STRIDE WITH PRIDE

afternoon-dc

STRIDE WITH PRIDE

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The annual Queer Azaadi Mumbai Parade is back this month and Pearl Mathias tells you why you need to gear up to get drenched in the colours of the rainbow

Last year, at the eighth annual LGBT Pride March, Mumbai witnessed over 7,000 enthusiastic attendees. The Queer Azaadi Mumbai Parade, which began at August Kranti Maidan, moved to Opera House and Kennedy Bridge before returning to the maidan. The event was a huge success, generating quite a buzz among Mumbaikars. What added to the triumph was that it was attended by people who identify as queer as well as those who are often called ‘straight allies’ — people with a heterosexual orientation who support LGBTIQ rights.

Queer stands for all LGBTIQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer) individuals — a sexual minority group that is usually not accepted by Indian society. The Queer Azaadi Mumbai Parade is an expression, a voice, a celebration and a platform that asks for equal rights, which is conducted in the form of an annual Pride Parade in Mumbai. We spoke to Ankit Bhuptani, an organiser of the Pride March, to find out more about the event.

What is the aim of the Pride March this year?
The main aim of the Pride March this year is to decriminalise homosexuality in our society. We’ve aligned the theme with the popular Western concept of ‘It gets better’ by adding a little Indian touch to the phrase, saying, ‘It gets behtar’. We aim to reach out to the masses and spread the message of hope and acceptance as we hold on to the belief that our society will get better in the years to come. Through this event, the community and its allies are fighting for a cause in order to banish the negativity of non-acceptance in our society. Our existence is considered a crime and so, all we’re doing is collectively marching towards a better tomorrow.

Have you faced any opposition while planning the Pride March in recent years?
There have never been any major obstacles or opposition that has come our way while planning the event. Minute details such as delayed permission by the police force is the most common obstacle that we’ve faced. But, with persistence and patience, the permissions have come through well in time for the annual event to take off.

We’re excited about all the events lined up through the month. What would you say that our readers can’t afford to miss out on this time?
We have some brilliant events lined up for audiences. If I had to pick, I would say that you absolutely shouldn’t miss the Gulabi Mela by Yaariyan, which takes place on the 22nd in Juhu. Along with this, there’s also an exciting Poster Making session for Pride conducted by my organisation, GALVA. Kashish Forward, presented by the Kashish Arts Foundation, is another must-attend event that will take place on the 25th. And, of course, the Rainbow Voices Mumbai in Concert by RVM, which will take place on the 27th at the NCPA.

What has your experience of the Pride March been like over the years?
I’ve been part of the Pride March since 2010, and it has always been a great experience. I love the wonderful message that’s sent out through the event and I enjoy the fact that like-minded people, no matter what their orientation is, can come together and create awareness for a better tomorrow at the event.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW

  •  First held on August 16 in 2008, the Queer Azaadi March (QAM) is also referred to as the Mumbai Pride March.
  •  Since 2011, QAM has been a weeklong celebration, with festivities and events including film screenings, flash mobs, plays, meet-the-author events, drag shows, street performances and melas, along with the much awaited Queer Azaadi Mumbai Parade in different pockets of the city.
  •  Harrish Iyer, member of the organising collective group, tells us about his experience over the years, saying, “It has been growing over time. Earlier, people would attend wearing masks because they were concerned about being spotted by the media. Now, however, we have many different voices.”
  •  On December 11, 2013, the Supreme Court of India set aside the 2009 Delhi High Court judgment that decriminalised homosexuality.
    The focus of the LGBTIQ community is to prevent the progress that has been made for marginalised communities from being rolled back.
  •  “The most marginalised are bisexual people and queer women. This year, they will party in gay abandon at the official post pride party,” Harrish tells us.
  •  On the first weekend after Republic Day every year, people undertake the march as queer citizens of India, in order to ask for constitutional rights and be recognised as equal citizens of the country.
  •  “This is the second pride walk in the country to follow in Bangalore’s footsteps and take a step towards being disability friendly. Although it is not possible at all our events, we will have sign language interpreters for as many events as we can,” Harrish adds.

So, march along this month as you continue the fight for an India without discrimination.

(Link to the news article – http://www.afternoondc.in/epaper/EpaperPost.aspx?id=186134)

 

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Der berüchtigte Paragraf 377 im Kamasutra-Land

Indien, das Land der “erotischen Verse des Verlangens”, hat ein Problem mit Homosexuellen. Der aus der Kolonialzeit stammende Paragraf 377 bestraft gleichgeschlechtliche Liebe. Doch es tut sich etwas.

Von , SingapurKorrespondentin Asien
Sophie Mühlmann

Ankit Bhuptani kämpft für die Liebe. “Ich habe einen Traum”, verkündet der dünne 23-Jährige mit breitem Lächeln, “ich möchte der erste indische Mann sein, der eines Tages ganz legal seinen Liebsten heiratet!” Ankit liebt Nilesh, einen Elektroingenieur. Die beiden sind seit einem Jahr zusammen, “es ist uns sehr, sehr ernst damit”, erzählt Ankit verträumt, “wir wollen unser Leben zusammen verbringen”.

Noch klingt sein Wunsch wie ein Märchen, noch verbietet der berüchtigte Paragraf 377 des indischen Strafgesetzbuches jegliche Sexualität, die nicht der Fortpflanzung dient. Doch es gibt Hoffnung: Indiens Oberster Gerichtshof hat in diesem Monat zugestimmt, das Verbot der Homosexualität erneut bewerten zu lassen. “Nun, da das Fass noch einmal aufgemacht wird, ist alles wieder offen”, jubelt Ankit, “Wir haben alle getanzt, als wir davon erfahren haben!”

