Freedom from Section 377 has dominated the Indian queer narratives in the last few years, justifiably so. With the fight against Section 377 ending in victory last year, the conversation has moved to other aspects of Indian LGBTQ lives.
But the spaces of discourse, be it in events or in the media, are often dominated by a handful of voices. Godrej India Culture Lab’s initiative, ‘Queeristan – So Many Queer Indias’, aims to bring forth narratives and experiences that are seldom heard, those representing the spectrum of caste, region, class and religion.
The clarion call for intersectionality during the day-long event on Republic Day will focus on regional identities of queer people from non-urban India.
Widening the canvas
As part of the ongoing Mumbai Pride Month, culminating into a Pride March on February 2, ‘Queeristan’ focuses on two intersections: caste and region. The first chapter of the series, ‘Caste and Queerness’ took place on January 18, bringing forth stories of Dalit queer people and addressing the issues of cruising in small-town India, intersections of the #MeToo movement and the controversial Transgender Bill. Rapper Sumeet Samos performed verses on Dalit oppression and caste discrimination. The second leg, ‘Queeristan – So Many Queer Indias’, will amplify LGBTQ voices from small-town India who contribute towards activism, art and culture. “If you Google queer names in India, you will find people from Mumbai and Delhi, who dominate the media narrative,” says Saniya Shaikh, curator of ‘Queeristan’, “Probably because there’s easier access to them.” The hope, therefore, is to start a conversation with fresh faces who can contribute their lesser-heard stories to the movement. As the narrative moves on from Section 377, Anand Grover of the Lawyers Collective, who argued on behalf of Naz Foundation, will kick-start the event with a keynote lecture tracing the two-decade-long struggle. “Of course we will also celebrate the verdict but we need to [now] think about the idea of ‘Pride’ and are we a group of homogeneous people?” adds Shaikh.
In tandem with the spirit of plurality, the day-long event features various mediums of discourse. There’s a panel discussion with Rachana Mudraboyina, founding member of TransVision, a YouTube Channel in Telugu, Kannada and Urdu, which seeks to educate audiences about transgender people and their issues; Diti a member of Xukia, a collective in Assam to make create a queer-friendly environment in the state; Darvesh Singh Yadavendra, who led the first Awadh Queer Pride in 2017 and plans to have dedicated Awadh Queer Literature Festival in February next month; and Maya Sharma, author of Loving Women: Being Lesbian in Unprivileged India. The panel will be moderated by Anish Gawande, director of Dara Shikoh Fellowship, an interdisciplinary arts residency working in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh.
To put a face and voice to the diverse stories, the Public Service Broadcasting Trust will screen short documentaries like Zara Nazar Utha Ke Dekho by Anindya Shankar Das, Ishq, Dosti and All That by Rituparna Bohra, Srishti Lakhera, Bhamati Sivapalan and Ritambhara Mehta; Please Mind the Gap by Mitali Trivedi and Gagandeep Singh and I’m Not There by Ajita Banerjie. “These films give you a glimpse into what it is like to be queer in small-town India,” informs Shaikh.
In a lighter vein, there are drag, music and comedy performances along with art installations like Recollecting Pieces by Maari Zwick-Maitreyi, Home by Steevez Rodriguez, Jugaad/ Of Love and Intimacy by Marc Ohrem-Leclef and Love in the Times of Instagram: Find Love by Dan and Jo. “These may not be artists from small-town India or even from the country but their works are rooted in spaces beyond Mumbai and Delhi,” concludes Shaikh.