Wednesday, April 09, 2014

‘Jagah hai . . . sorry, vote hai kya?’

Vartanama, Apr '14
By Pawan Dhall

If memory serves me right, April 12, 2014 will be the 24th anniversary of my first ever ‘gay date’. This will be soon after the country will have started on nine-phase elections to constitute a new Lok Sabha – the 16th to be precise, but the first that will have seen the concerns of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other queer communities make an entry into the political rainbow of development issues in the run-up to its formation.

At least two political parties, the Indian National Congress and Communist Party of India (Marxist), have included queer issues in their manifestos, while a third, the Aam Aadmi Party has just done a volte face and unceremoniously dropped them from its manifesto after having done a grand show of dialogue with gender and sexuality activists.

Of course, an inclusion of issues in manifestos is no guarantee of action on them after the elections are over. Pre-poll promises can melt away just like the thrill of the first date with a gay man did when I saw the person from afar. It was a hot and dusty summer afternoon and the meeting point was next to a popular confectionery shop in the heart of Kolkata. The age and clothes on the man matched the description in the letter he had written to me to fix our date, but the height, tummy and length of the nose was a far cry from the imagery my 22-year old brain had conjured up in anticipation.

Queer lives: More than about pushing buttons? Photo credit: Pawan Dhall

In spite of my disappointment, I did manage the courtesy of walking up to the man to say hello. But the half hour that I spent with him did not redeem the situation. It was clear that while I was a ‘new entrant’ into a queer world seemingly obsessed with sex (and the hunt for space to have sex), my date was a practiced hand at these matters. After a cup of tea in one of Kolkata’s old-time eateries with suspicious cabins and curtains, I escaped untouched, but perhaps not unscathed, and surely a little grown up.

Somehow, replacing my date’s question “Jagah hai?” (Do you have space for sex?) with the politician’s “Vote hai?” (Do you have votes?) seems to make sense. But today, if anyone were to ask me if I have space, instead of being tongue-tied, my answer would be “Yes, but it can be for more than sex”. It seems our political parties also need to be told that queer people have votes, but their lives are much more than about votes!    

All said and done, I decided to keep in touch with my first ‘gay date’, and some years later even welcomed him into Counsel Club, a queer support group I was part of, to help him see a world not devoid of sex but also beyond sex. I suspect the queer communities have to do the same with politics and political parties. Irrespective of the false promises and let-downs, keep in touch and keep at it. Help them see a world behind and beyond votes.

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!

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