Founded in September of 2012, Delhi based Queer support group Harmless Hugs has grown considerably. They claim to be an “expansive space driven by core values of unity in diversity and coexistence”. With a vision to create a collaborative culture that focuses on free and fair human expression.
Gaysi Family catches up with one of its core member Shashank Kashyap to talk about the group, and their much-talked about Flash Mob performance in Delhi last month.
Man with plenty of hugs : Shashank Kashyap
Q. Tell us a bit about yourself & your association with Harmless Hugs.
I am Shashank and I am a Business Development professional. I am out of the closet person who loves travelling, exploring new food joints and I love photography too. I joined Harmless Hugs when it was an online Facebook group of around 200 odd people, during that time I was exploring my sexuality and wanted a comfortable place where I could meet and socialize with like-minded people. I remember I met Vinay who is the founder of the Harmless Hugs through another queer group who eventually added me to Harmless Hugs. Harmless Hugs was one such platform where I met a lot of friendly people and felt the warmth that I was looking for. The ideology of the group was to form a healthy bond between the members of the queer community. I soon started involving myself in the various initiatives of Harmless Hugs. As the group grew, we realized how well we can serve the community and we gradually started hosting various ground based initiatives. This helped Harmless Hugs to evolve as a queer collective. There, I started serving as a volunteer. I was gradually promoted as one of the core team members. It was because of Harmless Hugs that I founded Diggingdocs which is a Queer Medical Alliance. We have conducted awareness programs on LGBT healthcare in association with Harmless Hugs. I am currently responsible for managing the Public Relations team and primarily handle online operations of Harmless Hugs. I also coordinate with the core team of Kolkata Chapter and guide them in various initiatives that they plan in their respective events.
Q. Harmless Hugs organised Delhi’s first LGBTQ Flash Mob. Tell us a bit about the thought that went behind using this medium & the permission process from the respective government authorities.
Actually Few months ago, Harmless Hugs organized an event called Queer Hugs where member of the group walked through the streets of Connaught place with the placards “I am queer will you hug me?”The response was overwhelming and many people came forward, hugged us and supported our rights. This led to the impulse of doing grand, something which is creative and could mark the presence of Queer Community in Delhi. Hence we decided to host the First ever Queer Flash mob. The task was not easy, over the past three months we faced several challenges such; as gathering volunteers, then building resources such as finding choreographer, looking for studio, gathering funds and getting permission from authorities to do the flash mob in Business District of Delhi, Connaught Place. Though over the period of three months we were able to do all of this but we had to face the major setback from Delhi Police who refused to give us permission to host the flash mob just two days before the event despite giving previous assurance. Hence we had to change the timings of the event and had to conduct it in the early morning instead of evening.
Though we got an overwhelming support from Aam Admi Party. They helped us in hosting the event effectively.
Q. What feedback was received from those who attended it, and bystanders?
The feedback was amazing. I believe more than the ignorance in the society many people are not aware of the life of homosexuals and hence the stereotypes are formed. When they saw such a great community initiative, it helped them to change their perception of people about Queer community. They were cheering for the dancers, clicking pictures and making videos of them on their cell phones. We also distributed leaflets informing them about the LGBT community and their rights, which helped them to build a positive attitude towards the community and have an empathetic view for the community.
Q. Any other on ground activities has Harmless Hugs planned for this year?
Yes, there are plenty of events that we are coming up with. In August itself we have three major events in three different cities of India. The Kolkata Chapter of Harmless Hugs is having ‘Queer Hugs Campaign’ which we conducted in Delhi earlier. Then Harmless Hugs will be one of the hosts of ‘Acceptance Meet’ in Mumbai as there are plenty of members from Mumbai who want to be a part of some HH event. Then finally in Delhi we are hosting the Ek Madhav Baug which is a mother’s journey into her gay son’s closet and his self acceptance this event will be performed by the television and film legend Mona Ambegaonkar.