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Naisargi N. Dave
QUEER ACTIVISM IN INDIA
Designed by Amy Ruth Buchanan
Rendering Real the Imagined
Within Limits, Freedom
dedicating this book to several of them I am not diluting my thanks, but
scholar, and mentor; thank you, for everything. I remain indebted to my
other dissertation committee members, Sumathi Ramaswamy, Alaina
Lemon, and Miriam Ticktin. I am honored to have learned from you. Suma-
versity of Michigan: Bhavani Raman, Bruce Mannheim, Chandan Gowda,
Edward Murphy, Francis Cody, Genese Sodiko, Jill Constantino, Karen
Hebert, Lee Schlesinger, Marina Welker, Michael Baran, Sharad Chari, and
Somehow I wound up with this wonderful job in a great city and sur-
rounded by dream colleagues. At the University of Toronto, and in Toronto
more generally, I want to thank Amira Mittermaier, Andrea Muehlebach,
Andrew Gilbert, Bonnie McElhinny, Francis Cody, Girish Daswani, Holly
Wardlow, Janice Boddy, Jennifer Jackson, Jesook Song, Joshua Barker, Kajri
Jain, Lisa Forman, Michael Lambek, Sandra Bamford, Ritu Birla, and Tania
There are many people beyond my India, Michigan, and Toronto worlds
who have helped me immeasurably and taught me a great deal. My sin-
cerest thanks to Carla Roncoli, Gayatri Reddy, Kamala Visweswaran, Law-
rence Cohen, Nita Karpf, Martin Manalansan, and Tom Boellstor. I wish I
way, but you know who you are; please also know how grateful I am. I am
Where to include three of my favorite friendsIndia or North America,
the academy or outside of itI do not know, and so for them, a paragraph all
their own. Sunila Kale, Surabhi Kukke, and Uzma Rizvi, thank you for all
And to Madeleine Findley, every word of this books rst iteration was
tation Research Grant from Fulbright-Hays, a Rackham Humanities Fel-
lowship at the University of Michigan, a Foreign Language and Area Stud-
ies Fellowship at the University of Michigan, and a Start-Up Grant from the
Connaught Foundation at the University of Toronto. I was also helped tre-
mendously by the American Institute of Indian Studies in New Delhi and
Chicago. I thank all of these institutions for their support. Portions of this
Signs: Journal of Women in Culture
Thank you to my research assistant, Kevin Nixon, for helping me in the last
stages of this books preparation. Thank you to the artist, Dhruvi Acharya,
for allowing me to use her striking watercolor,
book. Finally, I wish to thank my editors at Duke University Press, Valerie
Millholland, Gisela Fosado, Rebecca Fowler, Jeanne Ferris, and Susan Al-
bury. I am very fortunate to have had their support and the benet of their
ment whatsoever. This book is in part for Vihaan Dave, my little nephew,
son of my not-so-little little brother, Prerak Dave, and my talented and
generous sister-in-law, Kshipra Dave. I am tempted to say that I hope
Vihaan is inspired by this book to become a lesbian and move to Canada,
Parthivi, who still nds the very notion of anthropology amusing but, I
Where do we go now? Gautam wondered aloud. His expression was of
1. Delhis rst Gay Pride parade, June 29, 2008. Photograph by Maurizio Cecconi,
in December 1998. The famous Regal Cinema was then showing a little-
about two sisters-in-law who reluctantly,
but desperately, fall in love. Right-wing activists attacked the theater and
terpublic. For those who had also been at the protest in 1992, it was once
again the unimaginable unfolding.
Delhis rst Gay Pride parade was also held nearby, in June 2008. The
marchers were anxious at rst, outnumbered probably ten to one by police
and journalists. But the group of revelers soon swelled to a euphoric, drum-
Then of course there was the event that sparked Gautams query: the Delhi
High Courts decriminalization of adult, consensual, same-sex sex in July
several others had left the collective due to the strains and conicts en-
(People for the Rights of Indian Sexual Minorities), it was
transsexuals; straight, queer, and nonidentifyingall united in the cause of
constellation, queer activism is centrally about the search for, and the culti-
lished, invented, multiplied, modulated? The problem is not to discover in
oneself the truth of ones sex, but, rather, to use ones sexuality henceforth
to arrive at a multiplicity of relationships (1994, 135).
Within this articulation of a homosexual ascesisor, as we might put it,
health apparatus (see Agrawal 2005; Baviskar 2004; Escobar 2008; Fergu-
son 1990; Akhil Gupta 1998; Kamat 2002; Li 2007; Moore 2005; A. Shah
2010; A. Sharma 2008; Tsing 2004). The
at all) has been a popular theme in scholarship on South Asian social move-
queer activism. Here, I will simply characterize my own approach.
tionsthat I try to bring here. Rather than making arguments about aggres-
sive global impositions upon local struggles or, at the other end, the seam-
interest (Guidry, Kennedy, and Zald 2000; Keck and Sikkinik 1998; Nash
2005), we might, as Anna Tsing suggests, look for points of friction: the awk-
ward, unequal, unstable, and creative qualities of interconnection (2004, 4;
see also A. Sharma 2008, xviii) that prove key to emergent sources of fear
and hope (Tsing 2004, 11).
Western feminist scholarship: Indian women do not only suer, but they
provide alternative moral perspectives (1994, 25); they do not fear plea-
sure but demonstrate an exuberant sexuality (1994, 27). Raheja and
and North America (Blackwood, Bhaiya, and Wieringa 2009; Boellstor
2005a; Carrillo 2002; Lorway 2008; Manalansan 2002, 2003; Rofel 1999;
Sullivan and Jackson 2001), anthropologists study queer lives for their
management of queer sexuality against two social facts: rst, the Western
reality of the incommensurability of queerness with religion or nation. The
latter limitation is seen as making it either dangerous or unthinkable to
conform to the former imperativeto forge a queer publicwhich points
of Arab sexual practices (2007). In both such narratives, sameness masks
an originary dierence (Rofel 1999).
subjects often remain, in anthropological renderings, incarcerated within
the realm of the everyday.
century, are not, as I show in chapter 1, automatically felt as strange by
those who assume them. The incommensurability of lesbian with In-
tracted to other women). Even untranslated, phrases like women who love
women and single women have been advocated by some feminist and
these questions about terminology, many of which have been key in femi-
the past can be just as problematic as uninterrogated presentism.
The second question is critical for writing about rural and semi-urban
vernacular languages. First, it is misguided to assume from the start, as
many people do, that such women cannot think of themselves as lesbian
this is only elitism dressed up as class sensitivity, and the examples in
lytical liberties I take in using lesbian doubles as a kind of solidarity.
example, when I refer to two women in rural Kerala who jointly committed
suicide the night before one of them was to marry, but who did not leave a
suicide as a lesbian suicide. The term lesbian, then, is one of writerly
convenience but also of potentialityinstead of thinking of lesbian as a
It is both the omnipresence and the absence of the state that has made
Delhi a central site for Indian queer activism. Not only are national deci-
cally rich places of protest. Indias rst gay public demonstration, which I
headquarters (see gure 3). Indias rst international queer demonstration
Conference to protest the Indian governments
stance against homosexuality. The rst eort to decriminalize same-sex sex
3. Indias rst known gay protest in 1992 outside of Delhis police headquarters.
lic gures in Delhi, Bombay, Pune, and Bangalore. With the people in
life histories. These were rich with stories about families, realizing queer-
for trust and often brought me close to people before I even had the chance
some other groups. (Thankfully, this was largely temporary.) In
pecially, I was expected because of my intimacy with people to give advice in
times of uncertainty. When asked what I thought
under her breath, snorted with laughter, shot me annoyed or quizzical
glances, and softened with emotion. The conversations that followed were
hard and intense. She wondered, for example, why I hadnt shared more of
distance. But she begrudged me nothing and demanded no changes; the
alterations I made after our conversations were mine alone, as I learned
from her and others how to write about the people who have taught me
what I know. The following summer I distributed my work to activists
priorities of queer activism in India vary distinctly by city. If I had been
based in Bombay, for example, I would have worked more with kothis.
Queer alliances in Bombay are formed largely in relation to one personality,
that of Ashok Row Kavi, the father of Indias gay movement. Row Kavi has
been repeatedly linked to pro-Hindu, anti-Muslim communal positions (L.
