The reason for posting this picture will become clearer as this post progresses.
One of the major films released in 2020 was Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan (SMZS). It dealt with Homophobia in the small towns of India. The film talks about two gay men who live in a big city and travel to a small town for a cousin’s wedding. The father of one of the men catches them kissing and is traumatized and nauseated. At one point, he even turns on a pressure pump to douse his son, ritually cleansing him. What ensues is a laugh riot that tries to lighten the rather bleak prospects that the situation presents. And of course, marriage is at the centre of the narrative. (This film was deliberately held back from the feature on queer films because, it had a more prominent role to play here.) There are many marriages at the heart of SMZS. Predictably, none of them are perfect. The climax of the movie occurs at a wedding. And the smiles on your faces at the very end come with the announcement on TV that Article 377 has been repealed. It is a cathartic moment in the film, as the police had taken cognizance and barged into the house claiming that there were homosexuals in there. They are coaxed into waiting for the verdict and offered sweets when the news of the repeal does come through. The police leaves because there are no grounds for arrest anymore. Just like that. the film served to show how the verdict provided a respiratory relief for the millions who were struggling to live under these oppressive laws that among everything else, robbed people of their privacy.
In the film, the parents of the boy had decided to get him married to a girl to ‘cure’ him of his homosexuality. After all, in the movies, and I suppose, in society, marriage is seen as the panacea for everything from extravagance, debauchery, malnourishment to madness. In the end, the parents of one side reconcile, see the couple off at the railway station. All is well.
I was thinking, if the verdict repealing 377 had also legalized same-sex marriages, maybe, the protagonists would have been married then and there. But that was not to be. Particular care was taken to ensure that the verdict pertained to the repeal and nothing but the repeal. Just as the verdict on age of consent was supposed to discuss only that and not look into marital rape.
While the repealing of 377 was received with great celebrations all over the country, there was always the question of what next? And perhaps the answer to that is in the lines that follow. At the time of writing this post, a very strong movement is brewing among the queer community members which is bound to have a polarizing effect. Lawyers Menaka Guruswamy and Arundhati Katju are filing a petition in the Hon. Supreme Court of India, for legalizing same-sex marriages in the country. I suppose, in what can be called the groundwork, on 26 April 2020, the lawyer couple delivered a lecture for the Oxford Union Society about the rights of LGBTQ people in India. They discussed the importance of marriage in a society in India. They called it the Marriage Project. And I found myself agreeing with them when they said that India is a marriage society. It is apparent in the way our films, our advertisements, our spending patterns and our economics are structured. Film after film has the dream of a daughter’s wedding and the attendant struggles forming the central plot, Parents dreaming of getting the latest in designer jewelry populate our ads, the lady selling disinfectant is a mother and also a doctor- but primarily a mother. Shops sell wedding silks, wedding collections, there are special items of jewelry for members of the groom’s family- in case it is part of the custom to gift them something when the bride’s family go visiting- jewelry that is cost effective, looks heavy but is hollow. Like obligatory actions. There have to be at least 500 people fed and pampered at the wedding or else the families are social nobodies. And all these performances are aspirational and steps towards social and class mobility for those that subscribe to such ideas. And by that, I mean almost everybody from the lower upper class down.
Thus, when marriage is endemic to social structures, how can it be that people who constitute 5-7 percent of the population of this country are denied this right? It is a fact that after the repeal, a large number of LGBTQ individuals have come out to their families and also, there has been an upswing in the number of families that have become inclusive. This naturally makes it possible to want to take the next big step in a relationship.
The way I see it, there are two main reasons for demanding legal standing. 1) legal 2) social.
Legal: As mentioned before, India being a marriage society, recognises only the legal rights of a spouse or a blood relative- no matter how distasteful the relationship be. Take for example the matter of the Provident Fund. One has to compulsorily nominate someone to be the nominee. In the case of unmarried subscribers, it can be the parents. But upon marriage, the spouse automatically becomes the nominee. As a colleague once remarked, even if the spouse goes to jail for murdering her, the money from the PF will still go to him. The same is the case with something as simple as opening bank accounts, purchasing medical insurance under the family scheme, nominating someone for life insurance benefits, leaving behind assets. It can be frustrating to say the least to understand that though you have the spending power, your agency as a person is defeated. That the very people who reject you benefit from the privileges you never intended them to have, wants to make you outlive them.
