Reaching Beyond The City: The LGBT Literatures in Indian Bhasas

When my middle-class Bengali mother picked up a book on sexuality published by Sappho for Equality in Bangla, she took some time to react.

When my middle-class Bengali mother picked up a book on sexuality published by Sappho for Equality in Bangla, she took some time to react. Still grappling with the fact that her son is gay and is never going to be cured by ‘homeopathy’ or any other way, she looked at me and said, “I will read it.”

When I chose to ‘come out’ to my mother, I did not know how to tell my mother about the LGBT community or the campaigns that are going on. I knew she would understand the meaning of the word ‘gay’, but how to make her understand the politics behind this identity was of paramount concern to me.

For a mother like her, who is not educated in the English medium and who therefore knows little English, I have been thinking of how to ‘educate’ her on the LGBT issues. She must have read Bengali novels or stories where she may have come across an LGBT character; or she must have understood what is to be ‘different’ while looking at Rituparno Ghosh, the acclaimed Bengali queer film director, but to read on the basics of LGBT politics, on gender and sexuality in Bangla, to understand the nuanaces was missing.

At this point when I came out, while struggling to converse with her in Bangla on LGBT, I came across the literatures published by Sappho for Equality; an LGBT rights’ organisation based in Kolkata. Their magazine Swakanthe, which has both Bangla and English articles, has gained popularity among the urban LGBT groups in West Bengal. I was impressed by the fact that the Bengali articles were lucidly written about LGBT issues, which I have never read before.

My association with Sappho began by getting more literatures published in Bangla for my mother to read. I also came to know that it is in the programmes of Sappho to publish literatures regularly for LGBT community in West Bengal. Sappho also conducts workshops and discussions to reach out more to a Bengali speaking non-urban public on LGBT. They distribute pamphlets in local trains, book-fairs; use popular/ folk performance forms to reach out to rural Bengal.

As an activist who believes that the LGBT movement/ campaign in India which is mostly restricted to the urban-spaces has failed to reach out to people or areas beyond the city. I believe that this lack of reaching out has failed to politicise the LGBT struggle in the country. This lack is also due to the fact that we do not know how to talk about LGBT issues in Indian bhasas. It is true that ‘queer’ cannot be translated in any Indian bhasa but we can still talk about queer politics in our languages which would open dialogues across regions and languages.

With this contention and concern, some of us discussed in Dhanak, a queer support group functioning from JNU, that we need to translate all our releases—solidarity statements, notices, invitations both in Hindi and English. For past two years, Dhanak has been publishing in Hindi which has a tremendous effect on JNU campus. The workers, Hindi-speaking students, shopkeepers of JNU campus have started reading on LGBT in Hindi and have often extended solidarity to us. “The Rainbow Walk: Queering the Campus” was one such event where we reached out to the campus fraternity through our literatures published in Hindi besides English.

This is the time when we should start conversing in our bhasas to reach out to people beyond the urban spaces. If we need a politicised LGBT movement in India then we must pay attention to generate literatures in Indian bhasas. In a society where homophobia and discriminations based on caste, gender, religion are rising everyday, it is imperative to write, read and speak in a language that every citizen understands. In a linguistically diverse country like India, this effort with the bhasas will not only bing awareness to people on issues of gender and sexuality but will also give birth to new words and expressions that will break the binaries and stereotypes of the normative as well as the non-normative.

About the guest author

Gourab Ghosh

Gourab Ghosh is a queer rights' activist and a theatre artist based in Delhi. He was the first openly gay candidate to contest a university students' election in JNU. He is politically affiliated to the Students' Federation of India.