Thursday, December 12, 2013


We recently mourned for Nelson Mandela, one of the biggest Human Rights champions of our times. Quoting Jonathan Capehart*, “he is heralded for doing something no other head of government has ever done. As the first president of post-apartheid South Africa in 1996, Mandela ushered in that nation’s new constitution, which included protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation. The first of its kind.” 

Six days later, on 11th December, 2013, Supreme Court of India recriminalized consensual same-sex relationships between adults, even if it is in private. In my country, it seems law is informed more by popular imagination and religious orthodoxy than scientific enquiry and philosophy of human rights. Today, I can’t choose whom to love and who do I have sex with. Forget about choice, in fact I am a criminal by my mere natural existence. But the law doesn’t really care about what is really natural. It only cares for what may feed to fancies of some people in this country. And maybe that is our understanding of democracy – a country for the majority, by the majority and of the majority. Otherwise how could a Supreme Court of any country so irresponsibly say that “Delhi High Court overlooked that a miniscule fraction of country’s population is LGBT”? How large should a population be in order to receive your justice, milord?

The question today is – Whether this is my battle or yours? Or ours? Do I have to stand up against this verdict only if I am a gay man? Or will I still stand up even if I assume other identities? Should I not participate in the battles that don’t really fall in the immediate realm of my identity and life issues – Battles that may be against the oppressiveness of caste, against the atrocities towards religious minorities, against the gender-based discrimination, against someone’s forced homelessness, against malnutrition of an entire population, against educational inequity in my country… and the list goes on? Tomorrow, if government takes away my right to my choice of food or shelter, will I stay quite? Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Justice denied anywhere diminishes justice everywhere.” Will justice denied to someone not diminish the justice for everyone?

Fighting for sexual liberation is not just an LGBT issue. It is a human rights issue and hence has to be fought at a larger canvas. Well, I shall fight my own battle and I shall join in yours too. Because if an act against human rights go uncared for somewhere; we dehumanize ourselves by being party to the act. I realize my humanization is linked to yours and yours with mine. To deserve my human rights, I shall first remain to be human. And hence I shall stand up, today, and each time any human being is treated any lesser than others. And no, not for charity towards those who may suffer from the said injustice, but for myself because if an act of injustice has happened, my silence has a role in it and I must speak up to voice my stand. If I have my biases I shall clear them up. If I am unaware or unsure of the facts, in this case the naturalness of homosexuality, I will educate myself. I would let my opinion be informed by knowledge and not by fear. Because my fear and misinformed opinion may lead to someone be denied of their basic human rights. And that is not okay.

For how long can we shove off the conversations around sex and sexuality in the name of public morality? Unless we move sex out of ethical and moral realm and view it as a basic human need, it would be difficult to have any meaningful discussion around it. We need to look at it beyond religious texts and engage with some objective scientific inquiry into this. That should then feed into the construction of our constitutional morality. And that should happen irrespective of how many citizens of this country identify themselves as homosexuals, even if the number is just one. 

It is some coincidence that I received a very thoughtful mail from our CEO, Ms. Vandana Goyal, reminding us the great legacy that Mr. Mandela has left for us on the same day as Supreme Court gave away its verdict. She posed these questions to us, “who is there to take his place? Who will we look to now, to fight the necessary battles for justice and equity? Who has not just the courage of conviction but the ability to speak to all of humankind -- to compel and convince even the most sceptical of us all?” And while reading this, I happened to listen to Mr. Gautam Bhan**, a Lawyer and activist who in response to SC’s verdict said, “If we can go and mourn for Mandela while insulting his legacy, then we have lost our way as a society…” 

I think to find our way back, we all will have to ponder over what Vandana has proposed, “There is not someone else there to take his place. It must be us.”

The title of this post is inspired by Vandana’s mail to us. Ubuntu# is a South African word that roughly translates into human-ness, to the idea that we are all bound together in ways that can be invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us. 



