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Naisargi N. Dave
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
Tom Fricke.
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 friends„India or North America,
the academy or outside of it„I 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 books “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 books 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 bene“t 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. Delhis “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.
Delhis “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 Gautams query: the Delhi
High Courts decriminalization of adult, consensual, same-sex sex in July
several others had left the collective due to the strains and con”icts en-
(People for the Rights of Indian Sexual Minorities), it was
transsexuals; straight, queer, and nonidentifying„all 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 ones sex, but, rather, to use ones sexuality henceforth
to arrive at a multiplicity of relationships (1994, 135).
Within this articulation of a homosexual ascesis„or, 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.
tions„that 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 imperative„to forge a queer public„which 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 potentiality„instead 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. Indias “rst gay public demonstration, which I
headquarters (see “gure 3). Indias “rst international queer demonstration
Conference to protest the Indian governments
stance against homosexuality. The “rst eort to decriminalize same-sex sex
3. Indias “rst known gay protest in 1992 outside of Delhis 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
to try.
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
should do„refuse
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 hadnt 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 Indias 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 imperative„for example,
tive eort to make sexual assault in India a gender-neutral crime. Most
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
34Chapter One
across the ”oor from her, were the directors of Indias “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, and„for reasons I will discuss in
36Chapter One
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 womens movements have themselves been dismissed by Indian
nationalists as Western imports that undermine national unity (Kumar
1993, 87…88). Thus, Indian womens groups have historically distanced
themselves from lesbian politics (N. Menon 2005, 39) in order to defend a
38Chapter One
Lesbian Communication Is Needed
The Delhi Groups cautious linguistic occlusion of lesbian possibility was
the group to found Indias “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-
40Chapter One
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 Indias 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 pro“table
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
42Chapter One
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 Leelas fellow ocers leaked word
of their private ceremony, leading to the women being “red from their jobs
44Chapter One
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 Indias gay men). The
Rendering Real the Imagined45
46Chapter One
swamped and overwhelmed. RS, in the north Indian city of Dehra Dun,
was one of the aspiring new lesbians contributing to Sakhis avalanche:
[Emerging from the Shadows] revived my adolescents 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,
48Chapter One
most women came to their cathartic moments of lesbian recognition„were
lesbian community. The nascent articulation of this politics in the language
of a universal movement„seeking, 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 progress„a collection of lesbian oral histories from rural India„as 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. Youre a foreigner too. You just
dont 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
50Chapter One
loudly and began applying creams to my face. (She agreed, by the way, with
the doctors 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 dont
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
52Chapter One
Rendering Real the Imagined53
54Chapter One
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
Ill 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
56Chapter One
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
munity entirely.
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
58Chapter One
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 Lacans mirror-gazing subject, lesbian women will
look at others like themselves in order to declare: That is me.
60Chapter One
when an Indian Christian named Lesley heard a Punjabi American talk
about lesbianism on All India Radio and then contacted a group of women
Interpellating the Lesbian Subject
62Chapter Two
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
64Chapter Two
Within Limits, Freedom65
youll see. So next day Bobby calls me up and says somebody wants to
66Chapter Two
Veronica:Why do you think Im attracted to girls? I play with boys.
Cousin:Exactly. Youre like a boy, and boys are attracted to girls.
The cousins 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.
Veronicas sizing up by educated authorities would rely on the suc-
haircut„a 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 Singh„a photograph that not only bore a resem-
blance to Veronica, but that further linked her to the image through her
aective identi“cation with it. The authorities did not have to point to Ver-
onica and say, Hey, dyke! Instead, they dyked the image„an iconic sign
68Chapter Two
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
Desert Hearts
quite) mirror for Veronicas lesbian recognition. Almost because they
were lesbians, watched by lesbians; not quite because they were a mirror
once removed. Veronicas 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-
70Chapter Two
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 womens
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 Thadanis identity-political approach
to sexuality. Caths relationships with these feminists improved only with
her own growing disenchantment with Sakhis model of activism: Come
72Chapter Two
„organized by language,
identity, and social class. The mens 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 Sanginis 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 groups 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
74Chapter Two
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 all„the 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 balcony„a narrow slab of a space,
other peoples 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
76Chapter Two
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-
78Chapter Two
lesbians. This was in part because Sangini chose not to use the word in
its ads. That choice, a function both of the groups 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. Ive 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
80Chapter Two
caller, caught woefully o guard, would stammer and slam down the tele-
phone. As a “nal step to con“rm the authenticity of suspicious lesbians„
male or female„callers 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
82Chapter Two
Bernice Reagons 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
84Chapter Two
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.
