Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Cause-way to the New Year

Vartanama, Dec '14
By Pawan Dhall

December 1 – World AIDS Day; December 2 – Bhopal gas tragedy; December 3 – International Day of People with Disability; December 6 – Babri Masjid demolition; December 10 – Human Rights Day; December 11 – Supreme Court verdict on Section 377, Indian Penal Code; December 16 – gang rape incident in Delhi . . . the last month of the year seems to be a good time for the Indian nation to introspect on its tryst with destiny that began in 1947.

If anything, the spate of panel discussions, seminars and conferences in December (in fact, from November itself), in Kolkata and all over the country, seems like a ‘mass babble’ of introspection on a plethora of social causes. Points, counter-points, theories, heated and clever arguments jostle with testimonials of discrimination, violence and survival, many heart-rending and inspiring at the same time. Thank god for festive events like film festivals and carnivals, which provide some relief from the unrelenting sombreness of discussions and meetings, but then also add to the ‘noise’ around issues and causes?

At the Section 377 public hearing (from left): Justice K. G. Balakrishnan;
B. V. Ramanakumar, DIG Rayalseema, Andhra Pradesh; Swami Agnivesh;
Manavendra Singh Gohil; advocate Anand Grover; and social activists
Dr. Indumathi Ravi Shankar, Gurukiran Kamat and Laxmi Narayan Tripathi
Photo credit: Pawan Dhall

The intention is not to belittle any of the efforts. Varta representatives had the opportunity to participate in two of these laudable initiatives. The first was a seminar organized by the National Alliance of Women’s Organizations at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kolkata on December 10, 2014. Under the broad theme of looking at the status of gender equity in West Bengal, the seminar facilitated a dialogue between queer activists and women’s rights activists – to throw light on the nature of violence faced by queer individuals, understand the common hetero-patriarchal roots of violence faced by women, children and queer individuals, and act together in responding to the violence. For instance, how often do queer support forums turn up to express solidarity with women’s rights campaigns, or do women’s rights groups talk about Section 377 as also ‘their’ concern?

A day later, India HIV/AIDS Alliance and its partner agencies organized a public hearing on Section 377 in Delhi – to protest one year of this archaic and draconian law being reinstated by the apex court of the country. Seven queer individuals from across the country shared powerful personal stories of how Section 377 impacted their lives in the last one year, and apart from a few hundred people in the audience, they were heard by a number of political and religious leaders, police and other government officials, legal experts and human rights activists.

MP Oscar Fernandes (centre) with other participants at
the public hearing on Section 377
The speeches of Members of Parliament Oscar Fernandes, Jesudasu Seelam, Avinash Pande (Congress Party) and Dr. Dharamveer Gandhi (Aam Aadmi Party); K. E. Krishnamurthy, Deputy Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh (Telugu Desam Party); Justice K. G. Balakrishnan, Chairperson, National Human Rights Commission; and Swami Agnivesh, politician, social activist and Arya Samaj scholar were encouraging, even rousing. The MPs in particular raised hopes by promising to bring up the matter of legislating against Section 377 in the Parliament. But will these remain mere high decibel platitudes?

Which brings one back to the issue of ‘noise’. If it’s introspection, don’t we need some peace and calm, a time-out from talk and more talk? To think through what the ‘coincidence’ behind the motley mix of causes all taking up December dates points at, just before the time for New Year resolutions . . .

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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