Cohen 2005; see also chapter 5); thus lesbians, kothis, and anticommunal
feminists in Bombay such as Awaaz-i-Niswan are unlikely but committed
sexuals. Queer organizing in Bangalore, as in Bombay, was initially built
around one person: here, an activist named Manohar who founded his
behemoth organization, Sangama, on a vision of sexual uidity. A bisexual,
he married a hijra employee, and their very queer, unlikely union symbol-
chapter is based on making sense of one political imperativefor example,
tive eort to make sexual assault in India a gender-neutral crime. Most
RENDERING REAL THE IMAGINED
In the summer of 1999, a South Delhi disco called Soul Kitchen opened its
doors to gays and lesbians of the city. This rst ever gay night was, for
queer people in Delhi, one of the most hotly anticipated nights in memory.
As for me, then a novice eldworker, the night held a pleasure even more
across the oor from her, were the directors of Indias rst lesbian help line
and support group, Sangini, which had been organized as a distinct alter-
native to the lesbian collective that Thadani founded in 1991. To my right
Rendering Real the Imagined35
the rst time (182). However, informal groupings of same-sex desiring
were comprised primarily of activists, andfor reasons I will discuss in
about what we must nd in order to make sense of our queer present and
Rendering Real the Imagined37
Indian feminism with the Western, bourgeois taint of lesbianism. Such
nized womens movements have themselves been dismissed by Indian
nationalists as Western imports that undermine national unity (Kumar
1993, 87 88). Thus, Indian womens groups have historically distanced
themselves from lesbian politics (N. Menon 2005, 39) in order to defend a
Lesbian Communication Is Needed
The Delhi Groups cautious linguistic occlusion of lesbian possibility was
the group to found Indias rst explicitly lesbian organization, Sakhi, in
Rendering Real the Imagined39
gay relationships in the face of marriage pressure. It had a ribald Men
Seeking Men section, but no such page devoted to women.
Twenty-six-year-old Miss Kumar from a large city in Tamil Nadu de-
have been construed within a global discourse of risk and management as
an at-risk population, moving gay sex out of the realm of moral disagree-
Furthermore, the risk of gay sex is understood to travel to wives and chil-
with the concurrent liberalization of Indias economy in the early 1990s,
to mitigate risk (K. Misra 2003 and 2006). Lesbian women, understood
globally as a practically no-risk demographic, have not had the protable
on which to base claims of legitimacy.
also a more subtle logic at play. Under the guise of a liberal cultural and
gendered sensitivity, it is often taken for granted that the average Indian
woman does not have the wherewithal to even imagine herself outside her
Rendering Real the Imagined41
Rendering Real the Imagined43
one of the most consistently cited moments of cathartic recognition, along
The term lesbian was later to arrive than gay on the mass media-
cination with male homosexuality. The rst stories about lesbianism dealt
with the marriage of two policewomen, Urmila Srivastava and Leela Nam-
deo, in Madhya Pradesh.
Urmila and Leelas fellow ocers leaked word
of their private ceremony, leading to the women being red from their jobs
mation, these stories about lesbian women did not invite or inspire, but
rather repelled. None of the women featured in these articles called them-
selves lesbian. Leela and Urmila, for instance, angrily rejected the term
in an interview, arguing that they had never heard of such a thing before
(Saisuresh 1988). And these stories, which focused on public opinion
and expert analysis of these same-sex desiring women, squarely asso-
(rather than noble resistance), with sorrow (rather than the gay abandon
and with isolation and abject loneliness (rather
[friendship] formed by Indias gay men). The
Rendering Real the Imagined45
swamped and overwhelmed. RS, in the north Indian city of Dehra Dun,
was one of the aspiring new lesbians contributing to Sakhis avalanche:
[Emerging from the Shadows] revived my adolescents passion for lesbi-
Rendering Real the Imagined47
sort of partner), Can I have your scents. This is desperate request. I need
your armpit hair, pubic hair, without washing. This will help me to fan-
spond with lesbian from north India, who is dominating, healthy, sexy,
most women came to their cathartic moments of lesbian recognitionwere
lesbian community. The nascent articulation of this politics in the language
of a universal movementseeking, as Sakhi puts it in the 1995 funding
proposal, to create a visible lesbian presence and an active lesbian voice
provides reason to look to those spaces of lesbian practice and desire that
Rendering Real the Imagined49
in progressa collection of lesbian oral histories from rural Indiaas well
Anantha Health Club. I told her with a barely suppressed pride, as if I had
made an important discovery. She looked at me with some pity.
knows about beauty parlors, she said. Youre a foreigner too. You just
dont have the cultural instinct, the
, to know these things.
prise, I was not propositioned. I left the beauty parlor dejected, and called
my friend. You expect to go from eyebrows to
? she exclaimed. I
loudly and began applying creams to my face. (She agreed, by the way, with
the doctors assessment about mangoes.) As she talked, she slipped a hand
down the neck of my T-shirt. I leaped up, removing her arm. I really dont
want a massage. I thought I sounded rm, if not angry. She giggled and
shook her head. Our miscommunications continued. I nally left, feeling
Rendering Real the Imagined51
of them. Many married ladies come for seeing lms and dances and
Rendering Real the Imagined53
would, she said, go down red in my diary, and also because it marked her
rst conversation with Row Kavi.
She wrote to Sakhi, including a photo-
graph of herself. She had short, dark hair, parted on the side, a bit of it
opping onto her forehead. Her babyish face, staring just to the right of the
shirt and a slim black tie. Lesley described her motivation: I decided that
Ill come out fully in the open like Mr. Kavi and every time some things
Rendering Real the Imagined55
centered on the ascendance of dialogue as the most salient marker of
of Women to Women, makes a similar acknowledgment: Some of these
Rendering Real the Imagined57
but unlike lesbian, evokes no extranational genealogy of speciated per-
versity, no immediate accusation of bourgeois irrelevance.
Stree Sangam did more than strive for cultural commensurability on
the level of the discursive. Many within the group advocated excluding
Lesley wrote in January 1996: As for this bullshit about
that there is a problem about people aggressively taking up
arguing that Why should our time and space be given to outsiders? Bloody
Rendering Real the Imagined59
me how she felt when she rst attended a lesbian support group, said: It
was like entering a room full of mirrors. Everyone there was just like me.
tity. Departing from Lacans mirror-gazing subject, lesbian women will
look at others like themselves in order to declare: That is me.
when an Indian Christian named Lesley heard a Punjabi American talk
about lesbianism on All India Radio and then contacted a group of women
WITHIN LIMITS, FREEDOM
Interpellating the Lesbian Subject
My whole body was weak. The way she was holding my hand. At night we
acting as if I was sleeping.
Within Limits, Freedom63
for ordering an Indian lesbian life than were stories about leaving home. A
group member named Jasmin had told of leaving her family in northeast
avoid marriage, she would have to leave her family. So she took a job with
workshop in Delhi about
Within Limits, Freedom65
youll see. So next day Bobby calls me up and says somebody wants to
Veronica:Why do you think Im attracted to girls? I play with boys.
Cousin:Exactly. Youre like a boy, and boys are attracted to girls.
The cousins comment reveals how the tight, predictive alignment of sex,
gender, and sexuality can be made to accommodate disruption in the ser-
Within Limits, Freedom67
other, rather than by force of the other.
Veronicas sizing up by educated authorities would rely on the suc-
haircuta ubiquitous sign that is taken to have a symbolic, but also indexi-
sign: Even after being sized up and brought into a lesbian community,
Veronica still could not speak of her lesbian desire. But to signal her recog-
photograph of Milan Singha photograph that not only bore a resem-
blance to Veronica, but that further linked her to the image through her
aective identication with it. The authorities did not have to point to Ver-
onica and say, Hey, dyke! Instead, they dyked the imagean iconic sign
that could now serve as the premise linking Veronica to the logical conclu-
sion of herself (This is a dyke. I am like this. I am a dyke.).