Its 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 dont
care who sees us or about doing any certain thing. We eat, live, and breathe.
We dont even all have to know each other! We can just be like we want.
86Chapter Two
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 Arjuns 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
88Chapter Two
Within Limits, Freedom89
ticulates her departure from Sangini as an assertion of life„or, perhaps, as
90Chapter Two
manifests in periodic eruptions of urgent activity. Another activist at the
symposium was Jaya, then Lesleys 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 signi“er of lesbian. As Sakhi sought its„and Indias„place
92Chapter Two
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 sexuality„in a dynamic and holis-
tic way„in relation to other axes of social construction and control, such as
gender, religion, and class (J. Sharma and Nath 2005, 87). Rather than
94Chapter Two
identity-based politics is the way to democratize activism. Our reliance on
identity, one argued, works to
make someone say, Im 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
96Chapter Two
Youre all talking about serving as a resource group or forging alliances
and making linkages. Just because we dont think of ourselves as needy
doesnt mean that we dont 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 identity„even as that insistence was born of
98Chapter Three
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
Virtuous Women99
women as victims. Moving to and through the period of economic liberal-
The restructuring of Indias economy in the early 1990s led to a crisis of
legitimacy for the womens movement: as womens movement activists
100Chapter Three
expulsion of lesbian students in Kerala in 1992, a Marxist feminists public
lesbians in a womens movement rally in 2000, and allegations of lesbian
discrimination in a womens
had no bearing on broader questions of sexuality.
tion, I trace how events in womens movement politics laid the foundation
Organizational Forms of the Womens Movement
Indias womens movement is no monolith. It takes unique forms in dif-
ferent cities (Ray 1999); dierent rural areas (Basu 1992); and, most im-
Virtuous Women101
Virtuous Women: Colonial Histories
Indias womens movement began through the social reform eorts of the
102Chapter Three
attention to womens organizations. These resources and that attention,
India„bourgeois, 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
womens 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 womens 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 womens movement
with state policies led to a host of feminist actions across the country, such
and the rise of the Self-Employed Womens Association in Gujarat (John
2005). But when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared a state of emer-
sumed in 1977, as did a womens movement that was increasingly sus-
Rape and sexual violence became dominant themes for womens 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
Virtuous Women103
be part of a large, coordinated national protest on March 8, International
Womens Day.
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 womens movement vari-
ously has and has not engaged with lesbianism. For example, feminists
sexual agency.
104Chapter Three
lesbian marriage in madhya pradesh
The antirape campaign shaped the landscape of autonomous womens
formed an umbrella group called Samta in the mid-1970s, which gave rise
to the Indian womens journal
its editors going in one direction and the rest founding Stree Sangarsh
(womens 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 womens 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 womens movement at a seemingly more en-
chanted time„when friendships had no boundaries, when the spaces of
work and home were one and the same. The imperative to name womens
Virtuous Women105
Quite amazingly, the facilitators would ask such questions as, How did
you feel when your breast and vulva rolled over another womans 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 womens 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 womens movement was
at stake in such decisions . . . well, it wasnt like I didnt live my relationship
or raise my voice. . . . It helped me to critique marriage . . . because nobody
could write it o as, of course youre critiquing it, youre a lesbian! Also,
question, Is Abha a lesbian?
106Chapter Three
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
Urmilas union as a result of marital harassment and incessant dowry
which “t neatly into the womens movements campaigns
However, Bombays Forum against the Oppression of Women (
Virtuous Women107
108Chapter Three
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 womens 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-
ens Movements (
womens 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 womens movement. The
third„held in Patna, Bihar, in 1987„was a site of much in“ghting, but the
Virtuous Women109
couple from Jagori, Maya and Shanti, organized a separate evening session
nized was a small one„about “fteen people attended„in which lesbian
Following World Bank and
and withdrawing from investment in the public sector.
110Chapter Three
of womens 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
Virtuous Women111
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-
lias comment, and an international furor commenced. Over the next sev-
, Indias
and a French magazine all carried Thadanis version of what Butalia was
supposed to have said: There are no lesbians in India.
their marginalization by the womens 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 womens
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
112Chapter Three
what they called lesbian sexual choice in this case because the Martina
feminist activism. Additionally, critiquing expert calls for further control
over womens bodies was uncontentious. Finally, the vexing issue of rep-
resentation, highlighted during the Mathura campaign and resurrected in
identi“cation. 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 womens bodies would
Virtuous Women113
sessions. As the sexuality sessions participants gave their written report
and came to a line about accepting lesbian sexuality, a group of angry
114Chapter Three
oppressive feeling of not being able to be out. So I was really excited that
Virtuous Women115
116Chapter Three
people most vehemently opposed to the conference was Vimla Faroqui,
head of the biggest womens group in the country, the National Federation
of Indian Women (
), the womens wing of the Communist Party.
