The mixing of issues is real liberation

By Danish Sheikh

Originally Published on sabrang.in

“There are so many roots to the tree of anger
that sometimes the branches shatter
before they bear ….”

Audre Lorde, Who Said It Was Simple

“How about beef lover, man eater?”
“How about eats beef and men?”
“What does this even mean?”
“Why are you mixing issues?”

We are sitting in the Good As You office in Bangalore, a week before the Pride March of 2015. The atmosphere is celebratory – we are in the middle of a poster making workshop. Palettes have been flecked with paint, the floor carefully covered with yellowing newspaper, conversations and comments over slogans cascade over each other. Many old favourites are rolled out: “Closets are for Clothes”  and “Let’s Get One Thing Straight – I’m Not”  are two of the more ubiquitous ones. The comments around me focus on my attempt to link the beef paranoia with queer struggles. “Beef Eater, Man Lover” I outline in rainbow strokes on my poster. Across the room, I can see my colleague working on his “Put AFSPA in the Closet, Not Us” poster. And again, a question sifts out from the harmless drone of conversation:

“Why are you mixing issues?”
Bangalore Pride comes and Bangalore Pride goes, In the rush of images that circulate online, I notice “Beef Eater, Man Lover” has somehow managed to incite a range of conversations. There are a number of fault lines to the debate: is it injurious to animal rights activists? is it harmful to the queer agenda insofar as it links up unnecessarily with another deeply contested issue? And, again, that hydra like question – why are you mixing issues?

A week later, Delhi marches. In the rush of images posted online, I spot a set of placards that seem to be in conversation with ours: “Homos hate BJP” announces one defiantly; another, more cheekily: “I like my men beefy”. Another poster adds a different dimension to the conversation in just three words: “Queer, Dalit, Proud”. More images, and another set of contestations around the meaning of Pride.

What does Pride mean?
I recall how this question has been repeatedly debated, year after year in Pride organizing meetings in Bangalore. At one level the debates have been around funding – the importance of this being a community funded event, the importance of staying away from any kind of institutional support. Looped into this assertion has been the debate around institutional representation in the form of shirts, signage and other paraphernalia during the march. The argument there roughly mirrors the one on funding – this is an event by the community, for the community, and bringing in larger institutional participation as signalled through organizational logos tends to distort, if not wholly swallow that. The further questions that arose this year have of course occupied the fray in past Prides – what was new perhaps was the level of engagement that they were received with.

I am unaware of what contestations preceded the Delhi Pride, but once the images began to circulate, they were accompanied by very illuminating write-ups. In “A Short Response to those who said we were derailing Pride this Year” (http://www.gaylaxymag.com/articles/queer-voices/a-short-response-to-thos…), Dhrubo Jyoti sums up the opposition to such invocations in the course of his title, then goes on to highlight exactly why this derailing argument is unfounded. Where the focus of Pride for many years has been the repeal of Section 377 that criminalizes same-sex lives and has no place in a modern democracy, he notes that

“such a struggle cannot be isolated from other forms of violent suppression of rights around – be it centred around caste, class, religion, disability or the ability to express dissent…… So many of us live in fear everyday at our homes, our workplaces, schools, colleges and on the roads – scared that we’ll be targeted for our gender, sexuality, caste, class, religion, ability and so on. Delhi’s queer pride this year asserts that it is time to end all these fears, and that queer freedom is inseparable from a broader culture of respect and space for diversity.”

And right there, I see this unacknowledged conversation reverberating back across the two cities. The first week of Bangalore Pride brought together activists from the city for an event where we looked back at the history of queer activism in the city. One of the most powerful moments of that conversation was when we went back to the 150 year old text of Section 377. “Carnal intercourse against the order of nature” reads the section and as one of the panellists asked, what was truly ‘unnatural’ in the Indian context? Isn’t the term ‘unnatural’ a fig leaf, a convenient blanket term to sweep aside any challenge to the hetero-normative space – also considered unnatural are intimate alliances across religion and caste.

So many of us live in fear everyday …..  scared that we’ll be targeted for our gender, sexuality, caste, class, religion, ability and so on. Delhi’s queer pride this year asserts that it is time to end all these fears, and that queer freedom is inseparable from a broader culture of respect and space for diversity.

In the space of relationality, our struggles intersect on the right to choose whom we love. In the sphere of freedom, they intersect on the broader level of autonomy – our right simply to live our lives in the way we please.  None of these struggles are individually possible without us being aware of the others. In Audre Lorde’s poem “Who Said It Was Simple” she sits at a bar where an “almost white” counterman passes an already waiting black customer to serve a group of white women. The women are about to march themselves, but here they sit and neither “notice nor reject the slighter pleasures of their slavery”. But Lorde?

“But I who am bound by my mirror
as well as my bed
see causes in colour
as well as sex

and sit here wondering
which me will survive
all these liberations.”

I end wondering that same question. Which fragment of us do we want to survive liberation? Does it have to be fragments at all?