Indian LGBT Activist: We’ll Do Gay Rights Our Way
When India's high court, in Delhi, struck down the law prohibiting homosexual intercourse between consenting adults nearly two years ago (on July 2, 2009), it appeared that a new era of equality had begun in the South Asian nation -- a particularly significant victory for LGBT rights in the international arena India is the second-most populous country in the world.
But despite the court's decision, legal challenges to the court's decision have persisted and, perhaps more significantly, many queer Indians continue to face harassment and discrimination from police and others. That is truer in some parts of the country than others, and in some of the nation's Tamil regions, access to resources concerning topics such as gender, sexuality and politics can be difficult to come by.
One activist currently working to change that is Aniruddhan Vasudevan, who celebrates his 29th birthday on June 25, one day before his hometown, Chennai, marks its third annual Pride celebration. But Vasudevan won't be home to take part in the parade this year. As a dancer, writer, peer educator and activist who travels often, Vasudevan is a busy, multi-tasking man who we caught up with just as he was preparing to set out on a U.S. performance tour with fellow dancer/choreographer Lakshmi Sriraman.
Vasudevan took out some time from his packed schedule to speak about his life, art and activism, as well as the status of LGBT equality in his home country as part of EDGE's Future Queer Leaders interview series.
EDGE: Hi Aniruddhan! I understand that you work at the Shakti Resource Center in Chennai as its director. Tell me about the work the center is involved in there.
Aniruddhan Vasudevan: The center's aim has been to be a place where people get together to work out different models of talking about sexuality and to generate new and productive discourses. [The center's co-founders, including myself] felt that while social conventions prevented the development of a discourse of sexuality, rights, pleasure and health in a certain way, the other frameworks that did talk about sexuality in a certain way -- the HIV/AIDS public health framework, for instance -- were framing it in a narrow health, 'vulnerability,' 'risk' contexts.
We have been conducting workshops, holding panel discussions, performance events and talks toward this end. We have also done one round of training for LGBT peers in counseling others, the idea being that it is good to have a lot of peers trained in the art of listening, empathizing and helping others, in referring people to medical, psychiatric, legal services if need be.
EDGE: How has your family reacted to your being openly gay? What about your activism, blogging and performing?
AV: My family is the most amazing group of people I have ever met! My 'coming out' was anti-climactic. I was given no chance to do drama and they were very accepting. Even though they did not fully know the implications of my being gay in this society, and all that it entails for them and me, though they were concerned, they first affirmed their love and acceptance for me. That is the bedrock on which all my life and work since then have been built.
EDGE: What have those implications meant for you? Have you ever received any threats?
AV: There have been moments when I have felt very threatened. Not too many times. A general sense of vulnerability and discomfort with having this private aspect of my life sort of open to public view prevails. But that it is because for all my gregariousness, I am a private person and I constantly feel that sense of privacy compromised. But it is the knowledge of this that also keeps me working. We need to go to a place where we don't have to discuss our sexualities so much to demand equality, rights and opportunities.
EDGE: That's a fair point -- as an activist your personal life becomes intensely political. On that note, what inspired you to take the plunge as an activist anyway?
AV: Moving to Chennai [from Kumbakonam] exposed me to a lot of a campaigns working on different issues. Traveling for performances also really expanded my horizon to places, people and issues. As far as becoming an LGBT activist goes, I still take on that label with a lot of unease, only because I grew up thinking it referred to people who had great vision and worked doggedly towards that. I am not like that. This is not false modesty. When I entered public sphere as an "out" queer man speaking about being queer and about queer rights, I was called an activist, and I said to myself, "Oh.."
Prior to that, I had done a little bit of work related to environment, industrial pollution, communities. It was not much, but while being part of that work, I did not feel implicated in it as a person, as a gendered person with a specific sexual orientation. With being an "out" queer person, I suddenly felt very vulnerable and exposed, and that in turn became the source of my energy. This feeling of acute vulnerability caused by public knowledge of sexuality, I realized, is what needs to go!