Stupid, casteist ad won't help the gay movement

Last Updated: Fri, May 22, 2015 10:27 hrs

The queer world is again agog over something it should be ashamed of and, once again, shows its deeply conservative, upper caste, upper class colours. 

A gay cyberactivist puts up a matrimonial ad and sends it to all the newspapers. Most of the mainstream ones turn it down; a tabloid (once radical, long fallen on mediocre times) agrees to publish it and we have achieved the revolution apparently. 

The tabloid's righteous smugness about its progressive inclusivism is punctured by its blindness on the question of caste. If it is so inclusive, how does it square that with the blatant casteism of its matrimonial ads, including this one?

The activist has for some time now been promoting his cutesy, supportive (of his gayness) Mum and always excuses her rank casteism in the bargain. In the advertisement, the mother asks for an Iyer (Brahmin) groom for her son. 

No one seems to have a problem with this. It is, of course, in keeping with the hundreds of such ads that flood our newspapers everyday where we show what an obnoxious, racist (fair skin colour preference), casteist (almost always within one's own caste), classist (always the aspiration for more wealth through marriage alliances) and sick society we are.

But must a gay man who claims to be an activist follow this path? The self-appointed radicals of the self-nominated progressive queer movement have always claimed that the word queer is amazing because of its intersectional (NGO lingo for pretending to be aware of the various intersecting axes of difference based on a marginally more radical but equally problematic idea from Black feminism in the United States that the oppression of Blacks intersects with many other oppressions) nature and so shows an awareness of caste and an alliance with lower caste struggles. Where is this in the ad?

The activist's own defence is somewhat pathetic. Other matrimonial ads are even more offensive and make all sorts of demands so what it is the kerfuffle about my mother asking for an Iyer groom? This only shows the utterly casteist frame of the urban queer activist. 

Tamil Nadu is one of the states with the worst record for atrocities against Dalits in the contemporary moment. For a Tamil queer activist to ask for a Brahmin groom,  then, is showing solidarity with one of the most oppressive castes in Tamil Nadu. So much for queer radicalism. 

Perhaps the activist should read Tamil Dalit activist Ravi Kumar's Venomous Touch and get out of his smug and offensive ignorance.

Further, 'queer' also pretends to be radical, so why the demand for marriage at all? Surely a thinking queer movement must interrogate and question this institution, something even the women's movement in this country has never done adequately. 

Marriage is the last priority for same-sex rights activists in India or at least should be. We surely should learn from how the LGBT movement in the West has been hollowed out and reduced to just the demand for marriage and how this has affected radical and inclusive cultures of civil and sexual rights activism in the US. That this is being repeated all over the world and in India should surely give 'queers' pause. But no such luck.

Finally, the hollowness of the legal activism that has marked the 'queer' movement in India is apparent in the activist's pathetic and ill-informed claim that Section 377 is only against gay sex and not against gay marriage. 

Gay marriage does not exist and neither does gay sex for the Indian legal and social imagination. No marriage between two men and two women and two transgenders is valid in this country. But, more importantly, this shows that despite 'queer' claims, there is no gay subject in the Indian legal, political and social imaginations.

This is the problem with the 'queer movement' in India. We never had a movement on the ground in which the rights of a political gay subject were asserted and this subject made a claim upon the state like other political subjects: Dalits, women, adivasis. A stupid, casteist, dumb matrimonial ad is not going to get us there either.

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Ashley Tellis is a freelance writer, editor and gay activist

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