Friday, November 1, 2013

Happy Diwali

On Diwali, when I was a kid, Maa would ask me to keep my door and windows open as I sleep. She would say, “We should not miss any chance if Lakshmi plans to walk into our house.” Well I don’t really know if Lakshmi ever walked into my room in last so many Diwali nights. In fact I don’t even know or care if she exists. But what has remained with me is the idea of open doors and windows.

Today, as people around me prepare for the festival once again, I wonder what are we gonna open ourselves to? May be to a new understanding of gender and the concept of its fluidity? May be challenging the status quo of caste, religion, class or race? May be opening up to our dream career and saying no to oppressive nature of doing a job that others would want us to? May be the courage to say I-love-you to someone we are deeply in love with? May be to a little more care, a little more compassion and a little more respect for people around… and of course some for ourselves?

Today, Maa is not around to ask me to keep the door and the windows open. But I still do. I wish I could tell her, may be this was the only thing in the entire procession of Diwali that I loved the most. In all these years, laying on my bed, wide awake – who the hell can sleep anyways in the noise of endless crackers – I have been staring out into the space and have wondered of things as random as stars, people, rats, mosquitoes, sex, fantasies, food, the gods and the goddesses and everything in between. It has offered me an endless possibility of who I can become… and who others can be. A sense of vastness to this amazingly vast world we exist in that a closed room could have never offered to me. An open embrace to all that may happen… and may not happen. An acceptance to the fact that my son may be gay or my daughter may choose a different religion than mine or none at all and it’s okay. An acceptance to my failures, my experiments, my trials and errors… and of course my celebrations of my success and achievements.

As I retrospect today, I realize, besides everything else that could or could not, what certainly has walked into my life is a sense of wonder. And I have come to believe that more than most other things, it’s this sense of wonder that makes this life so intriguing and beautiful. With each person around us, there’s this amazing possibility of a whole new world… or a whole new understanding of our existing world. So this Diwali, what are you opening yourself to?

Happy Diwali!

Saturday, October 19, 2013


कल रात गली में हत्या हुयी ,
आत्महत्या ।
विचारकों ने कहा कमज़ोर था ,
डर गया ज़िन्दगी से;

जब विचारो का अभाव होता है
तब मैं भी ताकता हूँ
उसकी तरफ़ ,
विचार आ ही जाते हैं ।
शायद ऐसे ही किसी ,
या ऐसे ही कई ,
अभावों में ताका होगा
उसने , उस दिशा में ,
और बाहें पसार बुला लिया होगा
भगवान् ने ;
वरना क्या न सोचा होगा उसने ,
उन रिश्तों के बारे में
जो हमसे ही बने हैं
या जो हमारी ही बदौलत
ज़िन्दा हैं?
या उस समाज के बारे में
जिसने आज उसे कह दिया -
कमज़ोर ?
अगर सोचा, तो कमज़ोर न था ।
क्योंकि रिश्तो और
समाज के बारे में सोच कर
लिया कदम
नहीं हो सकता
एक कमज़ोर व्यक्तित्व का ।
और न सोचा, तो भी कमज़ोर न था ।
क्योंकि आश्वस्त  था
वो रिश्तों को लेकर
और समाज की बेपरवाही
सभी नहीं कर पाते ।

क्या पता माँ बीमार होगी
और दावा न जुटी हो
या बाप मर गया था
और कफ़न न जुटा हो
बच्चे भूख से बिलबिलाते होंगे
और खाना न जुटा हो
या पत्नी सामने बलाकृत हुयी
और कुछ न कर पाया हो ?
इनमे से कुछ,
या ये सारी ही मजबूरिया !
और हमने यूँ ही कह दिया -
'कमज़ोर' था ।
आज के बाद भी उसकी माँ
बीमार ही रहेगी ,
या शायद मर ही जाए
जवान बेटा मर है
कोई छोटी बात तो नहीं?
और न मिल सकेगा
उसे भी कफ़न का एक टुकड़ा
बच्चे बिलबिलाते ही रहेंगे
और पत्नी अब शायद
बन ही जाए वेश्या ;
पर हमने - मैंने और उन विचारको ने
- बस यूँ ही कह दिया -
'कमज़ोर' था  ।

