MEET THE WRITER

‘Homophobia made many of my peers turn to drink, some committed suicide’

Siddharth Dube’s powerful, heartfelt memoir ‘No One Else’ deftly merges the personal and political.

Siddharth Dube begins in Calcutta of the 1960s, when, as a child, he first realised he didn’t fit into societal norms of gender and sexuality. We follow him to the elite Doon school, where he experienced bullying and sexual abuse, and then to university in the US.

Alongside the beautifully told stories, often painful, and often uplifting, of his closest friendships and relationships, Dube deftly addresses the hypocrisies of the World Bank and UNAIDS, where he worked, and the brutal way that consensual sex work is criminalised in India.

Here are excerpts from a conversation with the author.

On writing a memoir
This book came out of a very particular point in my life when everything was changing: my beloved father passing away, an important relationship falling apart, and my moving back to India from the USA. It also has to do with reaching real middle age, because I began the book a few years before I turned 50.

The thing with growing older is that if you’re pushed hard enough, and if you’re fortunate enough to have spiritual support, you’re forced to look at pain in a wiser way. You feel almost grateful to it. And it is the pain of many decades that pushed me to write the book in the way that I have.

On the anger in his book
This is a book full of both gratitude and anger. The gratitude is for the course of my life, and the anger has to do with how this country has let down sex workers, transgender people, injecting drug users, poor people, and other marginalised people.

The anger is also against the corrupt, complicit, irrational political class that has misgoverned this country for decades. The worst of this is the Sangh Parivar – they represent what is worst in India. Luckily, they’re only a tiny minority, I’m sure of that.

On the adverse impact of homophobic writing
I was privileged; my father’s support, and the fact that he could afford to send me to the USA saved me. Far from home, I could become myself. Had I not had that opportunity, I would probably have had a dark and very short life. Many of my peers certainly did: many turned to drink, some committed suicide.

This is why it really angers me when I see someone like Swapan Dasgupta writing about gay people as a “criminal fringe”. These are human beings, they are people’s children, for god’s sake. They are flesh and blood.

When it comes to public discourse about sex, I agree with what Martha Nussbaum says in her book Sex and Social Justice. First of all, everything that relates to human life, including sex, should be talked about without disgust, and with empathy and rationality. Secondly, why is there so much darkness and persecution because of gender and sexuality? It is the cause for some of the worst inequality and injustice in the world. Unless we stop this and treat everybody with loving kindness and respect, there can be no human progress.

On being in the US when AIDS panic first emerged
The AIDS epidemic started six months before I reached. Everything that queer people had fought for suddenly went into a tailspin. All those decades of progress were lost, because hateful people went around saying that the epidemic was god’s judgement on gay people for being promiscuous.

On the multi-issue nature of movements
All social justice is integrally intertwined. Injustice to one person will infect and poison the rest of society, and cause more injustice in the world. I do find a focus on single issues distressing, and I find that this has grown in India because the economy has boomed, and there is more distance between people who are rich and those who are economically marginalised.

However, I’ve met people all over the country, from all kinds of social and economic backgrounds, who already think of justice in these terms, from Swami Agnivesh to Ram Dass Pasi, the dalit labourer who featured in my book In the Land of Poverty.

We need a politics of social justice in this country, and that’s what we should focus on.

On the repeal of Section 377 in India
I’m sure it will happen. I trust that in the long term, most Indians will understand that it is a matter of human justice. I don’t know if it will happen in my lifetime. Of course, I expect and demand for it to happen immediately, and I am going to criticise all the people who stand in the way of it. But it’s so difficult to say whether it will happen in the short term.

I was so taken aback by the Supreme Court ruling in 2013, upholding Section 377. It is not in keeping with the spirit of the Indian Constitution, nor of the Supreme Court and the High Courts. It is not what Indians expect from the judiciary, it is not justice. This same court has understood the humanity and essential need for equality for people of any definition of gender, which is reflected in the 2014 NALSA judgement. It is such a telling contradiction, and somebody needs to solve it.

