Tanmoy spoke to 5 queer folx on behalf of Gaysi Family on the anniversary of the 2018 Supreme Court verdict regarding Section 377 of the IPC. They were asked about the dreams, aspirations, joys, hopes and the source of turmoil, if any. Here’s what they had to say.
Q. What are your sources of queer joy? What keeps you going despite the systemic hostility and alienation?
Ankita (She/They): I guess what gives me joy is the blatant rebellion and dissent towards the heteronormative system. Even though there are days that are really hard to live in this society as a queer person, I see my social media filled with queer people who do awesome things for the community, or even the smaller things like changing their names or hair colour or fashion or learning to be comfortable in their body, and it gives me comfort and a sense of stability.
Praful Baweja (He/Him): My sources of queer joy are real conversations with other individuals within the spectrum. We are blessed with mind boggling variety of talent, truths and triumphs. I get to share lived experiences worth 2 decades of Section 377-related struggle as a recruiter/ marketing consultant today for brands to be more humane. That is indeed a privilege to cherish and utilise to catalyse conversations as well as real tangible change.
Shai (He/They): A Friend named Joya, my chosen and second family, and my close first family, my mother, are the reason to believe in this life and keep going on. I am blessed to have them; the initial stage of coming out was difficult, but as time progressed, as I made her aware of the alternative sexualities, she was more open to the idea and was comfortable with me being the way I am.
Srishti Berry (She/Her): I did not grow up with any queer people around, or anyone even remotely questioning and challenging the binaries, so my safe haven became the internet, which helped me connect with people of many different backgrounds. Seeing queer people thrive, even if it is through the internet, provides me all the serotonin I need to keep my hope alive for better representation and security for queer kids growing up in the hostile parts of the world.
Ritushree Panigrahi (She/Her): To be myself is the utmost motivation for me. I went into depression due to my gender. I didn’t want to come out fearing it might hurt someone but then I realised what about my sufferings? This is my life and I want to live the fullest.
Q. Did the reading down of Section 377 mean something to you? How has your life changed since then?
Ankita (She/They): I like that since the abrogation of section 377, more queer people have the courage to come out or openly live their lives as their true selves, and even though there is still a lot of stigma and violence, I feel like the community has grown stronger and bolder.
Praful Baweja (He/Him): Reading down of section 377 meant the world to me as my legal rights as citizen of this country were no longer denied. It was as though the system saw me for the first time for being me rather than discriminating or stigmatising my existence. I have been able to expand my horizons to know and support larger human diversity ever since with a job fair and also create my dream social enterprise.
Shai (He/They): To be honest, it means just reading down [of sec 377] to me. I wish there were some [affirmative action] laws passed with the reading down. I wish there was not just an apology forwarded like a WhatsApp message while decriminalizing the law. The fight is huge, the road is long, it feels like the path was opened for us, but no one knows how to walk on it because there are loads of people already waiting for us to come out and walk on it so that they can throw stones on us of name-calling, bullying, and other abusive stuff. My life is as it was before the existence of law. I wish for more change, and I am trying my best to bring all the necessary change!
Srishti Berry (She/Her): My life hasn’t changed much since the bill passed and reading more into what it actually did and didn’t do, it feels like it didn’t do much for any other queer individual as it only decriminalises “unnatural sex”. Queer and trans people are still unsafe and oppressed, with negligible representation in the court of law. So, the reading down of 377 is a little step towards the right direction but there’s a lot more that needs to be accomplished.
Ritushree Panigrahi (She/Her): A lot. The most important thing about decriminalization of section 377 is it doesn’t feel like a criminal to love and to be loved anymore. Moreover I have seen after the judgement the society and people are changing and for good. It is still slow but, one step at a time.
Q. What are some of your aspirations for the queer community in India for the coming years?
Ankita (She/They): I think one thing would be to legalise marriage and adoption and reduce job discrimination. It sounds idealistic, which is unfortunate, but I really hope things look up. Or even if there’s no law supporting queer people, I hope there’s no law criminalising or discriminating against them either. I think that social stigma will be there no matter what we do, because we don’t live in an ideal society, but I wish that at least on the legal front, things are better.
Praful Baweja (He/Him): My aspirations for the queer community are to focus on the vital and let go of the trivial. We must find and redefine our common visions and goals for all under the umbrella to support rather than the little fiefdoms based on singular identities. Yes, dedicated safe spaces are needed, yet collaboration and co-creation are the recipe for support and success of all who are marginalised.
Financial inclusion and mental health support are two key areas that I am personally committed [to improving].
Shai (He/They): The Film industry is becoming more inclusive of the idea of presenting the queer life of people. I wish there was queer presentation by queer people; all I can say at this moment is that it is a start, but the beginning is very slow. I hope queer people progress as fast as mainstream Bollywood has!
Srishti Berry (She/Her): I wish to see stricter laws against any discriminatory practices or speeches against the community, laws ensuring queer kids’ safety, more reservations for queer and trans people in governmental positions and better healthcare facilities for trans people.
