From Sambhaji Park To Q-Fest Pune 2010

The second week of December, for Queer Pune, was a weekend that many would remember for a long time. That weekend for many, translated in attending the QFest Pune 2010 – a cultural extravaganza of movies, poetry, plays, art and panel discussions. With bright faces and brighter attire (when it comes to us queer folk, we do justice to our Rainbow Flag), Queer Pune was out in large numbers to watch movies, to socialize and to have a jolly good time.

Given the roaring success of Q-Fest Pune 2010, it would have been difficult to digest the fact that 10 years ago, being gay in Pune was almost equivalent to a life sans social interaction. With the renowned Sambhaji Garden at Deccan and unsavory loo-cruising, the only means of interaction with the queer community, it indeed was a sea change for many in Pune, to witness the metamorphosis.

So, what caused this sea change? Undoubtedly, the winds of change had started blowing a few years ago and the Q-Fest being held in Pune was another proof that Gay Pune might be finally coming out of the closet.

As of now, a weekend in Pune for the queer folk is literally a buffet to choose from. With ‘Queering Saturdays’ – film screenings hosted by OpenSpace, events organized by Birds of A Feather and group discussions led by Prayatna, it indeed has been a long journey for Pune.

Omky, the man behind the Pune-based discussion group Prayatna, attributes this mainly to the internet revolution and to the Delhi High Court judgement decriminalizing homosexuality. “Personally, the year 2001, was the year of reckoning for many of us, with the internet revolution getting on full swing. Chat rooms and sites like Guys4men (now PlanetRomeo) & Manjam, did indeed open up a world which was unknown to many of us. Prior to the internet revolution, it was Sambhaji park, or public toilets, if you wanted to meet people of your orientation. While at the garden, it was through an intricate system of eye contact, that you got talking to some one you liked and took it forward. With the advent of internet, things changed, and it was quite reassuring to find, more of your tribe. For example, when I first logged into Guys4men, it gave me quite a shock to see more than 2,000 profiles from Pune,” he stated.

It was the anonymity of the internet, that had many creating profiles on these websites, and the opening up of a world of information regarding queer lifestyle, that made Pune open up slowly but surely.

A mention must also be made of the IT revolution, which changed Pune’s skyline as well as the laid-back character of the city.

“The past 10 years has been monumental for Pune in ushering in a very cosmopolitan character to the city. The IT and ITES crowd that came in with the IT revolution, brought in new ideas and new thoughts and that was also instrumental for opening up the city for good. Now, the acceptance level having increased a lot, we might be at the brink of a major revolution of kinds in Pune,” Omky continued.

Ameya, a Pune-based entrepreneur, agrees with Omky when he attributes this new found confidence of Queer Pune to the internet revolution and thinks that Pune is all set to witness some great things regarding the queer movement. “The success of Q-Fest, is a clear indication of the fact that Pune’s gay community is both visible and vibrant. The internet undoubtedly has played a very important part in the movement, making us realize that there are many in the world with the same orientation. With this new found positivity, it was but evident that Pune was all set to witness the revolution in the queer community, which has already become a major feature in other cities. I am confident that very soon, Pune would have its own Pride March, given the level of enthusiasm that is now in Pune. A most heartening feature is that the next generation, is very open about the subject of homosexuality while the older generation is slowly coming to terms with it and accepting it as a natural thing,” he stated.

However, there is certainly a lot that remains to be done, in both the gay and straight communities before Pune can wear the badge of a ‘Queer-Friendly City’. For a start, the representation of the Transgender community, over all has been close to negligible. Also, as both Zameer Kamble, and Bindhu Madhav Khire point out the main hurdles that Pune has to over come.

Zameer’s short film, “Love_Lonely” was screened at the Q-Fest to rave reviews. “Technically, this was not the first queer film festival Pune had seen. Almost five years ago, a lesbian support group called Olava had conducted a film festival – Laargish. It was a huge success, with people of all walks of life and all strata of society attending the same. However, due credit must be given to the present team, who have managed to successfully host a festival of this magnitude. I would attribute this to the greater visibility of the present team and their judicious usage of social networking sites like Facebook. This has led Q-Fest to be noticed by a certain section of the society. However, when it comes to awareness about LGBT issues, the grass-roots are often left untouched,” he contemplated.

Talking on the same vein, Pune-based gay activist Bindhu Madhav, points out to the need of more acceptance with in the LGBT community itself. “When it comes to acceptance, or coming out, many in the gay community are adverse to doing that. In Pune we have had parties since many years, and they are well attended. But how many of the attendees, take the step of coming out, to their family or at their work? Also when it comes to the word activism, some how Pune does not seem to come of age. Activism for many seems limited to hosting parties and film festivals. However, activism has many facets, like legal, health, social etc. In Pune we do not have any infrastructure or resource persons, to handle these queries. The need of the hour is to get proper people to handle these queries, and to ensure that gay activism comes of age in Pune”.

Adds Sagar Dave, co-founder of the Pune-based support group Birds of A Feather, “Pune has seen a lot of change especially in the last two years. Events and ezines provide a sence of normancy to being gay. It is no longer just an issue that is health related or something that one must ‘endure’. I believe that by creating a safe space where once can express oneself physically through participating in events or emotionally / intellectually in the case of queer literature / magazines will in their own subtle way, change mindsets.”

Speaking on how he believes a sense of belonging is important, Sagar continues, “Our support group Birds of a Feather aims to create a sense of belonging within the LGBT community, so that we all know that we are not alone and being accepted for who we are is not as difficult. I believe it gives us the courage and confidence to embrace life as it is and eventually helps us to come out – first to ourselves and then to others. Both aspects are important in their contexts.”

“We are all excited about the winds of change blowing in Pune and across the country. Q-Fest is a baby step in the journey of much bigger things to happen for queer Pune.” concludes Keith, the editor & publisher of The Queer Chronicle (TQC).

The Q-Fest Team: Standing L to R - Keith, Ameet Palkar, Arindam Basu, Vinay Bhorkade, Andy Barve, Ranjeet Kulkarni, Sagar Dave. Sitting L to R - Akshay Bajaj, Balkrushna Potdar, Sharvari Manakawad, Imran Ali Khan

*Editor’s Note : Published in TQC – January 2011

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