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Chennai’s LGBTQ Film Festival Is Back: Looking At Queerness, Sex-Work And More!

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You guys, the south of India is the place to be right now. No, not because of ‘Kabali’ fever.

For the next three days, Madras pattanam will, once again, play host to Reel Desires: Chennai International Queer Film Festival, 2016, documenting issues on gender and sexuality in India through feature films, short films and documentaries.

This is not something new, just an annual repetition of a fabulous tradition. In fact, Chennai has seen LGBTQ film festivals and screenings since 2004, hosted either independently or in association with numerous local NGOs and support groups. The current form has been a thing since 2013 when Orinam, a local LGBT Support Group in Chennai, joined hands with Goethe-Institut and other groups and collectives.

Cinema affects the way we live. In fact, our culture of misogyny, homophobia and transphobia is derived primarily from movies,” says Felix, who has been working with Orinam since 2005, “And mainstream media has played a huge role in propagating so much of it.

The festival has explored a wide range of issues selected as ‘focus areas’ over the years. This has included stigma-free inclusion of LGBTQ people in families and institutions, issues of non-binary genders, fluid sexual identities and intersectionality between concerns of sexuality and other forms of marginalisation (eg. caste, class, gender, religion etc.)

cecil&carl2
A still from ‘Cecil & Carl.’ Image Courtesy of Orinam

However, this year too aims to make a mark through the theme of ‘transcending boundaries’ by diving deep into issues of queerness and sex-work, and inter-cultural queer/trans relationships. This is in addition to giving a platform for queer cinema from other South Asian countries and underrepresented parts of India.

When asked about the importance of queer cinema, Felix had this to say: “Queer cinema will be able to share positive changes to the queer movement as a whole. The fact that we exist while reminding people that our portrayals aren’t accurate and undoing a lot of the damage that is already out there are our contributions.

Moreover, the importance of queer film festivals cannot be overstated as it provides an avenue for expression especially for queer filmmakers, while for non-queer filmmakers, making such cinema provides a journey in itself as it gives opportunities to learn through filmmaking. “If more non-queer people get a little educated on the misconceptions that they hold, that would be a good achievement for the festival.

While film festivals are great for all these reasons, they are generally considered to be an elitist space. “The Indian queer movement is not an exception to issues of class,” says Felix, “However, we are stronger together when we fight as a community, rather than each individual fighting their own battles. Therefore it becomes useful when the marginalised come together to achieve a set of goals while exploring intersectionality.

By including subtitles, perhaps seen as a small step but a consequential one at that, attempts are being made to make film festivals more inclusive.

Darwaaze-2016-Still4
A still from ‘Darwaaze.’ Image courtesy of Orinam

A few films to look out for include ‘Breaking Free‘ and ‘Any Other Day.’ While the former is a documentary and the latter is a short film, both aim to show the impact of Section 377 in queer lives. But the highlight of this year’s film festival will be the screening of the critically acclaimed drama, ‘Aligarh.’

The movie does not really fit our overall theme but it is valid of our context keeping in mind the reversal of the High Court’s ruling on Section 377 by the Supreme Court in 2013 and the curative petition that was recently filed. When a professor is forced to commit suicide, screening this movie makes our point stronger.”

As is the case with every edition of this film festival, there is an accompanying panel discussion, which provides opportunities for people to discuss films that have been screened, raising questions regarding the topic, thereby giving way for the ‘logical aspect’ of watching a movie. This year, it’s the burning issue of gender and sexuality-based violence.

The Chennai International Queer Film Festival is on from 29th to 31st July, at Goethe-Institut Chennai. 

Featured image courtesy of CIQFF/Facebook.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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