LOVE, politics, REALISM, Sex and Gender, social media

TRANScending barriers: Past, present and the uncertain future of India’s third gender

At a traffic signal on a busy day, the slight tapping on my car’s window by a transgender would often unnerve me. They are persistent, and there is a common notion that they will cause you embarrassment if you don’t hand them money. At another friend’s sangeet ceremony, a band of transgenders swayed to peppy tunes amidst peels of laughter. These are the only experiences that I could recall. And so do many others.

But is that all there is to their identity?

Hijra Habba was organised in the capital on the 11th of September. The name may sound weird since its synonymous with the transgender community, and so it was. With over 400+ transgenders in attendance, Hijra Habba brought diverse voices from across the country, of active members from the LGBT community, to discuss the need for change at the level of education, policy-making and community interaction to effectively normalise lives for the third gender. The event held greater significance in the light of the recent Supreme Court decision on IPC Section 377, which decriminalised consensual sex among the LGBTQ community.

Born This Way. It’s not just Lady Gaga’s popular song, but also the theme of this year’s Hijra Habba. Their lifestyle is not an inconvenience but a truth that we have to accept in all its diverseness. ‘’Altering the behaviour and attitudes of the people and sensitisation of the masses is the reason why we have this platform’’, says Sonal Mehta, Chief Executive, India HIV/AIDS Alliance. Alliance India is an NGO credited with organising this gathering. They work on capacity building, knowledge sharing, technical support and advocacy to people living with HIV. ‘’A lot of issues pertaining to basic rights and opportunities need to be talked about. They have a right to lead ordinary lives and not be fraught with glass ceilings in the simplest of ideas such as that of a whole family,’’ says Nipun Srivastava, a consultant for the NGO. While trans people may have been qualified as the third gender, do they, as legitimate citizens, have access rights equity and opportunity as others?

Remember Vick’s tear-jerking ad called Touch of Care? It touched upon the issues of adoption and transgender rights. It featured Gauri Sawant, a beautiful, magnanimous transgender woman and LGBT activist, who adopted a girl named Gayatri, whom she had saved from being sold. She was present at the Hijra Habba, and spoke to ‘’I was the first transgender petitioner to file a case in the Supreme Court regarding adoption rights to transgenders. I am not proud of it but ashamed that I had to go to the court to ask for what should be mine intrinsically.’’

Gauri has set up her own NGO, Sakhi Char Chowghi in Malad, Mumbai and dedicates her time to providing for other marginalised – transgenders, hijras, female sex workers among other people. ‘’Motherhood is not a state, it is a behaviour. We love someone, which automatically makes us a mother. This need to nurture is natural, and we deserve it as much as a heterosexual woman or man.’’

Gauri has also started Aaji cha Ghar, a safe and friendly home for the abandoned girl children of sex workers and destitute senior Transgenders. It is a project under Sai Sawli Trust and is her dream project. But sadly, Gauri has had little support from the government. All help comes from Milaap fundraisers. But she believes like Swami Vivekananda did, albeit a little-altered version, that you must not ask the society what it can do for you, but prove that you can do so much for the society.

You and I may celebrate the victory of a minority community that has been suppressed and made to feel oppressed about their existence, and often completely denied any right whatsoever. India may thump its chest loudly for doing away with the arbitrary and unfair treatment meted out to the LGBTQ community, in theory at least. The battle is half won, however for the society, because it isn’t just section 377 they fought tooth and nail. With the law finally in their corner, does the minority, marginalizedd community feel at ease?


This was the response of over three dozen people who were asked this question. And one of the factors is a common understanding, rooted in some studies, that HIV/AIDS is spread more widely in the LGBTQ community.

It is a catcall for discrimination – being HIV positive, or being a transgender. There are some who are both. It. The National Aids Control Organisation in (NACO) in India estimates HIV prevalence amongst transgenders to be 7.5%. In addition to the deviance inscribed on the bodies of those who are markedly different from the ‘regular’ folk, the stigma attached to people living with HIV has made matters worse.