Ritushree Panigrahi (She/Her): Recognition from law is one thing but acceptance of society is another. The community is still struggling for jobs and accommodation. Like when I moved to Mumbai recently, I faced lots of difficulty finding a transgender-friendly accommodation. Imagine if this is happening to someone who has a high profile corporate job and think about the less fortunate people. For this we need Queer visibility in society be it media, judiciary and everywhere… it needs to be increased. Things like reservation for trans-people in jobs and education, [licensing] same sex marriage… these will help a lot.
Q. What does it mean to have/not have queer elders in the community? Do share your experiences about this, if any.
Ankita (She/They): I have no queer adults in my immediate family or at least those whom I know of. It sucks because I feel less supported and safe at home. I think having a community and queer adults is very important because they can really help support you through your crisis. It feels nice when I see on social media or people at my college who are queer and older than me because it makes me feel less isolated and anxious. It makes me feel less different or weird because there’s someone older than me who is like me, and the popular notion is that adults aren’t wrong.
Praful Baweja (He/Him): We stand on shoulders of giants. The wind beneath our wings is those who faced it all for us. Imagine daily systemic bullying, blackmail, abuse, ridicule, harassment, ostracisation and a lot of other things we can’t even fathom in 2021
I feel blessed and totally grateful to those who paved way for us. Be it Ashok Row Kavi, Geeta Kumana, Saleem Kidwai, Ruth Vanita, Anjali Gopalan, Wendell Rodricks, Anand Grover, Nishit Saran, Riyaad Wadia – these are few names that have transformed the course of our history.
Unfortunately, in the age of new found Instagram influence – their work and the courage it offered us can’t be seen. I looked forward to it everyday to fight the criminal tag living in our own country as young out gay man.
I remember the first time someone mentioned where I could buy a novel with LGBTQ+ theme, or when a mainstream channel would air a certain film which had hushed references to our existence and these people made it possible. We must celebrate and cherish each of them.
Shai (He/They): There is one queer elder I will always look upon to, and they are Vqueeram Aditya Sahay. Like them, there are many queer elders in queer history, but it was made sure to wipe out their existence and not allow any life experiences of queer individuals to be presented as examples! As they have said in their movie, ‘for queers to take pictures at places and mark the existence, that they were there at some point of time, is wiped out from the face of the earth, it is becoming difficult to keep the reality of queer individuals intact!
Srishti Berry (She/Her): I believe that it is of utmost importance that young queer kids have hopes for their future, that they too can survive in a world of extremities and thrive in the love and acceptance that they deserve. Seeing older queer people who survived worse times, still going strong, fills my heart with joy and hope that maybe one day even I’ll get to be that person who feels safe in the company of those like me, unchanged and yet transformed.
Ritushree Panigrahi (She/Her): It means a lot someone who can guide you who can answer your unanswered questions who can help you and give you the confidence that in the middle of lots and lots of bad people there are good souls.
Q. What are the ways in which queer persons and communities can bring about the change they wish to see in a country that is inclusive and affirmative of them?
Ankita (She/They): I think advocating for the community is one way to bring about change. Facing societal stigma can feel more debilitating at times even though the law may support the community. Countering that stigma can bring about various systemic changes. Learning to be open-minded is also important. Even if people don’t accept the community, there’s no reason they should show violence towards it either. Education is also very important for this process. Being empathetic too.
Praful Baweja (He/Him): Each conversation is an opportunity for affirmative change. Each conversation can include more people. Walking the talk is a bonus. So I encourage all of us to be mindful and push boundaries of conversations and follow up actions no matter where we are. Classrooms, Bedrooms or Boardrooms can all be more inclusive and affirmative if we do it with the equal love that we queer folx stand for. Be You. Be the best version of you in thoughts, words and actions for the world to change its ways.
Shai (He/They): For me, becoming more inclusive towards the alternative genders and pronouns will be the best start. There is some hate involved towards the trans and nonbinary community within the community, and I wish if we start bringing, making a change there, we can become a more openly accepting community.
Srishti Berry (She/Her): In my opinion, queer people are already undertaking a lot of burdens like educating cis-het people about their privilege, starting discussions on uncomfortable topics, challenging the norms of masculinity and femininity etc. They are already stretching themselves thin to cover and talk about as many things about the queer experience as they can, what they need truly is support from “allies”, people who are willing to listen and reform, fight alongside the community in asking for better and just laws. Electing queer, trans and non-binary officials for governmental positions would ensure a much more nuanced vision of the kind of laws and reforms required to safeguard the interests of the queer community at large, with its vast intersections. So, the only thing they can do is keep going and continue the fight our queer elders started for us.
Ritushree Panigrahi (She/Her): Rise, Agitate and Shine. The community needs to come together and stand for each other. It is not a South Bombay Club. It’s about lives of millions of Queer people. So we need to understand together we stand divided we fall. And more importantly we need to understand the importance of intersectionality and start talking about it. without addressing it we cannot move forward. We need a movement for our rights, a united voice loud enough to shattered the glass ceilings of power corridors.