Bride Denied: Media Coverage of Mukhtaran Mai

In early April, Mukhtar Mai, the Pakistani survivor of a tribal-ordered gang rape who prosecuted her rapists rather than accepting a tradition of suicide after rape, married her bodyguard, Nasir Abbas Gabol.

Scathing condemnations of the marriage came from Pakistani writers, women’s groups, and news outlets. While the circumstances under which she married are troubling, the way that Pakistani media has discussed the Mai and her marriage is equally troubling.

According to AFP, these are the facts: Nine years her junior, Gabol first proposed in 2007. When he was rejected he tried to kill himself with an overdose of sleeping pills. “The morning after he attempted suicide, his wife and parents met my parents but I still refused,” Mai said. Gabol then threatened to divorce his first wife, Shehla Kiran. Panicked at the prospect of enduring the stigma of divorce, Shehla sought to persuade Mai — who was married and divorced before her rape — to consent to becoming a second wife. … On Mai’s insistence, Gabol transferred ownership of his family house to his first wife, agreed to give her a plot of land and a monthly income — all designed to guarantee Shehla’s rights. In exchange, Mai tied the knot. But she has no intention of moving to her husband’s village, away from the hive of activity she has created here with the help of aid money.

These are the facts that the media agrees on. By most accounts, this seems like a measured, deliberate marriage, even if an unwanted one. But reading most media analyses, one would think either that Mai was as giddy as a school girl or a traitor to women’s rights.

The AFP article that I pulled all these facts from also paints Mai as a “gushing” bride who is living the “happily ever after” storyline: “Seven years after her ordeal, she may still be a pariah among illiterate and older women but her transformation from victim to queen of her own destiny is complete since becoming the second wife of Nasir Abbas Gabol.”

This completely contradicts an interview she gave to Mag The Weekly, an online Pakistani  magazine, in which she said of Gabol’s proposals:

I knew that Nasir Abbas is a married man with five children. I was concerned about his wife and children and I kept arguing with my family members about the proposal. Then one day, Nasir sent his wife and children to our house. His wife forced me to marry her husband. Her behaviour was very strange to me. My siblings also forced me to accept the proposal. I finally gave up.

What romance! I can’t think of anything better than being coerced into becoming someone’s second wife by his reckless and selfish behavior! The AFP article inappropriately constructs Mai as some sort of Cinderella whose suffering has been rewarded by a knight in shining armor, not as a woman who has made deliberate moves to counter her suitor’s irresponsible threats.

AFP’s article, however falsely glittery, pales in comparison to the Pakistani reception. An article from the Inter Press Service, written by Zofeen Ebrahim, casts Mai in the role of fallen feminist hero.

Ebrahim writes, “Mai, who has fought a valiant, 7-year-old battle against tradition and patriarchy was suddenly no longer a role model and icon.” So now Mai’s feminist card gets revoked? The article makes it seems as if Mai’s hard work prosecuting her rapists has all been washed away with this marriage.

It also discounts the work she is currently doing. According to AFP:

Mai runs three schools — two for girls and one for boys — where around 1,000 children from poor families get an education. She heads a staff of 38, half of them teachers, the rest working in her office and welfare centres. They shelter female victims of violence who trek far and wide to seek refuge with Mai, organise seminars to boost awareness of rights, dispense legal aid and operate a mobile unit that reaches out to women in their communities.

Running schools for girls and education women about domestic violence and their rights? Not feminist at all!

Perhaps if Mai were to give all this work up and move in with her husband, I could understand the condemnations by Pakistani women and feminist groups. But Mai has stipulated that she’s not giving up her schools, her work, or her village. So what’s behind all these accusations of Mai’s feminist treason?

“Mukhtaran Mai has fallen from being a national heroine to a disappointment, even for the media,” asserts Karachi-based Najma Sadeque, a founding member of Shirkat Gah, a non-governmental organisation.

“One wishes she had not done it,” says Naeem Sadiq, a business consultant here who actively campaigns on pro-democracy issues.

Sadiq who considers Mai an “exceptionally brave woman” is concerned that her marriage sends a message that “she is promoting polygamy”.

That’s some serious hatorade. Sadiq and Sadeque fail to realize that Mai’s marriage happened the way it did because she is a role model, and is conscious of the messages she sends. Mai’s marriage contract, her conditions that guarantee herself divorce and land and a monthly allowance for Gabol’s first wife, and her commitment to her work and her village send a powerful message that a woman’s marriage does not have to be a submission, but can be a political and social tool.

