Sunday, December 15, 2013

Beauty, solidarity and protest

Happenings, Dec '13 (update 2)
Pawan Dhall reports on the ‘Trans Queen Contest North-East 2013’, which mixed beauty and creativity with protest against the Supreme Court verdict on Section 377, Indian Penal Code

Imphal, December 14, 2013: “We don’t want to go back to 1860”, “Down down Supreme Court ruling”, “We want freedom of choice”, “Legalize love” and “Two of a kind make a beautiful pair” – these were some of the witty and hard-hitting placards carried by participants at the third edition of the ‘Trans Queen Contest North-East 2013’ held at the Bhagyachandra Open Air Theatre in Imphal yesterday. The event was organized by the All Manipur Nupi Maanbi Association (AMaNA), a coalition of community-based organizations that work on health, development and human rights of male-to-female transgender people or trans women and males who have sex with males in Manipur.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Rainbow tryst with destiny

Happenings, Dec '13 (update 1)
Pawan Dhall reports on the developments around the much anticipated Supreme Court verdict on Section 377, Indian Penal Code

New Delhi, December 10, 2013: Everyone hoped today, the International Human Rights Day, would be judgement day! But the wait got longer by another day for the much awaited Supreme Court verdict on the validity of the Delhi High Court ruling on Section 377, Indian Penal Code (IPC). On July 2, 2009, in a public interest litigation (PIL) challenging the constitutional veracity of Section 377, the Delhi High Court had read down Section 377 to decriminalize same-sex sexual relations among consenting adults in private. Subsequently, this ruling was challenged in the Supreme Court, which finished hearing on the matter in March 2012.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Bring on the verdict

Vartanama, Dec '13
By Pawan Dhall

A 12-year period may not be too long by the standards of the Indian judicial system in terms of delivering judgments. But if time is golden, then the Supreme Court must not delay any further a verdict on the matter of the Delhi High Court ruling of July 2009 reading down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. The issue at hand is not just decriminalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other queer people and their sexual relationships, but one of testing our resolve as a nation in applying the highest principles of the Constitution to a matter that is at once both intimate and public, and challenges our reluctance to look at gender and sexual inequity square in the face and deal with it.

Preparing for Section 377 verdict

Insight, Happenings, Dec '13
Arka Sarkar and Prithviraj Nath report on Kolkata Rainbow Pride Festival’s community meeting on being prepared for the imminent Supreme Court verdict on Section 377, Indian Penal Code

Kolkata, November 9, 2013: An evening full of informative presentations, thought provoking comments, and lively quips – this was the third adda of the Kolkata Rainbow Pride Festival (KRPF) collective at the Academy of Fine Arts. Chaired by KRPF member Pawan Dhall, the key speakers were Mumbai-based Anand Grover, counsel to Naz Foundation (India) Trust for the public interest litigation against Section 377 in Delhi High Court; Kaushik Gupta, advocate and sexual rights activist from Kolkata; Sandip Roy, queer activist, writer and former Editor of the USA-based Trikone Magazine, the oldest surviving South Asian queer initiative worldwide; Zaid Al Baset, researcher on gender associated with the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences and faculty, St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata; and Dr. Ujjaini Srimani, Kolkata-based mental health professional, who also works closely with city-based queer support groups.

Qatha: A doctor’s story (part 1)

People, Dec '13
By Pawan Dhall and Sukanya Roy Ghose

Varta brings you the 'Queer Kolkata Oral History Project', an initiative to document five decades of queer lives in Kolkata (1960-2000). Our aim in this project is to go back in time and bring forward diverse queer voices through a series of interviews, which will provide a landmark to Kolkata city's queer history. Typically, the focus will be on the queer scenario in Kolkata during the growing up years of each interviewee – how it was to be queer in Kolkata in different decades since the 1960s till more recent times. The effort will be to bring forward a mix of the well known and the lesser known voices. Apart from the excerpts published here, the project also aims to publish a collection of the interviews in different formats. All interviews are based on informed consent and where requested, all markers of identity have been removed for reasons of confidentiality.

