Today the Supreme Court ruled that Section 377 criminalising ‘unnatural sex’ between consenting adults is unconstitutional. The judgment was pronounced by a bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justices AM Khanwilkar, Rohinton Nariman, DY Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra. Four judgements were read out and they make our hearts soar with happiness and hope that India has taken a step towards an inclusive society. The first one read by Chief Justice Dipak Misra began with a quote by German writer Goethe: I am what I am, so take me as I am. This verdict written by CJI Misra and Justice Khanwilkar went on to state that "Majoritarian views and popular views cannot dictate constitutional rights. LGBT community possess human rights like all other sections of society. Equality is essence of constitution. 377 is arbitrary.”
Justice Malhotra in her judgment stated that “There must be a time to end historical discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and choice…That time is now.” Justice Nariman added that “Private acts of individuals is not the law’s domain.” To take this judgment forward and to implement it on the ground level, Justice DY Chandrachud said: “Government of India must take active steps to disseminate the judgment and create awareness against the prejudice. Government officials to receive sensitisation.” On this note, the onus to sensitise the public shouldn’t just rest on the Government. This sensitisation has to seep past outreach programs and into the very fabric of our society. The entertainment industry can help a great deal to help us move past not just prejudice but also move us from tolerance towards acceptance.
LGBTQ films have been made. But they need to be made with greater frequency. There are plenty more stories out there that need a visual telling. For many, seeing can do what words can’t. And to that end, here’s a list of queer books that could do with an onscreen adaptation.
The Pregnant King by Devdutt Pattanaik
Mythological dramas were a TV diet that was fed to 80s kids and their folks. The Ramayana and Mahabharata were prime-time treats. The stories were captivating and the actors have become synonymous with Gods or villains they played. The scenes are embedded in our heads. Our idea of demons or Rakshasas will forever have great shaggy manes, horns, protruding teeth and a red tongue flopping out of a perpetually panting mouth. In retrospect, we know there are problems with this stereotypical portrayal of not just Rakshasas but the men and women who pepper these tales as well. But the impact it had was huge and the people tuning in to watch it were numerous. Mythological stories still have a dedicated viewer base. Portray the untold stories, and there’s bound to be more. Curiosity will bring the first visitors. And mythology told well is always enthralling.
The book that’s tailor-made for this medium of visual storytelling to sensitise people on the LGBTQ community is Pattanaik's The Pregnant King. At the Press Meet for this book he stated that Colonial prudishness has been our downfall. “The early translators came under the reign of Victoria. Why else were they not translated? Vyasa’s not embarrassed. We are,” he said.
In this book we are treated to the not often told tales from the Epics - the story of Yuvanashva, a king who becomes pregnant; Somvat, who becomes a wife; Shikhandi, a daughter raised as a son and goes on to father a child, all show us that gender-fluidity is not outside the spectrum of Hinduism and Indian Mythology.
Close, Too close - The Tranquebar Book of Queer Erotica
Since anthology films are all the rage (think Lust Stories on Netflix), this South Asian compilation brings together stories of 15 writers who explore desire and sexuality that’s less visible. It’s an interesting telling from writers such as Devdutt Pattanaik, Abeer Hoque, Sri Lankan writer D’Lo, and others. Made well, it could make for great viewing while also normalising myriad kinds of love.
Love Bi the Way by Bhaavna Arora
This is a love story of ‘opposites attract’ with a bunch of complications. The women here are Rihanna, a painter and Zara, a businesswoman. It’s an interestingly told urban story of love that swings both ways.
The Devourers by Indra Das
Fantasy has never shied away from the LGBTQ. But what makes this one stand out is that with world-building that has its roots in Indian folklore, comes a story that draws us into gender politics. Reading it is an all-consuming experience. To watch it unravel on screen, you’ll have to steel yourself.
Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress by Christine Baldacchino
And let’s not forget that education and sensitisation of any kind starts young. This is a beautiful picture book that tells the story of a little boy who loves to wear a particular dress. The illustrations help in telling a tale of gender expression in a way that’s both engaging and non-preachy. It teaches how not to ‘other’. Seeing this in an animated version would go a long way in creating this mindset.
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