In all of this condemnation, no one ever mentions Gabol’s irresponsible behavior (suicide, threatening to divorce his first wife, disrespecting Mai’s choice not to marry him). Sadeque says, “I think she shouldn’t have done it since it immediately puts the first wife in a secondary, dispensable and vulnerable position.” This statement completely glosses over the fact that it was Gabol that first put his wife in this position: it was his first wife who, worried over the fact that Gabol had threatened to divorce her because of Mai’s rejections, sought Mai’s acceptance.

Pak Tea House’s coverage, written by Aisha Fayyazi Sarwari, is the only outlet that brought up Gabol’s issues in a way that puts any culpability on him: “There are some troubling signs in this new relationship. One is that the groom, Mr. Gabol is an unstable character, younger and indelibly lacking in the maturity she possesses, and was a little too quick to commit suicide with sleeping pills when she turned him down in 2007.” Sarwari raises issues and concerns about Mai’s marriage without blaming her for them, unlike other outlets.

Pakistan, Islam and Homosexuality

Homosexual desire generally manifests itself in the parks and underground clubs of Pakistani cities. It is indeed ironic that moral condemnation serves to exacerbate an issue than alleviate it. Hiding from family members and peers, differently oriented persons venture out to separate their religious identity from their inner disposition and hence find themselves in internet chat-rooms looking for something they hopelessly fail to find. Many come to divorce the value system shaped partly by their faith in order to accept the other more pressing part of their existence, whereas others find themselves wearing a cloak of hypocrisy; after all the doctors of faith have sentenced them to gruesome punishments, so there is no hope of finding a solution to their concerns. In a nutshell, many gays and lesbians want the same mundane but loving relationships as their fellow responsible striaght citizens of Pakistan. Religious sermons and rulings prevent them from doing so, but in condemning gays and lesbians, such rulings only serve to encourage a culture of secret rendezvous which in turn perpetuates the homosexual stereotype.

The problem indeed stems from a lack of understanding of the issue by both religious and professional experts. Homosexuality is treated as a willful act of choice, an outcome of keeping bad company, a product of a lewd environment and at best a remnant of some childhood abuse. Moreover the entire discourse on the issue is fixated on one penetrative sexual act. Anecdotal evidence from the NWFP and from the reports on truck drivers seems to perpetuate the manner of the discourse, which makes it all the more difficult to get past the sexual act to really focus on the issue at hand. Cultural notions of the issue peppered with the fire and brimstone of the religious texts make the task quite difficult if not impossible for the rational members of the clergy and other professionals. To lend voice to alternate understandings and interpretations really requires a great amount of patience and determination in the presence of a forbidding scriptural legacy and the risk of being labeled as a deviant oneself.

However, the year is 2009; many Muslim voices have stirred the air with alternate opinions and thoughts. A whole range of scholars, theologians and activists that includes luminaries form across the globe like Abdel Nour Brado, Pamela Taylor, Siti Musdah Mulia, Ghazala Anwar, Siraj Kugle, Imam Daayiee Abdullah and Sheikh Muhsin Hendricks, to name a few, have strongly called for igniting the debate in Islam to find a just solution to the plight of religiously observant Muslim gays and lesbians. Some amongst them like Imam Daayiee have gone so far as to sanction Muslim same sex unions. However, all these heroic efforts and voices exist in freer societies of the world and the situation here in Pakistan is miles away from realizing the objective of Muslim same sex unions. It is then clear that the Pakistani discourse needs to revolve around addressing religious and cultural misconceptions on the issue.

The alternative voice in Pakistan in a predominantly Muslim context would revolve around clearing any misconceptions on the issue apart from addressing the scriptural prohibitions that are assumed to exist within the majority traditional Muslim circles. The first point that needs to be strenuously made is that anal sex is not synonymous with same sex relationships. Internet googling would indicate that many gay couples do not indulge in that activity let alone lesbian couples. In fact a sexual act cannot be tied with inner disposition whether gay or straight. After all many straight couples indulge in anal sex apart from those males that casually indulge in same sex behaviour out of sheer frustration or thrill. Yet, the act of anal sex does not assume as much of a taboo in the straight context as does it in gay context. In fact as undesirable as it may be in Shia jurisprudence, anal sex is permitted contingent upon the wife’s consent. It also needs to be clarified that men who have a predilection for casual encounters with other males are not necessarily gay, for a gay relationship goes beyond a five minute thrilling encounter toward a more holistic life that includes companionship in sorrow and happiness, in sickness and health, in youth and old age and through all the trials and tribulations that life has to offer.

