Pallab Deb


If amongst a myriad of other, more visible things happening, you didn’t notice, then here it is: today is the World Book Day. Books are important. They have been and will be. Be it in your personal hours of solitude or in the seemingly greater tasks of nation building, books have always been present. Only yesterday, a BJP MP asked for the Geeta to be made the National Book of the country. The National Book.

As if the multiple literary histories (some being made right now) of the country’s millenniums of cultural heritage, at times shared with other countries, can be neatly represented by one singular book relevant to one singular community. But this post is not about the history or the politics of the written word, you will have to wait for my very scholarly book for that. As my last post here, I offer knowledge about my one true addiction: I am a book hoarder. *cue dramatic sound effects*

As far as I can remember, collecting things was one of the only worthwhile hobbies I could find in my remote you-haven’t-heard-of-it-unless-you-are-an-engineering-student hometown. Sports never interested me and my slothful nature meant performing arts was out too. Collecting things meant competition and it meant owning things I felt were valuable. From Pokemon trump cards to stickers of WWF wrestlers to postcards to stamps to every other clichéd collectible, everything was duly noticed and collected. And then books happened.

First it started with slimmer comics, then the 90 specials. My parents and my brother had already jumpstarted my collection with their own collections of books – written or illustrated. I only had to build on that. The Three Musketeers met Rebecca, while the Wuthering Heights served as the backdrop.  While classics dominated the scene for long, the first contemporary novel that I bought and which changed my life was Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things. It was a special gift to myself that I made my parents pay for and I still remember the day I bought it.

Being from the aforedescribed town meant that there was only one bookstore. I had to wait for the two annual book fairs to restock my pitifully slowly growing collection. The school library was never too well-stocked and it was only years later that I came to know that the town actually did have a public one. I was still a good child and stealing books was still stealing, which meant thunders would roar through the air and chop my hands off. And pocket money was limited. Very limited. Moving to the state capital, Guwahati, introduced me to the idea of second hand book shops.

That was the year I was supposed to have spent on preparing for engineering entrances and that was the year I spent buying and reading second hand books in piles. My move to arts from science is due to that one year of immersive reading, backed by years of hatred for trigonometric and physics. At the end of that year, my parents were shocked by the number of books I dragged back home. My move to Delhi after that only meant that I got more places to hoard books from. The first time I went to the Daryaganj Book Bazaar was the first time I met this friend of a friend and we were drenched to our bones. That still didn’t mean that we didn’t get enough books to open up a small library.

The book fairs at Pragati Maidan were eye openers; the ones back home were not even 1/100th of them in sheer magnitude. More and more books made their way in. Rare editions of Ghosh, dirt cheap copies of Barnes, Granta issues bought by handfuls. So much so that, now that my days in DU are coming to an end, the prospect of moving them to a new location makes me shudder.

I have more books than I can ever read and I have no intentions of stopping. Sometimes it is the written word itself, sometimes the cover, sometimes even the title and many a times combinations of the three, I have been shallow on more occasions than ten. Some of my loveliest finds were not in swanky bookshops but in places that don’t get as many footfalls as they deserve. The Daryaganj Sunday Book Bazaar, the book sales at the May Day Bookstore & Café and the second hand bookshops at Panbazaar in Guwahati have yielded such surprises. Second hand books deserve a post of their own.

Imagine buying a Sartre, only to find a letter from the 70s stuck inside or a book on Iranian women and then a photograph of a colourful door waiting for you between the pages. Maybe the previous owners left them there when they let their books go, so that a part of them always remained within the books. Or maybe they just forgot. Either way, this passing of memories in forms of tangible things is something significant. You don’t just own the book they used to own, all the little somethings pressed or scribbled between the pages mean that you own moments from their memories too. Much before Inception, second hand books have been doing something similar for long.

So, for the fresh off the train student who might be reading this, only one bit of an advice, go to Daryaganj on a Sunday. Make weekly or even bi/monthly visits to that place a concrete part of your life in this city of extreme weathers. The mindboggling array of books will astound you and make you happy and will make your book collection grow faster than ever before and a good book collection also doubles up as really good home decoration.

Flipkart is easy but buying books in person is educational. No one remembers “arey that one time when I ordered Half Girlfriend off Infibeam”, but stories about book hunting in actual places always make up for very good conversation material on dates. Books are wonderful and they are important. You can have that over priced latte any other day, why don’t you gift yourself a book today instead?

Image Credits:

For long, Delhi University’s Ordinance XV-D, the Anti-harassment Ordinance was one of the best campus-based policies to address sexual harassment amongst students. It was gender-neutral, which allowed not just women who were harassed by men but also men and people of alternative sexual and gender identities to seek justice from the authorities in the University. But the recent replacement of the Ordinance with the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013 took away the act which protected queer students in DU.

