“I am a student of electrical engineering at IIT Bombay and I am gay, I like men, and not women.” That’s how Aditya Shankar’s video on YouTube begins. The 22-year-old’s narrative is part of a web series — Connect Conversations — started by the students of IIT-Bombay, in which young ‘lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQ)’ people talk about their lives, aspirations, love, coming out and fears. It is part of the efforts by ‘Saathi’, which is probably the first-ever institute-backed campus support group in India for LGBTQ people at IIT-B.
“We have started India’s first LGBTQ web series. These 10-15 minute videos, in Hindi and Marathi, along with English subtitles, try to portray LGBTQ people not as outside of our lives but rather as very intrinsic to it,” said Shankar, who is spearheading the initiative. Started by a group of students, faculty and alumni, Saathi is a home for LGBTQ community residing in IIT-B and is meant to be a “safe space” for people coming to terms with themselves and their sexuality.
“Indian LGBTQ movement has been highly English speaking and dominated by the discourse in the metropolitan centres of Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata and Delhi. Our aim through this project is to document histories of young LGBTQ people who have come out of the closet in the recent past and use this as an arsenal to combat homophobia and transphobia in the country’s educational institutions of higher learning. Out of this context, ‘Saathi Connect’ was born, which has two parts. While ‘Connect Conversations’ is the oral history documentation in Hindi and Marathi on video, the second part is ‘Connect Stories’, which are stories contributed by LGBTQ young folks about their lives in Hindi, English and Marathi,” said Aditya Joshi, a student of IIT-B and co-contributor of the project?
In all, eight videos have been released and three more are on the anvil. While Ankit Bhuptani, president of the ‘Gay and Lesbian Vaishnav Association’, speaks about accepting himself as gay, and being involved in queer awareness initiatives, Joshi recounts his struggle from being in the closet to being an ‘out person’. The story of Sameer and Amit, a Maharashtrian gay couple living in the US, is one of realisation, love and marriage, while Fida, a young ‘hijda’ from Mumbai, talks about realising her gender identity and the ordeal that followed.
“My childhood wasn’t so great as I wasn’t what I wanted to be, I wasn’t what people wanted me to be. I wanted to be a girl… After getting to know them (transgenders) completely, I knew that this is the thing I wanted to become. Live and let us live,” the 23-year-old, who currently works with NGO ‘Humsafar’ and stays with her family, said in the video.