SAATHII participated in a range of queer focussed events since mid November - some with old partners, some with somewhat newer partners and one with a partner agency where an old friendship is being rebuilt.
1) November 24, 2012: Swikriti seminar and sensitization event on queer health and legal concerns in Kolkata - already reported on, Amitava Sarkar presented long time friendship gift by Swikriti; Pawan Dhall present as a panel speaker
2) November 26, 2012: Bandhan press conference to discuss the status of Section 377 IPC at the Kolkata Press Club, including short film screenings: Amitava Sarkar and Pawan Dhall present as speakers. It was a short and sweet event and received reasonable media coverage, the main purpose for which it was organized.
3) December 8, 2012: Second Swikriti seminar on queer issues at Barasat, a northern Kolkata suburb - Madhu Hijda present as a panel speaker, Pawan Dhall present as a friend and well wisher. The event was held at Hotel Anandalok, which has a special place in Bengal's queer "history". Twelve years ago, when Counsel Club and Integration (among eastern India's earliest queer support groups) had tried to organize a legal rights awareness session for LGBT people in Barasat, all hotels had refused us entry because our resource person was a woman, and the 19 participants were all males. They would not allow a woman to hold any kind of meeting in a hotel room with 19 men! At that time, Hotel Anandalok proved to be an exception.
So it was special to go back to that hotel and to see how Swikriti as a group has grown. Among the audience members, it was not just LGBT individuals present, but also "stakeholders" like teachers, local influential individuals, and family members of LGBT people. It was good to see that among the panellists were - apart from Madhu Hijda - Biswajit from NNP+, transsexual activist Tista Das and the local ICTC Counsellor. A rather complete range of speakers and this was yet another instance of the success of the Coalition Based Advocacy Project. The strong bond between NNP+ and Swikriti was on display, and it showed that the "experiment" to bring together PLHIV and LGBT groups together had worked.
Besides this, the screening of SAATHII productions "Out On TV" and "Rupantar" was not just flattering but also rewarding that our work has a real impact on real people!
My two bits to the panel discussion: To a question from a Swikriti member on how to help MSM living with HIV come to terms with their situation and modify their sexual lives, most speakers were just talking about helping such individuals to learn the use of condoms. I chipped in by saying that all of us as social activists, counsellors and health workers must first internalize that sex is not just about penetration. We have to believe that not being able to have penetrative sex is not the end of the world, and this has to reflect in our body language when we guide / advise / inform people about safer sex. Sex is about life and living, and that is the sense to be conveyed in all our counselling manuals and trainings.
4) December 9, 2012: SAATHII stall at the Sappho Rainbow Carnival event. While both sides never quite lost touch with each other over the years, this event has quite broken the ice between Sappho and SAATHII. I am not going to report in details on this - there were many of us present in our stall - Kunal, Anupam, Aliza, Sudip, Amitava, Paramita, Souvik, Madhu - and I request any one of them to write about the event in detail. (Aliza, in particular, would have something special to share!)
In a nutshell though, Sappho did a marvellous job of organizing the carnival in the heart of the city, not just professionally managed (the key organizer was someone once trained by SAATHII on process documentation!) but comprehensively inclusive, entertaining, fun, colourful and full of people - just the way it should be.
SAATHII stall was full of our IEC material and we exhausted quite a few items. And it was clear that we have some kind of a branding in place by now - several media persons expected to see us there and were happy that we were there! Many of them made enquiries and stories in "The Statesman" and "Dainik Bhaskar" are in the offing (including a review of Pehchan).
This carnival also marked a personal milestone for me. I earned my first byline for a Bengali news article - I was invited to write an overview of the Indian queer movement for "Ei Samay", a "Times of India" house Bengali evening newspaper. They translated my article into Bengali from English, doing a reasonably good job, though there was some "loss in translation". I have to thank Amitabha Sarkar for this exposure - by introducing us to Amartya Mukherjee, the reporter of "Ei Samay" who has invited me to collaborate with him on queer focussed feature articles.
5) December 11, 2012: Kolkata Rista seminar on human rights and Section 377 at Jadavpur University, where Paramita Banerjee and Pawan Dhall were panellists along with lawyer Kaushik Gupta, journalist Abhigyat and Professor Zaid Al Baset. I think the discussion and audience interface was of a good quality, though the audience was rather small. We got a chance to share about our recent successes with media advocacy and linkages build with the West Bengal SLSA and DLSAs - in response to questions on what can be done to tackle increasing street level violence and police harassment being experienced by TG people - in some localities of Kolkata even more than in comparison with female sex workers.
Paramita provided an interesting insight into this matter. She pointed out that there really was no substitute to collectivization for the marginalized sections of society. The fact that the police were now scared to harass female sex workers beyond a point was a strong indication of this time tested strategy. So if the police now felt that their favourite whipping horses can be TG people, then it is time for the TG communities to rethink their approaches, work together and become smarter.
My personal observation, however, is that this is a lesson not going to be learnt easily. Within the audience there were TG individuals from different camps, and some of them could not help take a broadside at others saying that the new projects and CBOs (read Pehchan, Bandhan, Kolkata Rista) being implemented had not lived up to the expectations, while old projects had closed down (read MANAS Bangla).
The signs of positive impact, however, were also there. A new Facebook friend informed me recently that the Kolkata Rista event and similar other events in the recent past had encouraged him to come out to his parents about being gay, and that he was ready for the struggle this would involve. Paramita and I were his role models!
So this was time and money well spent after all, even if we don't consider the partner agency involved in organizing the seminar!
One overall lesson reinforced from this set of recent experiences: Men of all hues and shades tend to waste their privileges, while women fight for them and therefore prize them so much more. I love men, but I admire women so much the more!!
And here's some prosaic poetry:
There's miles to go before you sleep
The mountains to climb are rather steep
But don't let the targets make you weep
Argue with your bosses like heaven or hell
But keep the faith, take more responsibility and
A huge forward leap!!
Merry Christmas all!