disability rights

Jaded's picture

Re-Presenting Absences

As a simple defense of the well-being of my lobes, I tend to not interact with people who believe Culture is one monolithic and omnipresent entity, that somehow it is the particular duty of the “youth” to uphold it and keep it intact, for reasons that sound eerily close to neo-colonisation and imperialism. However, there is only so much a DustyLady can do to avoid such people; especially if this person is the key-note speaker to one of her seminars, avoiding him becomes a tad difficult. This speaker spoke of ‘urban myths’ that the ‘young people of today’ perpetuate and one of them is Lesbianism, supposedly. Of course, he didn’t say it that bluntly; he slid it in as one wry statement and I almost missed it — by the time he got to this part, I was already sleeping — but my friend nudged me and whispered “This dude thinks Indian lesbians are a Western myth, like the moon landing or something” and I couldn’t help laughing and then sighing, because not only is this opinion too popular, it has some inkling of truth as well. Lesbianism is seen as a Disease Those White Hippy Buggers From The 80′s Left Behind In India though authors like Devdutt Patnaik have shown traces of queer identities and characters in Hindu, Jain and Buddhist folklore and mythology.  As I’ve discussed earlier, Indian lesbians are madeinvisible, consciously written off as non-existent to uphold patriarchy, despite a plethora of virtual and real spaces like Gaysi and other LGBTQI forums thrive with many people who identify as lesbian. We’re somehow relatively tolerant of gay men and ‘hijras exist on the fringes of gender and cities anyway’, so we don’t engage with them unless we absolutely have to. But the idea that the SariClad Ladies Of Our Traditional Country™ may have feelings for other people who identify as women, collective gasps and cries can be heard.

It’s interesting to see how such visible absences are re-presented in media and even in everyday conversations, however homophobic they may be, such re-presentations do exist. One of the most famous and early lesbian stories is Ismat Chughtai’s Lhiaf which remains shrouded in ambiguity and innuendos throughout, which still cost the author a court trial for obscenity. Today when we study the text, we try to see beyond the draconian control in the writing and see queer-relations within an airless patriarchal setting; we can almost tolerate it, as long as we contain the author and her work into walls of ‘fiction’ and ignore other contemporary queer artists. Amruta Patil‘s graphic novel ‘Kari’ that voices a lesbian protagonist is seen as an ‘experimental’ novel at best. The nuanced drawings and references in the book — she mentions reading Winterson’s Sexing The Cherry a few times, the Body is shown as a site of navigation of memories and events, exercising agency at all times — are obscured under readings like “look how angry her art is!” or “did you see the pretty colours?” and we deliberately unsee the presence of a queer protagonist. It gets to me when voices of people are rendered voiceless by religion or patriarchy, just because it doesn’t fit in the six by four-foot box that people are supposed to fit in, and those who don’t, we paint them invisible. This making invisible is done under the waving flag of religion, where we firmly state that “our scriptures do not depict such lifestyles ever!”, again ignoring a myth in the Mahabharata that talks of two lady priests who make a son out of the earth, mud and soil pouring life into him, modern re-readings show hints of a queer family model in function; however short the verses describing their life may have been.

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