‘’It is a widely believed that HIV spreads more prominently in homosexuals. We have never gone to the root of the issue which is lack of healthcare facilities for the LGBTQ community especially transgenders, whom hospitals have turned away numerous times due to institutional or individual prejudices. The absence of structural support in terms of education employment and health has made Transgenders far more likely to take to substance abuse,’’ opines Ritika, who works with Vihaan, a programme that works to reduce stigma and discrimination against HIV affected people. And her words are true. A study by the National Institute of Epidemiology among 60,000 transgender people across 17 states revealed that the biggest perpetrators of violence against transgender people were police and law-enforcing authorities. In a country where the system is against them, this community has little hope.

But some people have been fighting this stigma from within the society. Simran Shaikh, a senior program officer at Wajood is one of such individuals. Having herself battled with HIV for over a decade now, she enlists why events like Hijra Habba are a necessity. ‘’Wajood focuses on access to sexual health and mitigating violence among the transgender community. HIV is not transgender community specific; it impacts people all over. But transgenders have been on the receiving end of a lot of sexual abuse, which also exacerbates the current status. Additionally, due to social ostracization, many trans individuals are pushed into becoming sex workers. It also happens due to the unavailability of other job opportunities. Such social realities need to be kept into account when dealing with an HIV positive transgender. They need to be counseled since most of them face familial boycott at a very young age, among other gross injustices such as tantric practices performed on them.’’

Beyond simply ‘being’

Hijra Habba highlights the sense of community between people of the LGBTQ spectrum but also brings into sharp relief their isolation from the wider society. There were dance and musical performances, a fashion show, and even a theatre performance by Asmita group. It is, however, a sobering feeling – the community has to put on a show to make its voice heard. Many in the crowd quietly mocked the display of exuberance of the organisers and the participants alike.

But it does not deter Simran Shaikh, who adopted a girl, in spite of all deterrence from the society. ‘’Today they are laughing at us, but they must be absorbing something from this experience. Tomorrow, when they see a transgender begging on the road, they’ll hopefully realise that we are not born to just beg or be sex workers. After today, they will know that we can do a lot more, like any other person around them. We just need a chance. It is our right.’’

art, article, education, free speech, HATRED, Journalism, politics, REALISM, social media

The new F-word: Nothing wrong with a men’s commission, but all this drama?

160 men recently performed the last rites of their divorced wives, who are all alive by the way, to get rid of the bad memories and allegedly the ‘evil of feminism’. It’s their version of lighting a picture and flushing it down the toilet, safe to assume. Feminism has been blamed as the root cause of a whole lot of issues – from rapes to male suicides. And in this race, Indians definitely don’t want to be left behind. With well-meaning intentions stemming from an archaic patriarchal mindset, there was a rumour that IIT-BHU will now train women to be ideal daughters-in-law and wives, a news that has been since denied by the institute.

To start with a fact – I never knew we needed such formal training. Any girl in a typical Indian household has to go through the rigmarole of learning how to be good wives when the time comes because it is taken for granted that it is we who will have to run the house. My mother, who is an educated school teacher, inadvertently tells me that there will be a time where I will have to choose a career keeping in mind the needs of my family. So a B.ed makes sense just in case I need to fall back on teaching as a convenient option. She isn’t wrong, and her concerns are well-placed. But it is archaic, and it is unfair.

While I have no qualms about a men’s commission to look into injustices committed against the male folk, why make it a crusade against feminism? These men have gotten their knickers in a knot because they misinterpret feminism for female domination. The real deal is that these men fear equality, not feminism. Men avoid the appellation of feminist, and female feminists are described as ‘ball-breaking’, angry, crazy women. Women congregations for those rights that have been long denied to them are being perceived by men as an ambush on their rights.

