP.

He tweeted: 'Having been officially told that the AAP did not by mistake omit LGBT issue from its manifesto, I withdraw my support to the party. True intentions have to manifest in action and not just oratory. The LGBT community has been let down by AAP.'

Onir is best known for his film 'My Brother… Nikhil' which is one of the first mainstream Hindi films to deal with the subject of AIDS and same-sex relationships.

He was quoted in the Hindustan Times as saying that the LGBT community had met with several AAP leaders two week ago in Delhi which had raised expectations.

Party spokesperson Atishi Marlena has since defended the omission saying: 'The manifesto need not include issues on which our stand is already known.'

In December last year, the AAP issued a statement expressing its disappointment after the Supreme Court overturned a Delhi High Court order which had declared section 377 of the Indian Penal Code unconstitutional. It further called on the Supreme Court to review its judgment and Parliament to repeal 'this archaic law'.

Harrish Iyer, a gay rights activist, tweeted after the manifesto was released: 'AAP did a horrible mistake by excluding LGBTIQ rights from their manifesto. You can’t promise and take it away.'

The Communist Party of India (CPM) in its election manifesto released last month said it supports the decriminalization of section 377 of Indian Penal Code while the ruling Congress party said it will 'enact a law to ensure that consensual sexual relations between adults of the same-sex are not criminalised.'

Myna Mukherjee, director of Engendered, an arts and human rights organization which hosted the discussion between the LGBT community and AAP leaders, told the Times of India that the entire community was feeling let down.

'We had some hope from AAP since they at least agreed to discuss the issues of the LGBT community. However, if members who sound sane cannot stand up for us in the first instance that needs a push, how can we expect them to take up our issues with the courts and the government?'

'It is ironical that even Congress has this in its manifesto whereas AAP, which comes across as a more progressive party, does not. Even the definition of gender is so narrow. In their draft manifesto, gender included male and female. The main document has omitted male. Even the Government of India includes 'others' when defining gender. We cannot imagine what the party was so worried about,' she added.

India's general elections, the world's biggest democratic exercise, will see some 814.5 million voters go to the polls from 7 April to 12 May 2014.

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