Next was the collective watching of
quite) mirror for Veronicas lesbian recognition. Almost because they
were lesbians, watched by lesbians; not quite because they were a mirror
once removed. Veronicas moment of recognition came only when her eyes
Within Limits, Freedom69
lack of freedom. What can this tell us about the politics of memory in
The freedom that Veronica experienced after her moment of recogni-
tion was, of course, real. As Judith Butler (1997) suggests, it is precisely the
jections so powerful. Butler argues that it is the loss of possibility we psy-
tionality and culture as well. Indeed, a growing perception of Sakhi as be-
ing too enamored of Western politics and Western lesbians led to a crucial
Within Limits, Freedom71
Sangini: The Founding of Safe Space
Sangini was founded in response to two feelings: that Sakhi was too foreign
and not Indian enough, and that Sakhi had failed in its promise to be a safe
space for newly minted lesbians. Cath felt strongly about both of these
positions. While working as a volunteer for Thadani, Cath was also work-
ing for Jagori, the womens
the category single women in place of lesbian. Being associated with
Thadani, Cath said, proved a great liability to her among the same-sex desir-
ing feminists at Jagori, who resented Thadanis identity-political approach
to sexuality. Caths relationships with these feminists improved only with
her own growing disenchantment with Sakhis model of activism: Come
organized by language,
identity, and social class. The mens help lines had received calls from
women desperate to talk about their same-sex desires and relationships,
Within Limits, Freedom73
Sangini help line: Are you
tracted to other women?
Photograph by the author.
an increase in Sanginis help-line activity, to an average of nearly fteen
calls a week. Sangini had also received a grant from the Astrea Foundation,
a New York based feminist funding agency with a focus on international
sexual minority issues. The funds were funneled to Sangini through Naz,
the groups parent
showed a rainbow of well-built, robust-looking men accompanied by ar-
mative quotes about positive status, red ribbons, and artistic close-ups of
juice) and conversing in English with a smattering of Hindi, primarily for
two, who were a butch-femme couple, we had a discussion about butch-
der and preferences. Mercifully for us allthe conversation was stilted
we soon disbanded for a break. It is often the case that breaks provide the
I joined several women on the back balconya narrow slab of a space,
other peoples drying laundry. Four of us could t there, shoulder-to-
(tobacco wrapped in tendu leaves)
Within Limits, Freedom75
the group felt the consequences of this division acutely. With Sangini out-
side the new circle of proper, modern lesbian subjectivity, the members
The Help Line
In June 2002, the directors of Sangini invited me to train as a help-line
counselor along with a longtime Sangini member, Roshni. Cath was our
trainer. She had been a counselor on the Sangini help line from its rst day
Within Limits, Freedom77
the gamut of situations, rife with lessons and subtle traps: distraught par-
lesbians. This was in part because Sangini chose not to use the word in
its ads. That choice, a function both of the groups founding ideology and of
the discursive censoring by the media in which they advertised, left women
without a mirror, without the ability to recognize a lesbian self in the self-
ban caller, for example, told me that she had sex only with women but was
not a lesbian. Ive never heard of a
lesbian, she said. Lesbians are
only in fantasy, not in real life.
The real life of many of these women is indeed far removed from
fantasy. There are certain verbal cues and performatives in the immediately
Within Limits, Freedom79
caller, caught woefully o guard, would stammer and slam down the tele-
phone. As a nal step to conrm the authenticity of suspicious lesbians
male or femalecallers were invited to a face-to-face session, and thus to
Within Limits, Freedom81
and the latest Nokia cellphone. She had clearly dressed up for the occasion,
jewelry and scent. We slouchy dykes looked at her with some curiosity; she
and, as we watched her, must have felt terribly self-conscious. No one was
Bernice Reagons caution that the barred rooms we build and guard for a
sense of security cannot be sustained, for the door to the room will just be
Within Limits, Freedom83
The Support Group
After calling the help line and passing the face-to-face interview, a potential
support group member is given the day, time, and address for the weekly
Within Limits, Freedom85
The questions become: How must we show ourselves in order to be justly
Veronica interrupted our argument to point out another print, a simple,
striking image. Two women are sitting next to each other at a dhaba. They
We all looked again at the photograph, some nodding slowly in agreement
as they took it in. Cath asked Veronica what moved her about the image.
Its the ideal world, she said. The kind of world I wish we had, where
being lesbian only means being cool and sexy and being a person. We dont
care who sees us or about doing any certain thing. We eat, live, and breathe.
We dont even all have to know each other! We can just be like we want.
were about nothing but sex. After a momentary exchange of glances with
perhaps seven minutes later, running toward me from the distance with a
huge smile on his face as he zipped up his pants. Sex is Arjuns god, and
this form of secular worship is what makes him beautiful. He is full of life,
coltish and exuberant. His every moment is devoted to making more plea-
sure possible, activism and orgasm being tightly connected in his mind as
Within Limits, Freedom87
Within Limits, Freedom89
ticulates her departure from Sangini as an assertion of lifeor, perhaps, as
manifests in periodic eruptions of urgent activity. Another activist at the
symposium was Jaya, then Lesleys partner. Jaya was in her late thirties at
family. She is harder to befriend than Lesley is; her warmth is more reluc-
Within Limits, Freedom91
nizing. Sakhi was premised on adherence to a Western model of lesbian
to the global signier of lesbian. As Sakhi sought itsand Indiasplace
rejected the Sangini model, understanding them-
Within Limits, Freedom93
sion. And second, sexual minority did not evince an adequate grasp of the
one from an identity-based paradigm of sexual minorities to an intersec-
tional framework, which sought to locate sexualityin a dynamic and holis-
tic wayin relation to other axes of social construction and control, such as
gender, religion, and class (J. Sharma and Nath 2005, 87). Rather than
identity-based politics is the way to democratize activism. Our reliance on
identity, one argued, works to
make someone say, Im a lesbian, we ignore [the fact] that she might also
be working class, Dalit, or Muslim. This speaker realized and played on
Within Limits, Freedom95
Youre all talking about serving as a resource group or forging alliances
and making linkages. Just because we dont think of ourselves as needy
doesnt mean that we dont have needs. This group should also be about
learning. Or else, why are we doing it?
Both Jaya and Lesley argue, in dierent ways, that
freedom from subjection to identityeven as that insistence was born of
tics seem more relevant to feminists like Khan? How could
these questions were not easily come by, despite the number of times queer
class. Another, much more emotionally eective tactic was to evoke the
to show that lesbianism, and its violent oppression, is not a strictly urban or
middle- and upper-class phenomenon (see J. Sharma and Nath 2005, 92;
see also Dave 2011 and Vanita 2005).
I have two objectives in this chapter. First, I historicize and critically
engage the conditions under which a moralistic discourse about the so-
called real needs and capabilities of Third World women has emerged as a
women as victims. Moving to and through the period of economic liberal-
The restructuring of Indias economy in the early 1990s led to a crisis of
legitimacy for the womens movement: as womens movement activists
expulsion of lesbian students in Kerala in 1992, a Marxist feminists public
lesbians in a womens movement rally in 2000, and allegations of lesbian
discrimination in a womens
had no bearing on broader questions of sexuality.
tion, I trace how events in womens movement politics laid the foundation
Organizational Forms of the Womens Movement
Indias womens movement is no monolith. It takes unique forms in dif-
ferent cities (Ray 1999); dierent rural areas (Basu 1992); and, most im-
Virtuous Women: Colonial Histories
Indias womens movement began through the social reform eorts of the
attention to womens organizations. These resources and that attention,
Indiabourgeois, Western, and out of touch with the everyday needs of real
circumstance, rather than as sexually desiring subjects, has enabled Indian
feminism to mold itself to both Western and Indian perceptions.
