Friday, 27 August 2010

In India, no activists for poor gay men

Source: Express News Service

By Ashley Tellis

It has been more than a month now since news broke of Irfan trying to commit suicide by self-immolation. Irfan is the rikshawalla who went home with Prof Siras on the day he was illegally filmed having consensual sex with Siras at his house after which the latter was suspended from the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU).

Siras was subsequently found dead and the case is still under investigation as it is not clear if it was murder or suicide. Instead of interrogating the allegedly corrupt and sick Vice Chancellor of AMU, the various officials involved in the so-called ‘sting operation’ and the hypocrites and cowards in AMU, the police have been consistently harassing this rikshawalla. They have taken him into custody over three times now (though there is no FIR or anything against him) and beat him severely.

Irfan’s desperation at this continued harassment and abuse forced him to attempt to end his life. His wife saved his life and reports say his only crime was to have sex with Siras in an attempt to make some money.

The classist and elitist nature of the so-called queer movement becomes clear here. Where are the emails expressing outrage at the harassment of Irfan? Where are the online campaigns collecting signatures in support of Irfan? Where is the fact-finding committee on the harassment of Irfan? Where are the NGOs who work with MSMs (surely Irfan qualifies as one) when they are needed to protect a poor rikshawalla from being systematically tormented by the police?

Clearly, even the one-click activism that passes for social action in the ‘queer’ world is only reserved for people of a certain class and status. Siras was made the reluctant poster boy of the ‘queer’ movement; Irfan does not make the cut. With Siras, the ‘queer movement’ rushed in, both in terms of a wide media and Internet championing of Siras as a gay icon.

A team of professional activists met him, got Siras to file a case, did a fact finding report and left. To me, this is as insensitive as AMU and the media invasions.

As is clear from all the interviews and coverage, Siras was not ‘gay’ in any conventional sense of what that word means. He was ‘outed’ as homosexual by this Vice Chancellor and his offensive invasion of Siras’ privacy. The media’s abetting of this humiliation by beaming Siras across the country (without even bothering to pixelise his face) rendered him even more vulnerable. Siras looked bamboozled and disoriented through the whole sordid media episode. He spoke in many contradictory, dazed narratives. He said AMU and his family were his support systems. He said he hoped people would forget his homosexuality soon. He said he was ashamed. He said what was done to him was unfair and he would fight it. He said his life was half-pleasant moments and half-harshness and harassment. When he was reinstated, he said he was delighted to be back at his beloved AMU.

The disconnect between his being yoked into ‘queer’ iconicity and his own sense of himself which he was not even allowed the space to articulate was obvious.

Now, all of his contradictions might seem deeply objectionable and annoying to us as self-righteous ‘queer’ activists, but if we are really supportive of same-sex identified subjects in India, then we should have respected this man for who he was and wanted to be. Support has to be offered on the terms of the subject, not on the terms of the activist.

Does the role of the LGBT/queer movement stop at a fact-finding and organising the battle on the legal terrain? Shouldn’t the activists have been with him throughout, gone home to Nagpur with him, have sustained interaction with him and seen what he wanted? Instead of simply marshalling him to a cause, a cause he clearly did not see as his own, should there not have been attention to the affective internal world of this clearly alienated subject thrown into a series of languages to which he did not relate to, which he barely spoke? Should there not have been some quietness to listen and perhaps learn from his language?

Instead, every campaign, every petition and the fact-finding report concentrated on his ‘gayness.’ Neither the structural reasons behind the suspension (allegations of corruption against AMU’s VC which he was trying to deflect attention from) nor the grammar of Siras’ self-definition was paid any attention. It died with him even as he became a martyr of the LGBT/queer ‘movement.’

While Siras, as an educated man and grabbing onto whatever languages he could find in the end, including the language of gay and ‘queer’ rights, at least spoke in some form and managed to gain a swell of support, even if mainly virtual. Irfan can’t manage anything at all. Not a professor at a University, not someone recognisable to us in terms of class and caste, religion and English, he remains tormented and burnt while we offer more and more radical, intersectional and kickass definitions of ‘queer’ as inclusive, democratic, cutting across class, caste, gender and who knows what else. Hurrah for the ‘queer’ movement!

Hurrah for us!
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