Men, and it has an element of support by women also, consider their rights as entitlement owing to their gender. Women have long been perceived as male property, so much so that we have an entire law on Adultery that leaves a cheating woman out of the ambit of law but punishes the man. Ignoring the absurdity of the law on adultery, if perceived from the prism of gender equality, both the man and the woman are equally culpable. Instead of bridging the gap between the genders, feminism has Indian men scurrying into a corner, thinking that with such leeway, women are bound to take advantage of their new-found freedom. Which is probably why divorced men believe ‘tantric practices’ might rid their wives of this feminism fever, because women shouting for their rights will surely mean broken houses.


National Commission for Women was created to lend a helping hand to a gender that had been historically repressed by the society, especially their male counterparts. NCW deals with cases of dowry, political representation, biased religious practises, a disparity of pay for women and violence against women. In these matters, the scales are heavily tilted against women. Recently, a BJP MP from Ghatkopar, Ram Kadam, allegedly made an outrageous statement, wherein he promised help to boys in eloping with their lovers, and incase the girl is not inclined, he would help kidnap her. While he has since said that his words have been incorrectly presented, this brings to sharp relief the dominant narrative in the country. Women have for eons being subjugated and consent is a word that is yet to be inserted in our lexicon. This is not to discredit that men are not victims. Social constructions have come out of this system to harm men too. But an ambiguous idea of masculinity has engendered a feeling of discomfort in men simply because women are now speaking up.

Save India Family Foundation (SIFF) founder Rajesh Vakharia, whose organisation was the one who conducted the funeral rites of the wives of 160 estranged husbands, told TOI over the phone from Nagpur – “It is said India has a patriarchal society, but there is no law to protect husbands’ rights,’’. Misuse of anti-dowry law is their chief grievance. It is interesting to know that in July of 2017, the Supreme Court stated that no direct and immediate arrest shall be made under dowry harassment laws. Supreme court in effect almost endorsed the view that women tend to over-hype their personal grievance and may rope in all the family members. The low conviction rate in these cases also fans the fire in proving that women may cry wolf according to their convenience. With the law essentially in their corner, how a separate commission will further the cause of men is debatable in the context of dowry law.

Justice should have no gender. And feminism does not necessarily mean favouring women and only their rights. In a wider perspective, it could come to stand in for men and the LGBTQ+ community. An excellent example of such a struggle is Deepika Bharadwaj, who fights for men’s right especially against section 498A (related to dowry). To decry feminism as the root cause of all ills is to fall back into the trap of gender-based stereotypes that we have so proudly carried on our mantle.  


article, life, music, social media

No offence Chainsmokers, but I will never attend another concert!

From spending on imaginary drinks to being sweated on by shirtless men, my first concert is also probably my last

In which miserable moment did I decide to leave the comfort of my bed and Netflix I know not. But I now know better than to leave my headphones at home, only to suffer an evening of sticky air in an overcrowded ground with people too drunk to even care. I love music, but I may never spend a dime on concerts ever again.

Let me get this straight- Chainsmokers were great. Andrew Taggart and Alex Pall took over the stage after Slushi and damn they were good! And not just because they don’t hurt the eyes but also because their music connects to a good part of the Indian audience. Concerts serve as a platform for bands to share music with an audience in person, give us a sense of involvement in an age of free downloads that render us strangers to the stars we idolise.

While I thought, I was the lone wolf in a sea of people who loved to jump around in tandem on EDM, a lot of people I know and spoke to once the euphoria died down were equally (if not more) disappointed at their experience. Our pattern of music consumption has changed so much. From memorising albums to barely memorising the lyrics of a few odd songs from a plethora of options available, our commitment to music has dwindled. We Instagram/Snapchat our way through a concert, with silly filters only to give our friends on the other end of the screen a temporary pang of jealousy. For me, I believe it is mostly because everything about concerts stands in opposition to why I turn to music in the first place. It is my happy place. I just need a warm corner and good music to make my day and I’d give up Netflix in a jiffy.

*   *   *

Enroute to the event, almost every nook and corner was swarming with people who were downing a drink or rolling up a joint. While I oppose neither, the simple fact that you need an additional kick or even liquid courage to enjoy music mars my opinion of the event even more. My headphones render me into a space so sensitive to my needs that even if only for a while, I blur out the world.