Critical Events I: The Politics of Representation
the mathura campaign
womens movement as the governing Congress Party enshrined the equal
rights of men and women in the Constitution (Kumar 1993, 97), creating a
sense of protection. Furthermore, without the common enemy of colonial
power, the womens movement became fragmented and its activity dwin-
dled (Kumar 1993, 97). In the early 1970s, however, international and na-
tional events converged to spark a resurgence of the womens movement
with state policies led to a host of feminist actions across the country, such
and the rise of the Self-Employed Womens Association in Gujarat (John
2005). But when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared a state of emer-
sumed in 1977, as did a womens movement that was increasingly sus-
Rape and sexual violence became dominant themes for womens groups
The Mathura case in 1979 was the most pivotal of
these. Police ocers abducted a teenage girl named Mathura, took her to
the police station, and raped her. A lawsuit was later led against the of-
cers. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which acquitted the
ocers based on the unconscionable argument that Mathura, who had a
boyfriend, was loose and therefore not capable of being raped. This led to
outrage on a national scale. In Bombay, a group of feminists founded the
Forum against Rape to spearhead the Mathura campaign. They persuaded
other feminist groups that had been established after the Emergency to
be part of a large, coordinated national protest on March 8, International
I want to note three main things about the Mathura campaign. First is
marked a new phase of national collaboration (as well as a new phase of dis-
appointments and disharmony). Second is the centrality of rape in this
phase and, especially, the consequent focus on violence against women that
reaching implications for how the contemporary womens movement vari-
ously has and has not engaged with lesbianism. For example, feminists
lesbian marriage in madhya pradesh
The antirape campaign shaped the landscape of autonomous womens
formed an umbrella group called Samta in the mid-1970s, which gave rise
to the Indian womens journal
its editors going in one direction and the rest founding Stree Sangarsh
(womens struggle) in 1979. Stree Sangarsh played a pivotal role in the
Mathura campaign and also in antidowry agitations in the early 1980s.
gain has been a loss in these ways.
Abha speaks of lesbian relationships in the early days of the contempo-
rary womens movement as far richer because there was no compulsion to
speak of them publicly. These were relationships that were more in keep-
ing with the rhythms of the womens movement at a seemingly more en-
chanted timewhen friendships had no boundaries, when the spaces of
work and home were one and the same. The imperative to name womens
Quite amazingly, the facilitators would ask such questions as, How did
you feel when your breast and vulva rolled over another womans body? In
the villages, Abha claimed, where women were not aware of lesbian poli-
tics, there was no discomfort around same-sex desire. She told me about
two Rajasthani women who were married to the same man and in love with
each other. The other women were so comfortable with the relationship
showing that the absence of sexual identity politics in rural India does not
marriage. The discomfort that activists like Abha feel toward lesbian activ-
ists is certainly based more on protecting the womens movement than on
violence against such lovers. Abha concedes this: It has been my choice
not to be public about myself. Early on, when the womens movement was
at stake in such decisions . . . well, it wasnt like I didnt live my relationship
or raise my voice. . . . It helped me to critique marriage . . . because nobody
could write it o as, of course youre critiquing it, youre a lesbian! Also,
question, Is Abha a lesbian?
bay were the rst to respond. All who responded were concerned about the
unjust dismissal of the women and their allegations of abuse, but they did
Urmilas union as a result of marital harassment and incessant dowry
which t neatly into the womens movements campaigns
However, Bombays Forum against the Oppression of Women (
Activists concerned with issues related to single women held intensive dis-
cussions at the local, regional, and national levels about who counted as
single women (widows? prostitutes? nuns?). And by using the term single
women instead of unmarried women, these activists sought to focus ar-
matively on womens autonomy from marriage, often by choice.
ther opened a space for speaking about sexual choice, and lesbian women
made the most of that opening at the Fourth National Conference of Wom-
ens Movements (
womens groups to strategize about the antirape campaign.
was held ve years later, also in Bombay, with the goal of critically
discussing power politics and hierarchy in the womens movement. The
thirdheld in Patna, Bihar, in 1987was a site of much inghting, but the
couple from Jagori, Maya and Shanti, organized a separate evening session
nized was a small oneabout fteen people attendedin which lesbian
Following World Bank and
and withdrawing from investment in the public sector.
of womens earnings (Arora 1999). This contributed to the feminization of
poverty, as Indian women contribute an average of 95 percent of their in-
comes to the purchase of household goods, while men contribute only 40
50 percent of theirs (Lingam 2005). Furthermore, governments, which
as Adrienne Rich and Toni Morrison spoke alongside Urvashi Butalia, the
publisher of Kali for Women, a feminist press, at the opening of a feminist
comment on lesbianism, Butalia frankly apologized, saying she was not
familiar enough with the issue to respond. Giti Thadani picked up on Buta-
lias comment, and an international furor commenced. Over the next sev-
and a French magazine all carried Thadanis version of what Butalia was
supposed to have said: There are no lesbians in India.
their marginalization by the womens movement (see Sakhi 1994, quoted
in S. Joseph 1996; Khayal and Heske 1986). More armatively, Indian
lesbians began organizing themselves at international conferences. But
recognition, they continued struggling for a voice within the womens
movement at home. Surprisingly, a group of high-school girls aided that
The Martina Girls
In January 1992, national newspapers reported on the formation and
forced dissolution in Kerala of a government high-school group known as
the Martina Club (named in honor of the lesbian tennis great, Martina
what they called lesbian sexual choice in this case because the Martina
feminist activism. Additionally, critiquing expert calls for further control
over womens bodies was uncontentious. Finally, the vexing issue of rep-
resentation, highlighted during the Mathura campaign and resurrected in
identication. But for feminists to publicly state that exploring our sex-
cess was a radical and game-changing assertion. And the proper interplay
of class, representational strategy, and control over womens bodies would
sessions. As the sexuality sessions participants gave their written report
and came to a line about accepting lesbian sexuality, a group of angry
oppressive feeling of not being able to be out. So I was really excited that
people most vehemently opposed to the conference was Vimla Faroqui,
head of the biggest womens group in the country, the National Federation
of Indian Women (
), the womens wing of the Communist Party.
class lesbians in aligning homosexuality only with the Westernized and
middle-class. Urmila, Leela, and the Martina girls made frequent appear-
ances in Jagoris argument.
In defending the middle-class gay activists, Jagori added the following
lines: The proposed conference is an assertion of the right of a discrimi-
opposed: sati, dowry, abuse, rape, and womens lack of choice in their own
lives. As a collective, Sahelialong with
was reaching a place where
ostensibly more urgent (and supposedly separate) issues of poverty, labor,
Furthermore, Radhakrishnans hope for a radical resistance
to rights discourse was not quite realized. Pramada Menon, a lesbian activ-
ist who became head of an inuential Delhi womens and development
, came to refer to herself as a Beijing baby precisely for how the
(see Merry 2006).
campaign for lesbian rights in India was sparked by the sloganborn at
Beijingthat lesbian rights are human rights. As lesbians from Bangkok,
Nairobi, Shanghai, and New Delhi marched in Beijing under the cry of
lesbian rights, they achieved a sense of connection and collectivity and
felt hopeful about circumventing the conservative cultural isolationism of
the postcolonial nation-state. But Indian lesbians would nd that the cul-
the womens movement. Try as lesbians eventually did to usurp the pri-
ens movement activists would use culture and nation as justications
They Are Still Not Ready
In the introduction I discussed the Campaign for Lesbian Rights (
aair. On the eve of its
nition of the rights of all lesbians to a life of dignity, acceptance, equality,
terstraditionally take the lead in organizing the massive annual rallies. In
Delhi, the organizers transport busloads of women from outlying slums, vil-
lages, and neighboring states to participate alongside Delhi-based groups
s. The scene is extraordinary,
Protest songs in Hindi ring loud, assertive, and o-key in the hot air of early
summer. In 1999, the rst full year of
a thousand iers to the end point of the march, in Delhis Jantar Mantar
Its a sad thing. . . . If you talk independently with these women [leaders
have food on the table, you cant talk about anything else. . . . Is talking
about lesbianism the most important thing when so many women cant
even think about it? This is a class issue, and lesbian activists are on the
wrong side of it.
