In the last few weeks amid the global pandemic, the death of two ‘much-loved actors’ from the Hindi movie industry has left the whole country mourning over this as a national loss. On the other hand, the death of several migrant labourers killed either due to road accidents, hunger, sunstroke or other health issues while walking back to their home States never caused a national furore. They did make their way to the headlines of some newspapers, but that’s all.
They were sympathised by many, but their deaths did not leave the country shattered. Similarly, the death of a queer person Anjana Hareesh from Kerala in the following week as a result of violence allegedly perpetrated by her homophobic family members and mental health professionals hardly made it to any headlines, barring a few tokenistic gestures.
These incidents over the last few weeks have prompted us to think why some communities, including migrant labourers, Dalits and the LGBTQIA+ are not considered worthy of grieving, or not grieved like others? One of the ways in which the grieving of such lives, or the lack thereof, can be done by analysing how people make sense of the loss of their loved ones.
There are two ways of grieving over the death of someone: good grieving and queer grieving. Good grieving is socially-dictated ritualistic grieving done in public or private, but is recognised and acknowledged by others. For example, someone’s death mourned in a heteronormative family is approved by social and legal institutions. On the other hand, queer grieving does/can not conform to the ritualistic mode of grieving; instead, it is done in diverse ways, sometimes unrecognised by social and legal institutions.
One such example is the death of an intimate partner in a same-sex relationship whose mourning is delegitimised by others, by labelling it not ‘real grieving’ because their relationship itself is not recognised as a real relationship. Death of a queer person — who either kills themselves because of some systemic violence exerted onto them in a homophobic society or falls prey to hate crime — often goes unrecognised. Such deaths, however, result in bereavement among close friends, ‘family of choice’, and the queer community, and it seldom generates public empathy.
Similarly, though the death of migrant labourers or manual scavengers as a result of the failure of a State in ensuring the dignity of labour or safe workspaces is often grieved by family members, it is not mourned by the public at large. Such marginalised bodies hardly receive any compassion. Instead, they are subjected to a lot of antipathy. For example, in the case of Anjana Hareesh from Kerala, some people also went on to tweet that a simple girl turned into a feminist and killed herself.
Her persecution by the hands of a Psychology discipline, which still blatantly offers ‘conversion therapy’, was discussed by many people as an unfortunate death because of indoctrination into an ideology. Most of the time, such individuals are never grieved because of their marginal social position and erasure by a State that accounts for them as an unworthy and ‘bad’ citizenry.
This also encourages us to discuss the potential of queer grieving. The death of a professor, Ramchandra Siras — who was subjected to systemic homophobic surveillance in an educational institution and later found dead in his residence after fighting a lengthy legal battle — caused a nationwide commotion and is often cited as an example of blatant homophobia, including in the legal fight to read down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.
Similarly, the suicide of Dalit scholar Rohit Vemula in the University of Hyderabad, who fell prey to a casteist educational system in the particular and discriminatory State, also gave way to a more organised fight against the establishment. These are some of the productive possibilities of grieving queer individuals that lead to a movement against an oppressive system that not only delegitimised such bodies, but also denied their loved ones to mourn their death.