Out of The Closethttps://indianexpress.com/article/lifestyle/art-and-culture/pune-based-storytellers-section-377-5389011/

Out of The Closet

An event supporting the Supreme Court verdict on Section 377 brings together the creative community in Pune.

Sandeep Sinha

(Written by Alex Michael Binoy)

Partially abolishing Section 377 doesn’t mean India as a whole has changed and the mindset of the people has progressed,” says Sandeep Sinha, who has entered the Limca Book of Records, India Book of Records and Asia Book of Records for his paintings.

Sinha, along with three other Pune-based storytellers Niki Ray, Deepesh Chandran, Kakoli Bagchi are coming together on Sunday, October 7, to celebrate the Supreme Court’s judgement on Section 377. A fusion between two artforms — storytelling and painting — will have storytellers narrate stories about issues faced by the LGBTQ+ community, while Sinha will simultaneously paint those stories. Called ‘Pride Stories with Live Painting’, it will be held at Inscape Cowork, Koregaon Park.

“Abolishing Section 377 is a start. Now we have to spread awareness so that people’s mindsets change. And that can be done only by spreading knowledge. People are against the LGBTQ+ community even though they don’t know the scientific reason behind it. People think it is a choice. These incorrect myths can be removed from society by sharing personal stories about the community,” says Niki Ray, a comedian, storyteller, counsellor and a mental health worker. She runs a support group for LGBT women named Rim Jhim ek Anubhav.

Niki Ray

“Many LGBTQ people are still in the closet and are shy to disclose their experiences to a stranger. I regularly associate myself with these people so that they will tell me their stories. The stories that I share are a collective of emotions, experiences faced by many real people and I combine them into one fictitious character,” says Ray. She has been running regular storytelling and theatre workshops in Pune, using theatre as a tool in the community.

If the subject of their discussion remains a taboo and is difficult to deal with, the event itself has faced issues, especially with finding a venue. One of the venues they previously approached refused to hold the event due to its ‘controversial’ topic. “The society is still very closed. But change takes time. It is inevitable. But what we as artists can do is raise awareness. The more stories you tell, the more awareness you spread,” says Bagchi.

The artists have heaped praise on social media for the open mindedness of the younger generation. Sinha says, “Some 20 years back, people were bound by their country, caste and religion. They lived within boundaries. Now, we are globally connected. We are aware of stories and issues from all over the world. What has happened in other countries have impacted us and broadened our minds.”