Being the Other in the Others
A look at the intersectionality in Indian Queer Community.
Nikhil Baisane | Seeking 25-40, Well-Placed, Animal Loving, Vegetarian GROOM for my SON (36, 5’11’’) who works with an NGO, Caste No Bar (Though IYER Preferred)firstname.lastname@example.org
This curious and tongue-in-cheek matrimonial ad published in Midday was lauded as a pathbreaking not just by the Indian queer community but by ‘liberal’ crowd in general. The ad was the brainchild of the mother of Harish Iyer, a celebrated queer rights activist in India. While the ad was considered to be a step forward towards queer acceptance, many failed to notice or rather conveniently chose to ignore the ostentatious casteist undertones of the ad. But the narrative changed soon when people began to call out Iyer and his mother on social media.
The above incident is just the tip of the iceberg of the casteism, religious discrimination, gender discrimination and overall bigotry present in the queer community. People living under the notion that an oppressed community like the queer community will accept every digression, every difference, with open arms are in for a rude shock. Multileveled discrimination, a reflection of the larger Indian society, is rampant in the Indian queer community as well.
Every person carries multiple identities within themselves. Some of these identities are innate (even if their implications are constructed by society) while others are imposed with force. Race is an innate identity while caste is an imposed one. However, the roots of caste run deep where they are nourished by the Indian society every moment. Thus caste, a basic social construct, has become an abject reality, an all-consuming void that refuses to fade. It is a stigma, a stain - All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. It does not matter whether you are rich or poor, man or woman or all or none, whether you are from North, South, West or East, or ultimately whether you are queer, you can never escape the entangled mess of caste. Indeed, the recent upsurge of caste-based violence in various countries proves that Indians may leave India, but they will proudly carry their bigotry wherever they go.
To no one’s surprise, caste is quite apparent in the Indian queer community as well.
One’s caste identity supersedes every other identity that they have. To no one’s surprise, caste is quite apparent in the Indian queer community as well. From Grindr profiles proudly displaying ‘schedule' caste don’t msg’ (sic) to Gay Brahmin only groups on Facebook, caste is prevalent everywhere. The idea that all queer people - to narrow it down- all cis-gendered gay men of India have the same problems and end goals is preposterous. No two individuals are alike, similarly, the Indian queer community is not a homogenised entity. Each person, each group, and each subgroup have their own problems. What homogenises the groups is the rampant casteism and other forms of bigotry - a reflection of the society at large.
Social media has served as a boon for many small-town queer people like me who look at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. as platforms where we can meet people like us, share our opinions, feelings and celebrate our identities. However, like the ‘queer movement’ in India, these Facebook groups too are dominated with cis-gendered, upper-caste, upper-class men, who continuously deny to acknowledge their privilege and refuse to pass the mic to people with different experiences. Many queer DBA (Dalit Bahujan Adivasi) people have left such groups complaining how their posts focusing on caste and other similar discriminations within the queer community are not accepted or ignored. These people are accused of diluting the queer cause by introducing caste, religion and gender into it.
To say that cis-gendered Savarna, privileged men have hijacked the Indian queer movement will not be a massive hyperbole. It is not just the DBA queer people who complain about lack of representation. Muslims and women too are ignored within the queer community. Most of these groups have little to no non-male representation. This is also seen in the cases of NGOs, pride, etc. If at all representation exists, it often subscribes to tokenism. To say that gender, caste, religion and class are diluting the queer cause is to accept that the queer identity homogenises every other identity and that all queer people face the same problems. While being queer in India is still a risk, being openly Dalit, Muslim, non-male, etc. just adds to it.
A recent short film by director Neeraj Ghaywan addresses the question of being a dalit queer woman in a brilliant way. ‘GeeliPucchi’, a short from an anthology movie ‘Ajeeb Daastaans’ by Netflix stars Konkana Sen Sharma as Bharti Mandal and Aditi Rao Hydari as Priya Sharma. Bharti, a Dalit skilled labourer is denied the position of clerk at her factory which Priya gets seemingly without doing anything. Tender love blossoms between Priya and Bharti only to shatter violently when Bharti comes out to Priya as a Dalit. While Ghaywan does not portray any explicit direct casteism but the change in Priya’s attitude and her casual casteism becomes much more apparent.
Bharti is queer. Bharti is a woman. Bharti is Dalit. Bharti is dark-skinned. Four identities are entangled with each other to create chaos. Each of these identities is interconnected, each of them has an effect on the rest. Bharti’s womanhood is ignored and she is considered to be a subhuman - neither a man nor a woman, but an animal while she is working as a skilled labourer. She has no access to sanitation, something that the manager notices only when Priya joins the factory. Bharti has little to no prospect of having a happy life with a partner as she is queer. And as she is Dalit, she is not provided with opportunities to grow, even if she is extremely well-versed with clerical tasks. It is her caste that holds her back, not her queerness. And perhaps, controversially, not even her gender. Bharti is denied most of the things in her life because she is Dalit. Her problem exacerbates due to the intermingling of her other identities.
The homogenised queer movement of India needs to be broken down, dismantled, deconstructed to make it more inclusive and intersectional. To do this, the mic needs to be snatched from the sweaty claws of the privileged and passed on to those who still don’t have a voice. Instagram pages such as ‘dalitqueerproject’ and ‘thequeermuslimproject’ have opened up this conversation, however, it needs to spread like a wildfire so that the community can rise from its ashes like a phoenix.
The author is an early-stage researcher working on Indian mythology, masculinity, queer identity and gender at IISER, Bhopal. He is a budding writer currently writing his first novel.