At a time when alternative sexualities have again been made illegal in the country, the doing away with Ordinance XV-D has made the queer community within the University’s student body even more vulnerable to harassment. Not just people of alternative sexual and gender identity, no harassment case by the same sex will be considered a sexual offense but will have to be addressed through anti-ragging rules. This non-recognition of non-female survivors of sexual offenses is a big blow to the cause for a safer environment for students on the campus. What will be interesting to see is whether the new act covers trans-women too instead of only cis-women.

DU-based Gender Studies Group is planning on launching a campaign to address this change and will submit a petition to the Vice-Chancellor to either adopt an alternative act or to go back to the old one. Aapurv Jain from the group explains, “We are still in the process of forming the petition and we will keep people updated on this. What shocks us the most is the way they just replaced the ordinance without consulting any student body in the University.” The Gender Studies Group blog is regularly updated with news on this subject and other matters pertaining to gender and sexuality based issues on campus.

Image credits: Mugdha for DU Beat

What do you think about a protest that is at once attacking the Hindu Right’s policing of Valentine’s Day by promising/threatening instant-made marriages to (heterosexual) lovers found loitering around and at the same time, speaking out about the very institution of marriage and the merchandising of love on V Day? At a time when Lisa Haydon was being made into this year’s Damdami Mata for the benefit of the predominantly heterosexual male collegiate sexual frustration, phew, a certain Vidhyalakshmi Kumari’s call to march against the Hindu Mahasabha’s dictates was being translated into yet another show of police authority. The protestors, as the decked up baraatis, had planned to walk up to the Mahasabha’s headquarters at Mandir Marg, daring them to get the protestors married to each other, but before the baraat could even start, people were pushed and dragged into buses by the police.  The road was already barricaded. Someone in khakhi screamed “section 144!” A birdy chirped something about the Home Ministry’s involvement. A woman was dragged by her blouse to the bus. The media people as the perfect shaadi photographers kept on clicking pictures. As baraat swagat rituals go, this seemed to be the state’s alternative to Paan Parag.

The delightfully spacious inner courtyard of the Parliament Street Police Station, where those protesting were kept for hours without food, also doubles up as the perfect sangeet venue. If the idea to start renting it out for weddings and mata ki chowkis strikes the DSP, then you know where it came from. Using the rituals of the very institution of marriage that was being questioned as the inevitable end to every [heterosexual (Hindu)] relationship, the Mahasabha was mocked as the protestors sang songs, both regional and Bollywood, and danced till the police too started tapping their feet along. Delhi Sultanate was there along with Begum X; they both sang at the ‘sangeet’. Poets let out their poems of hate and love. Wedding songs from Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Bengal and Assam were appropriated with changes in words. Fake Ghar Wapsi tickets were being issued. A modern-day khaki-shorts-white-shirt wearing Draupadi got ‘married’ thrice, to three different women. Right outside the police station, simultaneous protests were going on. If the aim was to contain the unrest, then the only thing the police managed to do was to bring it right to its own doorstep, literally.

Was the protest a success? The answer depends on whom you ask. The protestors certainly didn’t get to march up to the Mahasabha HQ, but that was always a possibility inside everyone’s mind, echoing the Kiss of Love protest against the saffron-cousin RSS. But the protest did get its point across. People aren’t going to sit complacently while one right wing outfit after another issues a new ridiculous fatwa every day. Amongst the protestors themselves, there were different fractions. Some were for marriage equality; some were out rightly against the very institution of marriage. Opposing leftist parties made their own noises. While some feared that the protest was verging on the edge of frivolity, some thought that the celebrations around the mock weddings and the very real sangeet were a very effective tool. The protestors never harbored the idea that they could actually physically challenge the thugs of the Mahasabha, the point was to mark the voice of dissent. The party ruling the roost at the Centre comes from a pantheon of a zillion saffronist parties, no wonder then that a ‘sadhu’ politician from the Mahasabha could get away with promising death to Delhi’s new CM, that outfits like VHP could harass people using such devices as ‘Love Jihad’ and Ghar Wapsi, that ancient sci-fi epics regularly get categorised as actual science. The Mahasabha’s threat and the response of Vidhyalakshmi and her friends have to be seen in relation to all of this and not as an isolated case of cause and effect.

Going back to the question that we started with; what do we think of such a protest? A voice of dissent? An example of Delhi’s mass protest culture? Of the many things that we can think of, the one that remains above all is that of an inclusive space, where the only thing that is not included is moral policing of any sort. On the event page, the organisers say that the protest is against every kind of regulatory practice imposed on people at large by popular culture, be it marriage or the corporatisation of a single day to love with the help of cards and teddy bears or the usage of such practices by groups to spearhead a mutilated idea of national identity. At the same time, they recognise that marriage is a “strategic tool in hands of lovers who transgress various caste, gotra, religion, class, sexuality and age boundaries,” and that while marriage as an institution remains one that should be “dumped in the garbage bin of history”, they “stand in solidarity with all forms of love and marriage recognised as illegitimate and ashuddh in our society”. It is this negotiation of opposition and support that gives it its inclusive character. At a time when Charlie Hebdo shows us both the intolerance to criticism and the cooption of satire to pass off as xenophobia, Shudh Desi Romance reminds us that satire still remains one of the best weapons against State-supported fascism. One can only hope that the Mahasabha gets the message this time.