In this issue we begin with the first part of an interview with Dr. Tirthankar Guha Thakurta, a medical doctor, 30 years old, resident of Kolkata. The interview was conducted by Pawan Dhall on August 6, 2013, and transcribed by freelancer Sukanya Roy Ghose.

More III: Prime greed

Poetry, Dec '13
By owais

The more I know,
the more I don’t know.

Reel dialogues

Cinemascope, Dec '13
Sanjib Basu was at ‘Dialogues: 7th Calcutta Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Film and Video Festival’ held at Max Mueller Bhavan, Kolkata, November 21-24, 2013 and took a good hard look at some of the film fare on offer.

The pass said 5 pm. Around 6.15 pm, the lights finally dimmed, and ‘Dialogues: 7th Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Film and Video Festival’ was inaugurated. To add to the delay that has become normal and prolonged at such events, the short memorial clip on Rituparno Ghosh that started the ball rolling had a terrible audio glitch. It was repeated, and fared not too much better.

The largest sexual organ

Advice - Mind, Body and Family, Dec '13
By Dr. Tirthankar Guha Thakurta

What is the largest sexual organ in the human body? Do not be surprised if I quip," It's our brain."

From attraction to erection and desire to orgasm, it is the brain that controls our mind and body. In fact, an interplay of chemicals decides when and how we will be struck by Cupid.

Let me share an interesting experiment conducted in 1974. Over the Capilano River in North Vancouver, Canada there are two bridges. The first is a five feet wide and 450 feet long suspension bridge constructed solely of a wooden plank and cable. It swings happily in the wind some 250 feet above the turbulent rocky tides. The other option is a solidly built anchored bridge that sits a mere 10 feet above sea level.

Sexual harassment

Advice - Rights and Laws, Dec '13
By Kaushik Gupta

Reader queries

What is sexual harassment?
Kishore, Kolkata

The law relating to sexual harassment is new in India. It was brought into effect on February 3, 2013. The offender necessarily has to be a man and the sufferer of such a crime, a woman (unfortunately, till date, the law of the land, by the term ‘woman’, understands only biological women). If the man makes an unwelcome and explicit physical contact or an advance with explicit sexual overtures, or demands or requests sexual favours, or shows pornography to a woman against her will, or makes sexually coloured remarks, then he will be guilty of the offence of sexual harassment. The first offence is bailable but if he commits the same crime again after the first conviction then the same is non-bailable.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Did the story end?

Happenings, Nov '13 (update 1)
Sayan Bhattacharya reports on a book reading session of Arjun Shekhar’s second novel End of Story? at the Seagull Bookstore, Kolkata

Kolkata, October 27, 2013: We hear a girl say, “I am part of a lost generation and I refuse to believe that I can change the world . . .” She goes on to paint a dystopian world where work is more important than family, where money is happiness. On a black screen, these lines scroll down to the girl’s voice. She continues, “My generation is apathetic and lethargic / It is foolish to presume that / There is hope.” A few seconds of silence and she signs off saying, “All of this will come true unless we choose to reverse it.” And then something startling happens. We hear a complete turnaround. “There is hope / It is foolish to presume that / My generation is apathetic and lethargic.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Yours emotionally

Vartanama, Nov '13
By Pawan Dhall

October 10 was World Mental Health Day, and also the first of the five big days of this year’s Durga Puja festival, the biggest in Bengal and celebrated with verve in other parts of India as well. Quite a happy coincidence, for what emotional well-being is to mental health, Durga Puja is to the social health of Bengal. A sense of sharing, feasting, colour and warmth presides in a part of India that is constantly battling an image of social, educational, health and economic gloom.

Doctor Brain's laboratory

Insight, Advice - Mind, Body and Family, Nov '13
By Dr. Tirthankar Guha Thakurta


The human body is aptly called a biochemical laboratory. Each time we discover the hidden codes that run the laboratory, we are left surprised at its precision and complexity. While speaking of the human ‘mind’, there is an age-long tug-of-war between biological and behavioural theorists (see The Mind-Body Riddle, September 2013 issue of Varta). It was identified long ago that our mind is a reflection of our brain’s activity, and the mind cannot exist free from the body. It is as simple and perhaps as silly as two computer lovers fighting about the superiority of hardware and software over each other. Both fail to see that both are right about their theory, and both are wrong in ignoring the other. But the tug-of-war seems to entertain us till date.