These false dichotomiesin which a woman can either love a woman or
be poor, or a woman can either be a lesbian activist or support the poorare
womens movement and stie emergent critiques and practices. Some
of them is Indiraben, a longtime womens rights activist and lesbian who
started a group in Baroda, Gujarat, for working-class lesbians. I took a bus
s came at the same time asand through
the same process by whichwomens poverty was becoming a more visible
and urgent concern for the womens movement. Indian women were be-
Jaya so despondent when she heard A. Khans critiques of lesbian activism,
womens movement matter for lesbians because their alliances with the
movement are compulsory. Lesbian activists, a vast majority of whom do
not have formal platforms of their own, rely on womens groups for organi-
legitimacy that such bonds aord. If the womens movement is invested in
womens movement supplies. These are processes, for lesbians and their
The Pune Controversy
the Organized Lesbian Alliance for Visibility and Actionwas
founded in Pune, Maharashtra, in 2000, with lesbian advocacy as its cen-
as ve to as many as fteen people, almost all of whom were young femi-
tantly, the support of their greatest ally, Manisha Gupte and her womens
Gupte and her husband founded
in 1987. It is a rural womens
organization that works in drought-prone regions of Maharashtra on is-
sues such as womens health, violence, and microcredit and savings. Based
Gupte speak at a local workshop. Extraordinarily for the time, Gupte spoke
passionately about the right of women to love women. Chatura called Gupte
mutuality with the realities of dependence and obligation. I base
how easily rural women spoke of their same-sex relations (echoing Abhas
points earlier in this chapter). Furthermore,
nonmonogamous relationships; the groups concern, if any, was with the
her family. Her partner was still in Pune, also looking for work. Another
parents while she searched for a job. My purpose in examining the fallout
which, the actors conicting positions were articulatedand not to evalu-
tions reveal about the priorities and complicated consequences of activist
activists in the country. It was an important gesture on Anveshis part,
nists. We gathered around a large table and along the sides of the room.
The debates were rather tepid on the rst day, but on the second we began
Ashley Tellis, told a story about
As an out gay faculty member at a top Delhi college, Tellis had been sub-
jected to obscene harassment from faculty members and students and
words of shock and support, and, after an awkward silence, move on to the
nextand usually more publicitem on the agenda.
causes, one said, is still a public commit-
ment to speak. Another participant, Charu, a lesbian who had left an
people, especially lesbians, is the family. It is the family that sends
s just provide services. So they focus on things like making doctors
more sensitive. But what do those doctors do? They sensitively push
women back into their families! The same ones who sent them to be cured
A womens activist agreed with Charu and added that one of the ways
s serve feminism is in alien and alienating terms: In the womens
movement, we had never talked about our bodies in parts before. Now
and laughter (see also Sangtin Writers and Nagar 2006, 142). Charu con-
s as a sector have little accountability. She cited
labor practices within
It was at this point that Zehra, an
for, based on donors priorities; and how
Communities cant hold
s accountable because they often need those
s. Employees cant hold
s accountable because they need the work
s dont hold
s accountable because who can
make them do so?
people and womens
if prompted by distant institutional agendasand to the awkward but very
s had to spend what little funds they have on benets and employee
securityemployees are pitted against the grass roots. Likewise, Harry Tay-
had a unique problem:
s Manisha Gupte sat on
of such visibilitya sexual rights platform created by people who supported
rebuke Gupte publicly, and Pramada,
s director, forthrightly refused.
After receiving the Ex-Employee Association document,
initiative to debate the issue collectively, and Pramada had decided that
these were internal, organizational dynamics. She said, None of us can
know what really happened there, so we cant call it homophobia. An-
other senior activist womana lesbian and labor activistoften intensely
had every right to remain loyal to Gupte,
(lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, kothi, queer, hijra)
groups in India that could join forces under the banner, only, of visibility. At
when we talk about sexual rights.
This Is Your Field
because at least in that, youll have some kind of
when its all over, where are you left? No job. No money in the bank. And
all of the things youve criticizedyour class, your privilege, a certain
kind of professionalized activismwhen it is all of these things that you
frustration crested here, as she recalled the comment about the eld as
priority: Our priority is the eld, they say! Our priority is the eld! I felt
like lifting up my shirt, standing and saying,
7. Activists in Delhi on December 7, 1998. Images of the Indian and Lesbian
question, what will now be possible?). As I will demonstrate, the Indian
and Lesbian sign was crucial in rendering the Indian lesbian a subject of
national politics. However, it was also a point at which potential would
mance of both Indian and lesbian. I argue that the problematic of emer-
surability is an actively desired and desirable eld of possibility for Indian
from Gilles Deleuze (2001). That eld of immanence, exemplied by the
On December 2, nearly three weeks later, the Ire over
, as one
headline had it, nally erupted. Approximately 200 activists from the Shiv
Senas womens wing, Mahila Aghadi Sena, stormed a Bombay theater
during a matinee screening of the lm. Shortly thereafter, another Mum-
ing day in Delhi, Shiv Sainiks attacked Central Delhis historic Regal Cin-
ema with similar audacity, ultimately leading to the suspension of
across the country, its resubmission to the Censor Board, and victorious
claims from Hindu spokespeople about the obvious incommensurability
of the lm with Indian culture, and of lesbians with the nation and his-
of a properly lesbian desire and its triumph are either everywhere or
(for example, V. S. 1999) actually faulted
sibility of explicit lesbianism in India, as the
to the list of queers, queers themselves, and their direct attack on what
special homoerotic twist. The devar-bhabhi relationship was threatening
enforced Hindu conjugal orderthe neglectful and distant husband; the
lonely and wanting wife; and the absence of joy, fulllment, and compan-
ionship. Sita is the devar to Radhas bhabhialthough, importantly, dis-
placed into the female domain. Sita serves as a breath of fresh air, a conduit
Their union calls the nationalist blu of the respectable and secure conju-
forms of relation that were coming to dene non-Hindu sexuality. Those
who criticize Mehta for portraying lesbian desire as only a product of cir-
cumstance miss the historical continuity: Hindu female lust outside of
But eorts by Indian menboth Hindu and Muslimto more eec-
tively contain women within the private sphere were a liability for national-
that sphere and increased mobility for the women who occupied it. A crit-
1927 with the publication of Katherine Mayos blistering polemic,
(2000 ; see also Sinha 1995). Mayo sought to undermine In-
and girls to show that Indian identity is founded on sexual pathology. One
the seclusion of women. Colonialists argued that Indian women were
made to live lives of idleness, leading to sexual obsession, physical inr-
classes, where respectability mattered most, allegations of homosexuality
life, just as Hindu publicists were attempting to locate perversion else-
where, in the lower classes, among Muslims, and in the West.
morality and spiritual and political integrity. Even if these eorts were not
mainstream, they indicated, in Mrinalini Sinhas words, the coming of age
of a new nationalist perspective on Indian domestic and sexual norms
(Sinha 1995, 45 46)an emerging bourgeois domesticity that, presaging
aair, would be enforced through public controversies about ob-
Sections 292, 293, and 294 of the Indian Penal Code (1872) dene any
visual or written material as obscene if it is lascivious or appeals to the
persons, who are likely . . . to read, see, or hear the matter contained orembodied in it.
Feminist commentators on colonial era obscenity cam-
paigns often cite the importance of the case against the eighteenth-century
lm were about Muslim lesbians, it would no longer be obscene or prob-
lematic. Thackerays eagerness to show Muslims as perverse also has his-
were Muslim. Patel argues that Lihaaf was singled out for censure be-
cause it queried and queered the domestic arena in fundamental ways
(2004, 145). First, Lihaaf revealed and critiqued a nexus of desire and
classnot only was the begum having a sexual relationship with a lower-
maidservant provided. Such was her desire that the begum would ex-
tion of homelinessthe young narrator, like all young women, was to be
transformed into a respectable, marriageable woman through the practices
of domesticated femininity. This transformation was thwarted by the un-
aairsimilar to previous contests over hidden homosexualityit
threat that compelled defenders of the nation to act. Rather, it was lesbian-
isms stubborn failure to cohere, its shapelessness, its uncanny ability to
survive within the cracks and ssures (Gopinath 2005, 153) of Hindu
national identity that necessitated a public lesbian disavowalwhich, in
liberal democracy (Povinelli 2002). As it happened, this processmeant to
discourseproduced a national, political lesbian emergence. Instead of
mensurate their sexual identity with a national one, the Indian lesbians
call to Show yourself! Become what you are.
With this imperative, Indian and lesbian were rst introduced into the
anism into the commensurableto normatively qualify the disruptive in-
forward a perfect foil for ideal Hindu womanhood in globalizing times and
also, as Patel (2002 and 2004) argues, had another symbolic eect: to
assert Hindu ownership of what they considered Hindu land.