An ex-DU student himself (Sri Venkateswara), Manak Matiyani is a queer feminist activist working as a trainer and consultant on issues of gender and sexuality with a focus on youth development. He has been part of the Delhi Queer Pride Committee since 2012. Manak led the Must Bol campaign and has conducted many trainings with young people on campus with various colleges in Delhi University to address issues of gender, sexuality and violence towards prevention or violence and acceptance of diversity.

The part 1 of the interview series is available here.


A lot of people inside the community are of the view that events like this started off as being tailored for the western Queer movement and transporting them to the South Asian context only serves to alienate the non-Queer identifying mass from the Queer. What are your views on this?

I don’t agree much with that. I think that people who think of it like that perhaps have only stonewall and not a dandi march in mind when they say that. I’m not trying to conflate those two marches but I think that Pride marches in India have their own history and relevance. And they follow in the tradition of public protest using art and culture that has been the way of many people’s movements and resistance struggles in India and across the world. So to equate it with one kind of a Pride march which one sees most prominently in western popular culture would be very unfair.

There is no denying that the Pride march is also perhaps the biggest Queer event for many cities in India. And this year, for instance, we are talking about the NALSA and the 377 judgements, we are responding to cases of violence that have happened, we are also responding to the current political climate. In the last two years we have seen more families and friends joining in the Pride march.

Perhaps people still think of the Pride as something that only Queer people go to, but that is also changing as we are trying hard to reach out with the message that right to freedom and dignity cannot be seen as the concern of one section of the population. Everyone’s rights are being questioned and at stake.

I have not experienced Pride organising in any other city, but Delhi Pride is completely open to suggestions and re-tailoring. So anyone who feels that it has been implanted from the western movement is free and more than welcome to join in and help change whatever they think might be missing.

The sub-continent has its own indigenous gender-identity groups that are vastly diverse and different from those in the west. Isn’t it time that for major Queer-studies to finally emerge from the region that are not west-centric in their points of departure?

I agree with that. I think that in the last few years, academic institutions have been more receptive to Queer subjects in academia but the return of 377 is a barrier to free and open research on Queer themes as well. I know that the Ambedkar University offers the possibility of taking up Queer studies, but I’m not sure how many other universities make that option available and advertise it.

While there is an uncertainty around the implications of the law at the moment, there is also a fear of the ruling party and the upsurge of violence due to intolerance and hate.

The education sector itself seems to be moving towards an “Indian Culture” lens in academics and that narrow reading of culture leaves out, in fact, actively opposes sexuality rights and queer identities. This, in a context where there is a heavy focus on vocational studies, skill training and where arts education is perhaps the least lucrative. So a whole bunch of things are required to support academic engagement with queer studies whether west centric or not.

I am not the most competent person to talk about academic engagement with queer studies. My work is more in the development sector and activism and both those arenas have addressed the specific cultural identities and practices in South Asia. This is a complex subject as class has a lot to do with how people identify as well and for the more upper class and educated lot, the points of reference even to assess and assert one’s own identity are more readily available in the west.

HIV AIDS work has been a big arena that has allowed conversation about more cultural ways of identifying and brought them into the way we understand Queer identities.That is the reason why the alphabet soup of LGBT expands in India to include IHKQ and could go on and on further.

Many people have used the HIV intervention space to take up more critical and nuanced work on understanding Queer identities of trans* groups, hijras, kothis. There is still a dismal lack of work with people who were assigned female at birth, particularly F2M trans* people. So it’s not just an easy west-east divide, there is class, caste, gender, so much at play in what gets the research/project grant and what does not. It is complex and that is why community spaces like the Pride march need to work harder to bring all these narratives to a public arena.

The Queer movement in India is still a very urban phenomenon. How can we bring it to the rural belts where casual same-sex acts are both frequent and looked down upon?

Just like in the case of “Indian Culture”, there cannot be a narrow and straightjacketed understanding of Queer movements. This is also why we usually say Queer movements as it is not a single unified movement. They intersect in many places and have common grounds and agendas, but many agendas are different and there are diverse positions. There are many movements, the urban ones are more visible, particularly to those residing in the cities, but it is not like they do not exist outside the urban areas.

The pride march may be called a largely urban phenomenon. However, I have met people who come from nearby towns and even villages to participate, or just be in the space to look at what is happening. I also think that same-sex desire and acts are much more accepted in the rural areas where they are part of some kind of hidden, but understood culture. And there is a difference between accepting same-sex acts and accepting Queer identities.

