As the eldest daughter of a Hindu family, I am expected to occupy a number of spaces that intertwine, merge and blur with the larger idea or identity that I like to believe is me, somewhere inside, that will still remain once the layers of cultural expectations, communally re-enforced values are taken away, not to mention that little role-play where I imagine for a while what would happen had colonisation not been a part of my collective history or memory. Very little of what I believe in — politically or otherwise — is designed to fit into this public persona of the Dutiful Indian Daughter™, we’re expected to be infinitely nice, obedient, subservient and perhaps more importantly, as voiceless as possible; all of this erasing and silencing goes down in the name of religion, tradition and customs. There is a clear demarcation between what is publicly acceptable and what isn’t, the moment that line is crossed, we become people like ‘that’; and everything we do reflects this invisible wall. More often than not, whatever is the ‘negative’ is seen as ‘Western’ and by extension it is bad — this list includes being independent, setting personal and bodily boundaries, speaking too much in English, wearing ‘revealing’ outfits, swearing, smoking, drinking alcohol, making ‘funny’ faces while eating ice-creams¹, sitting with one’s legs uncrossed among many other things. Most of these rules exist for bodies that identify or are read as ‘feminine’ — who cares as how people really identify themselves as long as society can can extend the chromatic heteronormativity to any body it wishes? — bodies that identify or are seen as ‘masculine’ get away with relatively more transgressions; in fact the closer they look ‘masculine’ the easier to overstep and discard boundaries. Meanwhile, ‘real’ identities swirl inside, lay hidden for the most part. God forbid you’re Queer in such a mix, then it’s just Dr. Dilbag’s guarantee to cure teh Queer out of your crotch! But I digress.
Contrary to popular opinion that ‘colonisation is over‘, we still walk move see swirl stand sleep in the DoucheColonial Daze, still go by Victorian standards², still see the image of the Woman In The Wet Sari as iconic to Bollywood cinema — an image that typically leaves the woman at the mercy of the ‘evil rain’ to not have her sari cling to her so much as to ‘make’ Randomly Lurking Dude rape or assault her, she becomes a part of Nature’s fantasy, the dude’s desire-object-animal as well as a spectacle for the viewer watching the film, washing guilt of assault completely away as it’s a part of a ‘performance’. Having dusty bodies open to assault without any kind of responsibility sounds vaguely familiar to colonisation, no? — as well as use the same excuse of ‘she shouldn’t have worn such revealing clothes, if she did then she can’t complain’ in law courts for cases of sexual assault and rape to citing that jeans on school campuses are ‘vulgar‘, we are very far away from shedding the Collectively Colonised Skin. Whether we acknowledge it or not, most of our fundamental ideas of ‘acceptable’ behaviour, sexual or otherwise, reflects Colonial ideals; there are so many who believe ‘reproduction that doesn’t produce children that we can make into Ideal Indian Citizens is of no use’. At this point my LadyBrain wonders if Blake and his supposedly ‘libertarian’ views — libertarian at the cost of his wife, as always — crafted our ‘modern’ sexual sensibility, or are we that controlled by the State. In any case, this web of colonial meanings, forms and words is the one through which we craft and project ourselves, and wrenching ourselves from such draconian standards is no easy feat³.
In such tangled ideas, as Dusty Ladies, our spaces are disciplined and marked, the body is policed and kept as controllable as possible. From such cracks of gender binaries, forced borders and chalk lines, there is a healthy proportion of lesbian and transgendered people despite the valiant — where valiant is the new repulsive — efforts to keep them out of narratives and as invisible as possible, and the lesbians that Deepa Mehta’s Fire brought out in the 90’s till date remains one of the biggest Indian Queer protests. I remember watching photos of women with placards that read, “I am a Lesbian AND an Indian” as a 10-year-old in the newspapers, wondering why is the inclusion of the word ‘Indian’ so important on that placard. Today, I don’t see nationality as inconsequential, considering an overwhelmingly popular opinion is “Such things (read Queer people) don’t happen Here. We are nice, good, traditional people. It must be happening in all those countries Over There”, clearly identifying being Queer to being UnIndian, as if Sarojini Naidu or Toru Dutt never played on homo-eroticism, ever! Especially not when speaking of the ‘Nation’ or ‘Nation-Mother’. That must be some Western Bugger’s doing, surely. Being Queer is being Other, walking and ingesting life as the Outsider because Indian society has no space for ‘such things’, if I am to go by the larger nationalist narrative. Recently, I watched a Bengali documentary, “More Than Just A Friend” on Bengali Lesbians and Genderqueer identifying people, where most of them admitted being hurled with the word ‘Lesbian’ on the streets, in a largely Begali-speaking narrative. This English word sticks out as a sore thumb, it sounded harsher than the curled Bengali consonants too. Using terms like ‘lesbian’ or ‘gay’, terms that are specifically colonial in their origin, form and meaning is another step to Other the Outsider’s body and identity. I could claim to the the song-beats of Universal Sisterhood™, say that the term ‘lesbian’ is a liberating one, that being lesbian and Indian isn’t a special set of complications, then I wouldn’t live up to my reputation as a postcolonial reverse-racist now, would I?
Similar to the term ‘hijra’ that stands specifically to the caste-class-intersexed sexualities of the subcontinent– which are sometimes forced to keep the ‘tradition’ going — words like ‘lesbian’, ‘trans’, ‘genderqueer’, ‘gay’ etc don’t completely convey the dusty complications that come with these identities. Perhaps it’s time to start re-defining these terms in our languages — Urdu has a term ‘humjinsi’ which means ‘outside of gender’ — to root them in our crisscrossed hued cartography of identity and of struggle to be included in the term ‘human’. Besides, now that we have a word and a defined term in a regional language, those inane excuses that queer people exist only Over There can be cut up to pieces.
1. Someone I know got reprimanded for eating ice-cream ‘seductively’ out on public. How I wish I made that up.
2. Parts of our Constitution, particularly that pertaining to sexuality will transport you back to 1821.
3. Number of Bhaba’s or Spivak’s essays do not change this reality, as much as I’d like to believe it.