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Bandar Aur Insaan Reloaded

Painting of crows attacking red-coloured grass.

Last year, I received a research fellowship from the International Association for the Study of Sexuality, Culture and Society (IASSCS) and the Ford Foundation. Through this fellowship, I conducted a yearlong qualitative study of the experiences of queer students during their school life in India. The word ‘queer’ as you may know, includes but is not limited to persons who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, hijra, kothi, kinnar, panthi, aravani, thirunangi, jogta, jogappa, giriya, khush, and many more.

I will reserve the methodological intricacies of how I went about this research, along with a more complete picture of things I learnt, for another location but here I present a short story which is a fictionalized glimpse into the findings of my research. Based on my findings, I wrote a fictional short story called ‘बंदर और इंसान’ which follows the life of three monkeys, Raju, Nabeela and Cheeku (who prefers to be called Chandani), who live in the Nagaraj Jungle and attend the local school. The story is an account of a typical day in school, and the experiences they undergo because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Because of word count constraints, I am presenting only one of those stories – that of Nabeela, in this excerpt named, ‘बंदर और इंसान Reloaded!’.

नागराज जंगल सर्पों से भरा था ध्यान नहीं दिया तो डॅंक लगनेका दर था इस बात से नबीला सदा ही बेफ़िक्र रही थी| नबीला  फुटबॉल खेलती थी और उसे अपने बाल, हाथ और मुँह सवारने में कोई दिलचस्पी थी| सब लोग डरते थे उससे और वो मस्ती में घूमती और अपना पूरा समय रिया के संघ बिताती थी| “ रिया!” नबीला ने मन ही मन कहा | “कितनी अच्छी है वो| काश मैं अपना पूरा दिन रिया के साथ ही बिता सकूँ| आज स्पोर्ट्स पीरियड में मैं उसे यह बता दूँगी कि वो मुझे अच्छी लगती है|”

नबीला ने जब रिया को बताया कि वह उसे अच्छी लगती है तो रिया ने तुरंत उत्तर दिया, “हाँ, तुम भी मुझे अच्छी लगती हो, तुम मेरी सबसे अच्छी सहेली हो|” “नहीं रिया, तुम समझी नही: I like like you!” “ओह!”, रिया ने कहा और वो ग्राउंड से भाग गयी| नबीला समझने की कोशिश कर ही रही थी कि क्या हुआ कि इतने में मगरमच्छ मैम का बुलावा आया| मगरमच्छ मैम स्कूल  की काउन्सलर थी| कहने को तो वो संवेदनशील थीं पर उन पर भरोसा करना बड़ा ही मुश्किल था| ऑफीस पहुँची तो मैम ने उसे बहुत डांटा, “तुमने रिया को क्या कहा? जानती नहीं यह ग़लत है? तुम्हें डॉक्टर की ज़रूरत है| फिर से ऐसा किया तो तुम्हारे मम्मी डॅडी को बता दूँगी|” नबीला को काटो तो खून नही| उसने ऐसा क्या ग़लत किया था? नबीला काउन्सलर के कमरे से निकली तो सभी सहपाठी उसे अजीब तरह से देख रहे थे| “क्या उन्हें पता चल गया, क्या रिया ने सबको बताया, या फिर काउन्सलर मैम ने …?”

Do you think Nabeela did anything wrong? Why does society teach us that girls must like boys and boys must like girls? At the time we reach puberty, we are in school. Do you remember any teacher or any course that spoke to you about matters related to puberty when you were in school? Our bodies change and our feelings begin to surface more prominently. Yet, does anyone talk to us about it? Do we have any books in the library that help us? Do you think that school should address these matters as well?

Some of the men and transgender women that I spoke to for my research told me that they have faced bullying and harassment because others thought their walk was too “girly” or their voice was too “girly.” They were called names – हिजड़ा, चक्का, चीनी (hijra, chakka, chini). Some of them detested school because of this. They faked illness, and jumped out of classroom windows because they hated how they were treated in school. Some of them were also beaten up by their classmates, and unwanted sexual advances were made towards them by their teachers and classmates.

Everyone who bullied these students had no idea whether they were actually queer. It was all based on perception, as others thought they acted queer. The Supreme Court has ruled, “Section 377 IPC does not criminalize a particular people or identity or orientation,” and that it is a violation of the Constitution to discriminate against any person on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity[1]. It has also been said that everyone has a right to live as the gender of their choice and a right to dress, express and behave in their self-identified gender – all of this without having to undergo any medical or hormonal testing[2]. That is because being transgender is not a medical condition. It is just a person’s deeply felt gender identity. The Indian Psychiatric Association has issued a statement that there is no evidence that homosexuality is a disease. Do you think comprehensive sexuality education in school that gives us accurate information about sexual orientation and gender identity would be helpful for us to better understand these things and to respect all persons? Maybe it will make it easier for Raju, Nabeela and Chandani to be themselves?

[1] National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India and Ors. (Writ Petition (Civil) No. 400/2012) para 55, page 62

[2] See generally: National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India and Ors. (Writ Petition (Civil) No. 400/2012