Virtuous Women117
class lesbians in aligning homosexuality only with the Westernized and
middle-class. Urmila, Leela, and the Martina girls made frequent appear-
ances in Jagoris 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-
118Chapter Three
opposed: sati, dowry, abuse, rape, and womens lack of choice in their own
lives. As a collective, Saheli„along with
„was reaching a place where
Virtuous Women119
ostensibly more urgent (and supposedly separate) issues of poverty, labor,
Furthermore, Radhakrishnans hope for a radical resistance
to rights discourse was not quite realized. Pramada Menon, a lesbian activ-
ist who became head of an in”uential Delhi womens 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 slogan„born at
Beijing„that 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 womens movement. Try as lesbians eventually did to usurp the pri-
ens movement activists would use culture and nation as justi“cations
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,
120Chapter Three
ters„traditionally 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 Delhis Jantar Mantar
Virtuous Women121
Its a sad thing. . . . If you talk independently with these women [leaders
122Chapter Three
have food on the table, you cant talk about anything else. . . . Is talking
about lesbianism the most important thing when so many women cant
even think about it? This is a class issue, and lesbian activists are on the
wrong side of it.
These false dichotomies„in which a woman can either love a woman or
be poor, or a woman can either be a lesbian activist or support the poor„are
womens movement and sti”e emergent critiques and practices. Some
of them is Indiraben, a longtime womens rights activist and lesbian who
started a group in Baroda, Gujarat, for working-class lesbians. I took a bus
Virtuous Women123
s came at the same time as„and through
the same process by which„womens poverty was becoming a more visible
and urgent concern for the womens movement. Indian women were be-
124Chapter Three
Jaya so despondent when she heard A. Khans critiques of lesbian activism,
womens 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 womens groups for organi-
legitimacy that such bonds aord. If the womens movement is invested in
womens movement supplies. These are processes, for lesbians and their
The Pune Controversy
„the Organized Lesbian Alliance for Visibility and Action„was
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 womens
Gupte and her husband founded
in 1987. It is a rural womens
organization that works in drought-prone regions of Maharashtra on is-
sues such as womens health, violence, and microcredit and savings. Based
in Pune,
Gupte speak at a local workshop. Extraordinarily for the time, Gupte spoke
passionately about the right of women to love women. Chatura called Gupte
Virtuous Women125
mutuality with the realities of dependence and obligation. I base
126Chapter Three
how easily rural women spoke of their same-sex relations (echoing Abhas
points earlier in this chapter). Furthermore,
nonmonogamous relationships; the groups concern, if any, was with the
Virtuous Women127
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 con”icting positions were articulated„and not to evalu-
tions reveal about the priorities and complicated consequences of activist
activists in the country. It was an important gesture on Anveshis 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
talking about
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
128Chapter Three
words of shock and support, and, after an awkward silence, move on to the
next„and usually more public„item 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 womens activist agreed with Charu and added that one of the ways
s serve feminism is in alien and alienating terms: In the womens
movement, we had never talked about our bodies in parts before. Now
Virtuous Women129
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 cant hold
s accountable because they often need those
s. Employees cant hold
s accountable because they need the work
s dont hold
s accountable because who can
make them do so?
people and womens
130Chapter Three
if prompted by distant institutional agendas„and to the awkward but very
Virtuous Women131
s had to spend what little funds they have on bene“ts and employee
security„employees are pitted against the grass roots. Likewise, Harry Tay-
132Chapter Three
sonally, to
„had a unique problem:
s Manisha Gupte sat on
Virtuous Women133
of such visibility„a 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 cant call it homophobia. An-
other senior activist woman„a lesbian and labor activist„often intensely
had every right to remain loyal to Gupte,
134Chapter Three
(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
Virtuous Women135
because at least in that, youll have some kind of
[laughs]. But
when its all over, where are you left? No job. No money in the bank. And
all of the things youve criticized„your class, your privilege, a certain
kind of professionalized activism„when it is all of these things that you
136Chapter Three
discussions. Her
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, 
138Chapter Four
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-
Public Emergence139
surability is an actively desired and desirable “eld of possibility for Indian
140Chapter Four
from Gilles Deleuze (2001). That “eld of immanence, exempli“ed by the
Public Emergence141
On December 2, nearly three weeks later, the Ire over
, as one
headline had it, “nally erupted. Approximately 200 activists from the Shiv
Senas womens 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 Delhis 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-
142Chapter Four
Public Emergence143
of a properly lesbian desire and its triumph are either everywhere or
(for example, V. S. 1999) actually faulted
144Chapter Four
sibility of explicit lesbianism in India, as the
to the list of queers, queers themselves, and their direct attack on what
Public Emergence145
special homoerotic twist. The devar-bhabhi relationship was threatening
enforced Hindu conjugal order„the neglectful and distant husband; the
lonely and wanting wife; and the absence of joy, ful“llment, and compan-
ionship. Sita is the devar to Radhas bhabhi„although, 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 de“ne 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 men„both Hindu and Muslim„to 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 Mayos blistering polemic,
(2000 [1927]; 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 in“r-
146Chapter Four
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.