There is also the significant question of end of life decisions. Something that is automatically granted to a spouse or in the absence of them, the next closest family member. People you might have been estranged from for decades. These matters need immediate redressal. The way that the Indian legal system imagines human relationships need to undergo a radical change. Failing this, marriage seems to be only recourse. There is the option of fighting for partnership rights. Something akin to the rights granted to live in couples. Here again, the woman is protected under the Domestic Violence Act. The children born of these unions have inheritance rights under the provisions of a certain religion.
Social: The queer community is generally seen as permissive. People with no set of ‘family values’ who flit from one partner to another. This is in fact one of the major reasons why they are seen as being vulnerable to immune compromising diseases and discriminated against. AIDS was once called the gay disease. Marriage will help normalize the community, make the people more relatable. The idea that they are just like cis-gendered people and share the same marital issues like anyone else, might just work in their favour. As mentioned in a previous post, there have been people who travelled to the US or Paris to get married because gay marriages are not legal in India, but are legal in the places their spouse hails from. At least one of them thus enjoys spousal rights.
The move to litigate with regard to legalizing same se marriages has been a polarizing one. In my conversation with Manvendra Singh Gohil, founder of the Lakshya Trust, LGBT influencer and the first openly gay Indian royal, who is himself married, he feels that pushing for Anti Discriminatory laws is more important that looking at the issue of marriage. In a survey conducted, he reveals that only 37 percent of the Indian population is accepting of LGBT rights. In the light of this, he thinks that it is more important to work with society to create acceptance for the community. Without this, any move to legislate in this area could actually backfire.
The interesting part of marriage laws is that it does not specifically prohibit same sex marriages. It does specify that men and women can get married. But it doesn’t say that marriages can take place ONLY between men and women. It is a cheeky interpretation, sure, but it is certainly not invalid. Sridhar Rangayan, the director of KASHISH Mumbai, who is in a relationship for the last 25 years, too felt that anti discriminatory laws are extremely urgent as these would make a great deal of difference in the lived realities of people. These views have been echoed by Kishor Kumar, the author of the first gay autobiography in Malayalam- Randu Purushanmar Chumbikumbol (When Two Men Kiss), he also adds that anti discriminatory laws would help provide greater security and that marriage is not the priority for those living precarious existences. Having said that, he feels that these two movements ought to go side by side as he sees same sex couples getting married in a decade.
I would like to point out the relevance of the picture that headlines the post. It is at this point that the current rules governing adoption, surrogacy and Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) will come in for hard scrutiny. It has been possible for a number of rich and famous to have babies via surrogacy in foreign countries. There are surrogacy clinics abroad that specialize in helping couples or single parents get babies. But for the average same-sex couple, or the economically distressed queer, these options will certainly not be viable. This would mean that to help people further cement their self-image in their own or in society’s eyes, it s imperative that these laws be re-examined and kinder provisions be introduced. The problem is that it will take a lot of unlearning to wash away the grime of suspicion surrounding the intentionality of queer people. This is where the sensitization that Gohil was talking about comes into play.
Heidi Sadiya, one of the well-known journalists from Kerala and transwoman activist felt that there would not be many hurdles in the path to legalise same sex marriages and that it would help the members of the queer communities to strengthen their commitments to each other. She remarked on her experience of getting married to her transman partner. There were no provisions for Transgender in the register and they had to sign as male and female.
Vihaan Peethambar, Trans Activist & Board member – Queerala, an LGBTIQA+ organization opines that marriages in India are structured to be procreative- one that yields children. This becomes weaponized in the hands of heterosexual people or those who for any reason are forced to/willingly abandon their relationship with a transgender individual. There have been instances of annulment being sought on the grounds that their transgender partner is impotent or hid their identity. One must look at the ways that the term ‘family’ can be reimagined in a way that is inclusive of people with diverse gender identities and sexual orientations. “Although, I increasingly see LGBT+ people with some amount of privilege seeking these benefits compared to others for whom this is not the priority now, either way, the focus should be on bringing in legislation that is gender agnostic and does not replicate the cis-hetero social contracts and systems,” he concludes.
