January, 2016

Sexuality, Desire, and Changing Times

The Centre for Studies in Gender and Sexuality welcomed the new year with yet another charismatic speaker in its on-going speakers’ series titled ISHQ: Issues in Society, History, and Queerness. Pramada Menon, who is a queer feminist activist and also the co-founder of CREA, a women’s human rights organization based in New Delhi, had students bursting into laughter while engaging thoroughly with her presentation filled with lively and thought-provoking stories.

The talk was held on the evening of January 19th and gave students a queer perspective on the last few decades of sexual life in India. Pramada shared her experiences of being a woman and growing up in an era where mobile phones were a rarity. Meeting other queer people in person was a rarity that needed to be coordinated by word of mouth and written letters. This is in stark contrast to the times in which we now live, when dating apps facilitate these conversations in texts about genital size exchanged between smartphones.

These changes are not just personal, but also political. Pramada observed that there is a new reluctance to “take it to the streets”, engaging in a powerful disruptive politics and action. Such actions have now shrivelled to the streets around Jantar-Mantar that are more sanitised and sanctioned by police permissions. Pramada described further an era where finding a “real life lesbian” was a big concern for the media. But once the lesbians were found, the only framework within which they could be accepted was that of the couple. A lesbian not in a couple was just a single woman who was not of much interest to the media. Her other stories shed light on the euphoria she experienced when the in Delhi High Court in 2009 read down Section 377 decriminalizing “carnal acts against the order of nature.” The joy she felt at the thought of no longer being a criminal was replaced only by dismay at the 2013 Supreme Court judgement reinstating the criminality of the “unnatural offence” of homosexuality. Pramada also spoke at length about the emergence of a post-377 generation of queer individuals in 2009, who then had to figure out how to get back into the closet in 2013.

Her compelling talk, filled with humor, was followed by a round of questions from students that launched the audience into more debates, including those about the inclusivity of feminist/queer movements, attitudes towards transgendered people, modes of changing politics, and the need to find new goals and ways of social action. She concluded the talk by prompting the students to think about whether we can work towards one common end of fighting against discrimination of all kinds, irrespective of different goals within a movement.

Pramada Menon is known not only for her active involvement in issues of gender, sexuality, sexual rights and women’s human rights in India and internationally, but she is also a stand up performance artist. She has travelled with her show, “Fat, Feminist and Free” to various cities. In 2013, she directed her first documentary film: ”And You Thought You Knew Me,” a film that explores the lives of five people assigned female at birth, and their interactions with queer activism in Delhi.

 

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