Celebrate, connect and grow

Happenings, Nov '13
Priyanka Bhaduri reports on an event to mark the World Mental Health Day in Kolkata

Kolkata, October 10, 2013: The Centre for Counselling Services and Studies in Self Development (CCSSS), Jadavpur University organized a daylong event to observe the World Mental Health Day on October 10, 2013 at the Subarna Jayanti Building in the university campus. The welcome address for the event, the central theme for which was ‘celebrate, connect and grow’, was given by Prof. Souvik Bhattacharya, Vice Chancellor, Jadavpur University.

Journey of a braveheart

People, Nov '13
By Amrita Sarkar

“Amita, tumhara ek photo dena, main ghar mein rakhungi” (Amita, please give me a photograph of yours, I will keep it at home). This was Mangu’s only wish, and she asked me for this every time she met me. But I would meet her mostly during work trips to Bhadrak, her hometown located in Odisha state of eastern India. Thanks to a packed schedule and work commitments, somehow I could never fulfill her wish.

Missives of loneliness

From the Archives, Nov '13
Zaid Al Baset delves into the Counsel Club archives again. These series of articles intend to create an archive of the queer movement in Bengal and India – not a chronological narrative of the movement, rather anecdotal histories capturing the little voices that are often lost in general historical accounts – voices from thousands of letters received by Counsel Club, one of India’s earliest queer support groups (1993 to 2002), and from the group’s house journal Naya Pravartak.

The 9th issue of Naya Pravartak published in August 1997, Counsel Club’s house journal, featured an article titled Seasons of Loneliness by one of the youngest members of the group. Beginning on a generic note on how loneliness is a common affliction, he asks “Is it related to one’s sexuality?” This young man, who loves writing, talking, watching TV and cooking, had a much older friend. He committed suicide when he was 46 years old, leaving behind a terse note: “Ultimate escape from loneliness”.

A state of no progress

Poetry, Nov '13
By Shompa Datta

You must take this city bus to school to be on time
But a crowd of riders bulge out at the doors
So, you push and push till it swallows you and your fears
            No personal space here!

Over pot-holes and narrow corners
Everyone rides together, companions
In sweat and smell and bodies tiered
            No comfortable journey here!

But, your schoolgirl dreams shatter –
A hand creeps up and down your thigh
The heavy-breathing body rubs rhythmically undeterred
            No compunction here!

So, you carry a pin to warn away molesting hands
Who blame the buses and the swaying crowds
For men will be men in close quarters, it appears
            No safe space here!

After generations of unschooled instinct excused
Gang-rapes on buses become repeated breaking news
Live women are easy game, this society holds,
Though in parras or hoods goddesses are revered
            No, no progress here!

Shompa Datta writes to give voice to issues and experiences that influence her at home and abroad. Her poems have been published in LimeStone Dust Poetry, Desilicious and Scripts. As a Kolkata lover, she hopes that the city will regain its place as a trailblazer Indian city; as a US resident, she hopes for civil rights for all, irrespective of gender, class, race and sexual orientation.
She earns a living as an Associate Professor of English at Stillman College, Tuscaloosa, Alabama and lives in the same city with her partner.

Star quest - 2nd encounter

Clickhappy! Star Quest, Nov '13
By Pawan Dhall

In the last issue of Varta, we started the Star Quest column, a series of photo-stories of individuals who may not be public figures like politicians, artistes, social activists or media persons, but have in their own way contributed to social equality and empowerment around gender, sexuality and related issues.

Their contribution may be in an intimate arena – among friends and neighbours, their local community, a village or slum school, their own work place and so on. It may not have attracted any media attention, yet the importance of their efforts cannot be underscored enough. Varta is happy to bring to light such hidden ‘stars’ and focus on endeavours that generate hope for a better present and future.

