Written by Sadaf Inamdar
The third day of the Pune International Literature Festival discussed the sexual revolution in India in which the roles of men and women have markedly shifted. In a talk on ‘Being gay in right-wing India’, the panel discussed the progress in the LGBTQA community in the year since the historic judgment of September 6 in which Indu Malhotra, a member of the panel of judges, noted in the summary that “history owes an apology to LGBT persons for ostracisation, discrimination”, the panel discussed about the progress in LGBTQA community since the colonial-era law was struck down.
“The cost of being gay or transgender in India is high. There is shunning by parents, social isolation, few protections in the workplace and a scary vulnerability to both police abuse and sexual assault with limited legal recourse,” said Dr R Raj Rao, writer, poet and one of India’s leading gay activists.
“The Aligarh incident in 2009 was a horrible encroachment on privacy where the professor was hounded, shamed and persecuted to the extent that he was forced to take his own life. Even today, there is not much reason to rejoice since Article 377 was only been repealed by the judiciary. This is not a legislative decision. The Delhi High Court’s decision to decriminalise LGBTQ sex was a step forward in its recognition of LGBTQ rights, but it engendered resistance from the Supreme Court, which overturned it in 2013, so you can never say what happens next,” said Rao.
Vivek Tejuja, an author whose memoir is a commentary about navigating same sex relationships in the 1990s, shared his experience growing up as a queer and remarked how there had been significant developments such as increasing political involvement and heightened awareness about a topic that once was considered taboo.
“The reach is now wider and people know more to engage and carry the conversation forward. The marginalised are finding their voice and making strides to ensure it is being heard,” said Tejuja.
Raga D’Silva, entrepreneur and managing partner of India-based Speaking Minds, spoke about how coming out was a wrenching and fraught ordeal for many in the community and how it risked familial banishment, loss of friendships and even violence.
“Despite coming from a relatively privileged background, there is no hope for change. My partner and I face terrible discrimination on all fronts. In the reigning atmosphere, there is very little space for acceptance and tolerance for any dissenter, and the LGBTQ community is a part of this since they don’t conform to sexual norms,” said D’Silva.
Rao said, “In the 1980s, in the post-HIV and AIDS world, feminists had distanced themselves from other lesbians. Sexual minorities are still isolated, there is no coalition. By focusing on one, we lose connection of togetherness, of solidarity. We are living at a point where we are encouraged to fight for ‘myself’ than ‘ourselves’. Instead of being an ivory tower elite, you have to think about totality, not merely in relation to yourself.”