Writing about the recent suicide of a lesbian couple in Ahmedabad, Shamina Kothari says “Lesbian suicides turn the elitist narrative of queer lives on its head because most often, the women taking their own lives come from disadvantaged backgrounds.” As a closet queer Muslim, negotiating with my circumstances is so difficult that it seems impossible sometimes. As Kothari laments in her article published in the feminist e-zine, ‘The Ladies Finger’, these women should have had structures that legitimised their desires, and more visibility and celebration, the queer community could have embraced them, but alas.
I would like to echo those sentiments as we await the historic and momentous verdict against this draconian colonial law. I wish I could have been sitting in that court-room, my heart beating to the arguments being made by the counsel.
When I was growing up, lesbianism wasn’t even seen as an option, in the long years that I have been single and alone for the lack of a partner, I hadn’t viewed my women friends as potential partners, hadn’t looked with fervour on the internet or sex-chatted with lesbians. The mobilisation around the queer community which I was a part of in the two or three cities where I had lived had made me strong and affirmative about being queer, non-binary, confusingly and unwillingly asexual…But in my mental spaces there were the patriarchal fairy-tales , where you are swept away by the rich and powerful (sometimes) married men…narratives that made you think of yourself as just an object of pleasure, and you could just be well-groomed, and unable to take any initiative about your sexual situation. For the longest time I only wanted to sleep with men, powerful, rich men, artistic men, even black men…my first secular relationship with an upper-caste misogynist had already broken and taken such a hold on me that all my fantasies and sexual imaginations were hijacked. It had apoliticised and benumbed me, in this country it is hard to survive even your one progressive relationship and it takes a lot of luck to be able to love at all, forget love again; his rejection of my identity had made me hate my oppressed minority background, made me run away from it instead of teaching me to deal with it and take it head on. By my twenties, I had already succumbed.
In the aftermath of the vast knowledges that feminists have revealed by coming out and voicing their experiences of sexual harrassment and domination; I was part of many such initiatives such as Blank Noise in India and the global #metoo…
As a minority feminist I saw the ‘Hijra’, that gender defying person as a remote demi-apparition of hope, they were always an emotional succour. But I knew that they were at the fringes, repressed by the police and the law. And closer to my everyday circumstance, the threat of marital rape looms ominously as I fall under greater pressure everyday; I’m in my mid-thirties.
In 2009 after the Delhi High Court verdict decriminalising homosexuality, the queer community in Mumbai came together for a discussion at a college with activists like Ponni Arasu…I remember her saying that this wasn’t the end but the beginning. In 2013 when the Supreme Court recriminalized homosexuality, I was in Shantiniketan and my reaction to the verdict was one of resilient stoicism (It’s only going to affect men, it’s always largely about men…)
Today when that vile law is being debated again and we are so close to striking it down we have to ask ourselves as queer Indian people how we can strategise better so that this debate is opened up and so that it shakes up rigid patriarchal sexual mores. We need to learn from the struggles of the queer community everywhere and especially in the countries where it finds more acceptance than in ours.
*the title ‘Elem nutun deshe’ is appropriated from Rabindranath Tagore’s song in the play ‘Tasher Desh’ or ‘Land of Cards’