The invisibility accorded to queer literary works in India has a systematic sinister agenda of silencing. Such a hidden target can be countered only by cataloguing the still unexplored queer texts in various Indian languages and by developing unique critical tools to analyse these texts in a such a manner that helps in excavating the convoluted layers and subversive potential of queer identities.
This book aims at developing an exclusive literary framework to analyse the Indian queer literary works. In all, there are seven chapters which deal with the themes of plurality of lesbian existence, ambivalent adaptation techniques adopted by the writers to grant visibility to subaltern sexualities, overlapping of class and homosexuality, the development of exclusive queer aesthetics by inversion of accepted mode of literary language, imagery and techniques, the doubly marginalized identity of lesbian diaspora and the specific rift between lesbianism, feminism and queer activism in Indian context as presented in literary studies.
It also deals with the issues of biphobia, violence on hijra identity (perhaps one of the most marginalized identity in LGBTQ movement), the depiction of symbiotic relationship between space, sexual identity and sexual citizenship in Indian literary texts and the efforts made by the writers to homosexualize various so- called normative spaces.
Kuhu Sharma Chanana has written two books, D.H. Lawrence and the Poetic Novel and An Evening Rainbow: Queer Writings in Bhasha Literatures besides a number of articles on various facets of feminism and alternative sexuality in periodicals such as Indian Literature; Critical Endeavour; Points of View; and JSL. She has edited a special number on same-sex love fiction for Indian Literature. Chanana has also received Charles Wallace Trust Scholarship from the British Council at the University of Edinburgh (England). She is presently working as an Associate Professor of English Literature at S.5.N. College (University of Delhi).
The inappropriateness of the overturning of the High Court Judgement (2009) regarding Section 377 by the Supreme Court of India in 2013 has raised a furore among the writers and the critics alike. The absurdity of this outdated law is explicitly exposed in the writings such as Inside Gayland by Rajesh Talwar. This play depicts the turbulence faced by an Indian man who ends up being on a planet where heterosexuality is against the law. Thus the protests through writings, against the unfair treatment meted out to queers at every level, have been an integral part of LGBTQ activism.
This book is primarily concerned with the production and the counter production of the queer literary tools to lay bare the intricate web of silencing and visibilizing the alternative sexuality at the same time as presented in the Indian literary texts. Subsuming one of the most marginalized identities like hijras within the larger ambit of the queer writings that leaves very little space for the exploration of this unique identity has been a major handicap of the Indian homoerotic writings. No wonder the excavation of the Indian literary texts that primarily concern transgender and hijra identities has been an uphill task. The subversive potential of the third gender in creating radical ruptures in the sphere of familial sexual citizenship (because the alternative family disposition of the hijras' unmasks the oppressive structure of heteropatriarchal family that in turn problematizes the issue of sexual citizenship when claimed through the unit of family) is revealed through the texts such as Khushwant Singh's Delhi, Dattani's Seven Steps around the Fire, Satya's "I Hate Wet Tissues" and Abdul Khalid Rashid's "Incomplete Human". Also from the feminist perspective, their unusual gender blending adds another dimension to the whole issue of women's empowerment. Though there is mimetic appropriation of feminine behaviour by hijras in terms of their feminine names, feminine attire, long hair, feminized language coupled with demands to be counted as females in census, there is a potent incongruity emerging out of their sexually suggestive behaviour. And this is due to the fact that though they ape feminine corporeality, they are dramatically different from sexually suppressed Indian women (who are perpetually on sexual dieting due to the middle-class issues of respectability). And this at one level creates voyeuristic titillating laughter in male audience and on the other works as a subversive tool to lay bare the repressed module of feminine sexuality. They, by appropriating female corporeality and behaving in an unabashed manner like dancing in public, sexually suggestive gesturing and smoking, surely produce a counter-culture against patriarchy. They present an effective foil to heterosexual patriarchal propriety. Indeed in a quite unique fashion within queer world, they are in one way able to bridge the much debated gap between feminism and lesbianism (specially in the Indian context) that has been meticulously discussed by authors like Maya Sharma in Loving Women: Being Unprivileged in India. Thus the marginalized groups within queer world not only redefine the basic premises of LGBTQ activism, but also reorient and reframe the heteropatriarchal hegemonies. Thus to counter the new emerging phenomenon of homonormativity (which creates an allowance for the specific sort of gays and lesbians who do not threaten the basic fabric of heteropatriarchy to a great extent and form a very specific kind of unholy alliance with heteronormativity), the marginalized identities within the LGBTQ world need to be visibilized and critiqued. In order to provide a holistic share to various kinds of sexual minorities, it is imperative to include bisexuals, queer diasporas, hijras and transgenders within the larger LGBTQ umbrella that has been to some extent partial to gay and lesbian identities. Thus this work aims at exposing the margins within margins, present in the form various types of sexual minorities, through modern Indian homoerotic writings and critiquing their positions as potent agents to radicalize and counter the hierarchal dispositions prevalent both in heteropatriarchal and homosexual world. Precisely for this reason the inclusion of Suniti Namjoshi who is a queer diaspora is extremely significant as her writings succinctly chart out the issue of sexual citizenship. The anxiety of subsuming the specific Indian lesbian experience and language within the ambit of the white queer world is exposed through her novel use of language, imagery and lesbian fabulation of seemingly straight myths. Also the issue of the consumption of the public, private and heterotopic spaces by the privileged homonormative queers at the expense of the stigmatized homosexuals like hijras, transgenders, bisexuals and sexual diasporas has been addressed through various literary representations across regional languages and genres.