Road to Ultra brought me down to reality the minute I swam through the dense inebriated crowd, which broke down barriers and stole liquor bottles from under the counter or pinched my butt while I stood (very patiently for over an hour, but to no avail) for my drinks. The bar was shut by 7:30 (they were out of drinks apparently), yet somehow all the servers were drunk. One even had the audacity to take a swig from the glass of water that I was finally given after an hour of coaxing (all the while grinning at me sheepishly, asking me to not call him bhaiya). The card we were made to purchase to then procure drinks was a huge help. It got me the pleasure of standing in a queue and argue with a guy who waved an empty Absolut bottle in my face, telling me to put that card in my, well, pocket. The guys dispensing the cards were also a pain in the pocket, if I may. To know the money was non-refundable was I suppose not so much of a surprise anymore. To add insult to injury, what do we as Indians excel at when we don’t get a share of the pie? The crowd let itself loose on the bar counters, hurling abuses we are all well versed in. The bar finally vandalised, people went their way, maybe finally distracted by the headliners. The servers saw it coming before I did and immediately went packing. Splendid.

The euphoria as thousands of people partake in the creation of music is amazing. I reiterate that Chainsmokers were great. But the concert left a bad taste because it evoked feelings opposite to what I usually feel while listening to my favourite tracks. Amidst all the pushing and pulling, pinching and cussing, I felt apart from all those with whom I shared my first concert. Plus, if you are short like me, you were probably also just crushed between sweaty shoulders and even sweatier ribs of people, for God save you if the guy behind you has no shirt on.



Picture Credit: Google/

art, article, Donald Trump, HATRED, Journalism, social media, Uncategorized

Creative Resistance- How Art is fighting back Donald Trump

A picture is worth a thousand words.

Illma Gore knows that these words hold water. Having suffered backlash for her nude portrait with a micro-penis of the now incumbent President of the United States, Donald Trump, she began work on a piece of art, painted with human blood– 20 pints donated by those who share her cause- in association with activist collective INDECLINE as a protest against the election. Hers is not the sole crusade against the anti-feminist, anti-inclusion tainted president who now reigns as the leader of the free world. Another prominent artist, Shepard Fairey, released three politically charged posters, featuring an African-American, a Muslim and Latino women, titled “We the People”. All the three religious/ethnic groups had previously come under ire from the erstwhile presidential candidate, and Fairey felt the need to visually depict the same, in order to highlight their imminent vulnerability under his administration.

Another piece of art came under the political spotlight and it belonged to Richard Prince, an artist whose Instagram picture featuring Ivanka Trump, had earned him a $36000 bounty. In an act of protest, he denounced the work and returned the payment. His argument stated that as a means of an honest protest, he had to exercise his discretion regarding the Trumps, and that they ’are not art.’ Mr. Trump himself is apparently not an art person at all, his government planning on drastic cuts in the spending,including a probable elimination of National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities, The Hill reported. The massive outburst against the palpable concerns of a population that considers the election as a national catastrophe is majorly pivoted around the same issue, if not having stemmed from it.

What prompts these protests? Such a collective response to an election, on a scale that has never been witnessed before, prompts an intense soul-searching, although it doesn’t take long for the water to boil. The populace that voted against Trump and his policies are now trying to galvanize fear and angst against his election and stand in opposition to his decrees. Many artists supported a strike on January 20th, which called for an “act of non-compliance” and urged museums, galleries, theatres and galleries to remain closed for the day. The J20 Art Strike witnessed response from places around the country albeit in different ways. While mass outspoken dissent has taken over the stage prior and following the election result, those whose voices have no public platform for outcry have taken to social media and visual medium to cut across barriers. Dozens of banners with messages of inclusivity and anti-racism adorned the buildings across Philadelphia and Atlanta on the Inauguration day.

All the dissenters speak one tongue, inspite of different mediums which emphasizes non-acceptance of divisive attitude, corrosive of the ideas of equality enshrined in a democracy. The paradigm shift in the concept of identity and the argument of white supremacy that underlines Trump’s narrative is the fodder that fuels the artistic cannons, whose call for arms is loud, distinct and unavoidable.

