By Shivani Makkar:
“Look here, dear fellow,
I wear these men’s clothes only for you.
Sometimes I am man,
Sometimes I am woman.”
These are the reflections of the 12th century Shaivite poet, Basavanna, who wrote in Kannada. Our history is replete with such examples that speak of a tradition which was receptive to fluid and open sexual identities. It was not simply a matter of sexual orientation, but went deeper than that; a subconscious self that transcends sexual rigidity altogether, a self that hovers in between a man and a woman.
In today’s lingo, we might call it being queer. To defy traditional categorization based on gender and sexuality, is what being queer is all about. The term has come to be synonymous with lesbian, gay and transgender, and fundamentally stands for being comfortable in one’s own unique sexual identity.
The one place to eradicate the regressive mindset against LGBTQI community, to provide a platform for healthy discussions on sexuality, and to move towards a society that is not based on segregation, is through educational institutions. Starting from schools itself, sex education must be a fundamental part of the curriculum. The recent, scandalous statements by our Health Minister about banning sex education in the name of preserving traditions and cultural values has been well criticised by all shades of ideological and political spectrum. Let’s be blunt; children are well aware of what sex is. In a globalised, internet-savvy world where all information is a click of the mouse away, pretence seems to be ruling the day. The younger generation pretends they don’t know, and the older one pretends to believe it. A much healthier alternative would be to provide knowledge and awareness- which is always better to have through trusted guides, teachers and parents, rather than shady magazines, porn sites, or ignorant mistakes. Something that creates our very identity, our perception of the world, cannot be suppressed so vehemently; it is bound to explode sooner or later.
Higher educational institutions must take the initiative here, which, luckily, they are doing. Delhi University recently introduced the option of a Third Gender (TG) in their application for post-graduation courses, followed by Jawaharlal Nehru University doing the same in their nomination forms for the JNU student’s union elections. This came after a UGC notification to all universities to identify and accept transgenders, following the Supreme Court ruling in April categorising them as the “third gender”. Lakshminarayan Tripathi, a leading transgender activist, said: “Most Indian universities say they never turn down admission requests from transgender candidates, but their forms did not have an option under the gender choices. We don’t like making that choice. It is important for educational institutions to create space for them and make a start by mentioning ‘others’ or ‘transgender’ in their application forms. This is a great start.”
Apart from the legal and official changes in the system, what is even more important is the efforts of the student community itself in ensuring an atmosphere of open and healthy discussions on matters that have always been seen to belong to the domain of the ‘private’. The launch of ‘Queerosity’, a students’ collective to understand and explore sexuality, by the students of Lady Shri Ram College, is the first of its kind, and sets an example that must be emulated by other institutions throughout the country. The sensitization drive through movies and discussions, that gives an invitation to question the deep rooted norms that make outcastes of certain people based on their personal choices, is what is needed if we are to be truly called a ‘civilised’ people.
What I decide to wear, who I decide to be, whom I decide to love, is my burden, and mine alone. Someone else’s idea of correct behaviour cannot be accepted. It is sometimes necessary to be a renegade, a rebel, a revolutionary, for this is how conflicts emerge, archaic norms are broken down, and a free and emancipated dawn appears, even if it is far off into the future.
In the meantime, let us keep the discussion going.