For the above-mentioned purpose, I have amalgamated the Western and the Indian literary tools and have also borrowed the theoretical framework from the various other disciplines such as medical science, anthropology, sociology, journalism, film studies, geography and law. The texts under analysis include fiction, short story, poetry, drama and autobiographies and thus an effort has been made to represent major literary genres by critiquing works written originally in English and also literatures available in translations and Bhasha writings.
I am deeply grateful to Prof. Malashri Lal for incessantly guiding and encouraging me to write this book. I am indebted to the Sahitya Akademi Library, the British Council Library, the Shastri Indo-Canadian Library, the Nehru Memorial Museum & Library and the IIAS Library for permitting me to use their resources. My special thanks are due to my dear friend Balbir Krishan whose painting entitled "Rebirth" has adorned the cover page of this book.
Also, I acknowledge the precious support of my dear friends, Suman, Rachna, Ruchi, Saroj-ji and Alka.
The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Section 377 and the refusal to even review the ban clearly indicate the dismal situation of subaltern sexual identities. Little wonder the queer writings even now inhabit just the margins of the Indian literary world, and the visibility of homoerotic literature at the Indian literary map is still a tantalizing dream. However, there are works ranging from gay, lesbian and hijra anthologies such as Hoshang Merchant's Yaarana, Sukthankar's Facing the Mirror, Maya Sharma's Loving Women and Revathi's Our Lives, Our Words to Revathi's autobiography entitled The Truth About Me, and Suniti Namjoshi and Merchant's fictionalized biographies named Goja: An Autobiographical Myth and The Man Who Would Be Queen. The fiction and poetry of Raj Rao and Namjoshi, the plays of Mahesh Dattani, Amruta Patil's Kari (the first graphic lesbian novel of India), the stories of Parvati Sharma, and the short story collections titled Out and queer- erotica called Close Too Close are also fine specimens of Indian queer literature. Despite the fact that recently there are also homoerotic writings in Bhasha literatures (An Evening Rainbow: Queer Writings in Bhasha Literatures), other than full length exhaustive queer literary critical writings by Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai (Same-sex Love in India) and Merchant's (Forbidden Sex, Forbidden Texts), there is a severe dearth of books on Indian queer literary criticism. There can be two reasons for this: first, the Indian queer writing is still at a nascent stage as compared to the Western writings, and second, in India, unlike the West, there are no separate departments of alternative sexualities in most of the universities and inevitably, there is a serious paucity of specific queer literary tradition in Indian writings and as a result biographies and fictionalized accounts of biographies are the major forms of Indian queer literary production. Indeed there is not only a serious need for promotion of Indian homoerotic writings, but also for the development of queer literary tools to lay bare the depths of existing homosexual literary productions. This book of mine aims at developing an exclusive literary framework to analyse the Indian queer literary works. For this purpose I have amalgamated the Western and the Indian literary tools and also borrowed the theoretical framework from various other disciplines such as medical science, anthropology, sociology, journalism, film studies, geography and law. The texts under analysis include fiction, short story, poetry, drama and autobiographies and thus an effort has been made to represent the major literary genres by critiquing works written originally in English and also literatures available in translations and Bhasha writings.
In all there are seven chapters which deal with the themes of plurality of lesbian existence, overlapping of class and homosexuality, the doubly marginalized identity of lesbian diaspora and the specific rift between lesbianism, feminism and queer activism in Indian context as presented in literary studies. They also focus on ambivalent adaptation techniques adopted by the writers to grant visibility to subaltern sexualities and the development of exclusive queer aesthetics by the inversion of the accepted mode of literary language, imagery and techniques. The last two chapters deal with the issues of biphobia, violence on hijra identity (perhaps one of the most marginalized identity in LGBTQ movement), the homosexualization of spaces and the depiction of symbiotic relationship between space and sexual identity in Indian literary texts.