There is a general understanding that it is very difficult to talk about sexuality or gender or sex in rural areas. This is just plain wrong. Women’s movements and women’s groups and organisations have been doing it for years. Sexual and gender diversity has existed in rural areas for years. Conversations might be difficult to start and have to be handled carefully and with sensitivity to the cultural context but they are already happening. Of course more could be done as in the case of the movements and Queer organizing in the urban areas. But there is no easy quick-fix solution. The need is to create initiatives and programs that address a variety of realities and recognize that Queer people are perhaps sometimes more vulnerable because of their class or caste or gender, than because of their sexual orientation. I work with young people and the biggest successes in my work have been where the youth from communities are empowered with knowledge and with skills to understand and take up these issues in their own communities. Community based and community led interventions are successful and the key is to not infantalise rural communities or feel that others can go in, teach and solve “their” problems.


While the NALSA judgement was a big win for the movement, the Supreme Court judgement on section 377 came as both a shock and a disappointment, especially with the last Pride preceding it by only a few weeks. What’s the status right now?

The Naz case is still on and we are waiting for the curative petition to be heard. Meanwhile we are also appealing to the government to take action. If the Supreme Court has passed the Buck, then the government which claims to be for serving the people must act for ensuring rights. They have come with a large majority, now is the time to take positive action.

The NALSA case has been seen generally as a positive step, though the nuances of how to implement the orders are yet to be worked out. The government has also sought some clarifications and we are all waiting to hear more.

There have been analyses of both judgments from lawyers and activists that lay out a range of issues. Anand Grover, the lawyer involved in both the cases, has spoken about the NALSA judgement as a positive step and one that can strengthen the case on 377.

It is really disheartening to see that despite this kind of a positive stance by the court, the state and the police continues to inflict brutal violence on transgender persons. There have been cases of sexual and physical violence against hijra persons in police custody and this recent case of the Karnataka Police using the beggary laws to even drag hijras out of their homes and send them to a beggars colony by force. This shows how deep-seated the prejudice is, not just in the minds of people, but also in discriminatory legal and administrative systems that we continue to hold on to for no reason.

The current government has been talking a lot of doing away with some laws that are irrelevant, I hope they begin that list with the laws that are not just irrelevant but also oppressive and unjust. In a democracy, laws should give more power to the people and not to the state. We are seen to be claiming the mantle of the largest democracy in the world but heading in the opposite direction. We can only hope that the situation improves and continue to voice ourselves in and outside the courts to bring these changes.

The Pride this year talked about both these cases. Celebrating the positive move with the NALSA case and protesting the roll back on rights with the re-installment of section 377. We also feel that there is a need for a larger anti-discrimination policy and legislation as various laws are used to oppress LGBTIHKQ people and a systemic and structural approach is needed to counter this vulnerability.

There has been a surge in Queer representation in the country, however pitiable it might be, be it in literature, cinema or on the TV. More and more Queer-identifying artists are coming up and out and online platforms like the Gayzine and individual blogs are giving new release to young voices. Is ‘popular art’ proving to be an apt tool to ‘normalise’ Queerness in the public eye? Won’t ‘normalising’ the Queer take away that space from the non-conforming to exist in solidarity with each other? Is assimilation the goal?

This is a significant question for the media and also for the Queer community. Very often I find gay men ranting about why they are clubbed with hijras. There is this popular imagination of an aag ke phere laga ke, double income bank job couples and happy upper-class couple celebrating gay karwachaudh. There is no problem with this picture until it is thrown at all of us and we are told that we must aspire to this. What I’m trying to say is that for me, a pillar of the Queer movement must be to question the creation and imposition of all kinds of norms and create space to acknowledge, accept and celebrate difference and diversity. There are of course different strategies to get there.

Satyamev Jayate had an episode on homosexuality, which I feel was great and very well done. However, I also agree with its critique which said that this kind of middle class aspirational family life is not the only kind of Queer life that people have or people want. So we need a proliferation of media images and narratives. Now I feel that a one-hour episode can only get into a limited degree of complexity if it has to reach out to a diverse and mass audience. In that, I think what the show achieved was great. It said to people that your children are different, but they are not wrong. So get your act together and support them. And that is a fabulous and a much needed message.

I am seeing that while the mainstream media chooses to stick with certain ideas of what the audience might or might not like, the alternative platforms online, events, art platforms etc are giving us a much more nuanced and much more diverse images and insights into how people live, relate to each other and experience the world. This is changing the way we think about people in general and not just about Queer people. And it is important to remember that, particularly when we think about fitting into one narrow idea of what is a good citizen or a good boy/girl.

To not expect Queer people to assimilate and become invisible by not talking about their relationships, not dressing the way they want, not changing the way their bodies move and so on, because it does not fit a homogenized and rosy idea of what a gay person “should” look like.

So assimilation is not the goal. But this is a question for all of us within the Queer community to ask ourselves as well and not just to the media that picks and chooses certain images and people to highlight. I ask this question every time when someone says that the Pride march should be more “decent”. Or that people should not be too “loud”. Every time when a gay men’s party says dressing in drag or hijras and trans* people are not welcome. So it has to be both a reflective question for ourselves, not just in political but the so called “fun” spaces as well. And it also must be the call we make to the public.


