Symphony of queer voices

Sep 25, 2011, 09:38 IST | Dhamini Ratnam

Recently launched website Project Bolo aims to offer a repository of LGBT voices to guide the curious and the misinformed about a little known chapter of modern Indian history

Recently launched website Project Bolo aims to offer a repository of LGBT voices to guide the curious and the misinformed about a little known chapter of modern Indian history

How many of us know about India's queer movement? Even as advocacy group MINGLE kicks off its online LGBT History Certification course next month, the past two decades are rife with milestones. In 1990, for instance, the first lesbian organisation, Sakhi Collective, was formed by Giti Thadani, one the first out lesbians in the country.

Sridhar Rangayan before an interview in January, earlier this year

According to some reports, the organisation struggled to stay afloat after its office was robbed a few years later, but Thadani, who spent her twenties driving around the length and breadth of the country in a pickup truck, went on to write what many consider to be a seminal text exploring lesbian sexuality in Vedic texts.

How do we know this?
Project Bolo (, a newly launched website, has videos of 20 interviews with LGBT activists and academicians, including Thadani, who provide valuable glimpses into their lives and the history of the queer movement in India.

Giti Thadani started Sakhi Collective, the first lesbian organisation in
1990, and wrote a book on the lesbian subtext of the Vedas in 1996.

Initiated by filmmaker and co-founder of Humsafar Trust Sridhar Rangayan, Project Bolo is an archive of oral histories of Indian lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders. The project is  produced by The Humsafar Trust and Solaris Pictures and funded by the United Nations Development Programme and took two years to complete.

Hoshang Merchant, Professor of English, University of Hyderabad, edited
the first anthology of gay writing in India.

Rangayan hopes that these interviews will achieve several things. For one, he hopes that researchers working in the sphere of the LGBT movement in India, will take something useful out of these interviews, even as younger people of the community can watch these videos and find a context to their struggle.

Nisha boarded a train from Mysore and upon arriving in this city, began
living and working with the transgender community. She is an outreach

At the same time, Rangayan is also clear that the process has just begun -- Volume 2, he promises, will cover more LGBT activists, lawyers, filmmakers and writers from Kolkata and South India, who have done pioneering work in creating support structures and providing assistance to queer persons.

"This is the first ever LGBT oral history project in India. I want Project Bolo to be a resource site for people researching the LGBT community in India. The site will soon have links to the works, websites and publications of the people interviewed," he says.

For now, viewers can hear what activists such as Ashok Row Kavi has to say about the way gay men's perception of themselves has changed over the years, and Sir Shivananda Khan, who points out the prevalence of homosexual relations among Indian men who do not identify as being gay.

Marathi author Bindumadhav Khire talks about his family's long journey from conservatism to activism (his mother is one of the signatories petitioning against Section 377 that criminalised homosexuality). Academicians Ruth Vanita, Saleem Kidwai, Raja Rao and Hoshang Merchant, reveal little known aspects of their personal lives.

"I will wink at the undertaker and then die," says Merchant, a professor of English at the University of Hyderabad, who edited the country's first gay anthology, Yaraana: Gay writings from India.

Rangayan admits that getting these 20 to speak wasn't a cakewalk. "We initially approached 35 people, but finally spoke with only 20," Rangayan tells us over the telephone from his Malad residence.

"They have bared their souls, and this will find resonance with a lot of people," says Rangayan. Rangayan's interviews explore a range of subjects  -- from early meeting spaces and techniques in the pre-Internet days of pen pal columns in magazines to the impact of Section 377 and the nature of same sex relationships.

Each interview is 45 to 50 minutes long, but shorter 20 minute clips have been uploaded on the site. The original interviews will be available by the end of the month in a DVD. Three video clips on the LGBT movement, HIV and Coming Out, are also up on the site, created using shots from various interviews. 

Visit to watch these videos

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