Such eorts
morality and spiritual and political integrity. Even if these eorts were not
mainstream, they indicated, in Mrinalini Sinhas 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) de“ne 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
Public Emergence147
“lm were about Muslim lesbians, it would no longer be obscene or prob-
lematic. Thackerays eagerness to show Muslims as perverse also has his-
148Chapter Four
Public Emergence149
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
class„not only was the begum having a sexual relationship with a lower-
maidservant provided. Such was her desire that the begum would ex-
tion of homeliness„the 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-
150Chapter Four
aair„similar to previous contests over hidden homosexuality„it
threat that compelled defenders of the nation to act. Rather, it was lesbian-
isms 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 disavowal„which, in
liberal democracy (Povinelli 2002). As it happened, this process„meant to
discourse„produced a national, political lesbian emergence. Instead of
Public Emergence151
mensurate their sexual identity with a national one, the Indian lesbians
call to Show yourself! Become what you are.
With this imperative, Indian and lesbian were “rst introduced into the
anism into the commensurable„to 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 Novembers 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 Parliaments
upper house, the Rajya Sabha, debated
spond to the Shiv Senas actions, one member of Parliament, Bharathi Ray,
152Chapter Four
If Mehta was anxious about the hijacking of her “lm by lesbian
Public Emergence153
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
154Chapter Four
interpellative challenge to show yourself„produced a triumphalism of
emergence that cast previous and existing ways of being lesbian as prob-
lems that could now be solved through lesbianisms 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
Public Emergence155
unfolding of unanticipated and unpredictable possibilities. Through the
words 
Jaari Hai
: Lesbian Emergence,
156Chapter Four
Public Emergence157
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
158Chapter Four
Public Emergence159
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, Sanginis members and directors
sought to de“ne themselves by regulating the nonusage of the lesbian
signi“er and thus cultivating an alternative commensuration of lesbian
with Indian. In this model, to be an Indian lesbian was precisely not to
160Chapter Four
to commensurate their sexuality with culture„to 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-
Public Emergence161
matively qualify disruptive social intensity, it is useful to consider the felici-
tous conditions (Austin 1976 [1962], 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 intelligibility„and an ecacious one, judging by its wide
162Chapter Four
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 India„an eort made by all Indian progressives„did not begin
aair. The
Public Emergence163
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. Commensuration„equating lesbian with Indian in a period of
Hindu nationalist ascendance„was also an opening, oering the past up
164Chapter Four
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
speech„of 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 of„that in addressing itself in normative form to the
itself (2002, 89)? Warners cautionary remark opens up two additional
questions. First, to what extent, and how, did lesbian activists transform the
protests? And second„a question that
has interested me throughout this book„how is the containment and limit-
Public Emergence165
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
Sonali Gulati.
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-
a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to “ne.
168Chapter Five
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 Jayas 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 nonpro“t 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-
170Chapter Five
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 everything„it is all-powerful, deeply consequential, and
172Chapter Five
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 con“rmation 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 suggestion„made 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
174Chapter Five
sexual abuse. This absence, however, did not give
pause„they asked
deal with any resulting lacunae in the law. As advocates for all victims of
sexual moralizing„including sex workers,
To Be Lawful, to Be Just175
The Call to Action: Aversion Therapy and False Arrests
to lift the weight of criminality o Indias sexual minor-
ities had surprisingly little consequence for gay activists at the time. Neither
176Chapter Five
rights and, therefore, it would not take cognizance of the case.