Varta welcomes its readers to contribute to Star Quest by sending information about individuals living anywhere in India who can be portrayed in the column. Please send a brief description of the individual and their work in about 100 words to, and also include 3 to 5 high quality photographs of the individual depicting their day-to-day life.

Please note that no individual will be portrayed in this column through text or photographs till the Varta team has interacted with them and obtained their informed consent. Therefore it is vital that readers also obtain the consent of the individuals concerned before sending information about them to Varta.

Photograph provided by
Debgopal Mondal
Star of the month: Debgopal Mondal, 25, from Uchpur village near Sainthia in Birbhum district of West Bengal, lives in Kolkata in a paying guest accommodation and is a budding filmmaker. A graduate in Bengali, Debgopal recollects that he wanted to become a filmmaker right since he was in the eighth standard in school. After college, since admission into any of the renowned filmmaking institutes was beyond his means, Debgopal plucked up courage to do the rounds of Tollywood studios in Kolkata. In 2007, he met filmmaker Dipankar Bhattacharya, who taught him the theory and other basics of filmmaking. Debgopal started as an observer and since then has assisted Dipankar Bhattacharya in the direction of several films of different genres.

In a phone interview, Dipankar Bhattcharya says, “Debgopal is a sincere and talented young fellow and works hard. He is a good learner, and I am happy to say that at times even I benefit from some very useful suggestions given by him.”

Debgopal’s current passion is making a film on the Bhadu festival, which is mostly celebrated in the Bankura, Bardhaman, Birbhum and Purulia districts of West Bengal. According to folklore, the festival has its origins in the story of Bhadravati, a princess who lived sometime in 19th century Bengal. She gets separated from her lover because of the evil designs of a jealous king. Her search for her lover proves fruitless and she commits suicide.

Photo credit:

Bhadravati or Bhadu Devi’s devotees make an image of her and sing and dance before it throughout the month of Bhadra in the Bengali calendar (which translates to mid August to mid September). On the last day, they gather on a river bank and immerse the image in the water. Songs, mainly on fulfillment of wishes for a happy marriage or birth of children, form the main attraction of the festival in which both professional groups and amateurs take part. Celebrations include fairs and cultural programmes.

According to Debgopal, the festival is largely observed by women, including unmarried ones (Bhadravati too was unmarried), and has also been adopted by male-to-female transgender people or trans women in Birbhum. Many of them dress and act as Bhadu Devi. His film also is focussed on three trans women from different generations who perform the goddess’ role and explores the question – will their desire to become women ever be fulfilled?

Photo credit: Pawan Dhall
Widows are not meant to be associated with Bhadu festival. But the activist in Debgopal wants to show this barrier broken in the film, and he plans to include a widow as a character in the film. Debgopal’s non-conformism extends also to his personal self. He says he too is a woman inside, but he is happy with his physical self and so doesn’t stick to any particular label like transgender. Yet he has the utmost respect for people who adopt such an identity.

Photo credit: Pawan Dhall
Debgopal is out about his gender orientation at work, including at NGO Prantakatha where he is part of their filmmaking campaign against gender-based violence. He is not sure what will happen if he comes out to his family, though he expects them to be considerate. Quite ironically filmmaker-actor Rituparno Ghosh’s demise seems to have made an impact on his folks as well – they are quite sad at his untimely departure.

The more immediate challenge for Debgopal is to find adequate finance for his film on Bhadu festival. He doesn’t want to compromise on quality and plans to cast actors from the Bengali film and television industry. If the film works out as he aspires, then Debgopal plans to take up more ambitious projects in future, including a feature film on pheriwallahs (vendors with handcarts who sell an assortment of utility items). Like the festival of Bhadu is losing out to modern-day forms of entertainment, the community of pheriwallahs is also fading in the onslaught of contemporary trade and marketing.

The underdog clearly is Debgopal’s focus. “People should treat all human beings equally,” he asserts as we wind up our conversation.

