GLOW – Ankita Paul
“Freedom of Speech”
“Freedom of Expression”
Aren’t these the things?
We were taught in our childhood?
They say “Love is divine”
But for me it left behind
The scars, which are complete nightmares.
The divinity of love alone
Killed me in their battle,
For I was one of those
No no! Not an animal
But they had treated me as one.
The sky was grey and
My love was the “seven colours”
A major misfit for the world.
It was hard to confess.
It was hard to come up.
For I had no clue how the world
Would treat me then!
For I was a man and I was expected
To fall in love, but only with a woman.
I followed the trend,
I fell in love,
I touched the divinity of love,
But unaware, my step had created a huge massacre.
I loved a man,
They laughed at me.
They made fun of me and called me names.
I was “trendy” to be gossiped off.
My parents disliked me.
My relatives abandoned me.
All they wanted was to find a cure for me.
They said, “You could be behind bars”
For it is a criminal curse.
My fault lied in the fact
That I loved a man.
I loved a soul who was from the same ‘Slot’
They couldn’t accept that
A man can love another man
Alienated was what I could feel.
Isolation was where we were standing.
Yet, we fought.
We fought time and again,
We fought for our love,
We fought for us.
Finally we won,
And “377” is the number!
The section that helped us to stand strong.
That day the rainbows sprung up,
The streets filled with colours
Heads were held high
The souls finally sang the songs
Of love, Of faith in love.
I still remember the day when I was at school and I was in an all-girls school and I got exposed to the concept of loving someone belonging to the same sex. I was in class 9 (nine) when for the first time I actually came to know about lesbians, gay, transgender, bisexual. Then I got to see the two set of people in society, one set of people who did not consider this community to be a part of the society and consider talking about it as a taboo, whereas, there was this other set of people who were definitely very small in number but who actually took this community to be a part of the society and considered them to be one. Slowly and gradually when I started growing up, I got to hear many concepts from people about when someone expresses the fact that he/she likes a person from the same sex and is not straight. Some started calling it a mental disorder, some connected traditional believes with it that that person is evil or possessed, some parents questioned their parenthood and started blaming themselves that this was because of the faulty parenting and that it is a lack of values in a kid. But none of this is true. Why can’t loving a person from the same sex be considered being fine or acceptable. This shouldn’t be a taboo, people should talk about it, discuss it at home or school or elsewhere. I started reading more on it and came across Article 377 of the Constitution of India. Article 377 reads as follows-
377. Unnatural offences: Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.
Why is this an “unnatural offence” when this is completely natural? Society should accept this concept as natural. If loving a person of the opposite sex is considered to be natural then loving someone who belongs to the same sex should also be considered natural as well. If someone expresses his/her love for someone who belongs to the same sex, it is considered a criminal offence and may be imprisoned or liable to pay a fine.
“The victim who is able to articulate the situation of the victim has ceased to be a victim; he or she has become a threat.” James Baldwin, Black gay, American writer, The Devil Finds Work (1978).
One day, I met this beautiful person Shankardev Choudhury (he loves to be called “Shanks”) in one of the cafes of Guwahati, called “Patty oh”. I started talking to Shanks and had a very nice and warming conversation. This is the day I realised what are the hardships Shanks went through in the entire process of legalization of Article 377 and how the society trying to accept it.
Shankar in his initial years was confused as to why he was attracted to guys but he could never figure out why he looked at a guy and why he had that attraction towards men, but he never translated it out. But things were not meant to be this way. He shared that he realized that he was attracted towards men for the first time, when he was battling with this situation and a friend of his graduated from Oxford and was going to England and wanted Shankar to accompany him. Shankar was in a dilemma as he was struggling with his sexual orientation and when he was in England on a Saturday night he went to a Disco and there was a huge dance floor. He could see the stage beyond and the dance floor was about 10,000 sq. ft. and all that he could see was so many heads thumping up and Shankar asked his friend “Are they all gay?” and his friend put his hand around Shankar’s waist and looked at Shankar and said “Yes they are” and they danced the night out till 6 o clock in the morning and that was the day he realized that there are so many souls just like him and all the struggles or confusions he had regarding his orientation were gone. That was the beautiful night he realized that he likes men and he is gay and he can’t be anything else.
He went to Europe and stayed there for couple of months and there were so many outlets for the community people to go out, there were cafes, book shops, restaurants, etc., there were places where the community could socialize and could at least meet other people of the same community and the problem he saw in India was because the community largely got suppressed and they were highly sexualised. People fail to see the person that is behind the sexual orientation of the person and there was a lack of well-being, these were the observations Shankar made when he was back in India and he came up with a thought of meeting people with the same level of mindset and he came across a website called ‘Planet Homio’ and ‘Planet Homio’ is a website where one can meet people of the community on a virtual space and they socialize on a virtual space. Shankar connected with someone on the virtual space and came up with the idea of a space, which is not a virtual space but a real space, where the community can come and socialize and listen to each another and feel good about it. It takes a lot of courage to come out and accept his/her sexuality and he tried to meet the community in pubs and bars initially in the numbers of one or two. But soon he realized that meeting in pubs and bars were getting a bit expensive. They faced another issue when they increased in number and were in this particular place in Paltan Bazar, the people in that particular restaurant asked them to tone down, they did not like the whole idea of the community people gathering at their place. they did not ask them to leave but asked them to tone down or order more. Basically, meeting outside in clubs and bars was getting expensive for them, so, that’s when Shankar decided to open up his own house for the people of the community to meet and socialize, his friends thought Shankar was insane but Shankar thought that if one is passionate enough then that person needs that certain amount of madness to actually come up with something like this and it should not be a problem for people if certain people are coming down to Shankar’s place to meet him at his own house. Why do people need to worry about anything if they are meeting in a private place and not a public place? So, this is the whole idea of how Shankar opened up his house for the community to come down in a real space and socialize with the other people, which would be economical too. He started this place in 2009 and called it Glow Social Space, (Glow being Gender Liberation of Other Wonders).
They came up with open mics and they started meeting on weekends for dinner and their main idea was to socialize for social well-being.
He believes in the idea that social acceptance is not necessary but to accept ourselves in our own skin is more important. Once a person has accepted himself/herself the way he/she is, society doesn’t really matter. They have to be comfortable the way they are. He wants more spaces where people are more welcoming and welcoming in the sense that they are open to the way one is and not judgemental.
He was once in Bangalore for Christmas and he threw a house party and there were 3(three) different sets of people and it was risky to open up his house in Bangalore. But people turned up because they already had an idea that Shankar was doing something like this back in Guwahati, so people did go for the house party.
Shankar believes that a space shouldn’t be gay, lesbian, bisexual or straight, a space should just be a space where people can socialize and meet and talk. Hence, from 2009, Shankar has opened up his house for the people of the LGBT community and now he opens his café “Patty oh” for the community too. This is how he has been contributing and helping the community from the days of when loving someone of the same ‘slot’ was considered illegal, to the days when the sky is colourful and there is no one to stop you from loving anyone irrespective of their gender and the legal days.
The world wants more people like Shankar and people who start accepting themselves the way they are and not wait for any social acceptance or sanction. Self-acceptance is the most important aspect of life in today’s world.