The end of November 1998 was notable for a surprise shift in electoral
fortunes, but Novembers end in India has been notable every year since
destruction of the Babri Masjid (
means mosque) in Ayodha, on De-
cember 6 of that year, by Hindu fundamentalists.
aair, a dispute eerily similar to that in Ayodhya broke out in the state of
Karnataka when Hindu activists swore to destroy a Su shrine that they
claimed was occupying sacred Hindu land. When the Indian Parliaments
upper house, the Rajya Sabha, debated
spond to the Shiv Senas actions, one member of Parliament, Bharathi Ray,
If Mehta was anxious about the hijacking of her lm by lesbian
inally named Yusuf Khan), to publicly taunt him for his support of
furthermore, a Shiv Sainik dismissed Kumar as a Pakistani in Parliament
(Kumar is Indian). Kumar nally asked the Supreme Court, successfully,
for protection from the scantily clad but indefatigable Sainiks. Dozens of
other people, famous and otherwise, closed ranks behind Kumar and his
fellow artists, shouting slogans outside the Regal Cinema about the right to
expression. Thus the signal proclamation Indian and Lesbian not only
interpellative challenge to show yourselfproduced a triumphalism of
emergence that cast previous and existing ways of being lesbian as prob-
lems that could now be solved through lesbianisms public triumph.
We are supposed to have been dwelling in comfortable silence for so
many centuries. Silence about our existence, a conspiracy of silence. A
unfolding of unanticipated and unpredictable possibilities. Through the
: Lesbian Emergence,
group within the name, rather than use euphemisms for the word les-
bian, since our stated goal is one of gaining and promoting visibility
and interacting openly with the public. We did consider arguments that
the word lesbian is western and elitist, but we also felt that, in a cam-
around a word whose meaning is unmistakable and direct. (
Using the word lesbian, then, was directly linked to
to promote visibility, to be open and seen within the optics of the nation. In
real consequences, of course. In the two years that I spent with Sangini and
we are not a political group. Now banished from the sphere of what
constitutes proper lesbian subjectivity, Sanginis members and directors
sought to dene themselves by regulating the nonusage of the lesbian
signier and thus cultivating an alternative commensuration of lesbian
with Indian. In this model, to be an Indian lesbian was precisely not to
to commensurate their sexuality with cultureto claim that
wisely chose to impose a Westernized queer identity politics in India that
then pushed Sangini to advocate for a fearful politics of cultural authen-
matively qualify disruptive social intensity, it is useful to consider the felici-
tous conditions (Austin 1976 , 19) under which certain forms of
speakable. The force of a political proclamation, such as
s, I am an
Indian lesbian and I demand my rights, derives its ecacy not from its
own internal truth but from its ability to tap into an already existing regu-
latory regime of intelligibility. The placard Indian and Lesbian was an
eort at such intelligibilityand an ecacious one, judging by its wide
political claims to the nation, even by the Left, is an assertion that one could
be both Indian and a citizen at the same time (Chakrabarty 1992, 8).
claims to Indiaan eort made by all Indian progressivesdid not begin
izenship. The left-of-center Congress Party had long upheld the validity of
citizens. Indian and Lesbian, then, was also a way to confront this exile.
Even while deploying already available tropes, lesbian activists were inven-
tive. Commensurationequating lesbian with Indian in a period of
Hindu nationalist ascendancewas also an opening, oering the past up
Conclusion: Publics, Containment, and Possibility
I have told of how members of one counterpublic (the Shiv Sena) interpel-
)the text of a sign. Addressed as it was on the two common levels of public
speechof abstract citizenship and the aective level of national belonging
or exile (Mazzarella 2008, 299 300)this new lesbian counterpublic
existed in a particular normative form that would enable it to acquire agency
in relation to the state. But did this process of commensuration, of render-
ing unremarkable what was potentially extraordinary, amount to what Mi-
chael Warner warns ofthat in addressing itself in normative form to the
itself (2002, 89)? Warners cautionary remark opens up two additional
questions. First, to what extent, and how, did lesbian activists transform the
protests? And seconda question that
has interested me throughout this bookhow is the containment and limit-
8. With a nod to the origins of public lesbian activism in India, activists paint a
Proud Indian Lesbian sign the day before the 2008 march. Photograph by
Containment, as Massumi argues, is an eect of an interruption of a
eld of immanence by an operation of transcendence (2002, 79). Such an
aair was about, and the containment
of a range of possibilities was indeed one of its eects. But the longer story I
(79). Containment does momentarily halt variation, but it is precisely those
points of momentous (and, in this chapter, public) closure that provide the
limits against which previously unimaginable forms of possibility are con-
TO BE LAWFUL, TO BE JUST
a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to ne.
9. Activists celebrate the
High Court decision on July
2, 2009. Image by Sonali
Gulati from her lm
Justice Ajit Shah read from the historic decision.
two nights into my eldwork. I sat in Lesley and Jayas living room with
several of their friends, enjoying conversation after a take-out dinner of
biryani. Among the group that night was Akshay, who was then employed
by Lawyers Collective a nonprot legal aid group, and who had been a
. He lounged on the divan, regaling us with
To Be Lawful, to Be Just169
reading down of Section 377. (Reading down means to limit the inter-
woman). On the face of it, and certainly according to Sakshi, this seemed
To Be Lawful, to Be Just171
accused by third parties of sexually assaulting each other. Here their opposi-
that the law means everythingit is all-powerful, deeply consequential, and
Reluctant Movements toward Legal Activism
Section 377 was introduced to the Indian Penal Code by the Indian Law
Commission on October 6, 1860, with little debate. Based largely on anti-
To Be Lawful, to Be Just173
seropositivity), this conrmation of rampant homosexuality
in the prison warned of a public health disaster.
The inspector general of Tihar Jail, the butch but straight, and popularly
known Kiran Bedi, came down rmly against the suggestionmade by the
World Health Organization and seconded by the team of Indian doctors
that Tihar was dealing with the homosexual menace by isolating queer
oenders. Janak Raj Jai, a Gandhian socialist and dissident once jailed
during the Emergency, then came on the scene, demanding an even rmer
sexual abuse. This absence, however, did not give
deal with any resulting lacunae in the law. As advocates for all victims of
sexual moralizingincluding sex workers,
To Be Lawful, to Be Just175
The Call to Action: Aversion Therapy and False Arrests
to lift the weight of criminality o Indias sexual minor-
ities had surprisingly little consequence for gay activists at the time. Neither
rights and, therefore, it would not take cognizance of the case.
s reporter: Homosexuality is an oence
under the [Indian Penal Code], isnt it? So, do you want us to take cog-
To Be Lawful, to Be Just177
through queer activist engagement with the state. However, as memories
of Lucknow faded, this consensus proved fragile when Naz formally sub-
To Be Lawful, to Be Just179
Four, Nazs director, Anjali Gopalan, and the director of Nazs Milan Proj-
ect, Shaleen Rakesh, approached Lawyers Collective with the idea of ling a
groups jointly decided on the following argument:
private or intimate than that of sexual relations, and it follows that the
right to private, consensual sexual relations is entitled to protection as a
fundamental right within that established right to privacy.
reentrenchment through legal discourse of a public private distinctiona
construct that, historically, has been used to justify the second-class status
outside the sphere of legal intervention. Much Indian feminist scholarship
To Be Lawful, to Be Just181
ingto ensure a domain of privacy in which a man is beyond the laws
To Be Lawful, to Be Just183
tion with the wrists of their open right hands as if to say, What is that?
Explain it! Confused, I pointed to myself to claim its ownership, not sure
and someone nally interrupted Chayanikas presentation to ask what was
precursor to the groups assembled in Pune that day. It, too, had been
caught unawares by Nazs eorts and reappeared at the Delhi High Court
Naz v. Govt. of Delhi
was on April 23, 2002. Al-
though it was to be no more than a procedural aair, I was surprised that
there was no conversation about it on the
eled far to be there, one from Calcutta and the other from Bombay).
The hearing was mostly predictable, with the state asking for an exten-
citizen activist named Purushothaman Mulloli, who argued that there is no
To Be Lawful, to Be Just185
classes of people. The idealized notion of a speech communitya group of
courtroom with Shobha from
, Shaleen from Naz, and a visiting activ-
as people come and goobservers, plaintis, defendants, and attorneys,
the latter of whom walk about freely and authoritatively in black robes,
starched white shirts, and ties in the shape of inverted Vs. Lay people are
in the back, observe their case, and then dash out to conduct interviews as
loosely bound paper. There are no court reporters because transcripts are
someone told me what was supposed to be a convincing story. At a protest
about the Lucknow incident, in Bombay in June 2001, those women had
objected to the centrality of
told me, sweeping his hand in a light, dismissive gesture, I said, Feel free
To Be Lawful, to Be Just187
to do your little lesbian things! Just please at least show support for the
He was, he went on to say, surprised that lesbians who argued that law
tion: 377 doesnt aect lesbian women at all. Why do they care so much?