Pawan Dhall aspires to be a rainbow journalist and believes in taking a stand, even if it’s on the fence – the view is better from there!

FIR basics

Advice - Rights and Laws, Nov '13
By Kaushik Gupta

Reader queries

When and how to file an FIR?
Anonymous, Kolkata

A First Information Report or an FIR can be lodged in case of a cognizable offence. In the Indian Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, there is the description of two kinds of offences: cognizable and non-cognizable. It is usually the more serious offences that are cognizable and in which the police can arrest an accused without a court issued warrant. You can check the list at

An FIR can be oral or written. If it is oral, then the police must write it down, read it out to you and make you sign it. If it is written, the police can still jot down the contents of it in their FIR book and should give you an acknowledgment of receipt of the same. The police, under Section 154(2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, are duty bound to supply a free copy of the formal FIR to the maker.

Photo credit: Kaushik Gupta
When you are writing the FIR, make sure you give the specific details of ‘who, when, where and how’. That is, who committed the offence, when it was committed (date and time), where it was committed (the specific location), and how it was committed. Without these specifications the FIR will be vague and devoid of material particulars. If the details are not known, you must state why they are not known.

What to do if the police don’t take a complaint or act on it?
Anonymous, Diamond Harbour

If the police refuse to take your complaint and/or register an FIR, you can straightaway go to the nearest post office and send a copy of the written complaint with your signature in original by way of registered post with acknowledgement due card, more commonly known as AD Card. The complaint should be addressed to the Officer in Charge of the concerned police station. Mark a copy to the concerned Deputy Commissioner of Police, if within Kolkata, or to the Superintendent of Police, if in a particular district of Bengal.

If the police still do not act, then you have the right to approach a lawyer through whom you can file a complaint under Section 156(3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 before the concerned magistrate, who will pass a judicial order directing the Officer in Charge of the police station in question to draw up an FIR and initiate an inquiry.

If, after registration of the FIR, the police do not act, you can again approach the concerned magistrate and pray for a direction upon the Officer in Charge to submit a report regarding the status of investigation. You can, alternatively, file a case under Section 200 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 where you will have to produce the witnesses and lead evidence, if you have the details with you.

Kaushik Gupta is a lawyer by profession, a photographer by passion, and happy to answer your queries on legal matters around gender and sexuality. Write in your queries to, and they will be answered with due respect to confidentiality.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Surviving male but(t)s

Vartanama, Oct '13
By Pawan Dhall

As we continue exploring stories around intimate dreams and diversity in sex, gender, love, sexual attraction, friendship, family structures, personal identity and life aspirations through each issue of Varta, the question that arises every time is what theme to focus on. From the collection of articles in this issue, it may seem like one without any specific theme. If so, why talk about ‘male buts’ or ‘male butts’, and why think about ‘surviving’ them?

First, about male butts – there are many sorts and for different people they may evoke different reactions – admiration, desire or lust, envy, derision and even humour. True, that this also applies to female butts, but then female butts have probably been more talked about and commented on than male ones, and isn’t it important to even out this difference?

Roop, Rudra, Rituparno: An intimate non-conversation

Insight, Oct '13
By Paramita Banerjee

Filmmaker, actor, writer Rituparno Ghosh decided to bid an unceremonious goodbye to this world just like that – leaving many of us with an acute sense of loss. S/he had just about started to blossom with her / his gender queer personality as an actor-director, and – gone! As far as serious queer representation is concerned, we are left with only one film directed by Rituparno: Chitrangada: the Crowning Wish. And, of course, there are Arekti Premer Galpo (Just another Love Story), directed by Kaushik Ganguly, where Rituparno played the central gender-queer character, and Sanjoy Nag's Memories in March.

‘Must Bol’ campaign reaches milestone

Happenings, Oct '13
Pawan Dhall reports on a closure event of the first phase of the West Bengal leg of the ‘Must Bol’ youth campaign against gender based violence.