Fünf Richter sollen entscheiden

Das “Anti-Sodomie-Gesetz” ist uralt, es stammt noch aus der britischen Kolonialzeit und verbietet “fleischlichen Verkehr gegen die natürliche Ordnung”. Diese antiquierten Worte lassen willkürliche Interpretationen zu – und schüren Vorurteile. Und das ausgerechnet in einem Land, das eine lange Tradition der sexuellen Toleranz hat. Die erotischen “Verse des Verlangens” im Kamasutra sind nur ein Beispiel dafür.

Im Jahr 2009 war der Paragraf 377 schon einmal von einem Gericht in Neu-Delhi als verfassungswidrig eingestuft worden, doch im Dezember 2013 ruderten die Obersten Richter zurück und installierten 377 wieder: Homosexualität war nun wieder ein Verbrechen und theoretisch strafbar mit bis zu zehn Jahren Haft. Dagegen haben Aktivisten Berufung eingelegt. Erfolgreich: Nun soll eine Kammer aus fünf Richtern unter dem Vorsitz des Obersten Richters Indiens “wichtige verfassungsrechtliche Fragen” klären.

Einer dieser Aktivisten ist Ankit Bhuptani. Aus tiefster Überzeugung und mit vollem Einsatz. Als die Richter vor vier Jahren das Rad so brutal zurückdrehten, da wollte er nicht tatenlos zusehen. Er kündigte seinen Job, nahm all sein Erspartes und zog durch das ganze Land, um den Menschen die Verfassung zu erklären – “eine der besten Verfassungen der Welt”, meint er entschieden, denn sie garantiere Gleichheit und Freiheit und das Recht auf Privatsphäre. “All das kann uns nicht einfach von den Richtern weggeschnappt werden!”

500 Reden zum Paragrafen 377

So zog er damals los, ein ganz junger Kerl noch, dünn mit dünner Stimme, dem Gesicht eines Teenagers, aber mit dem Mut eines Staatsmanns. Er reiste durch Indiens Dörfer und Städte, er redete auf Plätzen und in der U-Bahn, in verschiedenen indischen Dialekten und auf Englisch. “Ich dachte, wenn die Leute nur im Fernsehen vom Paragrafen 377 hören, dann ist es nichts als Unterhaltung für sie. Sie müssen einen echten Menschen hören!” Über 500 Reden hat er damals gehalten, bis sein Geld ihm ausging und er sich wieder Arbeit suchen musste.

Für Ankit ist es ganz einfach: Der fromme Hindu setzt auf die Spiritualität seiner Landsleute. “Homosexualität ist kein westliches Phänomen, wie so viele hier abfällig behaupten. Es ist kein Import aus dem Ausland.” Mit seiner Organisation Galva108 versuchte er, Toleranz und Gleichheit mit indischer Mythologie zu untermauern. “Es gibt Tausende Geschichten aus unserer ureigenen Kultur: Der Hinduismus zum Beispiel spricht von der Ehe zwischen zwei Seelen. Das Geschlecht spielt dabei keine Rolle.”

Sein persönlicher höchster Gott ist Krishna. Ein gut aussehender Gott, ein Musiker und Tänzer. Krishna, meint Ankit überzeugt, ist bisexuell, “er ist sehr offen für alles. Ein Gott sollte einfach alles akzeptieren!”

“Ich wusste schon mit 13, dass ich schwul bin”

Doch die indische Gesellschaft ist davon noch weit entfernt. Das bekommt Darshil Shroff (22) oft genug am eigenen Leibe zu spüren. Darshil arbeitet in einer Großküche. In seiner Freizeit engagiert er sich bei Yaariyan, einer Initiative, die sich für junge Leute in der LGBT-Gemeinschaft starkmacht.

Der Paragraf 377, erzählt Darshil, wird überall im Land dafür missbraucht, Menschen zu erpressen oder zu tyrannisieren. “Selbst Polizisten wollen immer wieder Geld aus unsereins herausquetschen. Aber noch häufiger werden Leute wie ich damit bedroht, dass man sie an die Familie, den Arbeitgeber oder die Polizei verpfeift, wenn man nicht zahlt.”

Das fängt schon im jugendlichen Alter an: “Ich wusste schon mit 13, dass ich schwul bin”, erinnert sich Darshil. “Und meine ganze Schulzeit hindurch wurde ich verhöhnt und schikaniert. Die anderen nannten mich ‘Baila’, das ist ein weibischer Mann. Alle haben mich ausgelacht, und ich litt unter Depressionen.”

“Wenn das Gesetz tatsächlich irgendwann geändert wird”, meint Darshil Shroff, “werde ich weinen. Ich werde total zusammenbrechen und Tränen der Freude vergießen. Ich würde meine Freunde und Mitstreiter umarmen und jubeln und feiern!”

“Stigma und Vorurteile sind damals wieder schlimmer geworden”

Sonal Giani ist nicht so zuversichtlich. Die 28-Jährige ist offen bisexuell, sie lebt seit vier Jahren mit einer Frau zusammen. “Ich bin nicht allzu hoffnungsvoll”, meint sie zögerlich, “beim letzten Mal haben wir so schlechte Erfahrungen gemacht.” Und danach, erinnert sich Sonal, haben die Übergriffe zugenommen. Seit dem negativen Urteil im Dezember 2013 gab es in 14 indischen Bundesstaaten über 3800 Fälle von Erpressung und Gewalt gegenüber Angehörigen der LGBT-Gemeinschaft. Sogar Vergewaltigungen, um ihnen “die richtige Art Sex” einzubläuen. “Stigma und Vorurteile sind damals wieder schlimmer geworden. Die Obersten Richter”, meint Sonal, “müssen die Verantwortung übernehmen.”

Ganz so skeptisch sieht Pallav Patankar die Zukunft nicht. Der 41-Jährige ist Direktor der Nichtregierungsorganisation Humsafar Trust, die sich ebenfalls für die Rechte der LGBT-Gemeinschaft einsetzt. Dass die Debatte nun neu entfacht wird, sei erst einmal eine wunderbare Sache. “Im Moment kann einfach noch niemand sagen, wohin das führt.”

