Kunal Phalak, a final-year Dual electrical engineering student at IIT-Bombay, says he openly discusses the fact that his roommate at the premier institute is gay, if only to watch reactions.
(Left to right) Sonali Meena, Anisha Bajaj and Mukul Verma star in the 5-minute video, Mere Saathi
"Some people wink and ask, 'So, what's up between the two of you'," he says. The 22-year-old sits beside his roommate and friend Aditya Shankar, also a Dual EE student, in a slick five-minute video titled, Mere Saathi. Conceived, directed and shot by Saathi, IIT-Bombay's support group for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community, it has created quite a chatter in the last three days.
The video, which is now up on the Internet and has already enjoyed over 13,000 views, was screened on July 29 to a group of nearly 700 first year students at the Lecture Theatre Hall in the Powai campus, during the fresher's orientation programme.
While several branches of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) across the country have set up LGBT support groups on campus, and the authorities at Indian Institute of Management (IIM) branches are considering the same, an LGBTQ-specific session on orientation-day might be the first for a Mumbai-based educational institute.
(L-R) Vamshi Krishna, Aditya Joshi and Abhijit Mishra, students of IIT-B feature in the video
The video, says Aditya Joshi, a PhD student, was received well. "Immediately after the programme ended, we were surrounded by students with all sorts of questions. They came from all corners of India, and we had one message to give them: that this campus is LGBTQ-friendly," says Joshi, 27, of the slick video that took three days to film and edit.
Saathi was co-founded in 2011 by Harishchandra Ramdas, a final year student at the time, to make the campus a positive environment for those with alternative sexualities and those still discovering them. At the time, Ramdas, said to be IIT's first gay student who was out of the closet, was Saathi's only member. Today, the support group has 250 members. On July 29, thanks to the video, the group managed to acquire another 50 registrations.
Each new batch, says Joshi, is more accepting of the community. Within three days of the programme, the group, says Joshi received 20 emails and 50 registrations. Shankar, 22, says, "We didn't find any of the freshers homophobic. Everyone received the video well and was followed by continuous applause. Post the event, we even received mails from those who wished to join the group."
Open for all
As the name of the group and video suggests, it's not just for those with alternative sexualities, but also heterosexuals. Shankar says, many freshers have written in asking how they can join or help out. "At the club, we do not identify anyone in particular as queer or open unless the person wants to. So, it's open for all. From two people, now we have more than 250 members, and an active core group of 25."
Kunal Phalak and Aditya Shankar
Some, he says, were encouraged by the idea, though unsure when they'd be able to openly join the group. "They added that may be, during their four-year stay on campus, they might do it," he adds.
"I felt liberated being a part of the video and coming out in support of my friend," says Phalak, adding that though the IIT campus isn't homophobic, there's still need for Saathi, which is likely to register as a group within IIT by the end of the year, to let people know that the campus is accepting of the LGBTQ community. "For them, it's like being in a tribe and having a support group that will be there for you when needed," he says.
Members in 2011
Registrations 3 days ago