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Queering Dilli

Suchita posted on 29 October

By Priya

Delhi is known for many things – its food, monuments, fashion, archaic government buildings, charming trees, tiny old lanes, Sufism and even its eclecticism. Just not for its queerness. But there’s something about its own puzzling eccentricity that sets it apart from the other cities of India. As a city, Delhi is fluid, multidimensional and yet, sometimes very rigid and uncompromising.

Dilli – a 5000 year old city - continues to carry the scars of her own history even though it has been rebuilt many a time. Its breath smells of patriarchy, consuming even its most liberal inhabitants, and actions continue to endorse a heteronormative mindset.

Recently, I met a young, bright girl who appeared to have done a deep and tedious study on the capital akin to the many PhD students that call it home. She asked me if there existed other queer women in the city. To me, she may as well have asked, “Do you see mulberry trees in Delhi?” We know they exist. We have tasted the fruit. Perhaps the real question is “Where do you see them?” I found myself smiling at that moment - I don’t know if it was because of the naivety of the question or the memories of childhood spent sitting on the branches of delicious mulberry trees.

I grew up in Delhi. And this is where I fell in love with another woman a decade ago. Despite my early beginnings, I often found myself in the shoes of this young girl… searching the city to find someone who is like me – a lesbian. A space where I could just meet someone over a cup of coffee.

Delhi often does not let one forget the colonial history of India – a twinge and tinge acquired from years under British rule. Yet, unlike the wonderful hill-stations around the city and the unique architecture of Connaught Place, it also bore a memory with more sinister undertones - Chapter XVI,  Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. A piece of legislation that criminalized sexual activity “against the order of nature.” In short, it made every homosexual – it made me – a criminal. But then something amazing happened.

On 2nd July 2009, Section 377 was read down to decriminalise same-sex behaviour among consenting adults in a historic judgement by the High Court of Delhi. Not only did this groundbreaking event bring lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual issues out into the open and irritate tolerance, but it also made queer women more visible.

This year, Delhi walks in its 6th annual queer pride parade and just by looking at the sheer number of queer members and supporters; one would imagine that was obvious! Same sex marriage and rights are legal in Delhi!

Perhaps, this one time of the year, Delhi does come out as queer.

The remaining 364 days you do see shades of queerness- in Qashti Ki Matargashti, the deliciousness of Lavender Ladies, the liberating informal spaces of Nigah, the earnestness of Sangini {@SanginiDelhi}, and the assertiveness of the DQP {aka Delhi Queer Pride} group.

Qashti, a group for people assigned the female gender at birth, was formed in 2011 by five friends with the intention of helping women, and FTM Trans people in distress. Their helpline assists people who deal with coming out issues, marriage pressure, heartbreak and violence. Qashti’s program is still going strong, and it is incredible to see the overwhelming impact they have. Early this year, the people at Qashti felt the need to create a space to hang out and Mattargashti was born out of pure fun {pun intended}. There are over 50 members who meet every second Saturday and last Sunday of the month to watch movies, play board games, share potluck lunches, speed date, and just be queer.

Lavender Ladies on the other hand, is a mysterious group - almost like an adaptation of The Chronicles of Narnia where women travel to these magical {queer} spaces through secret doors. One can only find them by chance or a stroke of luck. Or by dropping me a line *wink wink*

Nigah is a queer collective based in Delhi that initiated a dialogue around gender and sexuality in 2003. It allows queer perspectives to be shared, challenged and celebrated through films, art, debates, plays, and every other medium of expression. It is also the organizer of the famous Queer Café open mic evenings in the city every year in the month of March. In my view, this group is one of the brighter stars on the Delhi Queer Scene.

Amidst all these, Delhi boasts of an NGO – Sangini, the oldest community support program for LBT women, which has been committed to women’s  sexual and reproductive health and rights since 1997 with an active helpline {number  +91 9717 677 152, every Tue & Fri, 6 to 8pm}. They not only provide counseling services, but also legal advice on defending the rights of women facing violence because of their sexual/gender orientation.

On the political front we have DQP. They bring to us the bright and boisterous Delhi Queer Pride parade, the queer mela and a ton of events leading up to the pride parade. Being open, being public and having the right to love and live life on one’s own terms is the focal point of DQP. This year however, their intent is not limited to sexual minorities alone… they are also looking to use their collective might to bring forth issues of gender and violence that continue to haunt us Dilliwallas every single day.

Now one would expect these queer spaces to be flooded by dilliwallas alone but that’s not true. I have witnessed the quirkiness of Patnaikars, bindasness of Mumbaikars, the brilliance of Bihar, the taste of Lucknow, and the beauty of Dehradun in the women I have had the privilege of meeting here.

Delhi may not be out and proud all the time, but today she definitely celebrates diversity and her own burgeoning queerness. Soon, she may even show us her mulberry trees.

About the author | Priya is the editor of The Gaysi Zine and Co-Director of The Gaysi Family. Priya is a Delhi girl who started writing for Gaysi Family blog in 2009. The Gaysi Zine is Priya’s initiative to bring the Queer community’s sometimes poignant and sometimes entertaining words into the light.

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