ज़िन्दगी आसान नहीं है भाई ,
और इससे हारने को
कमज़ोरी कहूँ ,
मुझमे इतनी भी हिम्मत नहीं ।

Notes: This poem was written by me in 2003, almost ten years back, in Kanpur, a small but busy town in Uttar Pradesh. When I read this poem now, I realize I may not subscribe to many of the concepts discussed here. The most prominent one being the concept of god. At the same time, I still hold similar views on suicide. I still see it as an individual's choice - the value of his/her choice can always be debated though. Nevertheless, this poem remains an important work for me as it reminds me the beauty of ever-transforming and ever-progressing human thought and views. For this reason, I chose this poem as my debut at Poetry at Big Mic... And guess what, it even fetched me the first prize! :)

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Illusive Reality

“Which part of it did you want to be true?”

“It’s not what I want. It is… what is true!”

“And how would you ever know that?”

"I have been following his work for quite some time now… He has a particular sense of developing at least one character of this nature in his stories. When you read his biography… the events these characters would live through would echo to those that he himself has lived…”

"But is that reason enough to solidify your belief about the reality of these characters? What if the similarity of these events is a mere coincidence?”

“But what if they are not?”

“Well there is an equal probability of both…”

Nandita asked Ritu, “is it always about what the writer would want to tell us? Or is it almost always about what we would want to read?”

“I think it is the later. In the works of fiction, how would one ever know what exactly did the writer wish to say?”

“And if later be the case, why do we need the novel in the first place? Is that not, then, a second hand expression of our own thoughts? Why should I pay this writer for my own thoughts?”

“Well, may be the novel is a medium through which your thoughts are being expressed… else they would never have assumed a form… and even if they had, you would have not known until you read the novel to express them to yourself?”

“So is it all about giving my thoughts a form? What’s the point in giving form to some thoughts which are so fickle that they would change if I had to read the same novel again?”

There was a silence in the room. Ritu looked at Nandita and couldn’t take her eyes off her for a while... she looked at her and they stayed in that moment… Nandita smiled and said, “Imagine if someone heard our conversations and wrote a story around this, would that be a story based on real events? Some real conversations?”

“It would… no?”

“But would an observer ever know what we both thought or felt in the silence we just experienced? And if he writes about it would that not be his interpretation of the moment? Imagine if the writer is a woman? Would her interpretations be the same as that of a male writer? And if we add or delete or modify or change even the slightest of the things that’s happening here right now, would that story still be real? And to what extent, who can ever tell?” She continued, “It’s a strange sort of contradiction that we read novels to evade our realities for a while and then we keep seeking for reality in that novel, which by virtue of its genre has to be nothing but a fantasy of the author’s mind. It gets transpired into such ordinary moments, Ritu. Moments such as these… where we are so mundanely sitting and talking about something which is so illusionary. At the same time, we are wondering what is more real… whatever we are saying or doing? Or something else – something that may exist in our mind but may not take a form of an expression? Or still, something which may be even beyond expression… something that may remain most elusive idea in our head but at the same time would appear strongest reality that we would want to pursue to the end of our lives?

Ritu looked amused, “in that sense reality can never be narrated, isn’t it?” she paused and asked, “But can it even ever be lived then? How do we understand the reality of this moment?”

“The only reality we could ever achieve in each other is, Ritu, whatever we express to each other. However, we will have to recognize that rarely remains the reality in totality. And when we extend this idea to all our relationships, the whole world appears to be so unreal, so illusionary. But I wonder, what’s so wrong in living with the illusions of this world? What’s so enigmatic about the reality that we all so dearly crave for it?

Nandita looked at Ritu for a while. Then very casually got up and walked to stand very close to her. Ritu looked up at her. She still appeared puzzled. Nandita held her face with her palms, leaned down, closed her eyes and planted a kiss on her lips. Without opening her eyes, she asked, “how does it matter, Ritu?”