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article, fake news, jaipur, jaipur literature fest, jlf, Journalism, life, politics, Post-Truth, social media, Uncategorized

What is the brouhaha around POST-TRUTH?

The culminating session at the famed Jaipur Literature fest was dedicated to this deceptive word which made its appearance in the Oxford dictionary as the word of the year and has since been doing the rounds. What is Post-Truth to be precise? And why does it bug the eminent so much that we had to sit through an hour of grueling high-spirited cacophony that was the ‘debate’?

Apologies for the monotony but Post-Truth refers to ‘Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Makes sense. But its sudden encroachment of the entire spotlight in the modern political debate is rather baffling. While in India, political debate has always been framed around appeals to emotions, the original area of Post-Truth cultural debate was discussed around Capitalism. But now, since the latest events have turned all the predictions of political pundits upside down, the word has made a come-back in the dominant narrative, fueled primarily by the anti-establishment wave that brought Brexit supporters and Trump to power.

The eminent panelists at the JLF debate titled ‘We are living in a post-truth world’, included names of Barkha Dutt, Shashi Tharoor, Suhel Seth, Anne Waldman, Prasoon Joshi, Swapan Das Gupta, Luke Harding, Ashutosh Varshney and David McWilliam.

With the onslaught of fake news on Social Media, and a platform to voice their opinions, people have turned opinion-makers in the online culture, with little discretion between right and wrong, fact and fiction. This was the peg of the debate which took different roads with no conclusive decision. All the panelists, saving Luke Harding, talked about the multiplicity of truth, it being a subjective unquantifiable idea, and differed on the exactness of the phenomenon. While Barkha Dutt set the tone of the debate by arguing in the favour of the motion, she was countered by Prasoon Joshi. Joshi talked about how all the concepts have emanated from an emotional anchor. However it is the situation of lies being paraded as facts that was a bothering notion to him, instead of the glamorous idea of Post-truth. Anne Waldman, who reiterated that we have always lived in a post-truth world, went a notch higher, criticizing the word to be patriarchal.

Suhel Seth was at his witty best; while blaming Barkha Dutt of audience-manipulation, he claimed the idea of Post-Truth to be a media cook-up. Public discourse is manipulated around the world to suit individual agendas. Seth spoke on how, ‘we know how to distinguish facts from lies, even if lies get perpetuated. Thus we do not live in a post-truth world, ‘he declared, adding ‘the idea that we only live in a world of truisms and not lies, or only lies and not truisms in itself is facetious.’

Luke Harding made a very accurate point of the world witnessing a ‘new breed of authoritarian leaders’ like Putin and Trump who have monopolized knowledge of certain events and hence are in the position to disseminate ideas, strutted as Truth through media. Ashutosh Varshney was sombre compared to the animated debaters Swapan Das Gupta and Suhel Seth. Quoting Nietzsche, Gramsci and Foucault, he argued how this concept is not a sudden idea, and has been talked about by scholars in the past. The ruling elite in any economy will always have the power to mould social consciousness.

Tharoor on the other hand, started with an anecdote and concluded with the supremacy of Truth and also the truth of one’s entitlement to an opinion but not the facts. It is not a Post Truth world; only a world where it is easier to spread lies, and counter them.

The malleability of facts, which has eroded the credibility of journalism, is worth contemplating. Relativism has crept its way to Post-truth, with multiple narratives giving way to factual inaccuracy. India has almost always lived in a Post-Truth world, with a diabolical existence that speaks volumes about the contradictions of the country. One of the key debate discussions included that of the Demonetisation drive, which was promulgated with the intention of helping the poor but has in fact aggravated their dire condition.

While Barkha Dutt, who claimed that ‘Lies and propaganda have always been the bedrock of politics’, tried to reign in the diametrically divided opinions of the vociferous speakers, the debate concluded just like it had started- loud and ambiguous.

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