A Delhi University alumnus himself,  Manak Matiyani is a queer feminist activist working as a trainer and consultant on issues of gender and sexuality with a focus on youth development. He has been part of the Delhi Queer Pride Committee since 2012. Manak led the Must Bol campaign and has conducted many training sessions with young people on campus with various colleges in Delhi University to address issues of gender, sexuality and violence towards prevention or violence and acceptance of diversity. In a recent interview with DU Beat, he spoke about the effort and planning that goes behind the annual Pride Parade, the participation from the crowd this year and why the Parade always seems to clash with Delhi University exams!


We just had, possibly, the biggest Pride ever in South Asia, that too being the first one after the Supreme Court judgement. What do you feel about it?

I’m a bit cautious about all these “biggest”, “best”, “first” kind of tags to anything. That said, the Pride was great fun indeed and a bigger crowd than the last few years. I am horrible with estimating numbers and different reports have pegged it from 700-800 to a few thousand, so I’m not really sure.

I think it is definitely a moment for everyone – the courts, the government, media, and all citizens to sit up and take notice. We were worried whether the climate of fear and criminalisation would reduce the numbers. It seems to have had the opposite effect. People want to come out and be counted, show their presence and make it matter.

And there have been various pride marches recently, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Pune, and the one in Bombay earlier in the year and soon again in January. There was a march by transwomen in Bangladesh recently as well. All of these are significant and show that people are demanding their rights and dignity and that the government and the courts have to be accountable to people in a democracy.

What were your favourite moments from the Pride? 

There were so many! Each placard, each slogan and each thumka was my favourite! But let me recount the feeling that symbolises Queer Pride 2014 for me.

As one of the organisers, I had this initial panic about whether there will be enough people, whether things will go well and what if nobody turns up! I was walking towards Barakhamba Road and it was just about 3’o clock. Usually nobody turns up before 3:30 or so but this year, I saw a huge crowd waiting at Barakhamba Road at 3. It was a really big and diverse crowd and the march had not even begun! A contingent of students came in a bus on behalf of their school. People came with friends and families. It was that initial moment of looking at that massive crowd and feeling that whatever the court of the government does now, as a society we have moved ahead on sexuality, people’s (queer and others) rights and freedom. That whatever struggle it might take, there is indeed no going back. That defined the spirit of pride and all the people who were part of it for me.



Sticking with the question of Pride, why is Pride necessary for us in the present scenario?

We had a whole campaign going on in response to that question! You should check out the tumblr page. Many people ask why Pride is important and whether being LGBTQ is more a matter of pride than being straight. I think that line missed the point and ignores the history of people being persecuted and having to hide their identity because they are LGBTQ. These identities have been made a matter of shame and that is why Pride is important.

In the current context that has not changed, the Supreme Court has re-criminalised sexuality and taken away the dignity and rights of people. Last December’s judgment has in a way legitimized homophobic violence and discrimination. That is why we need Pride more than ever. For people to express their solidarity across identities and stand for the rights of all people who have been marginalized and face violence and fear because of who they are.

Since the judgement and the following Global Day of Rage on the 15th of December 2013, we have seen a strengthening of support and solidarity among diverse rights movements in India and across the world who came to support the queer movement. Pride then, is also relevant as a space that re-affirms those solidarities and brings these intersections into the queer movements and voices.

Who comes up with the ideas and where does the funding come from? Will the Pride in Delhi ever tie up with corporate companies like so many Prides in the west have? Yes, we are a curious lot here.

I was not associated with the initial stages of the Pride march though I have attended all the marches held in Delhi. I think the idea of a Pride march definitely came from the west, just like the homophobia and the law that make it necessary. However, one can definitely not ignore that we have had a history of struggles and people’s movements of public action, protest and assertion of rights. So it’s not like we heard about the Pride march somewhere in the west and suddenly got inspired. In that, the Pride, its ethos and its message are definitely our very own.

The Delhi Queer Pride is completely community funded and done with money donated by individuals. The Pride committee is not a registered group, we are a group of volunteers who do this just because we feel connected to this issue and feel that this is a good way to reach out to a larger public, educate, speak out and express our demands from the state. People come to Pride as citizens and not under the aegis of any organization. So we don’t partner with any organisation, corporate or non-corporate. This is also a way to keep the space equitable and open for everyone so that large organisations do not make the smaller ones invisible. Organisational funding has its own complexity and the danger of taking away the autonomy of a volunteer led community space. Organisations can continue to support Pride and Queer rights in their own arenas by creating organisational policies. We also saw many brands taking out advertisements supporting Queer rights post the Supreme Court Judgment. The feminist movements and many feminist and sexuality rights organisations have supported the queer rights movements and all that has created a climate in which Pride can be celebrated and organised without fear. We must acknowledge that support while retaining the community led and co-created nature of the Pride organizing space in Delhi.

When do you actually start to plan for the Pride? What all goes into the planning?

