'€˜Invite politicians to Kashish fest'

There’s hope on a slender rope, says gay community, at volatile panel discussion

The Liberty theatre in Marine Lines, is one of the three venues of the ongoing Kashish Film Festival, a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) fest, on till Sunday, May 29.

(l-r) Parmesh Shahani (panel moderator), Harish Iyer, Udayan Dhar, Vandana Shah, Chitra Batham and Sonal Giani discuss Section 377 and the way ahead at the Kashish film festival. PIC/DATTA KUMBHAR
(l-r) Parmesh Shahani (panel moderator), Harish Iyer, Udayan Dhar, Vandana Shah, Chitra Batham and Sonal Giani discuss Section 377 and the way ahead at the Kashish film festival. PIC/DATTA KUMBHAR

Kashish has been growing in stature, through these years, and now, we see new facets to the film fest, adding another dimension to the LGBT showcase. This year, panel discussions that are usually a sideshow to the film screenings, have been given much more importance, making this a mix of advocacy with entertainment.

Festival director Sridhar Rangayan, in his introduction to the panel discussion yesterday evening, which focused on, ‘Section 377: The Way Ahead’ said as much stating at the onset, “Discussions of Kashish are no longer side stage, we are including advocacy along with entertainment in the main events of Kashish.” Section 377, of the Indian Penal Code, criminalises consensual sex between same sex adults.

Equal rights activist Harish Iyer, Udayan Dhar, editor-in-chief of the LGBT magazine, Pink Pages, divorce lawyer Vandana Shah, Chitra Batham from the Congress party and Sonal Giani who worked for six years in advocacy with the NGO Humsafar Trust that works for LGBT people were on the panel moderated by Godrej India Culture Lab, head Parmesh Shahani.

The discussion began with Shahani saying that the community is vocal after an unfortunate judgment. He asked Iyer and Giani about their feelings on the upcoming Supreme Court judgment on Section 377 which will be heard in July. Both expressed hope mixed with scepticism.

Giani said, “There is not much hope from the politicians but we need social change. Constitutionally, we have a strong case but I am not sure of the timeline, since there is homophobia amongst judges.”

Iyer added, “USA may allow gay marriages but there are still homophobic people in the USA. Where there is love, there is hate. We have been pushed to a point where there is no choice but to be hopeful.”

Since the community felt politically let down, Batham was drawn into the discussion. She said, “Shashi Tharoor has been fighting for the LGBT community and the Congress party has been supportive.” To this Iyer and Shahani pointed to the other Congress leaders not being in Parliament when he introduced the bill to strike down Section 377.

“There must be many gay people in the Congress and BJP but they do not want to come out. If we decide to support a political party the opposition is sure to lose,” said Iyer emphatically. Batham said the community needs to show strength in numbers and conduct dharnas and lobby, to which Shah questioned for how long. She went on to say, “How long does the LGBT community need to fight? Section 377 must go. I have had so many clients who are gay and want a divorce, but, there is no ground for divorce on homosexuality.” Heated exchanges ensued as the hour long panel discussion concluded. Garg stressed on the need for inclusion in all spheres of society. Batham had an interesting suggestion, inviting politicians to Kashish.

As the curtains fell on a peppy discussion, you could hear volatile opinions off stage too. Through all the ire, and some despair the community is still clinging on to a sliver of hope. That rope is starting to look increasingly threadbare because of the time that has elapsed, but liberty from Section 377? They dare to dream at Liberty.

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