Grad student committed to the fight for gender and sexuality rights
By Rebecca Saloustros
Sanjana Ramesh came to SFU to work on human rights issues, specifically those related to gender and sexuality. This spring, she graduated with her master’s in political science, having contributed to the discourse on LGBTQIA+ rights.
After graduating from the University of Victoria with her bachelor of arts (honours) in political science, Ramesh decided to attend SFU so she could work with professor Genevieve Fuji Johnson. Professor Johnson specializes in feminist thought and topics related to gender and sexuality. Under Johnson’s supervision, Ramesh began working on her thesis, “A Legacy of Colonialism: The Criminalization of Homosexuality in India”, which she cites as the highlight of her two years at SFU.
Ramesh focused on this topic for a couple of reasons. India has a traditional history of gender-variance. In her thesis, Ramesh discusses the non-binary Hijra community in North India and how the Hijra identity is defined as neither man nor woman in Hindu mythology. However, in the 19th century, the British implemented an anti-sodomy law (Section 377) in India, one of its first colonies to have such a law.
In 2009, the Delhi High Court repealed the law but, in 2013, the Supreme Court of India reaffirmed the use of Section 377. Interestingly, just five years later, that the same court repealed the law once more. Why?
Ramesh argues that, “a shift in the language and interpretation in the application of Section 377 to the Constitution contributed to a new discourse. This new discourse re-defined ‘gender’ and ‘sex’ as non-binary, which altered the way the Constitution and policies apply to sexual minorities.”
In addition to her important research, Ramesh says that the friends she made while doing her graduate work have been supportive and encouraging and that she couldn’t have succeeded without them.
She has key advice for future SFU students, as well. First, she encourages them to join collective action movements at the university, like the Tuition Freeze campaign, which she participated in.
Also, Ramesh advises them to recognize that failure is part of success and not to be too hard on themselves.
Finally, she emphasizes that it’s important to be true to yourself.
“Don’t try to copy what others are doing or keep comparing yourself to other students,” she says. “Just try to enjoy your journey even through all the blood, sweat and tears.”