The audience, diverse in every way, yet united in their belief in equality and non discrimination, at the launch of the Nigaah Queer Festival '09 seemed mesmerised, as the pictures and paintings on the walls of Max Mueller Bhawan had something from and for everyone's fantasies. Colours, images, imagery, motif blending into a fantasia. Bringing fantasies to life. Queer fantasies to put it straight. An inkling of the theme of the Nigaah Queer Festival this year, which starts today and goes on till Nov 1.
"This time its not only about celebrating the space this community has achieved but also now that it's on the table we want to be sure of what we want to say. We are here, we are queer and you are welcome," said Gautam Bhan, one of the founders of Nigaah, a Delhi based queer collective.
Historically, Indian society acknowledges and tolerates certain degree of homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private. Did we mention "historically"! Well, to change that the activists, people who led the queer movement from the start and the community as a whole made news three months ago when they came out to celebrate as the Delhi HC struck down section 377 of the IPC, which penalized consensual non-peno-vaginal sex.
In its third year of debates, diatribes, rants, plays, art, protests and hissy fits, the festival focuses on fantasies, of how we think, speak and express desire. Panel discussions on topics such as the confinements of desire, films and the more than just good humoured performance night, throwing open ideas on how to use creative mediums like arts or photography to express one's sexuality, are also part of the parcel.
"The focus here is to realize how do people become what they are? Films, books, music as different forms of expression that constitute the popular culture are nothing but a mirror to everyday life around us that make us form identities," says Deepti Sharma, one of the organisers. "You can see how many Indian artists have come out in the open with various forms of their art; you can see the change now that the criminal tag has left the community to an extent. Nothing speaks louder than art," said Sunil Gupta, who completed his thirty years with the movement and is also conducting a three-day photography workshop called Queering the Lens during the festival.
Like it is said post Article 377 verdict the change is now visible in society in general and the community in particular. But does abolition of the law translate into automatic acceptance of the community as a whole? "There is a lot of genuine change. But we do agree that it is hard to see a clear distinction between actual acceptance of the alternate sexuality and increasing political correctness though. People underestimate political correctness. Sometimes something like 'I accept who you are but I don't agree with it' is same as 'I take you for who you are" said Gautam.
"After the verdict decriminalising homosexuality there's a bit more space for the people of alternate sexuality. The issue is not just the law but the social restrains. Issues like homophobia need to be addressed. It's not over," said Ponniarasu, an activist.
One should also acknowledge the social class divide between the elite audience of the queer fest and people struggling with their sexuality who do not belong to this spectrum. "We got to understand that there's no simple answer to class. The law cannot immediately fix problems of the people, especially if you look at those coming from the outside the elite spectrum of the society. The law just unties your hands to fight the battle" said Gautam, addressing the issue.
"The verdict has surely opened many hateful and frightful closet doors and the closed eyes of as many ignorant people," said Shalini, a gay rights activist, "I would love to know, if it eased the pain of even one pink individual and educated a homophobe, if it has and goes on further to do so, many things which are not as categorical as legal or illegal can be worked out within the community itself."