While the move is being met with a sense of ambivalence, in a sense of the term, the path is already cut out, with Sonu and Nikesh, a couple having filed a case in the Kerala High Court in 2020 after their secret marriage in a temple in Kerala in 2018 could not be registered. It is natural to wonder about this obsession with marriage. It is generally not all that it is made out to be- if the number of wife, husband mother in law jokes are anything to go by or that in murder cases, the spouse is a natural suspect, or that as per the provisions of the Act, the husband is responsible for anything happens to the wife. I suppose the charm lies in the luxury of choice. one of the slogans at Pride marches have to do with Aazadi- Freedom. To marry or not marry. In a very tangible sense, legalizing same- sex marriage in India brings estranged, dispossessed citizens closer to the Constitution that ideally must be watching over them and watching out for them. The art for this edition is courtesy Mr. Harikrishnan G., of Manorama Publications. It features Anjali Ameer, transperson, holding a baby. Anjali is also the first transperson to star as protagonist in a mainstream movie in Tamil or in any language in India.
Better known to friends as SK, he rebels against any line drawn across humanity. He manages an FB group named Ezhuthani (എഴുത്താണി) for those who look beyond likes and dislikes. He teaches, writes and teaches writing.
Skies Belong to Others
(For Shalu, a transgender, who was brutally murdered)
He was not from my caste or my religion
My clan or country, my creed or my region
But he belonged to the same gender as me
And no girl was more attractive than he.
I met him on the side walk in the city
On a day I thought the world had no pity.
I was on a crossroad watching the passers by
I got no smile from those who passed by
Then he came by, walked beyond where I stood
And then turned around as if he understood.
He smiled at me and in his smile I saw
A human being, well refined and not raw
We fell in love, at that very first sight
Losing to our will after a good fight
He came over and held my hand long
Years later, to this hand I still do cling
He always did whatever I told him to do
Aped my mom with her countryside hairdo
Painted his nails deep red and lips purple
And send through my body many a ripple
He tried high heels and made his cheek redder
Learned to raise his pitch and sang like my sister
We shopped for things we didn’t need at all
In his green chiffon gown he looked so tall
He taught me what love is and what it is not
In a way that no one had ever taught or thought
He made me let go of my past and enjoy the now
I was sure we would tie a knot somehow
One wall broken, others were crumbling
They soon fell around us with such a loud rumbling
At everything around us he used to wonder
They were things to admire and points to ponder
From our small room in my bungalow
He used to stare at the green valley far below
While I lay on our bed and stared at the roof
He sang some songs, his love’s melodious proof
As we hugged the future we had always sought
He drained my mind of many a worrying thought
And left it blank for me to brood over
The eternal bond among what’s near and yonder
His ruby lips, his long arms and hairy body
Were just the things God had sent for me
His eyes twinkled with my naughty thoughts
As he read them clearly always on my face
I don’t know what he saw in me that fell him
But as he sat with me and I looked at him
In his eyes I saw myself, a figure I didn’t recognize
My real nature, I could never love or realize
And one day the news channels hollered in glee
The death warrant for many like him and me
We soon saw walls built of skulls and bones
of innocent humans, the most unfortunate ones
The lawmakers held up the constitution
And swore like a whore against prostitution
We found them a merciless institution
Which gave much pain but nothing for restitution
The cops were at my heels and we had to flee
I saw death in his eyes and he held fast to me
Had there been a cliff to jump from
I would have ended it all and died with him
But before we had spent a month underground
Our love life had to buried deep underground
When they caught and bound us in legalities
I couldn’t see him as blood had blurred my vision
Evil, said they; an angel, I cried
Handcuffs and whips had just arrived
They let me go, because I looked awful
Him they caught because he looked awesome
I saw the judge eyeing him hard on the sly
And the rest of the crowd drooling viciously
Everyone wished for a dark hour at noon
And there did befall a strange darkness soon
I wondered who was chanting scriptures
In a courtroom in pitch darkness at a time like this
Then I heard a scream and a wail in the court
They had stabbed him right through my heart.
