Does Queer Exist in Indian literature?
Queer literature in India has been hiding in the banner of feminism and has its own demarcation. Today with the rise of activism, it is out of its own closet but has not been given literary freedom or inclusivity by the popular verdict.
In 1998, it rained fire in Indian theatres with Deepa Mehta’s film Fire. This film brought out the unspoken truth of female sexuality in Indian homes, ie, the idea of a lesbian relationship.
The film shook the nation and was seen as a tool to corrupt Indian sexual ethics. The idea of Queer was seen as a post-colonial literature and it created a new socio-political diaspora.
Not only it discusses sexuality but also the theme of gender roles and power play and taboos faced under patriarchy.
Queer Diaspora and Sexual Politics
The realism in relationships and in the power hierarchy was mirrored through this form of diaspora but it failed to be inclusive. Queer studies bring out the voices of the subaltern with their repressed sexuality.
The sexual politics of post-colonial India, saw the queer to be a threat to heterosexual uniformity.
Seen as a perversion from the established heterosexual norm that needed to be purged from the nation, the queer became the illegitimate sexual citizens in post-colonial India.
Rigid heterosexual norms have been manifested by Right-wing political parties in India who proclaim queer identity goes against the basic foundation of a Hindutva state. The post-colonial identity of the queer has been suppressed under a false sense of nationhood the constricts the space for alternative gender narratives. The queer identity comes in conflict with the procreative duties of the citizens of the nation. The idea of nation in the Indian context is a symbol to that of a mother; if the queer exists, hence, the procreation would come to a halt. The nationalist with their banner of procreation and protecting the sanctity of women considered the queer identity to be an imported product from West.
Queer in Indian Scriptures
Mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik ties up the debate of gender and morality within the socio-political framework. He remarks that the binary structure of gender confines independent and individual gender roles and sexuality under a strict moral hegemony. The individual identity resists the hegemonic structure to express one’s independent existence.
Patnaik, further, opines the existence of alternative sexualities in the society contradicts the binary gender model. This leads to the fear of the unknown identities and with it the social disorder is created.
The queer in the mythology needs to be viewed from the political and religious angles. The gender roles in the literary narratives of folklore have turned into the artistic metaphors of mirrors reflecting the social reality.
Representation of Lesbian and Transgender in the Literary Diaspora
The “Svairini” in the Kamasutra laid the foundation of “The New Woman”. This concept brought in the identity of the lesbian who is sexually overt and derives her pleasure from the other women. The lesbian identity of a woman is considered to be unethical and going against the moral code designed for the sexual behaviour of a woman. The New Woman concept motivated writers such as Ismat Chugtai and Kamala Das to bring forth the identity of the lesbian into the literary narratives.
The lesbian has been treated as the “other” woman by right-wing Indian women. In literary narratives of Kamala Das, the lesbian desires take a confessional mode. Her autobiography- “My Story” is an account of her encounters with lesbian acts in the boarding school as well as her own repressed attraction towards the female sex. Her yearnings to fulfil her sexual desires with the female finds expressions in her short story, “The Sandal Trees”. The story is an unsuccessful attempt to revive her sexual affair with an unmarried female doctor who had once nursed her back to health.
The transgender has the least representation in literary narratives of the sexual subalterns. There are instances, but it gives an inadequate picture of their battles in mainstream culture. Once revered in the ancient Vedic period as a bringer of good luck, today, their voices are shunned in the marginal corners of literary representation. Most literary texts tend to give a one-sided picture of their story; for instance, the novel “Narcopolis” which revolves around the opium mafia groups in Mumbai shows the transgender character of Dimple as a prostitute working in the opium hubs of the city.
Today, queer literature is growing across the country with authors having independent publishing rights and the authority to create content in social media and digital platforms.