In celebration of pride month, #IMPRI Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC), IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, initiated An Online International Summer School Program | A Five-Day Immersive Online Certificate Training Course on Beyond Binaries: Understanding Sexual Identities and Queer Rights Issues in India.
Day two of this riveting programme was led by Rituparna Neog, the founder and director of Akam Foundation– a queer collective which aims at achieving a just and equal society where everyone has the right to read and gender rights for all on 20th June 2023.
The session was set about with welcoming remarks by Professor Vibhuti Patel, Visiting Professor at IMPRI and a former Professor at Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai.
The session began with a thank note to the team for organising and spreading awareness about the queer community and pride by Rituparna Neog. She initiated the session with her own experiences and battles of growing up in a small rural area in a district of Assam. She shared how queer movements began to gain traction among people in rural areas, particularly students, in 2014 when she herself was a student studying at the University of Guwahati
She expressed that queer communities and people exist in every community, district and economic stratum; however, it does not mean that the queer movement involves only these people. The major objective f the movement is to leave no one behind and collaborate with everyone in the community to create a collective sense of belonging.
Everyday Storytelling Activism
As the session continued forwards, she discussed the need and importance of spreading activism and movement to the rural and local communities and not just remaining barred to large towns and metropolitan cities. This emphasised the fact that people of the queer community exist everywhere, and there is an urgent need to create an inclusive space for all and for their stories to be heard and battles to be seen.
Rituparna Neog conveyed how the movement led by her and her team began mobilising in different rural communities of Assam and gradually began to flourish. What initially began as offline sessions where people had meaningful conversations, shared poetry, conducted singing sessions and built a sense of community slowly turned into an offline community which took steps to mobilise the movement more actively and create a safe space for the community.
The movement initially targeted local colleges and universities where they systematically and strategically chose the ‘chai-time’ in cafeterias to engage the local citizens and spread knowledge about the queer community and pride. The movement especially aimed to target the young population who were still searching and exploring their personalities and had a powerful and impacting influence within their society.
The movement focuses on building beautiful feminist friendships with both cis-gendered and queer communities. This has been mainly achieved through the alliance of female teachers and women cells who were more approachable, accepting and wilful to take greater initiatives.
Rituparna Neog also shared the successes of this queer movement which has reached more than 30 colleges in rural villages and towns and more than 8000 young people in the past two years, proclaiming its exemplary success within the community. Moreover, steps have been taken to conduct summer school programs and seminars and engage the younger generation through dialogue and conversations, leading to greater progress and development. These colleges and universities are an extremely crucial component in creating a safe space and provide a greater opportunity for people to come out of their closets.
Additionally, attempts have been made to create a free community library for everyone, irrespective of the barriers of caste, creed, gender or economic disparities. The principal cause behind the building of the community library is the calming and soothing environment created by books and how they mellow down emotions to provide a greater opportunity for learning and community building. It also serves as an information centre to educate people and spread awareness about their own rights and responsibilities.
“One book opens the door to knowledge for so many”– Rituparna Neog
One of the major objectives of the movement is to build a long-term alliance with people in the community and create sensitisation through events such as nukkad natak and poster making, which helps to bring the community together as a whole.
“Un mal pour un bien’’, a French expression for every bad for a good, i.e., good things are achieved through hurdles. Despite the success, it is often a daunting challenge to embrace queerness and coexist together. Engaging with media and collaborating with the local administration are some additional hurdles that are often faced by the queer community in the process.
On a conclusory note, Professor Vibhuti Patel reminisced about the similarities of the feminist movement that emerged in the 1970s in India. She additionally pointed out the similarities and differences between the queer movement in India in comparison to the Western context and appreciated how the movement led by Rituparna Neog believed in the no-cancel culture and put greater stress on building a cordial relationship with civil society.
The session ended with an informative and communicative session between the participants and the presenter, where questions were raised about the harmony in small-town villages in India and the importance of bridging the gap between everyone. Additionally, discussions were made regarding the underlying issues that might stem from religious sentiments and traditional ideas and how the queer community faces them.
Lastly, in the words of Rituparna Neog, the queer movement is about “building friendship, bringing people together, rising together.”
A just & equal society where everyone has the right to read and gender rights for all.-Rituparna Neog