Akshay A. S.
Akshay A.S is pursuing his Post Graduation in English Language and Literature at Mahatma Gandhi College, Trivandrum. A self-confessed Instagram poet, he is also an excellent artist and has collaborated with us for some of the art work this month. The poem is a tribute to love that seems not to recognise insurmountable hurdles and is blindly optimistic. It is a nod to the Beatles who have influenced Akshay a lot.
Of sons and Lovers
To my right,
His guitar weeps,
Faint enough to go unnoticed.
It must have been five minutes ago,
Or five centuries, for all I know,
When I texted my Father
Telling him I was gay.
He asked me if I was okay.
He told me to stay put,
That he was going to come get me
And take me back home to safety.
Back to my cramped closet, perhaps.
The phone now lies face down
Beside a green carnation on the quilted bedspread.
I nuzzle in closer, into the arms
Of the person I call Home,
Who himself never left his own closet.
He sleeps in there now
With his dead-beat skeletons, the bones
Stowed away from his own Dad.
At 25, he’s 3 years older than me
But his parents still treat him like he’s 3.
He tried telling them 3 years earlier
That their only son slept with men,
Fell in love with them,
Ran his fingers through their hair
And on late nights, high on yellow submarines
Played them songs from his favorite band
On the guitar that his dad bought him
On the day he turned eighteen,
Because he was worried about his boy
And thought he might need ‘help’ with women.
Maybe just a nudge,
In the right direction.
He turned left
And found me.
He tried telling them the truth
And failed miserably.
But he opened up to me
And so did I.
I slept with him,
Fell in love with him,
Ran my fingers through his hair
And on late nights, high on yellow submarines,
When he sang me songs
From that 60s band that he oh-so loved,
I stole kisses from him
Every time he paused to take a breath.
Yesterday, all our troubles seemed far away.
Today, they charge straight at me,
Domineering the driver seat of an 87′ Fiat,
Checking his vintage Rolex every five minutes
To make sure he is not too late to save his son
From surely impending doom.
Father has a tough time letting go of old things.
I could never tell what he was more frightened of –
The idea of change or that he couldn’t understand the new.
“I told you not to tell him so soon”,
He whispers into my left ear.
An informed opinion
With an air of erstwhile experience.
I remain silent.
A story he once told me finds its way back to me,
Of how his father threatened to leave his mom
And as she sobbed into the arms of her son,
As I did now,
She told him love would find a way.
She now tells her son
To hide his love away.
To my right,
His guitar weeps.
I cannot help but notice.
Shruti is a prolific poet and has been published by a number of Indian and South Asian journals. She is passionate about poetry, music, teaching, Assamese culture, mental health, nature and environment. Her poems, for her, are spiritual and open up her deep and abiding connection with her beloved, who is sometimes God. She seeks a tangible connection that can set her free.
She told me you cut those long black tresses
suli in Axomiya, falling to your waist since a time
before I can remember. She showed me a picture
of you with new frizzy hair.
I wish I could have collected your beautiful fallen hair
I wish I could have preserved a piece of you
which you no longer wanted..
I wonder how your juda stick will feel from disuse and neglect now
Will you discard it, throw it away?
Will you keep your hair short now, send out short hair pictures?
Or let it grow long again?
My hair is emotion for me.
I caress it, twirl it, fiddle with it constantly
When I am upset. You are the only person
Who could make me cut it. On an impulse,
I want to cut my hair to be like you.
To keep you in me. To forsake the hair
Instead of forsaking you. Hair is precious,
But you are priceless. But that would
Be silly. I will preserve the old you for a while longer
My long black waist length tresses like yours
Tied up with a stick the way yours used to be,
Can I keep my hair and keep you too, I wonder?
Someday I will cut my hair like you
(Only you can make me do it).
Some of my hair turned white with PhD anxiety.
