At the break of dawn, a lamp went off!
The year was 1995. I travelled to Delhi with two people from a film production company called Mantra Magic Films, from Mumbai. We were to remain in Delhi for 4 days to attend a Week of Broadcasting at Pragati Maidan. While my colleagues put up with their cousin’s at Nizamuddin, I settled into the very clean, very white, very British YWCA Guest House in Delhi. The room felt very cold and distant and while I was in Delhi, I wanted some warmth and friends around. I did not know anyone in Delhi, at that time except that I had got an address and phone number of two people, who were part of the women who desire women community in Delhi. I called the number and talked to someone, who said that they had a guest room where they put up women who came from out of town.
I checked out of YWCA and moved in with them. The house belonged to Giti Thandani and the two girls I met there introduced themselves as Cath Stuggart and Betu (Anandita)Singh. While I was away all day, I liked the warmth of their presence in the evenings, the quick breakfast with them in the mornings, little chats and sharing. I liked my little room on the top with an electrical kettle, tea bags, milk sachets, books and magazines on same-sex love. The little room was a sheer delight, with a window that looked out at the world, from the top. And on the last day of stay, I enjoyed meeting other women who desired women, in a neatly arranged beer and chips party on the terrace of the house.
I struck an instant rapport with both girls but Betu is someone I spoke to from Mumbai too after I returned. There was something in that child-like face that attracted me a lot. Cath Stuggart was staying over from England and learning Hindi and together they were doing a great job of managing Giti Thadani’s Office-cum-residence in Delhi, while she herself was in Germany.
The first beginnings of Sangini, began in Delhi, supported by the well-known Naaz Foundation. Betu and Cath were instrumental in bringing this to life.
Today, at the break of dawn, the lamp went off. Betu (Anandita) Singh passed away, the immediate cause of death being, stage 3 of cirrhosis of the liver.
This brings me to the main subject I want to write about.
The LGBTQ community in India suffers extreme isolation, marginalization and hence is an extremely lonely community. While there is a lot of companionship and friendliness among people, the togetherness is absent. People meet for drinks, dating, parties, but that real family feeling and togetherness is hard to come by. In the earlier days, the in-fighting overtook the outward seemingly out and about façade.
It has taken many of us a huge amount of courage to come out to family about our sexual identity. Very few families accept and support people who are out. So there is already the family one is fighting to find approval in and then there is the society at large, which finds any woman who is single, not partnered with a man, two women living together, something they cannot make sense of. Even tolerate. And what they cannot make sense of they want to eradicate. Kill. Or forget about it. This gives rise to the well of loneliness that very often hound, the LGBTQ community.
It is surprising that even after the decriminalizing of homosexuality, multiple films supporting same sex partnerships, so much literature, society at large has not accepted us in their midst. Families continue to ostracize us, or treat us with shame. If this is the attitude with families, then the society at large will also follow suit.
For example, consider the coming apart of a heterosexual marriage. Friends, family, extended family, friends of friends and all and sundry will come together to keep the marriage going. It is the opposite in the case of LGBTQ couples. Even in the community, people turn their heads away, and of course, the family beats hell and fire to break the relationship – in most cases. The laws of the land do not protect us, nor help us in any way, so that we feel included in the overall society at large. Do you mean that there is only one way to relate to another human being and that is the heterosexual way?
The well of loneliness is often filled with insecurities, alcohol, drugs and behavior that cry for help. But no one hears these cries, until it is too late.
These forced silences speak louder than words. These dead moments of life, even in a living body, are what regressive societies perpetuate and promote.
We really must wake up to some glaring, disturbing, uncomfortable truths that surround the LGBTQ movement in India. For that we need to know, about struggle elsewhere in the world and how they overcame it.
Now, the question is - who is going to bell the cat and make the first move?
Also read: Film review: And you thought you knew me by Pramada Menon