Interview : Rahul Sharma, QueerCampus India

QueerCampus India was started as a collective, with the aim of providing a support space for queer youth. Over time we have formed some alliances with colleges and members will be conducting sexuality trainings. The primary aim of the group however is to create a bi-weekly meeting space for queer youth, where they can feel free to express themselves, talk about sexuality, coming out, relationships, the colleges they attend and so on.

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QueerCampus India aims to be an Indian queer youth/ students’ collective- a space to share your experiences, deal with coming out, and find your own circle of rainbow buddies!

Here is a short chit-chat with Rahul Sharma, who happens to be one of the leading voices of the group.

What is QueerCampus India and what led to its existence?

QueerCampus India was started as a collective, with the aim of providing a support space for queer youth. Over time we have formed some alliances with colleges and members will be conducting sexuality trainings. The primary aim of the group however is to create a bi-weekly meeting space for queer youth, where they can feel free to express themselves, talk about sexuality, coming out, relationships, the colleges they attend and so on.

Since QC is a collective, it has no one ‘heading’ it and no core team. A few of us got together one day and started regular meetings and this will continue with others who choose to take the initiative and feel such a space is important. We have a different number of people attending the meeting each time and different topics are discussed. Very importantly, the group has male, female and transgender participation – the last is rare and is what makes QC fully mixed – and this is due to convenient meeting timings and the accessibility of our venues.

We started the group with one simple idea – that it should be accessible. There are several parties and other events going on in the city where queer people can meet. However, these don’t come cheap, and the timings are usually unsuitable for students or those who are living with parents and have to lie about where they are going, whom they are meeting and so on. These are usually the first road-blocks experienced by queer youth who cannot reveal information about going to such a space. We schedule out meeting on Saturdays, at 3 pm, to ensure that a college student can reach the venue after college and get home before 7 pm.

What kind of support or hostility have you seen towards Queer Campus India from the various academic institutions/organizations that you have interacted with ?

So far we have not seen any hostility, and have received generous support from institutions who have asked us to come and conduct workshops or have meetings on their campuses. We will be coordinating with another queer group in the city and conducting sexuality and coming out workshops in November and hope to reach a wider student audience. We still have a long way to go because so far the interaction has been limited to colleges who already either have an established gender or sexuality forum or professors who are open to the idea of a queer group on campus. The real challenge will be faced one we start approaching establishments that are either uninterested or opposed to queer groups. This process will start post November.

Have you a change in the number of youth coming to your QueerCampus Meetings? If so, to what might you attribute the shift?

It’s not so much about the number, but about the backgrounds. It’s easier for upper class, educated youth to have access to such spaces. In fact, they could even afford to go out for parties or other queer events. We are happy to observe that increasingly, a lot of youth from less privileged backgrounds, or those who are dependent on their parents are making their way to our meetings. And I think this is a significant shift in the way such spaces are populated. As mentioned earlier, we have an almost equal gender ratio, and this is also important in a country where traditionally, women have less access to most things and are questioned about where they going and whom they are meeting much more than men.

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The age demographic of youth in Indian college campuses range from 15 – 22. Despite the reading down of article 377 of the IPC, consensual sex between anyone below the age of 18 still remains illegal – approximately half that demographic. Is this something you consciously think about and discuss in the queer collective spaces especially since sexual identity is what binds the group?

We discuss issues of consensual sex between adults at our meetings. The question on whether 18 is he right age to qualify as an ‘adult’ is a different debate altogether and applies to all citizens of India. We are happy that those who ‘qualify’ as adults have been given the freedom to engage in consensual sex regardless of orientation.

What are your thoughts on the recent spate of LGBT bullying related suicides among youth in the US? Is this widely prevalent in India as well and what can be done to prevent it?

Like every queer person, I am deeply saddened by the suicides in the US. I am also hopeful that things will change for the better after seeing campaigns like ‘It Gets Better’. This is as widely prevalent in India except that it is more ‘hidden’. Sexuality is still not something that is publicly discussed and I doubt we’ll see hate campaigns of the scale that was started against some of the LGBT teenagers in he US.

There is an urgent need to mobilize students in campuses so they do not have to live secretive and fearful lives. For this, we believe that every campus should have a queer cell, administered by the college authorities who helps queer students out, makes them feel less threatened in campuses, provides counseling to prevent suicides and constantly engages with the student community to prevent discrimination and provide legal help in cases of violence.
Your take on Bollywood’s representation of Queer folks? Do you feel our youth get influenced by what they watch on the big screen?

There are two sides to this – though I admit queer people are depicted in rather stereotypical ways in Bollywood, I am also happy that they are being depicted at all! It is good to know that queer people are recognized as people who live lives like everyone else, have jobs, families, friends and the same range of emotional experiences as any of the other characters usually cast in films.

I do hope that with time, there are more queer characters in Bollywood films and greater care in taken to ensure that they are not just introduced for comic effect or portrayed as sexual deviants and promiscuous individuals.

However, there are films where queer characters have been portrayed well, such as Rules: Pyaar ka Superhit Formula, Honeymoon Travels, My Brother Nikhil, I Am, Fire and Sancharam.

Any new project/initiative in the pipeline?

Just Queer campus for now, we have a long way to go and a lot of work to do. We are happy to see the strength of members grow each time we meet and once the workshops and trainings are done, we should be equipped to go to more and more campuses with our message. We would finally like to get to campuses where there has been no existing discussion on sexuality such as engineering and other technical institutions. There is some discussion on such issues in arts, humanities and legal programmes which creates a sensitized student community. Similar types of debates and discussions need to be initiated in other colleges as well.

[*Thank you QC for helping me with the Questions]

About the author

MJ

Now 30, 100% shudh desi lesbian. Likes living large, and on the edge. Dislikes stagnation, fence sitting and hypocrites. Lives in a bubble of joy, with occasional lapses into drama queendom. Currently nursing a massive crush on actress Chitrangada Singh (kind of eerie, her resemblance to the late Smita Patil, don’t you think?). Aspires to build a fully functional support system for the Gaysi community in India. And most importantly, top the 'Hottest eligible desi-lezzie' list one bright sunny day.