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Queer Collectives in Indian Institutions: A Glimmer of Hope Amidst Systemic Oppression

Queer Collectives aim to make universities a safer place for queer folks. Battling queerphobia and institutional oppression, how far-fetched is the dream?

Universities are a space formulated to constantly assess, critique, and reform the status quo. Queer Collectives have been an extremely important part of campus culture, because not only do they provide a safe space for queer folks, but also amplify their voices in the form of regular initiatives that seek to promote their well being in all spheres of life. Several colleges and universities in India have a functioning Queer Collective in their institution, and DU Beat reached out to their representatives to shed light on the path-breaking work they do, as well as the problems they face that need active solutions.

Queer Collectives Across Delhi

Events including Pride Marches, democratic discussions on queer topics, and documentary screenings seek to champion queer causes organised by various collectives.

We organise Queer Film Festivals and AUD Queer Fest – a series of performances, panel discussions, workshops and interviews that are inherently political in nature, to celebrate queer lives. We regularly hold screenings, community events and open mics. Right now, we’re holding online events in the form of discussions on the current political climate of the world, including the resistance from the fascism of the government, and draconian acts like Trans Bill. We are also fundraising for our community members, who are involved in relief programs to support the vulnerable and marginalised.

Soumya, representative of AUD Queer Collective

Several student advocacy groups have also taken up the mantle to increase awareness about queer rights.  DU Beat reached out to ReformTheNorm, a student collective founded by students of Jesus and Mary College and Ashoka University.

We here, at Reform The Norm, try to inculcate through our content and work environment, a sentiment of acceptance, love, and understanding. With regards to our position as allies to the LGBTQ+ community, we deem it essential to be operating from a place of equitable representation. We find it imperative to follow the lead of the members of this community in starting conversations and supporting movements of inclusivity and justice. We make sure we’re researching from an in-depth perspective and are not occupying the spaces of the community, rather supporting them.

Pranjya Grover, one of the founders, ReformTheNorm

However, for queer collectives on campus, active support and ally-ship in the form of enthusiastic support, funding, and formalisation on terms set by the members of the collective would mean that they were extended a ‘queer-friendly’ safe space by the administration. Unfortunately, the administration of most colleges have often proved to be detrimental to the progress of the society, in terms of lack of permission for the organisation of events, lack of recognition for efforts, and dismantling the spaces the collectives set out to reclaim.

In the year 2019-2020, we made a three-part documentary called The Kinnar Economy which discussed the economic conditions of hijras in detail. We had its first screening in August, which was cancelled at the last minute by the admin. Then we had a discussion on the Trans Bill 2019 which had been passed in the Lok Sabha. We organized a Pride Parade along with an Open Mic, in collaboration with NSS. We celebrated the bisexual visibility day and talked to the people from the community, about the stereotypes they are subjected to. We organised Prism, wherein all the art forms come together – including the Fine Arts Society, the Photography society and the Filmmaking society wherein they display their work. We also got a spot in the event, and got to display information about the sexual orientations and gender identities, the Indian queer movement in contemporary India, some queer artwork, and also White Rose Club’s timeline.

Nandini, a representative of White Rose, the Queer Collective of Gargi College

Battling Queerphobia

We have had to fight queerphobia at every step. It’s almost as if the admin wanted to break us down and test us. We have had our signed applications torn in front of us, a couple of minutes before the events and it gets very hard to still fight on, especially when we were only trying to educate people, sensitize them and make our college a safe and accepting space, without any incentives. We didn’t get certificates or pink/ECA slips for missing out our classes. We didn’t get any funds to make a whole documentary, where we went out and interviewed kinnars. We didn’t get funds to organise any of the events, and honestly, we didn’t even ask for it. All we wanted was a little acceptance and recognition so that the queer students in our college don’t get subjected to discrimination. In October 2019, we approached a couple of teachers for their support and we got it. We recently got formalized and legitimized. The White Rose Club will now function under Gargi College’s Centre for Diversity and Inclusion. We are a formalized queer collective, which will be funded. This has been a long hard battle, and this is a huge win for us.

Nandini, Gargi College

Miranda House Queer Collective was the first formalized QC in Delhi University, it got formalized in April 2019.

The formalisation of Queer Collectives is an increasingly important issue that needs to be taken up with the administration and Student Unions of institutions. Mallika Mukim, a council member at Ramanujan College’s QC explained that while they get enthusiastic support from the English Department in their college, it is vital that the administration institutionalizes the collective so the members have access to more funding, resources, and spaces.

We had an Azadi Wall and Trans Memorial Wall on campus, which our members painted together, which was taken down by the administration as part of the ‘renovation’ of the College. The motive behind it was clear, and we led a protest against the same. We are now waiting for the college to re-open, so we can reclaim our space.

Soumya, Ambedkar University, Delhi

It’s imperative for students, staff, and administration to work towards creating a supportive environment for Queer Collectives, by formalizing them and amplifying their voice in the institutional structure. While we see hopeful trends for the same, we have to ensure that not only Queer Collectives, but entire universities become safe spaces for queer folks.

Feature Image Credits: Vaibhav Tekchandani for DU Beat.

Paridhi Puri

paridhip@dubeat.com

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Journalism has been called the “first rough draft of history”. D.U.B may be termed as the first rough draft of DU history.Freedom to Express.