Der Paragraf ist enorm wichtig, meint Pallav Patankar. “Es geht nicht nur um das Recht auf eine besondere Art von Sex, da hängt noch viel mehr dran: 377 betrifft das komplette produktive Leben einer Person, von der Bildung über legale Absicherung bis hin zu Erbschaftsrechten.”

“Doch das ist heuchlerisch!”

Immerhin gibt es inzwischen Foren und Hilfsgruppen und einen offenen Diskurs – das war früher nicht so, erinnert sich Pallav: “Schwul zu sein und Inder dazu, das war früher undenkbar.” Von einem Mann wird aber nach wie vor erwartet, dass er heiratet und Kinder bekommt, um dann für seine Eltern sorgen zu können. Diese soziale Pflicht ist immer noch ein Problem. Viele Homosexuelle haben geheiratet, um Nachwuchs zu produzieren und ihre Eltern nicht zu enttäuschen.

“Ich habe selbst einen langen Kampf mit meiner Mutter ausgefochten, weil ich mir keine Frau nehmen wollte.” Sie war der Ansicht, Pallav sollte bloß für sich behalten, dass er schwul ist, einfach so tun, als ob, und eine Familie gründen, wie alle es von einem Kerl erwarten. “Doch das ist heuchlerisch! Ich habe sie gefragt, wie es ihr wohl gefallen hätte, wenn Papa eigentlich Männer geliebt hätte. Heute hat sie es akzeptiert. Sie ist sogar stolz auf mich, dass ich zu dem stehe, was und wer ich bin.”

Zwei Männer, die sich sinnlich winden

Einige Stolpersteine gab es schon auf dem Weg, gibt Pallav zu. “Als ich ihr erzählte, dass ich mit Männern intim bin, war sie total schockiert. Sie hätte nie gedacht, dass das überhaupt möglich ist.”

Keine Geheimnisse mehr, das wünschen sie sich alle: Ankit und Sonal, Darshil und Pallav. “Wenn wir ‘out’ sind, erklärt Sonal, dann sind wir auch weniger verletzlich. Dann kann man uns nicht mehr erpressen.”

Vor Kurzem hat sie mit den anderen Aktivisten von Yaariyan in Mumbai einen Flashmob organisiert: harte Rhythmen, schwingende Hüften, mitreißende Bollywoodmusik mitten auf einer belebten Straße. In der Mitte zwei Männer, die sich sinnlich umeinanderwinden im Takt der Musik. Am Ende eine Regenbogenflagge und der skandierte Rap: “I am gay, that’s ok!” – “Ich bin schwul, und das ist in Ordnung!”

Link to the article – http://www.welt.de/vermischtes/article152723691/Der-beruechtigte-Paragraf-377-im-Kamasutra-Land.html

“Religions Can Be Anti-Sex, For Sex, Or Neutral About Sex, But Not Detached From It.”

Meet a devotee of Krishna and the founder of the Gay and Lesbian Vaishnav Association.

Ankit Bhuptani is in Vrindavan on a pilgrimage to places where the god Krishna is said to have once lived. On the phone from his hotel room, he tells me excitedly that he’s visited various places – Mathura, where Krishna was born, Gokul, where Krishna’s adoptive parents Nanda and Yashoda are said to have lived, where Krishna proposed to and married Radha, and the place where Krishna made off with bathing gopis’ clothes – and had an altogether amazing day. As a devotee of Krishna and the founder of the Gay and Lesbian Vaishnav Association in Mumbai, (the Indian chapter of GALVA started by American ISKCON devotee Amara Das Wilhelm), he’s thrilled to be here.

Bhuptani is only 24 and kicked off GALVA Mumbai when he was 21. GALVA and he believe that Hinduism is essentially queer friendly – that being gay and being Hindu are not contradictory identities – and rally both myth and scripture to promote LGBT rights. GALVA Mumbai’s Facebook page is as likely to carry a picture of the diety Shreenathji from Naman Haveli, Kandivali as it is to carry photos from Pride or articles quoting queer lives in the Gita.

Ankit Bhuptani lecturing on acceptance for all Inline iMage 1Ankit Bhuptani lecturing on acceptance for all

Bhuptani himself is a slender young man with a childlike face accentuated by public appearances in dhoti-kurta and a naamah on his forehead, and at the moment he’s celebrating the Supreme Court recent decision to re-open Section 377 for examination.

“Some people believe that acceptance of homosexuality must come through law – I am one of these people. I believe 377 must go. It takes away my fundamental right to be who I am,” he says. In a video for an LGBTQ web series, he talks in shuddh schoolteacher Hindi about his day of ‘coming out’ in public when the decision to repeal 377 was reversed (except the word he uses for homosexuality – ‘samlaingiktha’ – is one you likely never learned in school).

On the Mumbai metro, speaking to commuters about Section 377 On the Mumbai metro, speaking to commuters about Section 377

On December 11, 2013, the Supreme Court upheld 377. Devastated, he left the Hamsafar Trust office in Mumbai, where he had spent the day, with a sheaf of press releases in his bag about why the decision was unfair. When he got on the train home at Kurla station, suddenly he pulled out the pamphlets from his bag “like a salesman” and began to tell people that he was gay, and the Apex Court’s decision took away his rights. He doesn’t know how that moment happened, but it did. And he hopes his being open about his sexuality will mean that people talk about homosexuality more often. He now works as resource mobilization and communication officer at VIDYA, an NGO that works towards educating children in Mumbai’s slums.

But changing the law doesn’t automatically mean that society will change, Bhuptani says. Which is where GALVA Mumbai comes in. “Religion is an important part of society. We talk openly about homosexuality and show proof of it in the Hindu scriptures. And show that we are liberal and open minded, and there is no place for homophobia in Hinduism.”

