May, 2016

Centre for Studies in Gender and Sexuality completes one year

CSGS gets a new logo and concludes its inaugural speakers’ series ISHQ with a panel discussion & theatre performance.

By Shubhangi Karia

It has been a year since the launch of the Centre of Studies in Gender and Sexuality, and within that the Centre has facilitated a diverse range of discussions on issues of gender and sexuality in India through their speakers’ series, ISHQ: Issues in Society, History, and Queerness. From Urvashi Butalia, noted feminist publisher and founder of Zubaan Books to Dr Mary John, Senior Fellow at Centre for Women’s Development Studies, Sandip Roy, writer and radio commentator, and several others, the series brought various points of view to light.

Besides ISHQ, the Centre held a film festival in November to use cinema as the medium of thought-provoking discussion on issues of identity, desire, gender, and queerness. The Centre also engaged with the students of Young India Fellowship through the two Experiential Learning Modules (ELMs) that it offered. The last event of the ISHQ series, held on the 4th of May, was then a celebration of a year of these wide-ranging activities. It showcased a panel discussion on Section 377 with Professor Geeta Patel, Director of Diversity and Inclusion at University of Virginia, Anjali Gopalan, Human Rights and Animal Rights activist and founder and executive director of The Naz Foundation––the group that initiated the legal movement to repeal Section 377, and Shyam Divan, Senior Advocate in the Supreme Court who has been involved in the legal battle against Section 377. The discussion was moderated by the Director of the Centre, Professor Madhavi Menon.

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The panelists spoke about the Supreme Court’s agreement to reexamine Section 377 after referring a batch of curative petitions against it for hearing. The law criminalises consensual sexual acts of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender adults. The panel discussed the legal background of Section 377 and how the country can think about LGBT rights if the Supreme Court does not decriminalise the colonial law. They also spoke about the irony that exists with the criminalisation of LGBT rights on the one hand, and recognition of transgenders or hijras as the third gender on the other. Further, they discussed challenges faced while speaking about these issues in public spaces. Geeta Patel also spoke about the phrasing of Section 377, and the ambiguity of the word “natural”, discussing at length the implications of this emphasis on “naturalness” and its use to describe sexual acts of certain identities.

The discussion was followed by a performance by Mallika Taneja, Delhi based theatre artist, titled “Thoda Dhyan Se (Be Careful)”. In a riveting act, Taneja captured the societal discomfort with regard to nakedness. Her satirical piece highlighted biases in gender when it comes to modesty in public, and how the notion of appropriate dressing is used to restrict women’s mobility in public spaces.

CSGS website was also officially launched at this event, marking completion of the first year of Centre’s activies. The centre’s mandate aims to research issues of gender that do not only focus on women, but a spectrum of gender identities that include men and transgenders as well. The inclusion of the word “sexuality” in its name also distinguishes it from other similar research centres in India that are restricted primarily to the study of women’s issues. The logo of the centre embraces this essence. It looks like a bitten apple from the story of Adam and Eve’s transgression––the story that marks the start of sexuality as taboo. The open “C” exemplifies the openness to differences.

(The writer is a first year undergraduate student)

 

 

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