An independent legal think-tank from Delhi, and a queer archive from Bangalore exchanged notes in an experimental, cultural space in Mumbai for a quick winter evening. Who says Indian cities don’t cross pollinate?
The Godrej India Culture Lab in Vikhroli hosted an event, ‘Queering The Law’, on January 10 as part of Queer Azadi Mumbai’s ‘Pride Calendar’, an eclectic curation of events across the month of January warming up for the Mumbai Pride Parade on February 1.
Perhaps, the best way to make sense of this event is not through the talks, but through the archival video installations and photo exhibits.
For Bangalore’s Queer Archive for Memory Reflection and Activism (QAMRA) archiving is arbitrary, and deeply personal. There wasn’t much of a design to their choice of material, the sheer volume of which (cartons of documents, legal judgments, all the preparation for the court hearings, newspaper clippings, journals, and sundry) Jayashree is trying to grapple with. The archives are as much about contemporary life as they are about decades long gone. However, none of their archival work exhibited here predate 1988. (QAMRA does have journals from queer folks dating back to the 70s, which need to be catalogued. They also know of archival work from before this period. I wondered, how did people congregate then? Where did people cruise for sex? How did they band together for justice? How did one organize back then? How did people find love? A family of choice? Lust?)
The footage, both video and photographic, come from incredibly political moments of our time that would be referenced through the evening. Just take a look at the range:
1) A scan of the covers of ‘Less Than Gay’, one of the first reports in India on the lives of queer people compiled by the AIDS Bhedbhv Virodhi Andolan in 1991 (it is available online) and ‘Naya Pravartak’ Calcutta’s “hottest-selling media offering”,
2) The protests in Bangalore after Kokila, a Hijra sex worker was gang-raped by her client and his friends and later brutally assaulted by the investigating police,
3) The activist congregations in Delhi post the disappointing 2013 Supreme Court judgment that re-criminalized same-sex sexual relations. Gautam Bhan, a queer activist can be seen proclaiming, “The courts cannot confer rights; it can only confirm them!”
4) Another protest in Bangalore; you can see an audience of hijras, children, allies, some sipping cold orange sorbet sticks listening intently to the speaker on what looks like a sticky summer afternoon. Perhaps, freedom need not always be grand, and eloquent, it can also be quiet, and personal.
Queering Laws & Archives: A Symbiosis
QAMRA’s talk was given by T Jayashree, a documentary filmmaker, and Siddharth Narrain, a lawyer and legal researcher; they spoke about the relationship between law and these archives, which are inherently political documents.
When the Supreme Court in its 2013 judgment called the LGBT community a “miniscule fraction of the country’s population”, Orinam, an activist collective in Chennai started making all their archives digital and available online for journalists, and researchers to access. The more these stories are written about, the more attention they garner, and thus, changing the discourse of queers being ‘miniscule’. QAMRA too, formed in 2017, 10 years after Bangalore’s first Pride March, came out of such a moment. In 2018, using stories and lived realities, the Supreme Court upheld the rights of same-sex couples to love and lust consensually.
The second talk given by the Vidhi Center for Legal Policy was precisely about the world post the 2018 judgment- what next? Marriage laws? Adoption? Just that morning they had a consultation with lawyers, activists, advocates, and journalists on their report, the namesake of the event.
The basic question: How does one queer laws?
A start would be, according to them, making all laws gender neutral. Getting rid of the He/Him/His in the legal text. Next would be to rephrase laws that are inherently gendered. For example, our sexual offense laws only recognize sexual violence in the male-female binary, where the male is the perpetrator. Then, would come the more ambitious goal of re-thinking what a family-unit could mean. Can two consenting adults have the legal rights and responsibilities towards one another; adoption, inheritance, the ability to pull the plug?
Of course, what is written in the books of law is one thing, its implementation is another beast altogether.
The event ended with a panel ‘Trans Rights Now’, a conversation between Dan Rebello, and Zainab Patel, both activists for trans rights mobilizing in different spaces. They spoke about the progressive NALSA Judgment of the Supreme Court in 2014 alongside the violent Transgender Persons (Protection Of Rights) Act, 2019 which mandates a screening committee to issue a transgender persons certificate. This is against the rights of transgender people to self-identify, promised by the NALSA Judgment. Blood is in boil, hope and slogans at hand. Dan asks Zainab: what next? Zainab looks up, cheeky and flustered, and replies: “Agneepath, Agneepath, Agneepath”.