Activities at GALVA include workshops, picnics, sleepovers and monthly meetings to discuss scripture, sexuality and spirituality. The meetings, usually around 15 people and held at a member’s house, can also involve talking about politics and current affairs that pertain to gay rights, serve as a support system for LGBTQ people, and typically end with distribution of prasad and dinner.

Members of GALVA at an event organised to make posters ahead of Mumbai Pride Members of GALVA at an event organised to make posters ahead of Mumbai Pride

Galva also tries to lobby for acceptance with other Hindu organisations, with mixed results. “There are homophobes who reject us outright, there are those who believe in dialogue and discussion but never move on from dialogue and discussion, and there is a significant chunk of people who are accepting of us,” he says. “Connecting sexuality and spirituality is quite alien to many spiritual gurus. It takes time, it is a slow process. And I am glad that I am an instrument in this process.”

GALVA Mumbai is also open to non-Vaishnavs, says Bhuptani; it is open to people of any religion “who seek something higher in life beyond physicality”, and is “hetero-friendly” too. He’s happy to report that since GALVA began, a gay Catholic group has been set up too. “It’s great to see that people are seeing that there can be a group of gay Muslims, gay Vaishnavs, etc. The goal is to make homosexuality a normal, day-to-day subject.”

Bhuptani believes religion and sexuality are closely connected. “Religions can be anti-sex, for sex, or neutral about sex, but no religion can be completely detached from it. From my study of Hinduism, I understand that it is an open-minded, liberal religion, for the very reason that Kama – sex or desire – is considered one of the levels of life. We have someone who’s written a very big book on sexual pleasure and sexual positions and how it is connected to yoga and spirituality for spiritual upliftment – Vatsyayan’s Kamasutra – which is not treated as a vulgar book. Hinduism had no phobia of homosexuality. It all started when other religions started coming to India. They cannot accept that divinity can take birth through sex, hence it must be through virgin birth. In Hinduism we’ve never had a problem with sex. There are scriptures that have very intimate portraits of Krishna and Radha, still available, still studied. There’s no chee-chaa about it.”

Bhuptani at Pune Pride 2015 Bhuptani at Pune Pride 2015

He says there are nine types of Hindu marriage rituals – only one or two types mention gender in their shlokas. Otherwise it’s conducted as a union between souls. “Homosexual marriage is entirely possible within this,” he believes.

His family is Vaishnav, and his parents are not very religious. But Krishna was a figure that always attracted him. “Krishna, the word itself – a variant of karsh or aakarsh – means attraction. I started studying different scriptures, books, attended talks. And the more I knew him, I started falling in love with him. It was natural for me to fall in love with Krishna when I was around 13. And I used to stay at my maami’s house in Rajkot for a month or two every year during vacations. I’d read something, and explain what I’d read to the others. They used to like the way I explained things about spirituality or current affairs. At 14 or 15, more people started coming, including neighbours, and the audience strength grew to about 20-odd people every day, and onwards from there. Giving talks became easy.”

Bhuptani and his partner at Mumbai Pride in February 2016 Bhuptani and his partner at Mumbai Pride in February 2016

This Valentine’s Day, Bhuptani bought a pair of identical t-shirts for his boyfriend and himself. “We couldn’t spend the whole day together because it was his sister’s birthday, but we had lunch and went to see a film,” he says. Bhuptani met his current boyfriend on the gay dating site Planet Romeo. What first attracted him to this man, he says, was that he was an atheist. “I didn’t want somebody who’d say yes to everything I believed in for no good reason. I like intellectual exercises.”

But Bhuptani’s boyfriend of a year isn’t just an atheist – he’s from a Dalit Buddhist family, is a fierce Ambedkarite, and doesn’t like Gandhi. “I mean I love, love, love Gandhiji but he hates him with a capital H,” says Bhuptani. “We have lots of fights,” he giggles, “especially about religion. But at the same time he has come to temples with me – he’d never been to temple in his life before that, but he came because of me, and that’s so wonderful. We have fights, but they’re intellectual ones.”

In his free time, Bhuptani says, he likes to listen to ghazals, classical music, slow English music, and read philosophy. “Right now I’m reading Osho,” he says. He has a deep interest in politics and current affairs, and likes to stay abreast of the news, listen to intellectual debates and talks. “I like to watch the Newshour on Times Now. Arnab Goswami is a good friend. I’ve given several interviews in the media, which is how I know a few journalists.”

On his current trip to Vrindavan via Delhi, he had for fellow traveller Shekhar Gupta, veteran journalist and former editor-in-chief of The Indian Express. A prompt selfie with Gupta was shared on his Facebook page.

Bhuptani hopes fervently that the Supreme Court will decriminalise homosexuality. “Our expectations for a positive judgement are really high,” he says. And if there isn’t a positive judgement, “we’ll have to start again from scratch. But there’s really no going back. All the people who have come out since homosexuality was decriminalised cannot go back into the closet.”

In any case, he says, GALVA’s activities, including organising gay marriages (they’ve organised four so far), will continue. A decade from now, Bhuptani hopes that GALVA will have collaborations with religious and spiritual groups like the Ishwar Foundation and Art of Living, continuing to normalise the idea of homosexuality among Hindus.

And as for marriage? It’s early days yet for the 24-year-old, but he know it’s something he wants very deeply for himself. “I want to be the first Indian to be married legally in India,” he says. And he’s doing everything in his power to make that happen.

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101india.com

 

By Naveen Malik

Link to the article – https://www.101india.com/people/religions-can-be-anti-sex-sex-or-neutral-about-sex-not-detached-it

Queer Ink – India’s first unconventional bookstore

Queer Ink is India’s first unconventional bookstore. It’s an online platform where people can find material that helps them to be empowered. Sounds wooly so I’ll just say it’s a story about entrepreneurship, business, activism, literature, love, and… India!

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There is no sign outside. Inside, it almost looks like an attic. The office is tiny, in the middle of a huge shopping area of Andheri, lost in the middle of the buzzing fourth world city, Mumbai.

