Opinion: By Udayan Dhar
Alka Kedwal and Sonali Roy- a prominent lesbian couple from Kolkata- who have campaigned vociferously for LGBT equality on several public forums like magazines and television- suddenly find themselves in an unenviable position today. Over the last few days they have faced relentless personal abuse for posting a picture celebrating the Hindu festival of Karva Chauth- traditionally marked by heterosexuial couples. And the surprising part is this- the harassment and criticism has come not from straight people- but from LGBT activists in the city!
Upon posting the Karva Chauth pictures on Facebook, an older picture of theirs was shared on a group called “Sappho for Equality” by group member Suatanaka Bhattacharya- an “activist”- with critical comments about a lesbian couple following “heterosexual norms”. This was followed by a barrage of personal attacks against Sonali and Alka by self appointed guardians of the LGBT community.
The comments said they were “disgusted and horrified” by the acts of the couple, asked who is the “husband” and who is the “wife”, criticized them for “flamboyantly” embracing heterosexual “rituals”, labelled the act as “exhibitionism”, among many other similar statements.
According to Sonali, “The kind of abusive language that has been used against me- I can not even repeat. It’s OK to voice your personal opinions on issues of importance- but it can not bring down the debate to the level of personal abuse and harassment.”
The LGBT community in India is in a nascent stage of its fight for full equality. At a stage when even visibility of LGBT persons is an issue, Alka and Sonali have shown the way by being open about their sexuality and talking about it on public forums. Sonali and Alka stay in a housing society in Kolkata with 400 other conservative Marwari families, and they accept the couple for who they are after being influenced by their honesty, simplicity and love. In other words they have probably achieved more than what the “activists” have achieved in the past two decades.
Agreed that main-streaming of the gay community is a controversial issue- even in the West, there are sections within the LGBTs who believe that the gay community should not be interested in marriage rights- as it’s a “heterosexual” or “heterocentrist” tradition and we devalue ourselves by demanding marriage rights. And no one denies their right to voice these opinions, though the overwhelming majority believe that true equality can be achieved only by main-streaming and integrating with straight people, and by modifying traditionally heterosexual institutions like marriage to be more inclusive of gay people.
One can not expect equality to happen until we share the same platforms, rights and responsibilities as straight people do in society. Moreover, these critics override the very concept of tolerance of diversity which they expect from straight people. The LGBT community worldwide is as diverse a group one can imagine. These over-zealous activists are doing a great disservice to the community by trying to paint all gays in the same brush and ignoring our diverse viewpoints. Resorting to harassment and abuse is of course the most extreme step one can imagine.
“Alka and I are feeling cornered” said Sonali. “We feel that everyone in Kolkata is against us. My closeted lesbian friends are now even more afraid to come out, as they feel even the LGBT community will back out in times of crisis.”
The gay community in India needs to come out in support of this brave and beautiful couple from Kolkata and send out a strong message to these over-fanatical activists that such intolerance will not be allowed any more. Sonali has already filed a defamation notice to Sappho and Suatanaka Bhattacharya for using her picture without her permission and inciting personal attacks on her through a public platform.
Ashok Row Kavi, pioneering gay rights’ activist has also voiced his support. “The reaction of the activists in Kolkata show a complete lack of sensitivity. No one denies their right to voice their opinions. But this behaviour is not acceptable.”
Meanwhile neither ‘Sappho for Equality’ nor Suatanaka Bhattacharya responded to Pink Pages’ requests for their comments on the matter.
Do you think gay couples should be made to feel guilty over embracing traditionally heterosexual rituals and institutions like marriage or Karva Chauth? Please share your thoughts through the comments section below.