The event Desiring Indians was a screening of the provocative film Cain/Cane (2011) followed by a panel discussion on sexuality, intimacy, and desire among Indian South Africans, chaired by Prof. Vasu Reddy.
For me as a queer Indian, I found myself intrigued by the invitation to socialize at the event which was hosted at the café, Love and Revolution in Melville. The event was meant to be a gathering of LGBT members to watch a screening of the movie by Jordache Ellapen and thereafter engage in meaningful discussion. The subject matter of discussion surrounded elements of the film that of which can be credited as being somewhat relevant but not entirely grasping the concept of the LGBT state of affairs in South Africa. The larger aspect of the discussion also examined the historical situation of the partition between India/Pakistan visualized in the sexual act between the two characters.
There are three ways of looking at sexuality, which sums up my opinion on LGBT affairs. What are gay rights, queer rights, sexuality rights, or sexual rights?
- Are they simply the right to express and not be criminalized for same-sex desire?
- Do these rights of same-sex desiring people encompass all parts of their lives and not just their sexual preference?
- Why does the sexual preference of gay people overshadow every other aspect of themselves?
The LGBT community and the queer Indians in particular have, over the years, have defined their identities purely by their sexual preference, as opposed to projecting themselves as just… people. THAT is the reason why the general Indian community finds justified reason to incite hate against the LGBT community.
In the newly emerging sexuality movements in South Africa and other parts of the world today, there is a shift in the way the politics of sexuality is articulated. This shift recognizes that the sexuality experienced by queer people cannot be understood in isolation when separated from gender, religion, language, region, caste and class.
Gay rights as they have been traditionally understood in the world—as self-identified LGBT communities demanding the right to individual self-expression and non-discrimination—is very narrow in scope. It is imperative that we understand how the multiple identities of Indians are connected and yet distinct from one another. Any attempt at resolution that views one aspect and ignores the multitude of issues associated with is deemed to fail. And the truth is that we as a community have FAILED horribly to integrate into mainstream society.
The attendance for Desiring Indians was abysmally poor by any standard, the audience comprised of academics and a few friends rather than the LGBT community in Gauteng. This was disappointing. All in all there were no more than 10% Indian LGBT members present there.
My point of disgust was how an academic used Cane/Cain to relate to the alleged homosexual activities of Mahatma Gandhi. This comment left us to wonder how Bapuji was pertinent to the subject matter of this screening.
The producer of Cane/Caine elaborated on his production and how the concept of diaspora was involved in the film, the question to be asked is what does diaspora have to do with it at all? Why not engage a production of South Africans rather than India/Pakistan?
One of the question posed to the panelists was, how do Indians identify themselves here in South Africa? This question was met with eerie silence among the panelists. The answer is simple; we are South Africans first and Indian by descent. If you cannot grasp this concept then you have a lot more to deal with than just being gay.
Over the past decade or more we have seen the growing visibility of LGBT people and their struggles through both the mainstream media as well as academic writing. Same sex desiring men and women are also part of this trend. Not all the visibility is desirable, but the hope is that if the issues are discussed in the public sphere, at least there will be space for debate – and thus assertion — of rights. But what rights are we, as LGBT people, wanting from general public? I questioned a few of the elitist idiots who attended but clearly no one felt the need to bother with answering a few simple questions.
As for Desiring Indians, this gathering was #FAIL