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Queer makes ‘normal’ feel less powerful

Sunday’s pride parade in Delhi comes at a moment in which many face an impossible choice: trading freedom for safety and dignity. This year, we must refuse this false separation, writes Gautam Bhan.

comment Updated: Nov 23, 2013 01:29 IST

It is a year since the rape of a young woman on a city bus. It is a week since 14 FIRs were filed under Section 377 in Karnataka, a day since the last unreported and unheard case of rape, a second since someone was harassed, a moment since someone’s sense of self has been broken because of their gender or sexual identity.

Sunday is Delhi’s sixth Queer Pride Parade. It comes at a moment in which many face an impossible choice: trading freedom for safety and dignity. This year, we must refuse this false separation. We must refuse not to step out on the streets at night; not to take the last bus; not dress as we feel, not love who we do, not be who we are. We must refuse ideas of ‘honour’ and ‘shame’ as well as the powers that hold them in place. Powers that define who we can be, where we ought to be, and the lives we ought to live. Powers that queer lives have long stood against.

In 2009, the Delhi high court judgment reminded us not of the law’s ability to give us rights — rights are not anyone’s to ‘give’— but of the power of the court to affirm what it saw: the on-going fight by queer people to recognise and name their own dignity. Should it look, the Supreme Court will see this dignity, once again, hoarsely shouted out on the streets of the city.

Pride will walk streets that have seen many battles this past year. Last December’s events led to relentless protests and new but still fragmented laws. Marital rape and the army’s impunity under Afspa remain untouched. Justice JS Verma’s call (supported by women’s, feminist and queer movements) to term the victim of rape a ‘person’ was set aside. A range of people — eunuchs, transgender and intersex people, Manipuris, or even just those prefixed by ‘Mrs’ — remain without the right to bodily integrity.

I was asked recently why we use an odd word like ‘queer’. Odd words help you be at odds with a notion of ‘normal’ that is held together by violence, shame, and silence. They feel familiar for those of us who built our sense of pride, self, and dignity on the other side of what was considered right, legal and normal.

They remind us that almost all of us, whatever our gender or sexuality, are on the ‘other side’ of what is considered right, legal and normal. Queer makes ‘normal’ feel less powerful. It makes the ‘law’ into just the law, the ‘family’ into just one option, the ‘body’ into just one possibility. The ‘normal’ has to be queered to be undone — it can’t just be read down. So we walk. In protest and in pride for dignity once realised can never be taken away.

Gautam Bhan teaches urban development at the Indian Institute for Human Settlements, Bangalore

The views expressed by the author are personal