Queer Spaces in Delhi: Of Access, Law and Class Privilege
Labels are fickle. They can be a way to reclaim one’s identity, but depending on the context, identity politics can also be problematic. Which is why when 50 people were gunned down in a gay nightclub, Pulse, in Orlando, it becomes important to treat it as a hate crime against a particular community, rather than simply an ‘act of domestic terror.’
In any city, a gay nightclub is not just a place to party. It is not just a nightclub, it is a safe space for queer-identified individuals to explore their identity and sexuality without fear of discrimination or violence. Such spaces should form an integral part of any city. Especially so in India, where homosexuality is a criminal offence.
Queer safe spaces in Delhi include clubs which organise gay nights once a week, house parties hosted by LGBTQ support groups and sometimes, an informal gathering after a film festival or an exhibition.
But most of these spaces are not accessible to queer people who belong to lower income groups.
Gathering Under the Shadow of Section 377
When you don’t exist within the law, how do you claim public space anywhere? There is no law in the Indian Penal Code which protects a queer person from being thrown out of any public space. When you don’t have a space at all, how do you make it inclusive?Smita Vanniyar, Researcher, Point of View (NGO)
Most LGBTQ activists argue that the queer demographic in the US is different from India’s. Gay clubs or queer spaces are more visible, because they can be. In India, on the other hand, a person who identifies as a queer has to come from privilege to be able to access a queer space which is safe from police persecution and violence.
In any city in the country, public space is a privilege, rather than a right. In this context, the lack of a class-less, inclusive queer space in a city like Delhi is not a surprise.
Is Being a Queer Woman Harder?
The rainbow is not a consistent curve. Within the queer community, the queer woman (even the queer woman activist) is not as visible as other sexual minorities. For instance, if a young, queer woman belonging to a Delhi slum wants to access a space where she can meet like-minded people and express herself. where does she go?
Unfortunately, in India there is a hierarchy even within the queer community. Most parties in clubs organised by the queer community are not for queer women. And if they are, they are for the upper class lesbian woman. It is not only about the law but also the patriarchal, social context in India.Ritambhara, Founder, Nazariya
Access to public spaces, for women across the gender spectrum, has been a prolonged battle for feminists. How then, is it possible to hope for an equal and free access to sexual minorities in the city?
‘Cruising’ and Queer Spaces of Expression
A queer space is one where those who claim that identify are free to explore, look for solidarity and express their sexuality; but not necessarily predicated on the need for a sexual relationship.
While researching queer spaces in Delhi, I was repeatedly told about ‘cruising’ spots in the city like a park in CP, a bus terminus and some localities. However, such spots while public, are meant for casual hookups which cater, more often that not, to men who want to have sex with men. To an extent, dating apps like Grindr and Bendr have replaced cruising spots.
None of these, however, are spaces that engender conversation or the feeling to belonging to a community.
Queer spaces are a part of the socio-political culture of the city. And by extension, the socio-political culture of the country. Rhetoric aside, the existence of Section 377 in India means that queer spaces are bound to be woefully exclusive.
But discrimination – against alternate sexualities or gender – won’t disappear with the abolition of a law; discrimination is ingrained into our social fabric.
And the incident in Orlando as well as lack of queer spaces in Delhi, which are class-less, open and inclusive is a strong reminder of that.
A homophobic shooter in Orlando enters a night club and ends 49 lives. A sting operation in Delhi reveals that ayurvedic doctors working at Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali clinics still believe homosexuality is a disease, a mental disorder.
The Quint believes its time to reach out… and offer #LoveToHomophobes. You can send in your love notes to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or use the hashtag #LoveToHomophobes to post your messages on social media.
(The Quint is now on WhatsApp. To receive handpicked stories on topics you care about, subscribe to our WhatsApp services. Just go to TheQuint.com/WhatsApp and hit the Subscribe button.)