The three chapters which primarily focus on lesbian fiction, include apparently disparate texts like Manju Kapur's A Married Woman in English, Rajkamal Chaudhary's Machali Mari Hui in Hindi (written by a male writer), Geetanjali Shree's Tirohit, Abha Dawesar's Babyji, Anita Nair's Ladies Coupe, Hiranmayee Mishra's "The Tale of a Rainy Night" (an Oriya story in English translation), and Shivani's Hindi story "Manik". These works have been woven into a single thread due to the common themes of malleability and contradictory plurality of lesbian experiences of Indian upper middle-class married women. In these chapters the Western tools that have been employed are Terry Castle's notion of "ghosting of lesbians" and Patricia Juliana Smith's concept of "lesbian panic", which are indicative of the authors' own anxieties regarding the portrayal of the lesbian longings in their writings. Terry Castle in her work, The Apparitional Lesbian: Female Homosexuality and Modern Culture has given the concept of "self-ghosting". According to her, since lesbianism is a potential threat to the patriarchal structure, there is a tendency to juxtapose lesbian characters with apparition like creatures to invisibilize them. Similarly Patricia Juliana Smith has argued that whenever there is a chance of culmination of lesbian relationship, the panic strikes the writer and there is a sudden abortion of the relationship due to the abrupt decision of one of the partners. Manju Kapur's A Married Woman, Geetanjali Shree's Tirohit, Rajkamal's Machali Mari Hui, Shivani's "Manik" and Hiranmayee Mishra's "The Tale of a Rainy Night" have been analysed from this perspective which provides potent techniques to lay bare the writers' lesbophobic anxieties and their latent ambivalent intentions pertaining to the lesbian representations. On the one hand the revered identity of the motherhood has been wrapped around lesbianism to provide it respectability, and on the other it endorses the notion that the alternative family structure which is possible within queer family and homosexuality is not deficient in anything. For this purpose the old Indian myths of King Dilipa's queens (who without any male partner gave birth to Bhagirathi) and the birth of agni by multiple mothers as depicted by Ruth and Kidwai in their book, Same-Sex Love in India, have been cited as classic Indian examples to build linkages between Indian lesbian motherhood and the depiction of it in contemporary Indian queer writings. Significantly this notion of alternative family structure is not bereft of sinister back hand agenda and for exposing this malicious design, the tool from popular Western visual culture has been borrowed. Sara Warn in her insightful essay, "T.V.'s Lesbian Baby Boom" exhibits that so many American T.V. serials start with the theme of homosexual women coming to terms with their sexuality but later on the stories invariably veer around the issues of gay parenthood. And the reason for this is that motherhood is a mainstream identity and lesbianism is a marginalized existence and hence in order to make it palatable to the straight audience, the writer has to present it under the garb of the mainstream accepted identity of motherhood. Thus apart from the exclusive Indian tools borrowed from the ancient religious texts, the Western framework of popular visual culture has also been used to critique the Indian literary texts vis-a-vis lesbian motherhood.
For depicting the voyeuristic male pleasures emanating from lesbian double bonanza, specially demonstrated by the male writers like Rajkamal Chaudhary, there are frequent references to Rangeen's Chaptinama (A form of Rekhti poetry written in Urdu in nineteenth century) which catalogues the sinister agenda of many male writers to present lesbianism as a precursor to heterosexual mating to titillate male readers. In this sort of representation, towards the end, the lesbians are shown as being cured of homosexuality due to the exhaustive joys of heterosexual mating even if it is imposed upon them. Rajkamal Chaudhary's Machali Mari Hui clearly evinces this horrific idea and stresses that many a time lesbian visibility is fraught with serious lesbophobic anxieties on the part of the author. Interestingly contrary to this at times the apparently lesbophobic tales have potent potential to challenge heteronormativity as in Hiranmayee's "The Tale of a Rainy Night" and Shivani's "Manik". Both the stories are important lesbian signatures, for first, they are written in Hindi and Oriya respectively, and not in English, and this bursts the myth that homoeroticism is a Western import popularized in India by the English-speaking middle class for the benefit of the exclusive English-reading public, and second, these tales, despite homophobia, constantly reveal the opprobrium suffered by many married women in the so-called conjugal bliss. Also, the Sapphic relationships in these stories are not shown purged of sexual intimacies. These writers have boldly located the lesbian longings outside the desexualized sakhi space where homosexuality of a woman is limited to only romantic friendship. Thus the inclusion of lesbian tales from Bhasha literature has a specific agenda of creating a history of Indian lesbian literature which has been systematically erased and even the feminists have shown indifference towards lesbian movement for various reasons as has been demonstrated by Maya Sharma in Loving Women. Thus even the Indian feminist writings do not exhibit overt lesbian longings by and large.
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