On Tuesday, 28th January, the Women’s Development Cell of Lady Shri Ram College for Women organized a talk by Dr. Ashley Tellis, a renowned professor and LGBTQIA activist who spoke about how Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code affects women. An extremely controversial and contested section, the recent upholding of 377 by the Supreme Court has been challenged and attacked massively by the LGBTQIA community.
Dr. Tellis held the attention of almost 50 students of the college by handing out two questionnaires at the outset, the first about how one is constructed as a woman which entailed questions of pain, shame, menstruation and violence that being a woman in a patriarchal context is part of, and the second was one that posed questions about sexuality (that are most frequently asked to homosexual individuals) to heterosexual people. These questions ranged from when one ‘chose’ to be heterosexual to why heterosexual people try to ‘influence’ others to follow their lifestyles. These exercises brought students to understand social constructs of gender and sexuality more closely, so as to set the discussion on section 377 in context. Dr. Tellis then spoke of how even the reading down of the section in 2009 only extended rights of sexuality to homosexual men of elite classes, almost never mentioning lesbian and other categories of women. He also evoked theoretical concepts of post modern scholars like Foucalt so as to explain his points better.
The enthusiastic group asked Dr. Tellis several questions about how to address concerns of breaking the sexual binary, the way in which femininity is viewed and his own experience of being open about his sexuality in the University set up, making the talk an interactive and informative experience.