The other misconception, that a person’s inner constitution or orientation is willfully created, needs to be done away with. There is a constellation of biological, hormonal, prenatal etc., studies that are increasingly asserting sexual orientation to be biologically determined and which are exhaustively documented in Dr. Qazi Rahman’s book Born Gay. It may also help to remember that eminent physicians like Al Razi, Qusta Ibn Luqa, Hunain Ibn Ishaq, apart from several Muslim authorities had no qualms in accepting a biological basis for some forms of homosexuality. Indeed, a whole Muslim school argued that passive homosexuality was a result of the maternal ‘sperm’ prevailing over the paternal ‘sperm’ at conception.

It would also be instructive to note that the issue at hand is that of nurturing a same sex relationship as responsible and respectable members of a mosque, community or society and that the issue is definitely not about seeking some license or certificate for mere sexual gratification. As such gay and lesbian issues revolve as much around every day mundane life issues as those of the usual straight couples in society. Of course gay and lesbians also have to deal with prejudice and discrimination like any other minority be it Ahmadis, Christians or Ismailis living in Pakistan. Hence the issue at stake is the right (haqq) to have a same sex relationship within the confines of religion and as responsible citizens of Pakistan.

While Pakistani law and its implications for gays and lesbians must be the subject of another discourse, it should be appreciated that the two principal sources of faith – the Qur’an and Sunnah – are silent on the issue of same sex relationships as well as inner constitution. What the Qur’an does address is sexual activity in the context of the people of Lot. In fact according to most exegetes and jurists, all verses – (7:80-81; 26:160-166, 27:54-55, 29:28-29) – in this context specifically refer to anal intercourse between males. The verses are also clear that the sexual act was an outcome of violence and coercion, and this understanding is confirmed in the numerous texts of Tabari, the Jalalyn commentaries, and the Qisas Al Anbiya by both Al Kisai and Al Rawandi. The words of the verse ‘you come to males in lust besides females…’ alludes to the predominant heterosexual nature of the recipients of God’s message in Lot’s tribe. Hence, given the fact that at most 4% of the population is gay, apart from archaeological findings that same sex relationships existed prior to the people of Lot, supports the alternate thesis that the Qur’anic verses are not addressing same sex relationships but acts of violence and coercion perpetrated by predominantly heterosexual people. A glimpse of such horrific conduct has perhaps been documented about the Abu Ghraib prison where Iraqi detainees were subjected to shameful and forced acts.

So far as the Hadith on the issue are concerned, most of them are suspect or weak as none of them are found in the relatively more authentic books of Bukhari, Muslim and Malik’s Muwatta. This brings a traditionally devout Muslim to the entire corpus of Islamic jurisprudential literature wherein widely ranging opinions have usually been formulated and have been observed to evolve with time.  The Hanafi school, for instance, departed from the other three schools by strongly negating any capital punishment on same sex conduct relegating any punishment to no more than 39 lashes. Ibn Hazm, three centuries after Imam Abu Hanifa, distinguished non penetrative sexual acts from anal intercourse and prescribed no more than 10 lashes for those. Four centuries after Ibn Hazm, scholars at Al Azhar understood the word ‘venial faults’ in verse 53:32 as specifically referring to non-penetrative sexual acts, stating that such minor sins even if deliberately and repeatedly committed could be compensated for by supererogatory works.

Based on the evolution of Muslim thought and the richness in traditional Muslim scriptural debates would it be too much to ask the thoughtful and rational members of the Muslim clergy to review the case of gays and lesbians based on the principles of compassion and fairness? Muslim scholarship has never been static, it has always responded dynamically to different situations in various times. It is mindful of the plight of its adherents and finds ways to alleviate their suffering as it has in the past by allowing transsexuals to undergo gender reassignment surgeries and by allowing intersexuals to marry members of either gender, based on their inner constitution. If societal taboos are cast aside, perhaps a very strong case for same sex unions could also be developed based on the principles of Islamic jurisprudence. The fact that Islamic jurisprudence recognizes sex as a basic need coupled with the rule that ‘Necessity trumps prohibition’ points toward a possible institution of Muslim same sex unions.