Kolkata, September 19, 2013: “Success is difficult to define, but it is at least being able to do what you want to do, and this is true for women too,” Dr. Shashi Panja, medical practitioner and Trinamul Congress MLA from Kolkata North constituency. “Marriage can protect, but can also destroy. Unthinking parents force their wards into marriage in the name of samaj (society), but this gives nothing in return,” Manika Sarkar, anti-trafficking social activist. “Let’s not stereotype gender, violence or gender based violence,” Pallavi Paul, Kolkata-based entrepreneur.

A musical journey

My Story, Oct '13
Transgender activist Amrita Sarkar writes about her lifelong pursuit of music, leading to the Songs of the Caravan, the first musical album of its kind in India cut by nine trans women from different parts of the country; a joint initiative of Jeevan Trust, a Delhi-based NGO that works with art and media for social welfare; Abhivyakti Foundation, Delhi; and PlanetRomeo Foundation, The Netherlands.

Music is an eternal and universal medium that brings peace of mind. My journey with music started a long time ago when I was a child and my mother appointed a music teacher for me to learn Rabindra Sangeet. My mother had a great impact on my life. She used to tell me there were no human emotions or feelings that Rabindranath Tagore had not talked about. She could not complete her own music course because of higher studies and family responsibilities. But the values and love for music that she inculcated in me seemed to help her fulfill her dreams. I was also enthusiastic to know what music was all about and why Tagore was so important.

A queen's ghazal

Poetry, Oct '13
By Rajib Chakrabarti

A Queen's Ghazal is a rather unique experiment – suffering equally in bondage and soaring with a liberty that only a queen can know. Ghazal is an art form, which is as beautiful and lovable as it is difficult and limited. It is perhaps the structure inherent and the rich symbolism that is already available in Urdu, which makes the ghazal greatly easier to render in Urdu than in English. Despite breaking some of the bonds of ghazal-writing, the poet succeeds in expressing his deepest feelings beautifully and rhythmically, in this English ghazal – owais.

Letters of desire

Essay, From the Archives Oct '13
Zaid Al Baset pens the first essay in a series which intends to create an archive of the queer movement in Bengal and India. It is not a chronological narrative of the movement, rather anecdotal histories capturing the little voices that are often lost in general historical accounts – to begin with, voices from thousands of letters received by Counsel Club, one of India’s earliest queer support groups, in the period 1993 to 2002.

The third fold of the inland letter card states “From a friend to a very close friend”. He calls himself John and makes a sincere request at the end of his letter. He writes “I will ask the person involved to meet me at Cossipur Club Gate, a little away from Dum Dum Junction station at either 10:30 in the morning or 4:30 in the afternoon. There’s a cobbler’s shop near the gate. Please wait there with a coat in your left and an unlit cigarette in your right hand. My password will be ‘John’”. He initially writes the name ‘Jay’ then strikes it with three fine strokes of the pen. The last two lines on the aging blue paper with paler edges read, “NB: Please send my partner as quickly as possible, please”. It’s a delightful sentence expressing a yearning so urgent, so precisely. The letter was sent through the Quick Mail Service to P.O. Bag No. 10237 (now not functional) and was received on March 11, 1996.

'Kashish': Sparking off a queer cinema rush

Cinemascope, Oct '13
Nitin Karani and Pawan Dhall in conversation with Sridhar Rangayan, Festival Director of the four-year old ‘Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival’, which has pulled up several notches India’s fledgling queer film festival scene

Pawan: What is 'Kashish' all about?

Sridhar: 'Kashish' primarily is meant to mainstream lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (queer) visibility through cinema. For the Indian queer audiences, the festival offers a mirror to similar lives, struggles and victories in other parts of the world. For the ‘mainstream’ audiences (who comprise about 30%), it is an opportunity to form a better understanding of queer persons, their lives, hopes and aspirations.

Star quest - 1st encounter

Clickhappy! Star Quest, Oct '13
By Pawan Dhall

Beginning this issue of Varta, we bring you Star Quest, a series of photo-stories of individuals who may not be public figures like politicians, artistes, social activists or media persons, but have in their own way contributed to social equality and empowerment around gender, sexuality and related issues.

