In September, the Supreme Court delivered a landmark judgement reading down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalised “unnatural sex”. The verdict recognised that all citizens should enjoy equal rights irrespective of their sexuality, but there is still a long way to go before India’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community is able to lead lives free from discrimination in their daily lives.
Based on the belief that literature is the best way to bust myths and increase acceptance, Samapathik Trust, an organisation in Pune that works with issues of advocacy and health for queer communities, is hosting the city’s first LGBT Marathi literature festival on November 25. The one-day festival will include book and poetry readings and will also feature a session for aspiring writers on how to have their work published.
Bindumadhav Khire, who founded Samapathik Trust in 2002, said that the scrapping of Section 377 was not the impetus for the festival but a variety of reasons spurred the decision. He had been thinking of such a festival for many years, he said, but no Marathi literature festival was comfortable hosting multiple sessions on LGBT issues.
The main purpose of the festival, Khire said, was to popularise literature on LGBT themes so that Pune’s queer community, as well as others, are able to access experiences and understand problems faced by LGBT people. “They will learn through these experiences and get the knowledge to enrich their own lives,” he said. “And other people will understand need to accommodate us and stop discrimination and ridicule.”
Khire also said that there was not enough Marathi writing on these themes and that he was unable to find books and poems about the LGBT community in the language when he starting work on LGBT rights through his trust. “I did not come across a single book in Marathi on this topic and had no choice but to get literature from English,” he said, adding that it was hard to get people to connect with western literature due to a difference in culture.
When Khire decided to write a book himself, finding a publisher proved to be a nightmare. “Publishers told me it is raddi [garbage],” he said. That book, Partner, was finally self-published in 2004. A few other books about the queer community have been published in Marathi since then and Khire has invited them to present their work. Mi Hijada Mi Laxmi, the autobiography of transgender activist Laxmi Narayan Tripathy, co-written with journalist Vaishali Rode and published in 2012, was a rare exception in that the book’s publishers Manovikas Prakashan wanted the book to be written. But Khire says getting publishers for books by LGBT Indians remains difficult and that the answer lies in digital publishing.
The festival will include a session by Tathapi Trust, an organisation involved with health training and advocacy, that will teach attendees how to go about recording podcasts that will be uploaded on their website.” Other organisations will also teach about blogging, how to publish articles and explain more about websites that have articles about LGBT issues,” Khire said.