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Queer and Inclusive: A Grand LGBTQ Lit Fest is Set to Paint Delhi in Rainbow Colours

The Rainbow Lit Fest is being co-organised and crowdfunded by author Sharif D Rangnekar, author of 'Straight To Normal – My Life As A Gay Man' and will be held on 7-8 Dec.

Rakhi Bose | News18.com@theotherbose

Updated:November 20, 2019, 4:55 PM IST
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Queer and Inclusive: A Grand LGBTQ Lit Fest is Set to Paint Delhi in Rainbow Colours
Image credit: Reuters

Celebrated American politician and showman PT Barnum had once described literature as the most "significant and interesting expressions of humanity". But to make it more representative and inclusive of every expression has been a challenge for many.

Tackling this lack of exclusivity in literature, writer and activist Sharif D Rangnekar is crowdfunding the Rainbow Lit Fest: Queer and Inclusive, one of the first queer literature festivals to be organised at such a grand scale in the country.

Though the past year has seen the mushrooming of several queer lit fests across the country (Queer Lit Fest 2019 in Chennai, Queer Literary Festival in Kolkata among others) It is the first time that the event will be held at such a grand scale.

Rangnekar feels it's about time. "For long, events like the queer lit fest were sequestered in little echo chambers where those who already knew each other would gather to discuss their own work and experiences," Rangnekar said. While he stressed that such smaller events were important to the queer community in terms of helping many who did not yet feel safe in larger public spaces, a major literature festival just for the queer community is largely unprecedented in India. The festival will be held in Delhi's Gulmohar club Park from December 7 to 8.

According to the festival director, the event would not just help increase the visibility of the community but also find common grounds between the so-called queer and mainstream cis art and narratives.

"Though we are a lit fest, what distinguishes Rainbow from other fests is that it invites people from across fields to come and find common ground with the queer community," Rangnekar told News18.

The two-day event will see a host of celebrity names from the queer community as well as cis professionals who will be part of the event as speakers. These include filmmakers such as Nandita Das, Tanuja Chandra, Suhail Abbasi, writers like Devdutt Pattnaik, Nemat Sadat, lawyer Anand Grover, transgender professionals like Rudrani Chettri, Simran Sheikh and many others who have been invited to speak about various aspects of the queer experience.

However, Rangnekar said that the event will not just be relegated to literary talks. To distinguish it from other lit fests, Rainbow Lit Fest will also include screenings of critically acclaimed films such as Faraz Ansari's award-winning Sisak, Marathi film U for Usha, Tanuja Chandra's Monsoon Date starring Konkona Sen Sharma as well as a 12-minute documentary called BomGay by late director Riyadh Wadia.

The event will also host performances by queer puppeteer Varun Narayan, and musicians like Manzil Mystics, The Original Knockoffs and the famed Nizami Brothers. Shuba Mudgal and others are set to speak at the inaugural session.

For journalist and writer Sandeep Roy, such an event is an opportunity for the queer literature to finally become part of the mainstream, especially since Article 377 was abolished. "Before the reading down of article 377, the LGBTQ movement focused mainly on its abolition as it law blocked any other conversation about queer matters to take place," Roy says. However, lit fests like this one could provide a platform for engaging in further meaningful discourse on the other issues faced by the community beyond decriminalization.

Activist and founder of NAZ Foundation Anjali Gopalan, who is also one of the speakers at the event, agrees. "The fact is that despite decriminalization, LGBTQ rights are still not defined. many are denied any kind of guarantee against hostility or discrimination," Gopalan tells News18. According to the activist whose work has focused on treating and eradicating HIV positive cases in the LGBTQ community, real social change can only be possible if conversations take on a more macro approach rather than constantly being repeated behind closed doors and like-minded people.

For transgender model and actor Rudrani Chettri, such as fest is encouraging as it provides a platform for artists from the queer community to express themselves without fear or concern. Chettri, who opened India's first transgender modelling agency last year, says that despite transgender being accepted as the third gender, discrimination continues to exist, especially in the professional art and film industry.

"As an artist, I need to be seen as a professional. When someone gives me work, I don't want it to be a token for my gender. While my gender is part of my identity, I'd like the industry to treat me and other trans artists on the same podium as cis artists," Chettri says, adding the event was a great way to increase the visibility of queer professionals, especially artists and writers. India's LGBTQ history is rich and varied, Chettri says. However, not many in the youth appreciate it or even know about it. A successful literature festival dedicated to queer literature could be a big eye-opener for many, Chettri says.

But Sandip Roy also warns against pigeonholing writers and artists as "queer writers". "Usually, when writers or professionals who are queer are invited to panel discussions quote din media reports, they are only asked to talk about the queer community and the queer experience," he said. But do queer professionals have no identity beyond their gender? They do. "The queer community is as heterogeneous a lot as any. We have our opinions on things, we are political, there are many shades to an individual, queer or not," the writer tells News18. The fest, Roy feels, would help bring out this hidden and professional aspect of queer artists.

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