We all disagreed, pointing out most simply that
against women, just as it is against men. The person shrugged: Then
perhaps they just all hate men. Either way, he went on, the drafters of the
To Be Lawful, to Be Just189
that public opinion on homosexuality had shifted, but then concluded that
To Be Lawful, to Be Just191
crowded into Sahelis tiny, boxlike oce under an overpass, drinking chai,
sharing water out of large, old plastic soda bottles, serving up both impas-
To Be Lawful, to Be Just193
the beginning of the chapter, there were certainly many reasons why gen-
To Be Lawful, to Be Just195
home, and over the next several days. By the
lives and relationships; furthermore, none of us [is] in a position to really
understand the contexts and issues of same-sex violencewe are still grap-
pling with sex, sexuality, and gender. (This sounded, even to
bers themselves, like a disturbing echo of early womens movement argu-
and its queer (mostly lesbian) allies had many convincing reasons
with autonomous womens groups from whom they had so long sought
of their newfound vulnerability to the law. But at the same time, members
engaged in countless debates about their position throughout the
two years of my eldwork, annoying the groups feminist allies in Delhi,
To Be Lawful, to Be Just197
Delhi debate on gender neutrality in mid-2003, while the Law Commis-
sions recommendations were still stalled.
constitutionality, claiming that it is commonly accepted that it is the man
who is the seducer and not the woman (quoted in Kapur and Cossman
To Be Lawful, to Be Just199
political discourse, queer people now, perhaps at the cusp of their decrimi-
bodying only the respectability of civil engagement. These impossible bur-
one of the few collectives in the country advocat-
involved and invested in these peoples lives, struggles, and relationships
this burden raised an extremely important question. For the sake of pro-
Late in 2003, just a month before I left India, Jaya and I were reecting. She
To Be Lawful, to Be Just201
engaged queer activists in India are in thinking about the transformations
In January 2003, at the Asia Social Forum in Hyderabad, several
in everyday terms? Will I be able to go to my parents that same day [of a
repeal] and shout to them, Im gay! Isnt it wonderful? The law will not,
To Be Lawful, to Be Just203
Nonfunded; led the
(Campaign for Les-
High Court in 2001
Naz Foundation (In-
dia) Trust (Naz or
Naz India or Naz
cluding Sangini at
Alliance for Vis-
ibility and Action)
Founded 2000, no
is lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender.
is lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender,
kothi, queer, hijra.
1I discuss court cases in this book that are being heard, or have been heard, at
both the High Court and Supreme Court levels. High Courts are the courts of
states and territories in India. The Supreme Court, a federal court, is the highest
court of appeal in the country. In addition to hearing appeals against High Court
208Notes to Introduction
Notes to Introduction209
210Notes to Chapter One
26Indeed, several activists in India, many of whom I write about here, have written
their own analytic accounts of queer activism in the country. See, for example, J.
Sharma and Nath (2005), Narrain and Bhan (2005), and Narrain and Gupta (2011).
27See Nagars contribution in Swarr and Nagar (2003), discussing rural lesbians
in North India, their exclusions from urban lesbian politics, and their distance
Chapter 1: Rendering Real the Imagined
1In analyzing the normalizing and exclusionary practices central to the produc-
tion of political community, this chapter is part of a long lineage of feminist and
postcolonial scholarship. Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua (1983); Gloria
Hull, Patricia Scott, and Barbara Smith (1982); and Shane Phelan (1989) all
of a community of women within North American activism. For a transna-
tional activist context, see Chandra Mohanty, Ann Russo, and Lourdes Torres
(1991). In anthropology, David Valentine (2007) has recently extended this fem-
community in New York. Here, I critique community by way of understand-
Notes to Chapter One211
4Arati Rege calls this time in the womens movement the taciturn phaseone
212Notes to Chapter One
depictions in 1935 of Masuda and Saijo, lesbian partners who attempted a dou-
ble suicide and garnered much undesired publicity (Robertson 1999).
Notes to Chapter One213
33Sakhi to Mama Cash, 1995.
34Miss V. Kumar to Sakhi, May 10, 1994.
35For another story on the homoerotics of urban Indian beauty parlors, see Ku-
36It is common in South Asia to refer to pornographic lms as blue lms. See
37Miss V. Kumar to Sakhi, June 24, 1994.
38Miss Kumar refers elsewhere to an article she had read on lesbian sex in hostels.
She was probably referring to Deepal Trivedis Lesbian night-outs a lucrative
, September 14, 1993). A choice paragraph in the
article reads: The number of lesbians in city hostels is astronomical. Ask any
hostelite staying at ladies hostels in Navrangpura and Paldi [middle-class, pri-
marily Hindu neighborhoods in Ahmedabad] and they will entertain you with
a number of incidents. The most popular one is that of Mani and Ratan . . . They
214Notes to Chapter Two
tent are in a continuous state of construction as political groups move toward
Notes to Chapter Two215
that leaving family behind is a nonnegotiable condition (Pellegrini 2002, 139)
of gay identity. Pellegrini argues that this might articulate gayness with or even
as whiteness. Her cautionary point that we mustnt assume the same nonnego-
tiable conditions for all queers everywhere is well taken, but for some of the
216Notes to Chapter Two
Notes to Chapter Two217
have explainedeven if those females identify as men, are becoming men, and
are men. Caths reason for this is that few women in India know that they can be
lesbians; they conate desire for women with gender trouble and assume that
they are really men. Part of Sanginis mission with Raj was to coax him away
from surgery and into butch lesbian identication. At the same time, the San-
gini directors were fully supportive of Rajs decisions. See Sukthankar (2005)
19Interview with Maya, June 17, 2002, New Delhi.
20I address activist debates around same-sex violence in India in chapter 5.
21Dhabas are small roadside restaurants that serve simple, usually North Indian
food. Seating is often on cots which double as beds for resting truckers. Paan is
218Notes to Chapter Three
subject formations (2005, 1771).
29Butler borrows the necessary error of identity from Gayatri Spivak.
31Jaya, personal communication to author, 2001.
Notes to Chapter Three219
women were not the subjects or the objects of the debates, but the ground on
220Notes to Chapter Three
15Interview with Urvashi Butalia, November 19, 2002, New Delhi. All quotes
from Butalia are from this interview. The phrase articulation of lesbian poli-
tics is Butalias, not
16Below is one excerpt from an interview with Urmila, published in the
Weekly of India
:Do you hate men?
Urmila:No, I dont.
:Are you attracted towards women?
:Do you know what the word lesbian means?
17There were, of course, exceptions to this negative critique, such as Jagoris own
Notes to Chapter Three221
222Notes to Chapter Three
boyant if they want gay people to ght for their rights. Debates about the treat-
ment of hijras by gay activists abound on the
43Interview with Jaya Srivastava, June 5, 2003, New Delhi.
44Interview with Rarjana Padhi, June 1 2, 2003, New Delhi.
46Interview with Kamla Bhasin, May 2, 2002, New Delhi.
47Interview with Indiraben, November 27, 2002, Baroda.
is Marathi for moist
which, the group likes to point out, is sexually suggestive.
stands for Mahila Sarvangeen Utkarsh Mandal, or a womens forum for
Ex-Employees Association to queer allies and womens groups. Draft
report. August 2003. The report is in my possession. Manisha Gupte, e-mail
correspondence with the author, February 5, 2011, through March 30, 2011. All
of the following quotes attributed to Gupte are from this correspondence.
Ex-Employees Association to queer allies and womens groups. All
Notes to Chapter Four223
Sangama, as many other progressive queer groups did.
55Stree Sangam, e-mail message to
, September 28, 2003.
56The India Centre for Human Rights and Law was founded by a group of High
Court lawyers and human rights activists as a comprehensive resource center
for the study of human rights and law. They have sponsored several lesbian and
57Interview with Chatura, October 23, 2003, Bombay.