Their contribution may be in an intimate arena – among friends and neighbours, their local community, a village or slum school, their own work place and so on. It may not have attracted any media attention, yet the importance of their efforts cannot be underscored enough. Varta is happy to bring to light such hidden ‘stars’ and focus on endeavours that generate hope for a better present and future.

Varta welcomes its readers to contribute to Star Quest by sending information about individuals living anywhere in India who can be portrayed in the column. Please send a brief description of the individual and their work in about 100 words to, and also include 3 to 5 high quality photographs of the individual depicting their day-to-day life.

Please note that no individual will be portrayed in this column through text or photographs till the Varta team has interacted with them and obtained their informed consent. Therefore it is vital that readers also obtain the consent of the individuals concerned before sending information about them to Varta.

Star of the month: Surojit Mitra, 23, resident of Bow Bazar, Kolkata, is an unassuming youth development volunteer, currently associated with Prantakatha, Kolkata and pursuing distance education in the arts. His message to everyone is a simple one: “Don’t ignore anyone, whoever they are.” He is happy to have a diverse mix of friends from different backgrounds and walks of life, and that also includes his pet Goldie. 

Photos provided by Surojit Mitra

Surojit, or Bumba to his friends, is passionate about teaching children living in the Bow Bazar red light area. He started off with Sanlaap as a member of their ‘Youth Partnership Project’ supported by ECPAT International (End Child Prostitution, End Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes). From 2008 to 2010, he was trained by Sanlaap to conduct teaching and activity classes for small children, and this has continued till date even after the project ended. Never one to be demoralized, he now conducts classes from his own home, and also encourages older children to continue their education.


Photos show Surojit conducting classes during his association with Sanlaap and drawings made by his students (photos provided by Surojit Mitra).


Photo credit: Pawan Dhall
Recalling the initial struggle he had to undergo to convince his parents about his plans to teach children living in red light areas, he wishes that the ‘Youth Partnership Project’ had not ended. In his experience, these children need a lot of patience and long-term support to continue with their education. Many of the children have their mothers engaged in prostitution. It is difficult to win their trust in the face of other pulls like drug use and the challenges posed by their circumstances. Sometimes they take offence easily and one can expect a gradual change at best. Kudos therefore to Surojit for continuing with the teaching efforts on his own steam.

Busy also these days as a volunteer with his ‘Prantakatha family’, Surojit is part of the ‘Must Bol’ filmmaking-based youth campaign against gender based violence (see Happenings report ‘Must Bol’ Campaign Reaches Milestone in this issue of Varta).

Surojit is quite relaxed about his future plans. But his eyes brighten up when he says that the children he has taught remember him even after having grown up. That gives him a quiet satisfaction that he has been on the right track, and he is certain that he wants to become a professional social worker.

All strength to him says Varta.

Pawan Dhall aspires to be a rainbow journalist and believes in taking a stand, even if it’s on the fence – the view is better from there!

The male breast

Advice - Mind, Body and Family, Oct '13
By Dr. Tirthankar Guha Thakurta

Breast /brest/ noun: Either of the two soft, protruding organs on the upper front of a woman’s body which secrete milk after childbirth.

As I was looking for the definition of ‘breast’ in some non-medical dictionary, the most popular dictionaries yielded something close to the one above. Evidently, the popular view of breasts is that of a female organ meant to secrete milk after childbirth.

Rights and wrongs

Advice - Rights and Laws, Oct '13
By Kaushik Gupta

Reader queries

What is a right and what are its different forms?
Kishore Kumar, Kolkata

A right can be defined as an interest protected by law or, in some cases, by social conventions. Now, definitions always seem more confusing to me. In trying to understand what a right is, I will have to first figure out what is an interest. I tell you, this is where the lawyers make all the money!

