In April 2014, the Supreme Court of India ruled in National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) v. Union of India that trans persons would have the right to self-identity as male, female or ‘third gendered’ with no prior requirements of medical or surgical intervention. The Court further mandated that the state regard trans persons as a category of ‘socially and educationally backward citizens’ to whom constitutional guarantees of affirmative action in public employment and education ought to be extended. In this lecture, I want to think about the category of ‚backwardness‘. In international politics and law, ‚backwardness‘ is a standard trope of orientalist discourse. But in Indian constitutional law and politics, ‚backwardness‘ has a rich and diverse set of connotations having become the hegemonic basis on which different kinds of marginal groups claim reservations (affirmative action) in different arenas. ‚Backwardness‘ has a peculiar temporality, being envisaged as a temporary condition that carries within itself the promise of its extinction. I will explore what this temporality has meant in respect of anti-caste radicalism before speculating on what it could mean for struggles around gender identity. In conclusion, I will reflect on the relationship between gender and ‚backwardness‘ in a so-called Rising India.
Rahul Rao is a Senior Lecturer in Politics at SOAS University of London.
He is the author of Third World Protest: Between Home and the World and of numerous articles in the fields of international relations theory, postcolonialism and queer politics.
He is a member of the Radical Philosophy collective and blogs at The Disorder of Things.
He is currently working on a book on queer postcolonial temporality.