s reporter: Homosexuality is an oence
under the [Indian Penal Code], isnt it? So, do you want us to take cog-
To Be Lawful, to Be Just177
178Chapter Five
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, Nazs director, Anjali Gopalan, and the director of Nazs Milan Proj-
ect, Shaleen Rakesh, approached Lawyers Collective with the idea of “ling a
groups jointly decided on the following argument:
hiv/aids ngo
180Chapter Five
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 distinction„a
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
ing„to ensure a domain of privacy in which a man is beyond the laws
182Chapter Five
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 Chayanikas presentation to ask what was
precursor to the groups assembled in Pune that day. It, too, had been
caught unawares by Nazs 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-
184Chapter Five
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 community„a group of
186Chapter Five
courtroom with Shobha from
, Shaleen from Naz, and a visiting activ-
as people come and go„observers, 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 doesnt 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
188Chapter Five
To Be Lawful, to Be Just189
that public opinion on homosexuality had shifted, but then concluded that
190Chapter Five
To Be Lawful, to Be Just191
192Chapter Five
crowded into Sahelis 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
194Chapter Five
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
196Chapter Five
lives and relationships; furthermore, none of us [is] in a position to really
understand the contexts and issues of same-sex violence„we are still grap-
pling with sex, sexuality, and gender. (This sounded, even to
bers themselves, like a disturbing echo of early womens movement argu-
and its queer (mostly lesbian) allies had many convincing reasons
with autonomous womens 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 groups feminist allies in Delhi,
Sangam and
To Be Lawful, to Be Just197
Delhi debate on gender neutrality in mid-2003, while the Law Commis-
sions recommendations were still stalled.
198Chapter Five
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-
everywhere. For
„one of the few collectives in the country advocat-
involved and invested in these peoples lives, struggles, and relationships„
this burden raised an extremely important question. For the sake of pro-
200Chapter Five
Late in 2003, just a month before I left India, Jaya and I were re”ecting. 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
202Chapter Five
in everyday terms? Will I be able to go to my parents that same day [of a
repeal] and shout to them, Im gay! Isnt it wonderful? The law will not,
To Be Lawful, to Be Just203
204Chapter Five
Signature activitiesYears
Virodhi Andolan)
People with
Nonfunded; “led the
Founded 1988Delhi
(Campaign for Les-
LesbiansVisibility; activism
High Court in 2001
senting Naz
Naz Foundation (In-
dia) Trust (Naz or
Naz India or Naz
cluding Sangini at
Signature activities
Alliance for Vis-
ibility and Action)
Founded 2000, no
Alliance building;
Founded 2003Delhi
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 Nagars 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 womens movement the taciturn phase„one
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 Trivedis Lesbian night-outs a lucrative
proposition (
, 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 mustnt 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 explained„even if those females identify as men, are becoming men, and
are men. Caths reason for this is that few women in India know that they can be
lesbians; they con”ate desire for women with gender trouble and assume that
they are really men. Part of Sanginis mission with Raj was to coax him away
from surgery and into butch lesbian identi“cation. At the same time, the San-
gini directors were fully supportive of Rajs 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.
30From the
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 Butalias, not
16Below is one excerpt from an interview with Urmila, published in the
Weekly of India
(Saisuresh 1988):
:Do you hate men?
Urmila:No, I dont.
:Are you attracted towards women?
:Do you know what the word lesbian means?
17There were, of course, exceptions to this negative critique, such as Jagoris 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
-India listserv.
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 womens forum for
Ex-Employees Association to queer allies and womens 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 womens 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 speci“cally 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 landlords. . . . 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 womens 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 Aggarwals
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.
18Anuradha Varma, 
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 in”ow 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 justice„that is, a theory concerning rightful and wrongful
Notes to Chapter Five231
based on the Law Commission of Indias 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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157, 160, 164…65, 192, 203…4,
Cornell, Drucilla, 203
Cossman, Brenda, 197…98
See also
Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code
(Conservation through Research,
Education and Action), 119, 131…33
feminists/feminism (
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
See also
Grover, Anand, 178, 179, 184, 190
Guautam, Siddhartha, 156, 172, 196,
See also
Gupta, Charu, 144, 225n9
Haksar, Nandita, 180, 201…2
Hall, Stuart, 217n27
Halperin, David, 20
help lines, 24, 71…72,
76…80, 155,
See also
Aanchal; Sangini
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 womens 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
Penal Code
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.
See also
; Pune controversy
Others, queering of, 143, 146…47,
queer, de“nition 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; womens move-
107, 116, 117…19, 123, 134, 221n38
right-wing organizations, 140, 141…44,
See also
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
womens 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 Womens
Movements (
), 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…

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