The Delhi Queer Pride Committee (DQP) is a volunteer group, which is active mostly for the Pride and Pride related events in Delhi. We have been organizing Pride since 2008 and the celebration to mark the Delhi High Court judgment on 2nd July since 2010. I have been part of the DQP since 2012 and speak from that experience.

The DQP gets active a few, typically two or three, months before the Pride to begin the planning. The meetings are held in public places and announced online and through community networks. Anyone can join the meeting and if they wish, they can be signed on to the e-list. The discussions happen mostly on the e-list but the meetings are a regular weekly feature in the run up to Pride, so those who are not connected can come to the meetings on a weekly basis.

So, the organising is a rather mundane affair with weekly meetings, committees and sub-committees, planning, frustrations, celebrations, fights and the works. Like any other diverse group trying to pull of a big event together. What makes it more fun is that all of us feel very passionate about doing this and so a meeting is never just a meeting. It is also a space for people to meet, hang out, socialize and find a supportive community space. People meet others who too grew up feeling isolated and alone and this organising and planning has also been a positive space for many people to come out and meet similar people who understand and accept them.

Credits: Mugdha Duinn 


Finally, the question that DU students would finally like to know the answer to, why does the Pride always take place right in the middle of the DU examinations? Wouldn’t you like us to show our thumkas there?

Well, I think when the “Last Sunday of November” decision got taken, DU had still not switched to the semester mode. So actually, the exams eventually came right in the middle of Pride.

I understand that as a student in the middle of exams it is not easy to think of taking out even half a day to go to a march. However, it is one of those dates, which is really well known now, so students can prepare in advance. We do lose out on active participation from DU students in the planning but then with so many different universities and colleges now, there always seem to be some or the other exams on!

I do think we should have this date discussion one more time, but I also think it would be great to do something just for the university organised by the students. The Delhi Queer Pride committee would be more than happy to help and maybe we can have a DU pride in February when campus starts. How is that for an idea?


 Image courtesy: Feminism in India’s Facebook page and Mugdha for DU Beat

November is here and it is the Pride month! The Supreme Court judgment last December might have dampened the spirit of both the members and the allies of the Queer community, the Pride March is set to show that the fight is still on. While the NALSA judgment showed us that struggle bears its sweet results in time, the Naz judgment showed us that the path may not always be straight (pun intended). On the 30th of November, the march will start from the crossing of Barakhamba Road-Tolstoy Marg and end at Jantar Mantar. While the DU semester-end exams will be crowding the calendar at that time, some lucky ones just might make it there (and we hope that we all do!). And even if you can’t, then there are a lot of pre-Pride events that you can attend to show your support. And your support matters, because there’s nothing “minuscule” about violation of Human Rights and sitting on the fence just won’t do anymore.

This is the cumulative eventof the Pride month. And it goes without saying that we love it; the energy, the festivity, the colour. The politics of Queer visibility makes it extremely important in the fight towards equal Human Rights. They are also organising pre-Pride events to celebrate the Pride week and an event later in December to mark last year’s infamous Supreme Court judgment on section 377.


8th November: Fundraising Party.

15th November: Placard Making and Picnic.

30th November: Pride March.

11th December: Event on 377 and the legal process.



Fursat Se, the Shahpur Jat café that hosts a book club, art exhibitions, film screenings and slam poetry open mics by Bring Back The Poets amongst others is toasting to the Pride week by organising a weeklong celebration of all things Queer. And as the name suggests, it’s going to be extremely queerious.

22nd November: Exhibition by Aditya Raj

23rd November: Film Screenings

28th November: Posters and placard making

29th November: EXTREMELY QUEERIOUS Poetry Slam + Open Mic.

Closer to the campus, the film society of Kirori Mal College is organising a two day Queer Film Festival. From complex questions of gender and sexuality to budding teenage romances to dying old loves, the four films cover a lot of ground. People in and around North Campus should drop in to give their exam-stressed heads something else to ponder on.

12th November: Laurence Anyways (10:30 AM), Show Me Love (2:30 PM)

13th November: Shortbus (11 AM), Happy Together (2 PM)




To understand how “mainstream” forms of masculinity work is to know how to subvert them to allow space for different forms of masculinity and other gender identities to survive and thrive. The Men and Boys for Gender Justice Film Festival which is going to be held at the School of Arts & Aesthetics, JNU, is an attempt at just that. The festival will be showcasing 71 films from 23 countries in media as diverse as documentaries, feature and short films, animations and public service advertisements. Check their event page to see the complete schedule.



If you know of other pre-Pride events that you think we should feature here, do let us know.

For every Bengali kid, Pujo means new clothes, lots of food, toy pistols, lots of food, pandal hopping, lots of food and the Durga protima. It does not matter which caste or religion or planet you belong to, as long as you believe that your neighbourhood has the best egg roll stall and the most suave looking idol of Kartik, you pass the Pujo-frenzy test. From the free-wifi enabled pandals of CR Park in Delhi to the old bari pujos of Calcutta, the modus operandi remains the same; show off all your creative-Bong credentials in one go. I propose a hipster themed pandal for next year (i.e. if it has not already been covered) where Durga will be wearing round nerdy glasses, like yours truly once did, and Saraswati will be donning a The Black Keys t-shirt instead of her usual pastel saris.