A right, in simple words, means something which I am permitted to do or not do and if any one tries to stop me from doing something or forces me to do something, such a person can be prevented from encroaching upon my rights and can also be punished by law. There are several forms of rights, namely, Fundamental, Constitutional and Legal.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Radio rainbow

Happenings, Sep '13 (update 2)
Sukhdeep Singh reports on the launch of Q Radio, an online radio channel targeted at lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender listeners

Bangalore, September 13, 2013: Q Radio, India’s first radio channel targeted at a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (queer) audience, was launched on September 11, 2013 by, a radio station which offers over 30 channels catering to different interests. The channel would be available 24×7 and listeners would be able to access it through a computer or mobile device. The channel offers a mix of information and entertainment, and promises to provide a platform for queer community voices.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Aathmika – born of soul

Happenings, Sep '13 (update 1)
Rudra Kishore Mandal and Pawan Dhall report on a debut painting exhibition by audio-visual journalist Amitabha Sengupta

Kolkata, September 8, 2013: ‘Aathmika – Born of Soul’, a six days long exhibition of paintings by audio-visual journalist Amitabha Sengupta, concluded at the G. C. Laha Centenary Fine Arts Gallery yesterday. Part tribute to womanhood, part expression of a long cherished desire to take up fashion and other arts, the painting exhibition was a debut effort by the artist and was inaugurated on September 2 by Odissi exponent and social activist Alokananda Roy. The paintings were also available for purchase.

Sunday, September 01, 2013


Vartanama, Sep '13
By Pawan Dhall

Similar or gently differing, radical or dissenting ones – perspectives are what dialogues are about. A meaningful dialogue is one that helps different priorities to be expressed – with as little hesitation as possible or fear of disagreement. In that sense dialogue may also include diatribe, but surely with checks and balances so as not to derail the dialogue itself. It needs a generous dose of mutual respect between the dialoguing parties – of the kind that says “I may disagree with you, but I will fight with my life (or, at least fight till I explode with rage) for your right to disagree with me”.

Sarita Bai and her child

Insight, Sep '13
By Md. Gulrez

In the year 2007, I was based in interior tribal villages of Madhya Pradesh working with an NGO on community development. My work involved interaction with women, organizing them to form self help groups (SHGs) and promotion of livelihood initiatives.

It must have been around the time I had received confirmation in my job after a yearlong intense induction programme. Instead of feeling high, I was a bit depressed as all the six others who had started with me either left or were asked to leave. Lonely, I tried to engross myself in work. A usual day’s schedule involved getting up early in the morning and rushing to the villages to monitor progress on agricultural and horticultural interventions, attending a few SHG meetings, getting back to the office to do desk work, having lunch, and returning to the villages in the evening to attend more SHG meetings.

Do genderless names break the gender barrier?

My Story, Sep '13
By Sukhdeep Singh

We all have multiple identities – a national identity, regional identity, religious identity, sexual identity and gender identity. All of these are identities that we learn to identify ourselves with. Some identities accrue to us purely because of social conditioning, like national or religious. But some have the potential to break free of the conditioning to become self-assertions, like gender and sexual identities. However, we probably develop the strongest sense of identity with our names.

More . . . of what?

Poetry, Sep '13
By owais

More power.
More fame.
More money.

I want more of these.
And more.

Why do I want
more and more
of more and more?

Is not
this hole in my soul

Is not,
a desire to arrive
at the most?

And, is not the most
by a mere human?
Where is
my perspective?

Why don’t I want
the one thing
which I must want more of
if I want to arrive
at my destination
as opposed
to a way-station?


owais calls himself the ‘sucker for love’ – for knowingly, he not only trusts, but lives on that rainbow which does not actually exist.

Source: First published in, December 30, 2010

'Rwituparno Ghosh'

Theatre, Sep '13
By Pawan Dhall

Rituparno Ghosh (1963-2013), the late filmmaker with a deft insight into women’s issues and who in the last few years before his untimely demise became increasingly expressive about his own sexuality through the films he acted in and interaction with the media continues to inspire other artistic efforts. On August 12, 2013, Dumdum Shabdomugdho Naatyakendra premiered their new play Rwituparno Ghosh (scripted and directed by Rakesh Ghosh, language Bengali, 55 minutes) named eponymously after the filmmaker at Muktangan auditorium in South Kolkata.

Photo credit:  Dumdum Shabdomugdho Naatyakendra