LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer) Identities in Select Modern Indian Literature by Kuhu Sharma Chanana. Suryodoya Books, 2015, Pp 346, Rs 800 (library edition). ISBN-13: 978-81-925702-4-2
2015 can be called a historic year for the LGBT cause: Ireland became the first country to legalize gay marriage by popular vote, India got its first transgender mayor from the Dalit caste and also the first College principal from transgender community. A recent advertisement of a clothing brand in India depicting lesbian couple has gone viral and is being appreciated for being inclusive and bringing the issue into the mainstream. It is important to look at academic intervention in this scenario; while Queer studies has developed and consolidated in the West since the 1990s, it is still in nascent stage of analysis of queer Indian literature. In the light of lack of critical material in this area in India, LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer) Identities In Select Modern Indian Literature by Kuhu Sharma Chanana becomes an important book to look at.
The book is a collection of seven essays with an introduction. It critiques and interrogates queer literature coming out from India in different languages vis-à-vis developments happening at societal level in and out of LGBTQ community. The first, third, fifth and sixth essays explore lesbian identity, lesbophobic anxiety and plurality of lesbian existence. The first chapter tries to show the fault lines in the resistance of the Indian women writers against patriarchy/heterosexuality by taking a radical lesbian feminist approach and trying to resolve powerful/subversive structures of heteronormativity. The third chapter on poetry of Suniti Namjoshi questions the motive of the creation of the fables in the sub-title itself, “A Tool to familiarize or a means to escape?” and powerfully critiques it. The fifth chapter explains the multiple levels at which lesbian existence is defined by three different writers who adopt contradictory positions in their explanations. At one level it is defined as a pathological illness, at another level it is shown to be a result of coercive or compulsory heterosexuality for procreative sex. It also discusses the titillating sensations which a male writer can create by entering women only spaces and how queer literature can easily move to homoerotic. The sixth chapter challenges the absence of lesbian existence in queer academia and society. The writer exposes the lesbophobic anxiety of the society and regards “injunctions against lesbianism are also part of a wider framework of regulating feminine sexuality that threatens heteropatriarchal structure”.
The chapter on hijras brings to fore one of the most marginalized identity in LGBTQ, and through writings of major literary writers depicts anxiety and violence. This economically, politically, socially excluded community bears the maximum burden of Section 377. Crossed between the binaries of male and female sexuality, hijras themselves are not comfortable with their identity. In order to create a sexual identity, they go through painful sex-change operations. The chapter tries to expose the cultural biases associated with the third gender which have resulted in the anxious lack of a specific identity and sexuality in the community. The chapter can be said to be a ground breaking critical analyses in explaining hijra identity.
The fourth chapter deals with “Polyvalent Power Structures” in Gay community, and homosexuality being a marginalized one transgresses the boundaries of class, caste, colour and creed. It exposes how the market forces shape an individual’s sexual orientation; greed of money and charm of success at times forces young men to change their sexual preference. The chapter also talks about the “patriarchal notion of masculinity” which divides the gay couple into active and passive or simply explained a “masculine” and “feminine”. The power structures defined by Gay community are such that even the heterosexual women come below them, the marginalized of the marginal.
The seventh and the last chapter is an interesting essay as it highlights the creation of homosexual spaces by invading heterosexual spaces through the Queer writings. This act of invasion can be considered as an attempt of redrawing the boundaries of “heteronormativity” and changing it into “homonormativity”.
The writer through the Indian writings has drawn attention to peculiar problems of Indian LGBTQ. The book tries to rupture the hegemony of western queer canon and provides the much needed Indian intervention. The work is of significance in terms of using new theoretical tools like queer spatiality, concept of fantastic queer and amalgam of lavender lexicon with hijra terminology. It is also one of the very few literary studies of non-normative sexuality that is exclusively located in Indian texts. With the academia taking charge and busting the myths of LGBTQ, the change in the societal consciousness does not seem to be far away.
Gorvika is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English at Motilal Nehru College, University of Delhi, India. Her interests vary from cultural studies, gender studies, literary theories, dramatic studies to politics and philosophy.