However depressed I can get by the fact that all this democratic churning and people’s effort often comes to naught, I believe that India is an increasingly just country. That’s the source of my hope.

On the decriminalisation of consensual sex work
There’s an utterly criminal misrepresentation of the truth about sex work in India. I’ve spent a long time working on this, and the data from India is very clear, because millions of dollars have been spent in trying to understand the HIV epidemic in this country. And yet, people like Nicholas Kristof, author and journalist, and Ruchira Gupta, the founder of Apne Aap Worldwide, ignore this data and do not differentiate between human trafficking and consensual sex work by an adult.

I cannot criticise these people enough, because as we speak, women are being locked up in reformatories by the police thanks to this conflation of trafficking and sex work. We all know what happens when the police have their hands on women; there are countless testimonies of the sexual violence they face.

I don’t want people to get me wrong, so let me say this: there is trafficking in India, and it is a crime, which must be stopped. But abolitionists need to be the first people to stand up for sex workers’ rights when they are locked up for ‘anti-trafficking’ reasons. Consensual sex work needs to be decriminalised, because most women do it as one option of many other difficult options, such as working on construction sites and cleaning bathrooms, situations in which they’re almost always prey to exploitation and sexual abuse. Sex work often gives them the chance to leave behind abusive husbands. How can anybody justify locking them up after this?

I close the book with another woman, who in 2012 is locked up in the same reformatory that Selvi was locked up in, in 1986. This woman was in there for two years, and for the entire time she kept saying that she hadn’t been trafficked or pimped. Nobody listened to her. Is this what we want, for women to be treated in this utterly brutal and disempowering way?

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Watch Ruchir's journey: A story that captures the impact of accessible technology

Accessible technology has the potential to change lives.

“Technology can be a great leveller”, affirms Ruchir Falodia, Social Media Manager, TATA CLiQ. Out of the many qualities that define Ruchir as a person, one that stands out is that he is an autodidact – a self-taught coder and lover of technology.

Ruchir’s story is one that humanises technology - it has always played the role of a supportive friend who would look beyond his visual impairment. A top ranker through school and college, Ruchir would scan course books and convert them to a format which could be read out to him (in the absence of e-books for school). He also developed a lot of his work ethos on the philosophy of Open Source software, having contributed to various open source projects. The access provided by Open Source, where users could take a source code, modify it and distribute their own versions of the program, attracted him because of the even footing it gave everyone.

That is why I like being in programming. Nobody cares if you are in a wheelchair. Whatever be your physical disability, you are equal with every other developer. If your code works, good. If it doesn’t, you’ll be told so.

— Ruchir.

Motivated by the objectivity that technology provided, Ruchir made it his career. Despite having earned degree in computer engineering and an MBA, friends and family feared his visual impairment would prove difficult to overcome in a work setting. But Ruchir, who doesn’t like quotas or the ‘special’ tag he is often labelled with, used technology to prove that differently abled persons can work on an equal footing.

As he delved deeper into the tech space, Ruchir realised that he sought to explore the human side of technology. A fan of Agatha Christie and other crime novels, he wanted to express himself through storytelling and steered his career towards branding and marketing – which he sees as another way to tell stories.

Ruchir, then, migrated to Mumbai for the next phase in his career. It was in the Maximum City that his belief in technology being the great leveller was reinforced. “The city’s infrastructure is a challenging one, Uber helped me navigate the city” says Ruchir. By using the VoiceOver features, Ruchir could call an Uber wherever he was and move around easily. He reached out to Uber to see if together they could spread the message of accessible technology. This partnership resulted in a video that captures the essence of Ruchir’s story: The World in Voices.

Play

It was important for Ruchir to get rid of the sympathetic lens through which others saw him. His story serves as a message of reassurance to other differently abled persons and abolishes some of the fears, doubts and prejudices present in families, friends, employers or colleagues.

To know more about Ruchir’s journey, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Uber and not by the Scroll editorial team.