Impacts of Rainbow Capitalism on the Indian Queer Movement

The 6th of September 2018, was a significant landmark for the queer movement in India. The decriminalisation of consensual homosexual adult intercourse was passed following an amendment in Article 377 of the Indian penal code. This resulted in a tremendous outpour of support from the media as well as large corporations. To show their solidarity with the judgement, several cooperations incorporated the LGBT moment and its popular icons such as the rainbow (a popular symbol of Pride which is used to show support towards the queer community) in other products or logos. However, this support from the large corporations is capitalised by these corporations, which are known as Rainbow Capitalism. The following article looks at the appropriation of rainbow capitalism by the Indian queer movement with critiques of the movement and capitalism,  alienation within the movement and the uprise despite critiques.

Impacts of Rainbow Capitalism on the Indian Queer Movement

The Indian Queer Movement: A timeline

1860 –  Homosexual intercourse was considered unnatural and was declared a criminal offence under Chapter 16, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code during the British Rule

1949 – Article 14 of the Indian constitution granted the right to equality, but the criminalisation of homosexuality remained

1992 – First protest for queer rights 

1999 – he first Pride Parade in India is held in Kolkata, despite only having 15 attendees. The movement was named Calcutta Rainbow Pride

2009 – Delhi high court decriminalised consensual homosexual acts amongst adults, 

2013 – Supreme court overrules Delhi high court judgement and reinstated section 377. 

2015 – Member of Parliament, Shashi Tharoor introduces a bill in the Lok Sabha to decriminalise homosexuality, but the bill does not pass. 

2017 –  The Supreme Court’s declaration of the right to privacy as a fundamental right under the Constitution paved way for an amendment in Section 377. 

2018 – Supreme court declares section 377 unconstitutional and makes amendments to legalise consensual homosexual contact between adults, 

Following the decriminalisation in 2018, several large corporations turned their logos into the colour of the rainbow as a means of solidarity. But at the same time, they continued to make profits off the rise in consumers hence the notion of capitalism must be addressed. 

Karl Marx’s theory of Capitalism 

Capitalism by definition is an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market. Marx was known to critique capitalism and it’s structured. Marx believed that capitalism is not limited to the exchange of commodities but also aimed at gaining profitable revenue in the form of money. The revenue generated will be used to generate more commodities and gain a higher price hence grating a rise in profit levels. Marx strongly disagreed with capitalism as capitalism created class-based struggles where the poor remain poor while the rich got richer. Hence capitalism only promoted the struggle of the workers and the lower class and yielded greater profits for the rich. 

Rainbow Capitalism 

Rainbow capitalism is the usage of rainbow colours or pride related themes to sell products to members of the queer community and its allies.  Rainbow capitalism, also known as Pink Capitalism, in the United States and across Europe, rose in the late 19th Century primarily due to the significant marginalisation of the community and the beginning of the rise of the queer movement int the west. The movement was, however, slow as the rise of fascism led to prominence in homophobia. This idea of capitalisation is aimed to attract consumers from the queer community through the notion of support. The central ideology of rainbow capitalism is built on the idea of solidarity through the consumption of these products. These corporations aim to coerce customers into the idea that buying rainbow products is a way of showing their support for pride. Rainbow capitalism is, however, focused only around the upper-class elites who are the primary targets. The ideas sold by rainbow capitalism are highly appealing primarily to the upper-class elites, who belong to privileged minuscule strata of society. This leads to the exclusion of several other oppressed as a result of social class alienation. 

Alienation of Social Class

Capitalism is closely linked with class. Marx’s theory of social alienation looked at the alienation of a person to their social class as a result of capitalism hence limiting their contact with members of other classes. Marx’s ideology of separation stated that it was relevant to create separation in order to prevent conflict. The conflict arises due to the stratification of society into social classes as a result of capitalism. Hence alienation will thrive as long as capitalism exists. The alienation also causes a rise in fetishism as a result of the loss of control hence leading to creations which are beyond human control. This is a problem often faced by people within the queer community as the alienation from their sexuality creates a fetish when a person encounters a member of the queer community. This fetishisation of members within the queer community along with alienation creates a rise in rainbow capitalism as it is viewed as gaining access to the community by attempting to diminish the alienation. In the Indian context, queer liberation is limited to the pride parades and sexual identities of the upper class and caste.  Those who do not fit into the ideal expectation of the fetish such as the Hijras in the Indian context are ignored. 

Critiques of the Indian Queer Movement 

The queer movement in the present day has in a way “sold its soul to Pride” wherein the movement is only seen in Pride where it is a target of the capital hence is seen as a market rather than a movement. As stated by Ashley Tellis, “the new liberal economy and the consequent practice of global funding has turned queers into entrepreneurial and consumptive citizens who play by the rules of state-market nexus”. (Kumar, 2014) The incorporation of the market into the movement is referred to as ‘Rainbow Capitalism’ wherein, the market uses the queer movement and its ideologies to sell products to consumers with the belief that buying these products is a form of supporting progressive queer thought.

Limited Representations of Indian Rainbow Capitalism

Rainbow capitalism is mainly seen during pride parades or following significant landmark events for the queer community in India.  This shows that the support shown is only following the spotlight on the community which companies try to capitalise on. Often seen in pride parades which are, as mentioned before, limited to the urban upper class, upper-caste elites, capital aims to please them as they are the primary contributors to the capital. This has an inherent bias as cooperations,  as mentioned before, only focus on the “woke” progressive ideas of the movement which is limited to the upper- class, upper-caste, mostly cis part fo the community. This leads to either the exclusion or misrepresentation. The capitalisation of the movement continues to rise as upper class, upper-caste supporters (allies) are led to believe that they are supporting the movement by consuming products sold as a symbol of solidarity towards the pride movement. Despite the issues, the representations and appropriation of the queer movement is used as a tool by cooperations in generating revenue from the upper-class elites, who are led to the belief that they are truly supporting the movement through the capital. Hence, rainbow capitalism, despite its criticisms, continues to thrive


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Shubha Arvind is currently pursuing a degree in Psychology with an Open Minor at FLAME University. Her passion for culture studies, sociology and film and she aims to focus her minor around them. She actively participates in discussions and hopes to make a change. Her hobbies include playing the violin, swimming and art.