As someone who has no belief in religion, Pujo becomes a comfortable buffer-zone between religion and culture. I don’t have to believe in anything to be able to do any of those things typically attached with the festival.  I religiously (so much pun) eat the Bhog Khichhuri anywhere I can get my hands on it and still not feel like I am going against my personal anti-religion manifesto. Because food is food is food and the only reason Durga Puja scores over Navratras is the non-veg items. I can deal with the Mata ki Chowkis and the all night bhajan gigs that sprout all over the city during the festival, but don’t take my fried chicken momos away from me! That was the initial rude cultural shock on moving to Delhi; the number of chickens and goats that didn’t die during the Pujos because Navratre-chal- rahe- hain-bhaiay- non-veg- nahin-milega. The persisting rude cultural shock is paneer momos.

It has been the third year in a row now that I have been away from my hometown during the Pujo and the missing-all-the-fun sting is less stinging each year. The first Durga Puja in Delhi was spent trying to find out about the pandal scene in town (pretty basic, in my opinion). The second year, Chicken Afghani and Kamala Sweet’s Cham-Chams were followed by rum shots at My Bar, Paharganj. This year, half the Pujo and then some more would be spent up on Himachali hills.

The hometown, in a remote corner of Assam, still nurtures the old Pujo scenes. Friends from all over the country somehow make it home during every Pujo and all their assorted photos spam my Facebook feed for the next one month. Reunions at Durga Puja never appealed to me. The December meets seem more to my taste. Old Monk tastes better then. But still every year, like the good Bengali that I am, my calendar circles around the Pujo dates. Maybe next year I will make it home to Maa’s Luchi-Kosha Mangsho and corny high-school reunions. By then, my tenure as a Bachelor’s student at DU would have come to an end. Maybe the vacation next year would be long enough for me to go back home and return in time and still spend more than 2 days there. Maybe. Taile aagami bochor hobe?


Featured image credits: and B Block Durga Puja, C R Park Facebook page

At a time when toothpaste selling ladies appear on the TV and judge you for not having enough salt in your toothpaste and companies drop every semblance of logic to convince you that their brand of deo will make you a female-magnet, it becomes easy to forget just how much influence advertising has on our lives.

From forming an ever-changing collective image of physical perfection to keeping on perpetuating that image, it nourishes not-always-so-sunny social constructs around body image like a mama hen. And one of the places where it out-does itself is when it plays with the your-skin-can-never-be-light-enough complex that south Asians harbour.

India’s obsession with fair skin has given fodder to a million social scientists’ research papers and has pumped in billions into the bank accounts of cosmetic companies. The cosmetic industry in India, currently sizing up to $950 million a year, is estimated to grow to $2.68 billion by 2020, a growth lead by the skin lighting creams hoarding up the market. From Virat Kohli vending creams meant to make the Indian male’s skin lighter to ‘intimate washes’ to make the female nether zone ‘fairer and tighter’, the companies have successfully cashed on the Indian’s insecurity about skin tones. When people see Priyanka Chopra winning her one true love back by daily layering of her face with the skin-whitening magic lotion, ad-makers only hope that mortals will squirm in their seats and finish one jar of cream after another.

At a time like this when the whole advertising industry seems to be conspiring to keep the country forever in their post-colonial hangover, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has come up with guidelines to ensure that the absurdity surrounding the obsession with fairer skin in India can be contained a little. The guidelines come as commandments for both the cosmetics and the advertising industries to make clear what should have been duh-ah obvious to them all this while; Thou shalt not make it seem that having a darker skin is a bad thing.

This means that Shah Rukh Khan can no longer tell you that the distance between you and Bollywood stardom is the length of a tube of fairness cream. Which is a good thing, because 44% of the fairness creams in India contain mercury, which is illegal and can cause your liver and kidney to blow up out of proportion. While this is one step forward towards the destruction of impossible beauty standards, it should also be simultaneously embarrassing that there should be any need for such guidelines. They come as a nod of acknowledgement from ASCI that the situation is not rosy, that things can’t go on as they are. This is in keeping with the signs of gradual, subtle change in Indian advertising that are becoming more and more visible in the last few years.

Be it subtle support for Queer people or showing a single (not to mention dark) mother getting married for the first or second time, depending on one’s interpretation. The Indian ad-world is slowly, almost too slowly, growing up and hopefully with these guidelines in place, the ad-makers will now finally sell things without making the buyers feel bad about themselves.