Sometimes, when macabre and gloomy, I think of killing
Myself, and presenting all my long cut-hair to you as proof.
I will cut my hair short when it’s mostly white
Like yours, or maybe like your sister’s
I will prance around with hair, blue, purple and green.
So my hair is growing ripe and white and I am about to turn 32
You were 32 when I met you first. It’s been fourteen whole years.
Birthing the Body
“You dress just like your mother”, you said. “Why?”
I was flummoxed.
I had never thought I dressed like my mother
I had hardly thought about the way I dressed at all.
I wore whatever people gave me
I privileged the inner over the exterior
I thought fancy clothes as being frivolous
I did not know that I repeated the age-old privileging
of mind over body, man over woman, spiritual over physical
You taught me how to own my body
To play with it, experiment
the purpose of dressing is to feel beautiful
not only to look
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery
And my physique was similar to yours
The dark skin, the long face, the lean frame, and the long black rippled hair
So as I darkened my eyes, put up my hair, slipped in danglers,
pierced navel and nose and inked a tattoo like you,
Truthfully the most beautiful woman I have ever seen
I started to fall in love with the image I saw in the mirror
My body, and the way I adorned it, owned it
Even when thoughts and emotions were in disarray
Instead of dressing like my mother, I started dressing like you
If my mother birthed my body, so equally did you.
Darshit is a Post Graduate student in English Language and Literature at Mahatma Gandhi College, Trivandrum, Kerala. He occasionally dabbles in poetry. This poem stemmed from the suicide of a person he knew. It shows sensitivity towards the pain and isolation caused by homophobia.
Confessions of a Dead Friend
Do you remember me from class 10?
The boy with glazed eyes,
Sore jokes and fat cheeks.
Who sat next to you
His presence was underappreciated.
Sorry I couldn’t give back,
That Crimson-Red slam book of yours.
Though, I almost finished it.
Well somewhere in between,
“My dreams” and “My ambitions”,
I “literally” hanged.
Because I was unwelcome here
I WAS DIFFERENT TO BE WITH.
They meant Difficult.
I smiled differently,
I walked differently,
I cried differently,
Well not something proud to be,
Them; classmates, their parents,
My mates and my parents.
Same thing, They all said.
That I was twisted.
From genes to nails.
From jeans to heels.
I was corrupted
By Evil, Satan and all other names,
In that pocket dictionary they could find.
Well they gave me an instant hard on!
Even I was very interested
in some names,
that granny cock!
this pussy mouth!
what cuntless cunt!
Well, some imagination they have got!
They had their ways to get to me.
From paper planes to washroom walls.
Foul play at soccer games,
To twisted elbows and broken nose.
From being stripped naked and cold,
To harsh, piercing and still colder stares.
They looked, laughed and labelled
Me, ‘A prize of witchcraft’.
They never grew bored.
After a point,
Even I came to see what they saw,
Every time as I rushed past a mirror.
Sometimes heard myself calling
names they did.
And started to hate and hurt
myself more than they ever could.
When I hanged,
I saw all those faces at my funeral.
Clutching a rose with their right hands.
High sounding words and false claims.
they called me “dear”
and few of its other synonyms.
O’ dear,how strange!
suddenly I was missed.
A feeling I never got to meet
until I last exhaled.
You were not like others.
You smiled when they scorned.
You taught me simple arithmetic.
Though I still can’t count.
You stayed. You cared.
You laughed at my jokes,
When they laughed at me.
You cared even less that,
I wore no skirts, grew no boobs
And pretty much looked like a boy.
Though I behaved like none.
You remained ignorant to names,
Smirky smiles and
God knows, what all gossips!
You simply stayed.
You made a choice.
But I couldn’t stay.
I couldn’t make that choice.
because I wasn’t left with any.
I couldn’t wake up everyday
just to hunt myself more.
I couldn’t bear this dead weight
of being different.
of being me.
So I jumped,
off the stool and gave in.
As simple as that.
Now Why did I tell you all this?
Consider this as a late entry to your lost Crimson-Red slam book.
Or as mere confessions of a dead friend.