Chronicling the Literary History of Homosexuality in India

Same-Sex Love in India: Readings from Literature and History edited by Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai encompasses the literary history of homosexuality, ranging from Vedic ages to 2Ist Century in India.

With the NDA government derecognising transgender persons as the ‘third gender’ in the country’s labour law framework, Trump signing a directive that bans military from recruiting transgenders, and India voting against the ban on death penalty for homosexuality in United Nations, it looks like the attainment of LGBT rights have a long way to go. This makes me wonder, had our administrators read Same-Sex Love in India, edited by Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai, then we would not have had to see such policies being practiced.

Edited by former lecturer and literature student of Miranda House Ruth Vanita, and activist-scholar Saleem Kidwai, this book has an array of writings on same-sex love picked up from over 2000 years of Indian literature.

The book is divided into four parts. The first part deals with ‘Ancient Indian Materials’ coves Mahabharat, Jataka tales, and kamasutra. The second section caters to ‘Medieval Materials in the Sanskritic Tradition’ which talks about references to homosexuality in Puranas and folklore. The third section has ‘Medieval Materials in the Perso-Urdu Tradition’ that depicts homoerotic love expressed via gazals and Sufi traditions. The last and the longest, and perhaps the most interesting part, discusses the ‘Modern Indian Materials’. Here the subject goes from the letters of Amrita Shergill to Vikram Seth.

The data on same-sex love in India is expansive and one can tell the meticulous level of research that must have been invested to put together as well as organise this anthology.

Since many chapters are translations from more than a dozen languages and drawn from folk, Vedic, and Buddhist traditions, there is a well-explained introduction before all major chapters which contextualises the terms and subsequently makes it easier to understand the text.

The book deals more with abstract love than with sex. The editors, Ruth Vanita resonates, “A passionate attachment between two persons, even between a man and a woman, may or may not be acted upon sexuality. For this reason, our title focuses on love, not sex.” Therefore, those looking for explicit mention of eroticism will be disappointed. Some people may even claim that devotional love, that is an intrinsic component of Sufi-Bhakti traditions, is being misinterpreted as homosexual romance.

Overall, for a gender studies student, activists, and for those interested in queer history this book is a must-read.


Feature Image Credits: Palgrave Macmillan

Niharika Dabral


Niharika Dabral is an average anti-national feminist who is currently pursuing Journalism at Cluster Innovation Center. This quixotically honest and technologically challenged Garhwali strongly advocates that Harry Potter must be included in elementary education. If you want to rant about how unfair life is or want to share something awful or awesome that needs to be reported then feel free to drop her a line at niharikad@dubeat.com 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *