Of Ropes And Borders: Being Queer In The Anti-CAA, Anti-NRC, Anti-NPR Protests

Artwork By Rhea Dease

I am a queer, genderqueer, male-bodied person who is anti-CAA, anti-NRC and anti-NPR. Growing up in Kolkata and being a student of Jadavpur University has taught me about micchils (rallies) and about yelling slogans. So I know the power of micchils and the power of raising your voice. I know that when someone yells “hum kya chahate” you yell back “Azzadi”. I know to respond to “hate hate comrade” with “gore tolo barricade”. So when the time came I also called for “Azaadi” when they yelled “CAA se, NRC se, NPR se”.

The first anti-CAA micchil I went to was on the 19th of December. It was a call for all of Kolkata to join hands and oppose the fascist BJP government. I went with a friend. My boyfriend was there too and so were a bunch of my other queer and trans* friends. The rally was huge. You couldn’t miss the pictures of the crowds flooding the streets the next day. It was everywhere; Facebook, Instagram, in the newspapers…you absolutely couldn’t miss it. The best part was that in all the pictures you could clearly see the rainbow flag somewhere in the background, swaying in the wind. You could see the trans, hijra women clapping their hands to the beat of the slogans. Wo Jhoom ke gaaye aur naach ke gaaye Azzadi.

The next day was the student’s micchil called by Jadavpur and after that the rally called by Presidency. One could see the rainbow flag once again and huddled around it were queer people, yelling slogans and clapping their hands to the beat of dissent.

I also went to the “Burqa and Bindi” rally which was organised by trans* and queer women. The presence of the rainbow flag there was no surprise. Sometime during this time Kolkata was also gearing up for its 20th Pride Walk. It was magnificent because there too we raised slogans and clapped our hands inspite of some claiming that ‘Pride is apolitical’.

Therefore it is no surprise that I also wanted to go to Park Circus and stand in solidarity. The women of the community there, in opposition to CAA, NRC and NPR, had organised a sit-in, just like the women in Shaheen Bagh. The protest started on the 7th and still shows no sign of stopping till the fascist state relents to their demands.  I didn’t get the time to go there when it had started, but I watched the videos and I heard the stories. One of my friends told me that she has heard one of the local community women there say, “ghar ke bahar raat bhar… ab toh maja karenge”. This was an opportunity for the women who had been confined to their houses, to step out of the domestic and into the public to protest; and not just that but also to be at the forefront of it. That was beautiful. I sure was inspired. But this story came via a cis, female friend.

I had also heard stories from my queer and trans* friends. Friends, who are gender transgressive and non-normative. I heard that there hadn’t been a lot of queer participation in the Park Circus protests. Why? Because they didn’t feel very comfortable there.

I won’t say that there wasn’t the occasional rainbow flag or the occasional queer or trans* person asserting their queer presence, but at the heart of it, it was still a normative space where the men stood on the outside and provided ‘protection’ to the women sitting inside. Sharp divides were made. It was necessary to, and still is. Molestation and harassment is always a looming danger for women. And probably if this divide didn’t exist a lot of women won’t be allowed to participate in the protest by their husbands and their fathers and their brothers.

When I went to Park Circus that day I went with all these reservations laying heavy on me. But I wanted to be a witness to the sheer power of women and so I went regardless. I went with two cis female friends. We walked into the field and saw that there was an enclosure surrounded by rope inside which sat the protesting women with their children and on the outside stood the men. We decided to look around since it was the first time for two of us. My experienced friend took us to the other, more crowded side. There, my friends walked into the enclosure. The male volunteers welcomed them in, lifting up the rope to let them through. I, being a male bodied person was left behind.

My friends went ahead of me and they probably thought that I was going to follow behind. But the rope was dropped in front of me. A man put his hand on my chest and with a grin on his face said, “ladies andar me, aur hum mard lok bahar”. But I’m not a man like them, I’m not a ‘mard’. But at that moment, all I could do was stand there with the men.

It could’ve been the cold and my stuffy nose or it could’ve been the claustrophobic crowd but I suddenly couldn’t breathe. The wind beat against my face and I could feel my eyes were starting to tear up but I held back. After 5 minutes I noticed a tap on my shoulder and saw that it was my friends. I hadn’t noticed them coming out of the enclosure. They were saying something about being scolded because there wasn’t any space to sit… I can’t remember. So we moved to the other, less crowded side of the enclosure. 

One of my friends asked if we should go sit inside. She said to me, “you can sit here, there are men inside”. My other friend looked at me with an apprehensive expression trying to ask me with her eyes if I was okay. I wasn’t. But nonetheless I said, “no I don’t want to sit you two go… I’ll stay here”. One of my friends was already on the other side of the rope, but both of them stood there talking. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, I was too busy trying to hold back the tears. Eventually they went and sat inside the enclosure. They called me once but I smiled and said no. I couldn’t get myself to cross the rope.

It’s ironic that we were just talking about borders in class that day. Invisible borders. The rope was a physical manifestation of the border between the crowd of men and women, and me, a person who was neither. I looked around searching for people like me. I saw men with kohl on their eyes and with long hair but something told me that these men weren’t like me. They were so aggressively masculine that they used this transgression to assert their male dominance. Their aggressive masculinity is so strong that it can even make the feminine toxically masculine. I don’t know if I’m being able to explain what I mean, the thing is I myself don’t fully understand exactly what I mean. All I knew at that moment was that I couldn’t stand there. I had to go. I moved away from where my friends could see me and I called one of my friends on the phone. I called her and made some excuse, quickly disconnecting the phone. After that, I just crossed the road and started walking. I couldn’t stand there and wait for a bus so I walked. I walked for 2 hours and finally when I was close to home I saw a trans woman walking right next to me. She was very tall and had long black hair that fell on her ample back. She was speaking to someone on the phone. I walked behind her for sometime and as we stood next to each other waiting to cross the road, I looked at her. I don’t know if I imagined it or if it was real, but when I looked at her she smiled back at me. Her smile was the smile of a person who somehow knew that we were on the same team and finally I could breathe again.

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