UPSC Mains Daily Answer Writing (05-01-2023) - GS 4


Questions

Case study: Social interactions where a person is addressed by their correct name and pronouns, consistent with their gender identity, are widely recognized as a basic and yet critical aspect of gender affirmation. A national university invited speakers for a discussion on rights of sexual minorities in India. The panel included speakers representing a wide variety of opinions and perspectives on the issue. The debates, though largely peaceful, witnessed a controversy. A college association representing sexual minorities took offence against a panellist who cautioned against self-identification by sexual minorities and the liberal use of pronouns. The association reached out to the media and the localized controversy soon turned into a national issue across news networks and social media. The association demanded that the panelist apologize for his views and issue a public statement in this context. The panelist, on the other hand, seemed unmoved by the issue. In the meantime, the University has come under huge pressure to resolve the issue. The Vice Chancellor set up a Committee to look into the matter and its peaceful resolution. You have been appointed as the Chairperson of the Committee. In this regard, answer the following questions:
(a) Discuss the various moral issues involved in the case.
(b) Keeping the right to freedom of speech and expression in mind, highlight the steps you would take to resolve the issue and list arguments in support. (20 marks)


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Model Solutions

Case study: Social interactions where a person is addressed by their correct name and pronouns, consistent with their gender identity, are widely recognized as a basic and yet critical aspect of gender affirmation. A national university invited speakers for a discussion on rights of sexual minorities in India. The panel included speakers representing a wide variety of opinions and perspectives on the issue. The debates, though largely peaceful, witnessed a controversy. A college association representing sexual minorities took offence against a panellist who cautioned against self-identification by sexual minorities and the liberal use of pronouns. The association reached out to the media and the localized controversy soon turned into a national issue across news networks and social media. The association demanded that the panelist apologize for his views and issue a public statement in this context. The panelist, on the other hand, seemed unmoved by the issue. In the meantime, the University has come under huge pressure to resolve the issue. The Vice Chancellor set up a Committee to look into the matter and its peaceful resolution. You have been appointed as the Chairperson of the Committee. In this regard, answer the following questions:
(a) Discuss the various moral issues involved in the case.
(b) Keeping the right to freedom of speech and expression in mind, highlight the steps you would take to resolve the issue and list arguments in support. (20 marks)

Model Structure
Introduction:

  • Gender affirmation refers to an interpersonal process whereby a person receives social recognition and support for their gender identity and expression. The term has gained wider significance owing to its increased use to specifically describe the process whereby individuals affirm their gender through social, legal, and/or medical pathways.
  • The present case relates to gender affirmation of sexual minorities as well as its intersection with fundamental rights of speech and expression guaranteed by the Constitution.

Main Body:
(a) The case presents various moral issues across different stakeholders as can be delineated below:

  • Disparities experienced by sexual minorities: Gender affirmation emphasizes that disparities experienced by people are rooted in intersectional stigma and underscores the importance of increasing access to all forms of gender affirmation as a means of reducing these disparities.
  • Identity Politics: Group identities help individuals have a more secure sense of self and social belonging.
    • Moreover, group identity propels sexual minorities to counteract inherited negative stereotypes, defend more positive self-images, and develop respect for members of their groups.
    • However, it is also argued that group identities constraint rather than liberate individuals.
    • For instance, when people are identified by the groups they belong to, they are stereotyped and denied a certain individuality that comes from their own distinctive character and freedom to affiliate as they see fit.
  • Morality vs Social Obligations: We have a social obligation to address people and refer to them in the way they prefer.
    • At the same time, a breach of a social obligation isn’t a moral failure.
    • People’s names, titles, and pronouns are part of their identity, and to deliberately address them in a way other than they wish is a gratuitous insult. These are matters of etiquette as well.
  • Political correctness and the right to free speech: Even if mis-naming is a breach of social obligation, and even when it may also be a breach of moral duty, the free speech principle prohibits people from regulating speech that is legal.
  • Speech Prosecution vs Deliberate hate: It is argued that ‘pronominal intransigence’ may lead to repression of speech and language and generate resentment amongst people.
    • However, it is also our duty to create/promote an environment in which people, especially sexual minorities can learn and grow, without being insulted or needlessly exposed to risk.
    • Prohibiting deliberate mis-naming therefore needs to be looked into more seriously.

(b) In the aforementioned case, the controversy that emanated from a debate has taken viral proportions.

  • As the Chairperson of the Committee to look into the matter and its peaceful resolution, I would take the following steps to resolve the issue:
  • I would arrange for a detailed investigation into the matter, giving due importance to both sides of the argument.
  • The parties to the conflict shall be called in separately, to register their grievances and offer arguments in support of the same.
  • The main issue is one of deliberate misnaming and advocating the same.
    • I would point this out to the panelist and urge him to come up with a clarification that sends this message across to the aggrieved party.
  • As regarding the College Association, I would assure them that their right to protest is valid.
    • However, I would request them to appreciate diversity of opinion and have a detailed discussion with the panelist before any confrontation.
  • I would also produce the clarification offered by the panelist to the college association and the Media, to explain that his views were bonafide and not malicious.
  • I would also request the college administration to issue a statement distancing itself from the personal views of the panelists.
    • I would clarify that University and college campuses are platforms of debate and discussions and it is through the same that the society progresses.
    • I would especially address the Sexual Minorities on campus and assure them that the authorities do not condone deliberate hate/violence against them and the authorities would ensure that university campus offers them a safe place.

Conclusion:

  • The past few years have witnessed a landmark re-emergence of gender diversity in public life and a surge in mainstream media representation. Sexual minorities are standing on decades of activism and increasingly bringing themselves to workplaces, schools, and other public places. It is therefore necessary to ensure them of their rights.
  • However, progress in the society hinges upon the fundamental rights of citizens to free speech and expression. There needs to be a careful balancing of the two for greater societal development and progress.
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