Both the clergy members and other professionals perhaps need to realize that gays and lesbians do not drop out of thin air but come from good homes where they are sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles apart from being teachers and students To use the words of a scholar, ‘They too stand in prayer by night and whole-heartedly spend in the way of God by day. They too love their neighbour the way they love their own selves. They might be nearer to God than many of the righteous we see around us.’ Clergy members, doctors, psychiatrists, lawyers, activists and other experts may all need to realize that it is not for any conformity to nifty ideologies that this issue needs to be resolved but simply on the basis of compassion and fairness to people who, while being different, worship the same God as we do, who are our brothers and sisters in faith and as such deserve the same respect and rights (haqooq) as we do.

Hindutva, Pakistan & Diasporic Sexual Polemics

Coming into my adolescence in Canada, I had immediately identified with anyone being brown, regardless of the person’s national, religious, regional or caste affiliations. It is not that I had not been aware of these differences. I certainly was made conscious of caste and religious differences as a child, in an increasingly fundamentalist and sectarian Pakistan, that came into existence in the 1970s. I witnessed the “othering” of the Hindu and the Bengali in a Pakistan dominated by the West and West Pakistan.

Studying at a French high school in Québec, I was one of the three students of colour. The other two were Vietnamese and Egyptian girls. My siblings were more fortunate to have other South Asians in their English medium high schools. They made friends with other South Asians, and participated in bhangra and garba.

And then I “came out” as gay to many of my high school friends in the early 1980s. Both white and people of colour distanced themselves; the worst were the Black Jamaican and Parsee Pakistani boys. The one or two white gay allies that I thought I could count on, could not believe that I could tackle a conservative Pakistani family like mine. They told me I would never survive. Finally, when I got kicked out of my house for “coming out”, it was the white straight Christian girl who sheltered me until I found my first “real” job.

When I was “coming out” I made alliances with other gay and lesbian people of colour. At a predominantly white gay youth group, the Chinese gay and lesbian members became my friends. We went out for dinner in Chinatown, celebrated the New Year together and shared similar family histories. The following year, I was to meet my first Indian gay person. Rita was born in North America. She came from a Hindu Punjabi family and me from a Muslim one. Religious background did not make any difference. It never became an issue.

Soon afterwards, I was to meet a gay man, Mukesh, brought up in India. He was the first gay man I met whom I perceived as brown. At the sight of me, however, all his stereotypes about Pakistanis came out, even though I did not count as a “real” Pakistani as I had not grown up there. In fact, identifying me as not-really-Pakistani gave Mukesh good ground to voice his Hindu bigotry. Friends with me as he was, but with a brother nominated as a BJP candidate, Mukesh was torn between wanting a Hindu Indian nation and showing other Hindus how Muslims could be good and even compatible as Muslim friends. As for me: was I even Muslim then? Or was that even an issue, except that he made it into one?

I began to learn about South Asia from an Indian perspective. I was taught by many teachers of Indian origin. I loved Indian parallel cinema and was applauded by my teachers when I learnt to question the coming into existence of the Pakistani nation, and think about a united India, a notion I would still like to believe in.

Then the Gulf war happened. I was instantly identified as a Muslim, at airports and at university. With an obviously Muslim family name, I was at two occasions searched at airports, joked about being a relative of Sadam Hussein etc. The West and India shared in the demonization of the Muslim and I came to be perceived increasingly as a Muslim. The notion that Pakistan and the West were allies began to fade, and India emerged as the capitalist, friendly nation. But India could no longer blame Pakistan as being solely allied to the West. In fact, India gave birth to the best of capitalism through the 1990s and the beginning of the 21st century. Hindutva forces gained ground, and my relationships with Hindu men became very tense.

It has been argued, by secular diasporic proponents of South Asian community building, that Hindutva had numerically occupied a very small support base from the Indian electorate during the anti-colonial movement.  Aside from the marginal Hindutva ideologues such as V.D. Savarkar and M.S. Golwalkar, my readings, of the central figure in Indian nationalism and her first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, reveals that Hindutva was inextricably intertwined with the core of this nationalism. By the 1940s, it had constructed the “Muslim” as an outsider to the Indian nation and positioned the nation against the Muslim. It is Nehru’s Discovery of India that talks of the Muslim invasions and the resultant empires as more problematic than any other invaders and regimes, which were always incorporated unequivocally into being Hindu. For example, the Shakas and the Huns became “Hindus” – as if prior settlers did not construct the “other” as worshipper of one god or the other, or classify the majority of the population as untouchable or outside the caste structure.

