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Not just between the book covers

Updated on: 30 December,2009 01:36 PM IST  | 
Soumya Mukerji |

It was back in 1999-2000 when the first mainstream books on same-sex love were released in India. A decade later, tales of gay love have flown out of the pages and onto the roads

Not just between the book covers

It was back in 1999-2000 when the first mainstream books on same-sex love were released in India. A decade later, tales of gay love have flown out of the pages and onto the roads

THEN (1999-2000)
MiD DAY caught up with Ruth Vanita, Professor, Liberal Studies, University of Montana, and the woman behind Same Sex Love in India (published 2000), the first book to bring gay love to the public eye. What is even more remarkable is that the title talked about how same-sex relationships were rampant in India since times immemorial, with foolproof facts from history and literature in support.

To write a book like this back then must've been like blasphemy. Didu00a0 they ostracize you? How did you deal with it?
No one ostracised us. When published, the book was well received and positively reviewed. The only problem we faced was that initially, in the late Nineties, the two main English-language publishers in India were too afraid to publish it because they expected a backlash. So we had to first publish it in the US (in 2000) and then in India (2001).

How challenging was the compilation? How much time did you take to put it together?
My co-author Saleem Kidwai and I had independently been collecting material for about 20 years. Together, we worked for five years. It was a difficult but exciting task. We applied for grants but did not get any, so had to draw only on our personal salaries and on help from a couple of individual friends. Material was hard to track downu00a0-- much had disappeared, been mistranslated or was unavailable in India. I learnt Urdu from Saleem in the course of preparing the book, and am now doing more work in that language.

Do you think your book will be more impactful today than it was those years?
Its impact has been gradual but definite. It is harder now for historians to entirely ignore the subject, and most serious scholars now take cognizance of it. The new Penguin edition (2008) will reach more readers as their distribution is good. We are also preparing a Hindi edition, which should reach another readership.

What, according to you, is the major driving factor of the GLBT revolution the world is lately witnessing?
As in the case of any oppressed group, oppression is the driving factor. Democracy enables people to see themselves as equals, so they find it harderu00a0 to put up with being constantly discriminated against, and deprived of their basic civil rights.

When you think of the future of the subject vis-u00c3u0083u00a0-vis the past and present, what thoughts cross your mind?
If the human species survives and if democracy survives (two very big ifs), gay people will move towards greater freedom, as that is human nature. However, if gay people (and other currently oppressed groups) were ever to get all their civil rights, some other oppressed group would begin to demand equality, as it is also human nature to always scapegoat some group or other.

Ladies' room
Another book, Facing The Mirror: Lesbian writing from India, made its way into Indian markets back in 1999.u00a0 The compilation of true-life stories and poems by lesbians and female transgenders, edited by Ashwini Sukthankar, evoked ironic hush-hush hype. Published by Penguin, its latest reprint is now openly available in the market @ Rs 350.

NOW (2009)
Gifting giant Hallmark started retailing special gay cards in the US market earlier this year, dating websites like jumped onto the 'scene', and special GLBT markets like Azaad Bazaar came into being long before Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code was amended to decriminalize homosexuality in India. It was, however, this historic judgment, passed by the High Court of Delhi on July 2, that was to change the lives on many, like Balli and Nancy.

Balli, born female to an agricultural household in Hasanpur Khurd, near Batala in Punjab, has found a new life post the path-breaking constitutional move. "I always knew I was a man, and most of my folks knew it too. It was my girlfriend's family that always objected and threw tantrums and threats. We eloped, and landed in Delhi a few years back." It was then that Balli, a transsexual, was guided by help group Sanginii, which provided legal, physical and mental support for their sexual rights. "Even then, the court didn't take us seriously for long."

Now, the story is different. Balli, 23, has found a job and lives independently with his girlfriend Nancy in North Delhi, undisturbed and uninhibited. Supporters from Sanginii are all smiles. "This is only the beginning," says founder member Maya. Our requests for a photo-shoot are politely turned down, lest the budding proof of a revolution is nipped. We comply, and return hopeful.

THEN (2020)
"Ten years ahead, we will definitely land the same laws as those in heterosexual marriages. This may happen before 2020, but the struggle is still on. Partnership rights will also be more liberal, and in the larger, societal perspective, things will equalise and normalise," predicts Maya, founder, Sanginii, an NGO that fights for sexual rights for all. "Also, self-reliability will lead to greater independence, so the oppression associated with such sections in the lower strata of society will come to an end."
Liberal arts evangelist Mahabanoo Mody Kotwal of Vagina Monologues fame dittos the prophecy. "You already see the open depiction in movies, plays, song videos and fine arts. Next is more open public expression, marriages and even sex toys."

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