Book Review: Delhi – Communities of Belonging
By Sunil Gupta and Charan Singh
Published by: The New Press, New York
Reviewed by: Udayan Dhar
Much has been written and said about the two court rulings in India on Section 377- the infamous law that criminalises homosexuality. One by the Delhi High Court in 2009 that declared the Victorian-era law unconstitutional, and the other in 2013 that restored the same law to the statute books – dealing a severe setback to the fledging LGBT rights movement in India.
Many LGBT Indians now look back with nostalgia at those intervening four years – which provided a window of freedom and empowerment in an otherwise grim history. Sunil Gupta, acclaimed photographer and artist based out of Delhi and London, and Charan Singh, a PhD candidate of photography at the Royal College of Art, London, capture some of those stories of hope and despair in an honest and poignant collection of photographs of LGBT people living in Delhi during this phase.
Much of the beauty in the collection lies in the diversity of the lives showcased. The unfortunate reality of the emerging “gay scene” in Indian metropolitan cities is that the class segregation is inescapable. It is thus a breath of fresh air to see a motley of queer Indians – from a Dalit kothi (effeminate gay man) to a Muslim HIV activist to a immigrant queer woman and a retired University Professor- all getting a space between the covers.
One of the overarching themes of the book is a sense of betrayal and despair about the fact that law can sometimes overlook the humanity of the people it directly impacts. “Between 2009 and 2013 there were many of us coming out to our families and society”, says Jatin, one of the men profiled in the book. “We were beginning to lead our lives the way we wanted. But now we are back where we were. Now we fear the law and the police again because now everybody knows what Section 377 is and how implicates us and on whom it casts suspicion.”
At the same time, there is much space for love and life as well. In the confident pictures of Anita at her workplace – as one of India’s most successful contemporary artists, as well as in the satisfaction exuded in the photographs of Saleem Kidwai, a scholar who spent years documenting the queer history of Indian literature, one finds a strength of spirit that refuses to be bogged down by the currents of the times.