They smiled at each other. 

Image Source:

Friday, August 30, 2013

Oppression as solution?

I read about the recent Mumbai rape incident, its proceedings, the protest marches and empathy in people. I then read about Asaram’s “alleged” attempt to rape a minor girl. While reading both, I felt certain kind of difference in the tone of the news. I wondered if both news items are around rape, why do I not get the same feeling about the perpetrators and the victims/survivors? And then I read about how a rape case of a college going Dalit girl in Haryana was reported with least empathy and the protest group was termed as “angry Dalit mob”.

So I went back to read the reports on Mumbai case and Asaram. In the case of the journalist girl, the assaulters were declared as “monsters” by most of the popular media, before even they were put to trial. There was a deliberate and repeated mention of “slums” as their locality. It was first page news. Of course it has to be; it involves a tragedy with a reporter. In the later case, the perpetrator being the self-acclaimed godman, all the words were chosen very carefully, for example “teenager allegedly molested by Asaram.” Nowhere in the report was Asaram called a monster. Three girls allegedly raped across the landscape of our country belonged to three different socio-economic backgrounds and so did their “alleged” perpetrators. If we look at the reports carefully, we realize, perhaps the concept of power is in play, in the act itself and the way it was reported.

I wonder how does an act of rape done by slum-dwellers more heinous than that by a rich godman? Why does a Dalit girl deserve less empathy than a journalist? How come media revealed the identity of the girl as being “Dalit” in first place? Is a low caste/class identity for public display and open to scrutiny? Sometimes I feel like an idiot when I think about these questions. Are these questions real or just a figment of my flawed imagination? If they are real, why are things like this? And if they are not, why do these questions keep popping in my head?

And then I am reminded of a comment that one of my students passed while discussing hunger and equity. When I asked how is it to focus on an educational assignment while you are hungry, she said, “bhaiya, but what’s new in that? We are used to it. It’s normal.” I don’t know what troubled me more – the answer itself or the way it was said as a matter of fact. Whatever it was, what has remained with me is – they have got used to it. Whether its hunger, rape or oppression. They all have been internalised as part of life some people’s life. And hence it’s no big a deal.

May be it doesn’t matter to them. And may be so it doesn’t matter to media even. However, what’s more scary is our demands in response to such tragedies. What do we seek as a solution? Stricter laws and more policing? In the same newspaper, I read (somewhere on the 4th page, as a side report) about the quality of schooling in 23 state districts in Maharashtra is below average, Mumbai at a far off 14th rank amongst 35 districts. And we still don’t recognize that a better education may be, just maybe, one of the solutions to many of our problems, including gender based atrocities. It’s interesting that we demand courts and policing, which are dictating and oppressive in nature, against a good quality education which can be liberating for all. And why not? With such oppressive structures, the oppressed can further be oppressed. A Salman Khan can still freely roam around the city after killing so many people and media will refer him as “sweet, unlucky boy”. An Asaram may never get arrested. But those from the slums will be scouted and booked within few hours of crime.

Pardon me if I am sounding horrible here. I, with no intention, mean that those who perpetrate a crime should not be brought to justice and punished adequately if found guilty. They must be. All I am questioning here is how one’s economic status reduces or propagates the intensity of one’s crime? With current scheme of things it appears to me that we, as society, are more hypocritical than not. The country and its media, it seems, is still stuck with its prejudices of caste, class, gender, sexuality and what not! I wonder if we can ever realize a solution to our problems unless we look at the root.
I am not advocating for solutions through education just because I work in education space. Rather, I work here because I see a high need for educational advocacy. For an education which is holistic, contemplative, critical and liberating. And not just for a certain class or caste but truly for ALL. Till that happen, we may keep marching in Delhi or Mumbai or wherever next, nothing much gonna really happen, except apart from newsroom debates and colourful newsprints.