Once “Muslim” was claimed as the first outsider, it could be concluded that only the Muslim constructed the other as “kaffir” or non-believer, only the Muslim excluded. There was no historical process through which other groups became Hindus or were Indianized. They just naturally were Hindu, set against the colonizer and the Muslim. Secularization in the West and the discovery of the Aryan race theory identified the Semite as intrinsically embodying problematic religion vis à vis the Aryan. Western historiography and Indian nationalism believed that the “Aryan” spread not bigoted systems of belief, but civilization to the entire world. Hence, “Hindu” was rendered indigenous, magically having resolved all its caste and “others” as part of the anti-colonial movement. In the context of the Harijan movement led by Gandhi and this leader’s guilt inspired tactics with Ambedkar, for Nehru, the “Muslim” was the only modern problem India confronted as the colonizer retreated back to England. In reality, however, it is still the colonizer that continues to access visas and unlimited entry into any South Asian territory, while the Indian or Pakistani cannot slip easily into one another’s.

And so it was with some of my friends. The Hindu as a category, as claimed by many Hindu bigots, always existed. There was neither invader blood nor any sense of privilege that some Hindus enjoyed as Hindus under Muslim rule. Unproblematic Hindus they had always been and would always be.

I have watched so many rich Indians and Pakistanis come into Canada and slide unquestionably into Canadian settler society. It is the poor and uneducated immigrant that has no “home” to go back to in the country of origin, nor the possibility of building rich pastures in the new colony. It is the same educated Indian on large scholarship and grants that tells me that Pakistanis are incapable of being anything else but engineers and doctors. Yet they become the sole representatives of leading research in the Sciences and Humanities. The Muslim is uncivilized and incapable of being anything but a terrorist. The only safe identity is to be a “secular Muslim” in which case you are still under scrutiny:  “You’re not a terrorist, are you?” So to the Hindutva forces and the underbelly of Indian nationalism that constructed India, I would like to say: “You also had a very big hand in constructing the Pakistani nation, which you so love to hate.”

South Asia as a construct and South Asian studies in the West, continues to be heavily Indo-centric and biased towards Hindutva. I have been to two reputable South Asian Studies conferences, where the Indian ambassador is the sole spokesperson of the region, and s/he always positions her/himself against Pakistan (and recently singles Pakistan as the terrorist nation that the world should acknowledge). South Asian studies programs as currently constructed favour the study of Hinduism over Indian Islam tenfold. This of course is fuelled by the Islamization of Pakistan. This construction of Hinduism, as a religion, until very recently, has ignored the syncretic traditions such as Sufi poetry of Kabir or the figure of Jhule Lal in Sindh, as revered by Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims alike. This results in South Asian Islam being studied solely in the department of Islamic Studies, whereas Hinduism gains more ground in South Asian Studies departments. This may be a result of a lack of innovative research on South Asian Islam, but also is the result of Hindutva ideology which constructs Hinduism itself as more authentic and indigenous to the subcontinent.

A Cry in the Wilderness: Male Homosexuality in Pakistan

Prolific Brazilian writer, Paulo Coelho, once wrote, “Human beings can withstand a week without water, two weeks without food, many years of homelessness, but not loneliness. It is the worst of all tortures, the worst of all sufferings.” If there is something like ‘the biggest truth of life’ than this thought is it. It’s written in the human template that we are social creatures who cannot stand loneliness and alienation. We formulate societies and develop relationships just to satiate our basic instinctual drive to socialize and bond. That’s why we want to be loved, cared and consoled as we are emotional beings with hearts that feel and minds that imagine. Therefore, relationships either the ones we are born with or the ones we choose to develop and further extend, are crucial for the proper development of one’s personality.

Although life isn’t easy for anyone and everyone has to bear his or her share of toils and good tidings, it’s incredibly difficult for homosexuals to express their romantic and sexual preferences because they are regarded as mere filthy perverted souls who are doomed to end up in hell. Torn between the social pressures and religious dogmas, most of them remain conflicted and never reconcile with their true nature and self. Due to this discrimination and stigmatization, there many instances of excommunication, verbal threats, bullying, physical abuse and even suicide in this vulnerable minority.