Image source: Getty images

Indians have a lot of sex. A lot. If that comes as a shocker then either you skipped those parts of your Social Studies textbooks that droned about India’s population or you still believe that storks come down at night to deliver babies. Indians have a lot of sex, and not always for procreation.  Thank god, not always for procreation. We have done a lot of that in the last few millenniums. Sexual activity, like in the rest of the world, starts young in India. By the time one reaches the age where pimples, peer pressure and adorable first crushes combine with board exams to drive one to pick up one’s first cigarette, sexual curiosity has already dug its roots deep.

In a scenario where one in six girls between the ages 16 and 19 in India have started to bear children, proper sex education is not only the need of the hour but a lack of which also points towards the regressive thinking of both the people and the authorities governing the people. India’s Health Ministry seems to be forever doomed, with Dr. Harsh Vardhan taking on the mantel from his predecessor of helping India’s health crisis with liberal doses of moral teachings instead of, you know, more scientific methods.

While the previous Health Minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad, showed his limited understanding of human sexuality and incapability of being good at his job by calling homosexuality “unnatural”, a “disease” and a “western import”, Vardhan is doing so by first recommending the good old Indian values as substitutes for condoms in the battle against AIDS and then suggesting to replace sex education with Yoga in schools. Because you may not have any idea about what you are supposed to be doing but baby, better be flexible while doing it.

Vardhan’s qualification as a doctor comes as a double edged sword because not only does it make his claims sound more credible to gullible sheep, but it also points to how even the most qualified amongst us may turn out to be quacks in the end. It also shows how stubborn ideological leanings become the only deciding factor for parties in power rather than learnt and common knowledge.

This emphasis on ‘Indian values’ of fidelity and abstinence aligns very well with the Hindutva politics of the ruling party that Vardhan belongs to and has been influenced by since his childhood RSS days. This viewing of sex as something dirty is more Victorian than any ancient form of Hinduism that the Sangh daydreams about.

At a time when there is a sharp decline in new AIDS infections because of the stress on safe sex by the earlier Government, this puritan advocacy of ‘no sex’ will only derail the downward graph. Because people have sex. Even teenagers do. No amount of Yoga will make them immune against STDs and accidental pregnancies. Maybe then to answer their confusion over their changing bodies will be the saner option than to make them feel guilty over their emerging sexuality. Proper sex education can get more results than any moral lessons and it has been noted that places with good systems of imparting sex-ed have lower rates of teenage pregnancies.

But facts hardly matter in a battle to affirm a made up national code of virtue. In 2006, Modi’s face used to appear on free condom packets and contraceptive pills distributed all over Gujarat. In 2014, his Health Minister brushes off condoms and sex education. That Vardhan had to recant his views in both the cases may signal towards the Modi government going for a softer image than the ideological patriarch of the Sangh, RSS, would like.

Modi has categorically kept quiet about Article 377 while his party was very vocal with its support for re-criminalisation of homosexuality. His numerous photo-ops with Nawaz Sharif show a friendlier face towards Pakistan than many had anticipated. But even then, given that the party built itself on Hindutva politics, it can’t let go off its ideological stances so easily, and in its bid to create a ‘soft Hindutva’ image, as coined by Subramanian Swamy, it is finding the middle ground slippery.

De-criminalisation of homosexuality and the NACO’s emphasis on condom usage collectively brought down the number of newer cases of HIV infections. The party’s negative viewing of alternative sexuality and non-procreative sex that challenges the hegemonic, puritan Brahminical view of the society and the Health Minister’s insistence on ‘Indian teachings’ more than on empirically proven methods raise some serious questions.

With the case of HIV prevention as a representative example, the doubt that rises is that will BJP let its RSS-fed ideologies come in the way of policy building or will common sense prevail? As for Harsh Vardhan, rest assured, he will keep putting his foot in his mouth in his attempts to become Adarsh Vardhan.

Delhi University Teachers’ Association (DUTA) conducted their cultural protest, Jashn-e-Azadi, on 27th March in front of the Kirori Mal College hostel gate against the rising instances of ‘totalitarian misgovernance’ by the University authorities. The stage was opened by a speech by DUTA president, Nandita Narain, who called out the authorities on the recent passage of the code of conduct which, she said, is meant to crush any dissenting voice in the university. She also pointed out the one-year MA course will only lead to further degradation of the academic standards of the university, which is already reeling under the affects of Four Year Undergraduate Programme (FYUP). Other points of concerns were FYUP itself, the second term of office of the VC and immediate filling of vacant posts in the faculty.

Artists followed her speech with their own forms of protests on stage. While former Indian Ocean member Sushmit Sen performed with his band, Sushmit Sen Chronicles, belling out one fusion number after another, folk artist Ratan Gambhir talked about the increasing commercialisation of education. Narain brought the evening to an end by again calling out for the urgent need to group and protest against the increasingly draconian nature of the university governance. She said that culture is one of the sharpest ways of protest and Jashn-e-Azadi was only one in a line of similar events, pointing to the cricket match which was played after the protest march on 14th February. She ended by saying, “Jab jab andhakar ka samay ayega, tab tab hum andhakar key bare mein bolengein, gaayengein”.

Featured Image Credit: Iresh Gupta for DU Beat