Let There Be Light

Kolkata hosts its first Queer Literary Festival

Kolkata: The season to celebrate literature has set in. And Calcutta alone will be hosting not one but three literature festivals in January itself. In fact, between November to January, several literature festivals have already taken place at several Indian cities. But there has been few sessions dedicated to ‘queer’ literature in the popular Lit Fests and the number  of authors specialising in it being invited as speakers is even lesser in number. Thereby, feeling the need of a separate fest for the community, Kolkata hosted its first Queer Literary Festival on January 5.

Celebrating the ‘queer’

On a cold winter afternoon, seeing three of the four panelists occupying the stage, representing a form of literature that not many choose to talk about, in the heart of the city, was appreciated by many. Setting the motion for the session – Every Struggle Is Our Struggle: Queer Voices, Literature of Resistance was Aulic, writer and anthropologist from Dhaka, currently residing in Berlin. She said, “I don’t write to resist but to exist.”

Actor and poet Tista Das, a prominent face of the West Bengal Trans Movement, began by saying, “Being a transgender woman, I am also part of the society. I have never thought myself to be different, so, I never began my poetry or writing as ‘queer poetry’ or ‘queer writing’. I began writing to voice against the injustice that exists in the society till date. To be honest, I never thought myself to be different from the society, but it was this very society that made me feel that I was different and gradually, my writing also got a tag.”

QUEER LGBT Transgender Kolkata
A painting at the entrance of the Queer Literature Festival site

Abhijit Majumdar, a professor and researcher by profession and writer by passion, who has penned a couple of books on ‘queer emotions’ and human rights, among which the most prominent being Noishobdyer Potroguccho said, “I am not a writer by profession but I write, not to exist but to resist, unlike Aulic. I am being very candid, my writings are agenda based, if they are considered as literature, I have no issue.”

Need for another setup

With write-ups, poems and even reports written in support of the ‘queer’ community adorning the walls of the Goethe Institut, the organizers made their need for being talked about or being taken into the fold evident.

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Talking about the need of a literary meet dedicated to the queer authors and literature, was Mallobika, co-founder Sappho for Equality, she said, “Because people don’t have the courage to talk about queer issues let alone queer literature. This festival is an attempt to open up conversations with writers, readers and publishers about our struggles, joys and sorrows. It is also an attempt to listen to other movements of struggles, resistances and movement.”

Adding to that, Avinaba, independent gender, sexuality and policy researcher currently associated with Sappho for Equality, said, “The whole idea of organizing this literary meet was to create a pace for the writers and poets from the community to come and share their work. None of the mainstream festivals has ever invited writers from the community.”

All minorities are ‘one’

Speaking about the need of a platform, which gives space to other representatives of the minority community – be it religious, sexual, class or caste. Avinaba said, “The primary idea was to focus on queer and other marginalized representatives of the society, who for different reasons – gender, sexuality, class, caste, religion, geographic locations, cannot come forward, or rather let’s say are not allowed to put forward their work. We often hear from others, “we do not discriminate”  “we do not see one’s gender and sexuality!” However, the mainstream publishing houses – both regional and national – often complained about not finding enough talent in the queer community, in terms of literature.”

Adding to that, Md Reyaz, Assistant Professor, Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, Aliah University said, “As a religious minority, I empathise with the sexual minorities, for I believe that living in a secular country, if I am taking benefits of being a minority and say that people have no business to know what’s being cooked in my kitchen then we should not peep into other’s bedroom. On the contrary, we have reached a stage, where I would say all minorities should come together on one platform.”

The organisers, also used the event to raise their voice against the Transgender Bill. “We have dedicated a complete session on this issue as the law is draconian in its present form. An individual belonging to the male and female category don’t need to be verified as male or female by specialists. They why are trans men and women being subjected to such humiliation. This bill if enacted will be misused by those being authorised to scan our bodies. As it is we are humiliated by the society, this will subject us to further humiliation,” said Prabhat Majumdar, one of the panelist for the session on Transgender Bill. Another bill which was much talked about in between the session was the Triple Talaq Bill, the demand being – redrafting of the bill, as the bill in its present form, many felt would lead to a witch hunt of Muslim men in particular

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