In Pakistan, homosexuality is regarded as a taboo issue and people generally avoid talking about it. But if someone dares to talk about it, he is targeted as a pervert himself who is intoxicating the impressionable virgin minds of the common man. No one seems seriously interested in addressing and discussing the issue. Religious scholars either pronounce capital punishment for homosexuals or lifetime celibacy. Psychiatrists and medical practitioners, who otherwise blindly approve of every single western piece of information or research in their field, have serious doubts regarding the authenticity of evidences declaring homosexuality a natural phenomenon and not a disorder or disease. Social workers and civil society are busy raising slogans for judges, women’s and children’s rights while completely over looking this issue.

For the most part, people disregard homosexuality as immoral while completely ignoring the suffering and pain of homosexuals, who are denied their basic human rights to affectionate relationships because the heteronormative majority disapproves of such relations. Society accepts them so long as they are marrying, procreating and fulfilling the responsibilities of their families; after that they are free to do whatever they want.  But leading this dual life is hardly a solution and it’s high time that we addressed this issue and tried to develop an alternative framework as traditional Judaism and Christianity have done. Therefore, Muslim societies need to seek alternative interpretations of scriptures and available scientific research evidences to develop a rational and considerate stance regarding homosexuality.

As far as scientific front is concerned, in 1999 a constellation of prestigious organizations – the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Counseling Association, American Association of School Administrators, American Federation of Teachers, American Psychological Association, American School Health Association, Interfaith Alliance Foundation, National Association of School Psychologists, National Association of Social Workers and National Education Association – jointly issued a document entitled, “Just the Facts About Sexual Orientation,” which clearly stated that homosexuality is not a matter of choice and it cannot be changed. But such research evidences seems to fall on deaf ears as in developing countries like Pakistan, homosexuals are still ridiculed and discriminated against, with a complete absence of any religious, social or legal protection and support.

Arguments for the innateness of homosexuality may even be deduced from the verse 30:22 of the Qur’an put forward by famous Canadian journalist and intellectual Irshad Manji, who stated that God made nothing in vain. She questioned that if God has created diversity in nature, personality, color and race of human beings than how can He simply have discarded sexual orientation? As the verse states:

And one of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your tongues and colors; most surely there are signs in this for the learned.

Renowned American scholar Scott Siraj ul Haqq Kugle had pointed out that the Qur’an certainly implies that some people are different in their sexual desires than others when it mentions “men who are not in need of women” (Verse 24:30). The reason for no sexual desire can be due to old age, illness or self-control that involves an inner disposition that could be characterized as “asexual” or due to different sexual orientation. This suggestion from Qur’an is suggestive not indicative.

Homosexual behavior is natural in the sense that it is extensively found in nature. It has been observed in antelopes, boars, bulls, chimpanzees, cows, ducks, cats, dogs, fruit flies, geese, gorillas, gulls, horses, humans, langurs, rams, sheep, macaques, monkeys, turkeys and vervets. Bruce Bagemihl, a biologist from Seattle, Washington, USA, has even prepared an encyclopedia of homosexual and transgender behavior among animals which lists more than 190 species, including butterflies and other insects.

One can then make the argument that if homosexuality is an unnatural perversion how come the Almighty created gay animals, who certainly do not exercise a choice in the matter? Thus, if God has created various varieties of fruits, exotic types of species, different kinds of human beings, each with separate physical, mental and emotional attributes, then how is it possible that the Almighty overlooked sexuality, which is one of the essential components of a human being?

Sexual diversity can also be understood in terms of personality types. For instance, there are some people who are born extroverts and some are introverts by their natural inclination. It is neither possible nor does it seem to be the purpose of God to artificially change the personalities of human beings as they are operating in accordance to their innate predispositions. Therefore, this diversity in human personality is God’s will and we should respect it instead of damaging it with our self-centered views. One can only come up with the best of his/her potential if one is given enough space to act in accordance with what one actually is.

Hence, it will be a great contribution towards society if everyone starts understanding and giving respect to the human dignity and personhood of sexual minorities. As the writer Pamela Taylor put it, “The Prophet said we are not true believers until we want for our brothers and sisters what we want for ourselves. I want a satisfying, committed, loving relationship with my spouse. How could I want to deny that to anyone?”