Behind a bunch of people typing frantically on their laptops, smiling at each other, and sticking cute stickers on the walls, there is a bookcase full of books entitled Gay BombayLesbianism in Kolkata, and even Kumari loves a monster.

They sell books. That’s what they do in here. Not just any books: they sell what they call “non-mainstream” books.

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The woman behind the books

“My company is called Queer Ink and Queer refers to anything that is odd or strange. Queer is also an umbrella term for alternative sexualities.” Shobhna Kumar, the founder of the publishing house and online bookstore sums up in an interview to the Indian newspaper the Hindu in 2011.

Behind the India’s first online unconventional bookstore, there is Shobhna’s ankle.

In 2009 Kumar broke her ankle. “I was laid up in bed for about three months and naturally I wanted books, so my partner went to buy books from the retail store but you know, it was just not what I wanted! Then we tried to buy these books from Amazon, but they would not ship books to India because there is a law that says that you can’t export anything that affects the ‘dignity of the Indian culture.’ There is this customs law that prohibits books like this. Amazon would not deliver here at that stage.”

“That’s how we got this idea of ‘let’s start an e-commerce platform that will be available to anybody as compared to just a bookstore somewhere.’ At that time, this was 2009 and with the Shiv Sena (1) things were a bit tense, for anything violence was the answer, vandalism was the answer. That’s why we went online. It meant that people could access this website wherever they were, in a safe place.”

A year later, Queer Ink was born.

Shobhna Kumar and her partner invested twenty lakhs (2) in the company. They did not expect profit for the first eighteen months. In third year, Queer Ink broke even. After four years, it became profitable. So the venture is about making money. But not only. For Shobhna, it’s all about “raising awareness, and empowering people.” She sees books as tools.
“I grew up in Fiji, where the Indians were the second-class citizens,” Kumar explains. “Being from an Indian family it meant I was a second-class citizen. I inherently understood the injustice of it: books helped me escape and taught me that things can be made differently. The knowledge I got from books is what makes me stand up now.”

Kumar remembers understanding that the social situation in Fiji had to do with ignorance, and that only books could teach us that no matter what people around would say, it was OK to be different.

The South Pacific islands became independent in 1970. A few years later the Kumars left for Australia and settled in Sydney. In total, Shobhna lived for a while in four different countries.

The Queer Ink founder is in her late 40s but it sounds like she already had several lives. From studying in San Francisco, to being a social worker in Australia, she has been looking for “spiritual perspective” in a bunch of very different places.

Thirteen years ago she met her partner online. Both were “Indians from abroad,” Kumar holding an Australian passport and her girlfriend being American.

In 2001, Shobhna lived in California. “At that time I got to know other women through Yahoo groups.” On July 9th she started to chat with a woman based in Bombay.

Two months later, Shobhna was supposed to go back in Australia. On her way back she decided to stop by India.

She met her online lover at the airport for the first time, and … she never left the country.

“Our life is based on a very western perspective but we both love living in India.”

“For me it’s been right time and the right space because everything has been accidental. From the non-profit sector to jumping in to getting a bookstore together because I did not have enough books to read on the topics I wanted to become a publisher, it’s all been accidental for me,” she explains.

In a way, it’s almost a love story that brought this book lover to become a publisher! But let’s cut the corny Bollywood-toned romance, and take a few steps back…

From social worker to publisher

In India, Kumar did consultancy work for several NGOs across the country. She worked in the area of HIV-AIDS awareness and prevention, she managed Anand Grover’s lawyers collective (3) for a year. She was also involved in the LGBTI (4) community in India. She calls herself a “facilitator” of “processes that are now very visible and part of the mainstream queer events.”

The more she would listen to the community, the more she would realize that there was a true lack of information, that would lead to misconception, misunderstandings… “People would know that some books would exist about LGBT, but they could not access them,” Kumar explains.

First, there were very few books in India that would talk about anything related to gender or sexuality –less than a hundred, recalls Kumar. Then, buying those books from retail stores was not that easy. It was often considered as “porn,” therefore it would either not be distributed, or people would be afraid of being judged when they bought them.

Lastly, because of customs restrictions as previously mentioned, it was not really possible to explore that road.

But Shobhna Kumar was sure of one thing: “people were craving for non-mainstream books.” The day Queer Ink went online; it also got its first order that Kumar delivered in person.

From small venture to business success

The publishing market in India is one of the most lucrative in the world. In fact, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry stated that India is counted among the top seven publishing nations in the world. India ranks third after the US and the UK in English language publishing, with an estimated market of 10,000 crore rupees (5).

But these stats have to be handled with kid gloves. In 2007, India also had one of the largest numbers of illiterate citizens in the world according to the Human Development Index, put together by the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme in India).

The census of India in 2011 stated that all over the country 74.04 percent of individuals who were seven and above could read and write –the average figure worldwide is above 80 percent, according to UNESCO.

Paradoxically, almost ten years ago, the NOP World Culture Score index released a study conducted over 30,000 people worldwide. India was the biggest reading nation, with an average ten hours and 42 minutes of reading a week.

1.4 million people visit the New Delhi World Book Fair every year.

There is a significant jump in the size of the national publishing industry, as international publishing houses settle in the country, including Hachette in 2008, Simon & Schuster in 2011, and Bloomsbury in 2012.

This is all well and good but how can Queer Ink survive surrounded by those big-name companies?

Towards an Indian movida?

It seems that Shobhna Kumar didn’t really care: she felt that no one had been doing what she was doing, namely providing India with its own counter culture – a big undertaking!

Nilanjana Roy, a well-known Indian journalist, columnist for Business Insider and recognised literary critic, saw it coming, proving Kumar’s intuition right.

“There’s a growing appetite for all kinds of independent work: from documentaries to theatre to books on caste/gender etc. The clash between what the mainstream culture wants and what the counterculture has been demanding has rarely been this strong,” Roy explains.