Chapter 4: Public Emergence
1Interview with Kruti, September 18, 2002, New Delhi.
2Though she does not refer specically to the Indian and Lesbian sign, activist
lesbian reproduced in newspapers the morning after the Delhi lesbian dem-
onstration: By the morning of December 8 it had all happened. The word les-
bian was on the front pages of every newspaper I picked up in Delhi.
word so loaded with fear, embarrassment, prejudice, a word shrouded in silence,
ing at the doorstep of millions of households in many parts of the country. At my
colleagues door. At my parents. At their neighbors. At my landlords. . . . The
Mother Dairy [milk] man was going to read it. . . . My sister-in-law. . . . They were
doing on Page One. And Three. And editorials . . . Not just that day but for days
and weeks after December 8 (
Toronto-based writer and director, Deepa Mehta.
Indian actors but funded primarily through private sources in North America. It
made its award-winning debut at the 1996 Toronto lm festival and won thir-
teen more international awards before its arrival on the Indian screen. Much
, from literary criticism (Gopinath 1998
and 2005; Patel 2002 and 2004) to discursive analysis (Bachmann 2002; Kapur
224Notes to Chapter Four
2002). This chapter, however, is not about
protests around the lm to think about the nexus of aect, commensurability,
queer sexuality, and the politics of public culture.
4One exception was Madhu Kishwar, the well-known womens activist, who lam-
Mehta enjoy[s] pouring shit on the heads of our fellow Indians because it has
Notes to Chapter Four225
9British India also signed an international agreement for the suppression of
obscene publications in 1910 (C. Gupta 2001, 31). This legal attention to obscen-
226Notes to Chapter Four
(Guha 1988). In other words, the Indian public domain has been premised on a
Notes to Chapter Five227
25Interview with Vandana, July 3, 2004, New Delhi.
26Interview with Maya, June 17, 2002, New Delhi.
Chapter 5: To Be Lawful, to Be Just
Naz Foundation v. Government of
228Notes to Chapter Five
up to the apex Court, to save the dignity, honour, religious sentiments of each
sic] of the country. This press release is in Shobha Aggarwals
v. Union of India and Others
-India e-list by a representative of the Milan Project,
June 18, 2001, post #8090.
16From a posting on the
-India e-list by the International Gay and Lesbian
Human Rights Commission (
), July 10, 2001, post #8257.
17Complaint # 3920 to the National Human Rights Commission.
Comes Down on Gay Rights, Pioneer, August 2,
19My account of this comes from Bondopadhyay (2002) and is consistent with a
Notes to Chapter Five229
monitor the inow of funds and their mode of expenditure in India. (Gay
Culture Started in UP in 98 Itself,
Times of India
, July 10, 2001.)
22Adding even further intrigue, Shivananda Khan and Ashok Row Kavi were
230Notes to Chapter Five
how law should be used in a legitimate system of government. Such a vision will
rest on a theory of justicethat is, a theory concerning rightful and wrongful
Notes to Chapter Five231
based on the Law Commission of Indias recommendations. The National Com-
mission for Women had drafted a bill similar to this one in 1993 called the
Sexual Violence against Women and Children Bill. That bill also advocated for
232Notes to Chapter Five
Notes to Chapter Five233
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Page numbers in italics indicate gures.
Bhedbhav Virodhi Andolan
v. Union of India and
and, 172 74, 184, 228n10;
Naz v. Govt. of
and, 179, 182 84;
All India Democratic Womens Associa-
Ankur, 104, 120 21
Anveshi conference, Hyderabad, 127
Appadurai, Arjun, 16 17, 208n12
Arondekar, Anjali, 36, 229n23
Asad, Talal, 202 3
aversion therapy, 175 76
containment, 14, 36, 47, 145, 154 55,
157, 160, 164 65, 192, 203 4,
Cornell, Drucilla, 203
Cossman, Brenda, 197 98
Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code
(Conservation through Research,
Education and Action), 119, 131 33
private distinction and, 170, 179 82,
liberalism and, 118 22, 221nn38 39,
darity with lesbians and, 111 12, 112
15, 115 18, 119 22; tension with les-
bians and, 41, 71, 74, 89, 97 99, 110,
112 15, 115 18, 119 22, 124 26; as
Grover, Anand, 178, 179, 184, 190
Guautam, Siddhartha, 156, 172, 196,
Gupta, Charu, 144, 225n9
Haksar, Nandita, 180, 201 2
Hall, Stuart, 217n27
Halperin, David, 20
help lines, 24, 71 72,
76 80, 155,
Herculine Barbin, 215n6
hierarchies: elites/elitism among queer
activists and, 41 42, 54 56, 122 24,
182, 185 86; of oppression and
worthiness in the womens move-
ment, 98 99, 102, 109 10, 122 23,
(Joint Action Council Kannur),
Jagori: as autonomous, 104, 115, 116
men and, 106, 107; Martina Girls
activism; Section 377 of the Indian
lesbians: aect and, 35 36, 126 27,
163; ascendance of dialogue and, 54
55, 56; class and, 55 56, 132; commu-
nity and, 34 36, 38, 44 46, 51 53,
53 60; eld of immanence and,
139 40, 155, 165; foreigners and
and, 59 60, 64 65, 70, 77, 83;
Liha (short story), 147 49,
Lucknow aair, 90, 176 78, 186,
Mahmood, Saba, 7, 208n5
Manalansan, Martin, 16
131 32, 135, 206, 222n53.
; Pune controversy
Others, queering of, 143, 146 47,
queer, denition of, 20 21
queer activism: becoming and, 1 2, 6,
7 8, 60, 192; elites/elitism and, 41
queer anthropology, 14 17, 208nn11
queer historiography, 18 20, 33, 38,
queer language, 17 21, 132, 208n13,
208n15, 209n18, 209nn20 21.
and, 187 88; Constitution of India
and, 179 80, 203, 229n27; freedom
116, 119 20, 156 57, 160 63, 164;
Lucknow aair and, 176 78; priori-
201; privacy and, 170, 179 82, 182
117 19, 200 204, 221n38; right to
live and, 227n4; Section 377 and, 30,
168 70, 178, 179 81, 182 93,
227nn3 4, 229n24, 229n26,
92, 131, 131 34; womens move-
107, 116, 117 19, 123, 134, 221n38
right-wing organizations, 140, 141 44,
Row Kavi, Ashok, 28, 38, 40, 42, 43, 44,
45, 53 54, 115, 191, 229n22
(Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh),
safe spaces, and danger, 3, 71 75, 78
Saheli, 104, 115, 117 18, 120 21, 192,
194, 197 98
Sakhi: aect and, 35 36, 92; critiques
47, 50 53, 213n38; foreigners and
and, 59 60; funding and, 46,
48; lesbian and, 33 34, 35, 38, 40,
Section 377 (
228n10; aversion therapy and, 175
policewomen), 43 44, 104 7, 112,
116 17, 143, 211n20, 220n17
Vanita, Ruth, 19, 201, 209n18
Vasan, Sudha, 130, 131
Vimla Faroqui episode, 115 18
Visweswaran, Kamala, 208n6
Voices against 377 (Voices), 192, 206,
vulnerability, and legal rights, 170 71,
Warner, Michael, 164
the West as counterpoint, real and
imagined, to India, 14 17, 19, 37, 39,
70, 83, 86, 91, 101 2, 113, 116 17,
123, 138, 141 43, 146, 150, 157, 161
Weston, Kath, 4, 14 15, 58, 59
Williams, Raymond, 9, 36
womens movement: aliated versus
autonomous and, 100 102; eco-
nomic liberalization and, 109 10;
hierarchies of worthiness and, 98
99, 102, 109 10, 122 23, 135; his-
toric context for, 101 2, 219nn5 6;
lesbians dependence on, 30, 99
women and, 43 44, 104 7, 112, 116
17, 143, 211n20, 220n17; Mathura
campaign and, 102 3, 219n8;
National Conference of Womens
), 108 9, 112 18,
108 10, 126 31; overview and use of
term, 30, 98 100, 131 36, 218nn2
Naisargi Dave is an assistant professor of
anthropology at the University of Toronto.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Dave, Naisargi N. (Naisargi Nitin), 1975