The Predicament of a Polygamous Lesbian

Love, to many is a complicated word, I define it in very simple terms, ‘Love is an emotional space’. Now… how many you share it with depends on how much you can handle.

With experience I know I can handle two at a time but clearly with complications.

The two parties that I share this space with are Kitty and Teddy.

Kitty, I am by mind and soul rapt in day in and day out, Teddy I usually is, ‘Out of sight out of mind’. This of course doesn’t play well with the parties involved and that’s where my predicament starts.

For Kitty, the one I am so mesmerized by, my space comes bound with expectations beyond her grasp; the sort that go beyond casual into the realm of ever after. Personally, I have placed her on this pedestal worthy of a Goddess. But for her I am merely a figure of experimentation and support. A box of chocolates if you may; the pieces she likes she eats, the ones that are vile to her taste buds she throws to the bin. This doesn’t mean though that she doesn’t want me to be loyal even if she only wants pieces and not the whole of me.

Contrary to this Teddy, the one I so aptly use to fulfill my lust and reinforce my ego, is a sweet, innocent creature (not saying Kitty isn’t but at times I have my reservations). She is my security blanket, and I am to her a blessing in disguise. She loves me for who I am, and appreciates me in front of others. She hides from no one our endeavors and is always ready to hold me in her arms. Best of all she encourages me to meet Kitty and understands my feelings for her. But in my space her ranking always comes below Kitty.

Now that I have described my two main characters, let’s begin with my story.

Kitty gets married and Teddy leaves me for a loving woman. Once again I am loveless but now I am forty, with saggy boobs and wrinkles. Wonder if there are anymore Kitty’s & Teddy’s out there.

A Desi Queer

My inability to articulate the alternative of Queer in my own language, often results in anxiety. Why is my queerness so un-desi? And why am I presumed to be an advocate of metropolitan gay culture when I identify as queer? (I cannot perhaps entirely detach myself from it. But still…)

Quite recently, the notions attached with “Queer” acquired new meaning, much beyond the existing connotations of “fag”. Queer is not gay, not lesbian or trans* identity. It challenges not only some of the fundamental ideas of gender, sexuality and heteronormativity but also contests the hegemonic frame of actions or theories that claim, eventually, to bring about benefits to human kind. In fact, it may be misleading to associate this term with gay/lesbian liberation and related activism. It seems to transcend whatever established paradigms have to offer; it demands exploration of what works for you as an autonomous individual. As a queer, I may not have any emotional, political or theoretical affinity with the “westernized” discourse on sexuality (in the presence of my own more earthy folk traditions), yet I have to use this word because I speak a language that I am not a product of.

Unsurprisingly, there is a lot of negativity and ambiguity around this word. A friend of mine posed a fundamental question once: “Look, I am a gay, I adore lesbians, I respect trans people and I ‘tolerate’ heterosexuals. I am kind of cool. Why do I need this queer stuff?” This led me to think again about the nature and notion of “diversity”. That further induced the deconstruction of the compartmentalized kingdom of sexual phylums. What were the notions of gay, bi or hetero like, before they were articulated? How was heterosexuality defined?

Maybe “normalness” was contrasted with “other” sexual-nesses; but the idea of power relation between the “superior” and the “inferior” remained prevalent in all historical and cultural contexts. The power structure not only created and exploited gender divisions, it also abused sexual “perverts”. Creating categories based on power disparities suits the existing structures. It is in fact the fuel of the economy, it keeps the ball rolling. The modern day reactionary or proud sexuality-related political identities are evolved forms of a gendered system that historically put a huge demographic on the margins.

Sexuality was and is gendered. The concept of grey areas in gender and sexuality is unusual. Everything is black and white; man and woman; trans gender but either man or woman; fucker and fuckee. Why can a hijra not celebrate his/her greyness, why is it compulsory to choose between “he” and “she”? And most importantly, why these boundaries, when we claim to celebrate diversity? Has it ever been given a chance to flourish?

Queer is, in fact, challenging these hegemonies of power and marginalisation.

Diversity is choice, not imposition. And the binary system definitely reinforces and later re-imposes the normative, the normal and the black & white dichotomy. We unconsciously follow, obey and react. Frustrating. But my Queer-ness soothes me as it always registers its stance on freedom and celebration of diversity. Although I couldn’t find any word in my language, Queer is meaningful to me as a word of solidarity and inclusivity.