At first, Kumar stocked titles that she defined as “not the norm.” Queer Ink used to have a collection of books for children that one would not find in the usual retail stores for instance.

“When you look at children books you only used to get average Lewis Carroll books and this kind of things, but here there are several publishers that promote children books that have girls as very empowered figures for instance. I wanted to sell those innovative books.”

“When I started the bookstore I started listing all that but now I don’t do that anymore because what have happened is that India is not ready… I dropped the line in 2011. I was getting too many emails, comments about it’s not right…”

Today might be a good moment to rethink this strategy.

Karishma Attari, founder of the Super Readers Club, a reading club for children up to the age of twelve, works with children every day. She makes them read and discuss what they have been reading.

For her, there are a lot of confusing issues that are not addressed by the current children literature. Recently she read The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry with children aged eight to twelve years old. The book ends in a bleak but charming landscape.

“After discussing this, I asked each child to sketch out his/her version of the loveliest and saddest landscape in all the world. Not a single child in the group of eight children wanted to. They refused to confront sadness.” They did it eventually, but Attari had to convince them.

“Even the parents were alarmed at first that I asked their children to process sadness. But that is the kind of literature children can grow with!” she says.

“There is a need for unconventional books for children because children don’t fit into standard shapes and sizes to begin with. On the other hand they are routinely taught that they must, whether its at school or at a birthday party where girls go as princesses and boys go as Spiderman.”

“For instance, I had an eight year old at Super Readers Club today who went on about how ‘non vegetarians eat babies, and eat meat, and are disgusting people but how can we stop them?’ He is reflecting cultural values that must be rampant at home. If he were to read a book about the many tastes of a multicultural world it might get him to think differently. But parents often trap their children in binary structuralist understanding of the world – black and white, worthy and unworthy, vegetarian and non-vegetarian.”

There is a similar need in LGBT literature. Today Queer Ink is not importing books any more, mainly because it’s not what customers are asking for: “The demand is more and more for India-based content on queer issues. There are simply not enough books!” Kumar says.

Are books the most efficient weapons?

Sridhar Rangayan has a life-long expertise in cinema and activism. He has been part of a lot of projects related to the LGBTQ community in India, and five years ago started the KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival. This year’s edition gathered almost 2,000 people and screened movies from 31 countries. To him, books and movies are key-elements in changing mentalities.

“I can’t stress enough how important are films and books in catalyzing change in mindsets,” Rangayan explains. “These cultural mediums are fluid, they can reach out to masses more easily, and they can be accessed by more than one person. They also offer a starting point for initiating dialogues. Films and books can be both personal and public – I mean I could see a film, read a book to immerse into it, indulge my own emotions, validate my own existence; but they can also be used a public tools to sensitise, impact and urge people to understand us better.”

Shobhna Kumar strongly refuses to be labelled as an activist. But she would say that Queer Ink is a “form of activism.”

“Queer Ink is a very very new concept in India and it takes people a while to get used to it and know what to do with it,” she explains. “These last four years were about pushing for getting it established getting known out there… Now we are working on a new website for Queer Ink and that’s really a new big step.“

That is where Shobhna Kumar has a very interesting way of dealing with activism, spreading new ideas, and working on changing people’s mindsets. That’s where she is innovative. The new website will be significantly more collaborative with a whole section called “citizen café” and another that will be dedicated to documenting queer culture in India.

“I don’t feel like an activist, but the work would be described as activism because it is putting material out there for a community.” Queer Ink’s side projects are a big part of this new activism she’s defining.

“One of the things I like doing as part of Queer Ink is collaborating with agencies. We collaborated with an organisation called “We the people,” which works on the Constitution of India. On our new website we’ll include that as part of our work, saying that every person, forget LGBT, forget queer, whatever, who is an Indian citizen has certain mandated freedoms and rights and responsibilities as per the Indian constitution. I have a very clear mandating Queer Ink that the Indian Constitution was where I will base our empowerment process.”

“Instead of saying that section 377 is wrong, I will say that the constitution gives us this right.”

“It’s about saying: you have to read this, to understand this, and claim your rights. Rights and your freedom are not to be given. It’s about claiming what you have.”

“Every part of the constitution will be defined for an Indian citizen, how you chose to deal with that, and your identity is up to you.”

Dodging bullets

Another area where Queer Ink has had to innovative is when publishing something could be controversial. In 2009, the same year Shobhna Kumar broke her ankle, the High Court of Delhi declared as unconstitutional section 377 of the Indian penal code, and decriminalize sexual activities “against the order of nature” – which referred to homosexual acts.

But last December, the Supreme Court of India overturned that judgment.

The LGBT movement was in shock but decided to fight back. Sridhar Rangayan explains it this way: “only same-sex sexual activity is criminalised, not being gay/lesbian or public gathering or holding LGBT related events. The legal experts have clearly spelt it out. While there could be some obstacles, our wings cannot be clipped. We are soaring and there is no going back.”

But then, in this already tense context, a new government came to power after the biggest elections ever held in a democratic country last spring. The elected prime minister, Narendra Modi, is known to be conservative. This could be serious cause for concern for a venture like Queer Ink that claims to go against the norm.

Nilanjana Roy sees a strong connection between what is happening in the book market and on the political stage. According to her, it dates from a couple of decades before the new government came into power. She predicts a potential counter culture literature, and goes even further, referring to dissidents fighting against censorship in the Soviet Union.

“We’ve seen some decades worth of creative chill in India, and unless the new regime works deliberately to change/scrap the offence laws, the corporate defamation laws and the Internet laws, writers will continue to work in a hostile environment.”

“The battles over competing histories and over the freedom of religious inquiry are likely to intensify; nor is it at all easy for writers to speak freely about sex, love, desire and relationships given present levels of intolerance.”

