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Gay-lesbian course at UoP sets an example for other universities

When the University of Pune (UoP) started a Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) course in 2007,it was the second university in the country...

Written by Sunanda Mehta | Pune |
July 16, 2009 2:54:33 am

When the University of Pune (UoP) started a Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) course in 2007,it was the second university in the country,after University of Hyderabad,to do so. Then,the UoP initially even had to put a disclaimer saying that one doesn’t have to be gay to take the course.

Today even as two of its students take up LGBT topics for MPhil research,other universities are mulling over the possibility of getting the Department of English,that conducts the LGBT course,to hold a workshop on it for their teachers,reflecting a significant change in the academia’s mindset.

“The other day,two professors from outside Pune — PC Kar from the University of Baroda and CJ Jahagirdhar from Kolhapur University — visited us and were of the opinion that we should conduct workshop for college-level lecturers on the LGBT course on their campuses. It shows a welcome change in the attitude of the academic fraternity,” said Raj Rao,professor of English at the UoP,whose persistence resulted in the LGBT course seeing the light of the day.

Rao is now hopeful that the scrapping of Section 377 will help further in extending the course,which has been taken up only by the Jawaharlal Nehru University after Hyderabad and Pune,to other universities in the country.

“It’s strange how the academic fraternity that has always been quick to accept all kinds of literature — Marxist,feminist,Dalit — had a huge reservation when it came to queer literature. For years,the Board of Studies refused to let us start the course saying that ‘Indian students do not need it’. Finally we clubbed it with Dalit literature and started it under the genre of Alternative Literature,” Rao says.

Despite the resistance,20 students enrolled for the one-semester course in the first year and 15 opted for it in the second year. This year,the course has taken further strides with two students doing their MPhil based on the course topics.

“I took up the topic because it was challenging and different,” says Kailas Kalapahad from Ahmednagar who is basing his thesis on Yaraana,a collection of short stories on homosexuality. Kalapahad admits that initially he had to explain his choice of topic to his peers and family.

Richa Singh from Meerut,the other student to take up MPhil based on LGBT topics,says that the opposition she faced ranged from disdain to vehement protests from her peers,who even said that they feared for her safety. “Probably they even suspect our sexuality but don’t say so,” grins the 25-year-old who has been selected for a 10-month scholarship by Tubinger University in Germany and would be researching her thesis there.

While both the students say that there is no dearth of study material,they admit that thesis on LGBT studies are almost non-existent. “Everyone seems to want to take up safer topics for research,” says Singh.

Rao,however,feels that LGBT issues have the maximum potential for research. “All other topics have been done to death. These are new and full of possibilities.”

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