“Publishers and writers cannot flourish in the present climate of repression. But I can’t see this country holding its collective tongue for much longer, and you should start to see the rise of a kind of samizdat creativity soon enough.“

When asked about this situation, Queer Ink’s founder answers that she made a strategic decision. “What I worry about is books, print books it’ll go on a bookstore and it will be vandalised or the books will be banned, and that I don’t want. So we’ve decided we will not print any books, we’ll only make them available on ebooks. For the rest of this year, all our publications will be as ebooks. “ According to her, it helps Queer Ink not to be targeted.

“Printed books become currencies for anybody and anybody to say everything they want. But then with ebooks: it’s there one day, the other day it’s gone… The reader will take what they want of it or return it, and if they want to argue with me then they’ll have to go to my website and see where my office is or send me a nasty email, so again I’m not putting myself in a physically unsafe place, or anybody I work with which is very important for me.”

“People can know that I’m the source, they can send me a legal notice, but they won’t hurt people, or vandalise.”

It is perplexing, but as much as Kumar thinks that going digital is protecting her and her company by keeping her away from conservatives, she also thinks that ebooks are helping Queer Ink to have a way deeper connection with its readership. “Ebooks are about accessibility. It is larger through ebooks. Ebooks also help me to have a one-to-one connection with readers: it goes this way: Queer Ink to readers, instead of Queer Ink to retail stores to readers. The impact is huge.”

It might be one of the reasons why Queer Ink is such a phenomenon.

As a literary critic and former literary blogger, Nilanjana Roy has an expertise on publishing houses’ strategies in India.

“I’m not surprised that Queer Ink is turning a profit: they know their readers better than most Indian publishers. Also, they treat their readers as a community, and their readers tend to be actively engaged; it’s very different from trade publishers, who treat their readers as a (passive) market” Roy believes.

Legacy versus impact

Queer Ink is definitely fascinating, From the fact that Shobhna Kumar did not plan on settling in India and has been in Mumbai for more than a decade, become a media phenomenon and a role model to the country’s whole lesbian community , to the business venture of a publishing house in one of the most populated nations in the world that is slowly acknowledging the need for a counterculture: it could actually make a pretty good story for a book.

It took one year for Queer Ink to publish its first book, three years to be profitable. Today Shobhna Kumar says she hopes to reach millions of new readers in the next three years. She sells books to American universities interested in knowing more about the queer culture in India. She targets Indians that are based overseas. She works with historians and academics to develop a whole new literary movement.

Queer Ink’s success and history is not an exception. Although it is not clear whether the Andheri-based publishing house set an example, it seems that it was part of something bigger in the Indian publishing industry. Other publishing houses are starting to work on LGBT-inspired content.

Alchemy publishers, another innovative bookstore in Kolkata, recently published Love and Death in the Middle Kingdom by Nalini Rajan. The historical fiction is based on a homosexual relationship set in 16th century. It was very well received in the market.

Whether or not Queer Ink has inspired this movement, Kumar is keen to stress that her priority is on driving forward her own agenda.

“I’m not concerned about legacy or creating an empire,” she explains. “What is important to me is to empower the youngsters to live a life they choose to live. And that’s all I want to achieve from Queer Ink itself apart from making money.”

Ankit Bhuptani is one of these youngsters. A gay rights activist, mythologist and writer, Bhuptani is a very visible face of the Indian LGBT movement’s new generation. He buys most of his birthday presents on Queer Ink and considers the website as a great platform that also faces challenges.

“What Shobhna has done is inspiring. Books can change people’s mindsets. They can be shared. Opinions can reach further than one may even imagine.”

“Of course there are limits. Only five to six percent of people in India actually understand English properly. And how many can access an ebook? Their books are made for the “metros” (6) audience. They do publish stories in regional languages but it’s limited. It is a profitable business model and it has a monopoly.”

“Nonetheless, what has to be highlighted is that Queer Ink already started to change people’s lives.”

Shobhna’s dearest wish has already come true. Not bad for a self-taught publisher.

(1) The Shiv Sena is a political organization founded in India in 1966. It is known as a Hindu nationalist and conservative structure.

(2) 20 lakhs: 2 million rupees, or EUR 24,649.

(3) Anand Grover’ Lawyers Collective Grover: this lawyer collective led legal cases in favor of the LGBT community in India.

(4) LGBTI: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender/Transexual and Intersexed.

(5) 10,000 crores rupees: 10,000 x 10 million rupees. EUR 1.231 billion.

(6) Metros: Biggest cities in India.

Noé Garel is a journalist who often loudly wonders “where is my mind?” – no reference to the Pixies intended. Noe’s role model is Will McAvoy. Noé is also a strong supporter of the French national football team, not only during the World Cup, and enjoys being in India, not only to watch the games.

Courtesy – Unmapped (Link – http://goo.gl/D9SWEm)

A Open Letter to Supreme Court of India

SUPREME_COURT_201209
Dear Supreme Court of India,
Today is 2nd July. may be just an another day for you. But its special for millions. Exactly 5 years before, in the year 2009, Hon’ble Delhi High Court given the verdict in a bench comprising Chief Justice Ajit Prakash Shah and Justice S. Muralidhar which resulted in the decriminalisation of homosexual acts involving consenting adults, throughout India. It was not just about Sex, But it was much much more then it. It had given back the fundamental Human rights to millions like me which was promised to us by constitution. We are very much part of so called ‘Cultural Society’ since thousands and thousands of years. Oh wait, May you will not believe me, please refer to any scriptures you want to or any old temple walls, you will find us. Delhi High court had given the acceptance of our existence. It was very brave step. and all who believed in Equality and Human Rights had appreciated it around the Glob. 
 
But then it was changed by few homphobs in you. They said, We are unnatural. criminals. and many other arguments which humiliated us. But we had all trust in wisdom of you. We hoped that you will give a judgment which will add more values to constitutional rights promised to every citizen of India. But unfortunately on 11th of December 2013 you gave your judgment which criminalised us again. You missed the chance of adding few more colours to constitutional rights. With all due respect to you, I hope that you will give more importance to human feelings then technicality. 
 
Today, I am sharing with you one episode of one TV show which may make you understand what we all have to go throw everyday on ground. 
and after this, if you think we will keep silent. No ways. I will speak out, shout, and fight for my rights. We reject to go back in time before 2009. Its time to go ahead. 
 
With Respect
Ankit Bhuptani 
A Gay Indian 

 

Plan Of Action for NO GOING BACK in Mumbai on 2nd July 2014

Fifth anniversary of the Delhi High Court Judgement

No-Going-Back

The plan:
Meet at Ghatkopar station at around 2:30 pm wearing the NO GOING BACK T shirts (or black t-shirts with “No Going Back” stickers that have been made).
Take a metro from Ghatkopar at around 3 pm to Versova. From Versova get out and come back again to Andheri station.
Leaflet at Andheri station from around 4:30 pm to 5:15 pm.
Leave from there to Churchgate annd leaflet there from 6:15 pm

The leaflet:

HUM AZAADIYON KE HAQ MEIN

377 se azaadi!
Homophobia se azaadi, Transphobia se azaadi!
Khaap se azaadi, Baap se azaadi!
“Parivar” ki jakad se azaadi,
Moral policing se azaadi!
Mang rahi poori abaadi, Azaadi! Azaadi!

No democracy can claim to be one, unless freedom of speech and expression are guaranteed. One of the primary responsibilities of any State, any government, is to ensure that the rights and freedoms of its people are protected, especially those of all minorities. We must all be allowed to exercise our choice of sexuality and gender, or simply our right to have an opinion that differs from what is expected of us and enforced on us. We should be able to meet, share, write and sing about all these things, without fear of a violent crackdown by the authorities.

Why have we chosen to talk about this today?

We celebrated the progressive Delhi High Court judgement on 2nd July 2009, which read down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that was used to criminalise and harrass adult individuals for their sexual orientation and choices. In upholding the rights of people to be who they are, this judgement strengthened the differences and diversities that mark a mature democracy. On 11th Dec 2013 the Supreme Court reversed this historic judgement. All democratic-minded citizens have been fighting against the SC verdict, saying NO GOING BACK!

In fact, despite “achchhe din” having arrived, we are forced to say NO GOING BACK! on many more freedoms and rights.

NO GOING BACK! on subsidies
NO GOING BACK! on train ticket fares
NO GOING BACK! on the rights of farmers and fisherfolk, landless, homeless and wage labourers
NO GOING BACK! on social security schemes like NREGA, Pensions and Food Security
NO GOING BACK! on the struggles of rights-based groups and activists
NO GOING BACK! on corporate accountability

And it does not end here!

Dalits, adivasis, the working classes, women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer persons (LGBTQ) are increasingly being attacked, raids in Muslim areas have increased.

We don’t want any more Mohsin Shaikhs, we don’t want arrest of people for writing what they think on Facebook or anywhere else. We don’t want moral policing, censorship and goonda raj.

front

NO GOING BACK! on the Right To Dissent.
NO GOING BACK! on freedom and safety for all minorities.
NO GOING BACK! on justice – everyone is equal before the law.
NO GOING BACK! on the Constitution

On this day, the 2nd of July, we have come out as we do each year to reclaim spaces and speak of what’s fundamentally ours – freedoms, rights, equality and justice. And it is No More enough to speak of LGBTQ rights alone – we are speaking with, of and for all whose voices are silenced, and whose basic constitutional rights and freedoms are denied to them. And so we urge you to join us and spread this message:

Let’s step out of our privileges and prejudices today
And shake the apathetic state with all we have to say

NO GOING BACK! on rights fought for and won
NO GOING BACK! on our freedom of expression
NO GOING BACK! on 377 or the rest – NO GOING BACK! after coming all this way!

(Courtesy – No Going Back 377 E-list)

Creation of a new Phobia is not solution of Homophobia

Since result of Lok Sabha Election 2014 is out, I am seeing so much of fear and hate, harsh talks and post for our PM Mr. Narendra Modi. So thought I should share my thoughts on this.

As we all know  the Indian queer community is very large in Numbers and by seeing the Result we can also know that many of them have voted for Modi. By questioning Modi we are also questioning votes of majority of Indians which also includes many queer individuals. We are also questioning faith of millions in democracy of this country. When we say BJP is against Gay rights, let’s ask the question to our self first, what have we done to make BJP understand about Gay rights ? What are our efforts of lobbying with them ?

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Forget Modi and BJP for a while and think even if Hitler become PM of country like Indian in 21st century, can he repeat the things which he did ? The honest answer is NO. It will be very difficult for BJP to just avoid the subject of Gay Rights any more. Its demand of time. And no one can reject it. Yes, its subject to our efforts. I would like to do something in real than just crying online and spreading hate and fear for government and Prime Minister of my country.

During this Lok Sabha Election I was openly supporting Modi. And was posting about it on my social media. Due to that many people of my own community unfriended or blocked me. Its a bit hurting for me, not because they left, its good that I know who are real friends but its hurting because the queer community whichalways demands to be accepted by the society just the way they are, not able to accept their own community people who have a difference in opinion and are vocal about it. We are the one who preach about non being judgmental for the people who are different but not able to practice it.

Anyways, I feel rather than spreading fear and hate for the government and prime minister of out country, let’s we try to lobby with them and make them understand. Let’s reach out to the public in masse and make them understand about our issues, discrimination and try  exert pressure on ruling authorities to give our rights rather then making people afraid about it. Creating phobia for government can not fight with Homophobia.

Its high time for community to do something, take some steps to educate society and bring change, and for doing this work So Called Gay Rights Activists like Me should be First in queue.

– Ankit Bhuptani