Live and let live, love and not hate

New Delhi (IANSlife) Literature festivals and events are dominated by heterosexual content or mainstream ideas of existence and matters that impact their lives and emotions, says human rights gay activist Sharif D Rangnekar.

This led to the conceptualisation of the festival Digital & One, says the author of Straight To Normal My Life As A Gay Man’ who is also the festival director.

Organised by the Rainbow Lit Fest Queer & Inclusive, the two-day online series on December 5-6 will see over 50 authors, poets, activists, scholars, filmmakers, artists, performers and business leaders come on a common platform.

IANSlife speaks to Rangnekar who shares the details of the event, and his views on the challenges faced by the LGBTQ community. Read excerpts:

Tell us about the idea behind this event.

Rangnekar: Digital & One is a digital series that brings together different voices, thoughts, and ideas from over 15 towns and cities ranging from Imphal and Jabalpur at one end to Mumbai, London, and Boston, at the other. The aim is to address a variety of issues related to identities – sexual and otherwise – engaging with intersections that define each of us, with the hope that we find common ground and ways to stitch together a sense of one-ness or ekam.

How was the festival conceptualised? What is the main objective of the event?

Rangnekar: The Rainbow Lit Fest – Queer & Inclusive emerged from the very fact that most literature festivals and events are dominated by heterosexual content or mainstream ideas of existence and matters that impact their lives and emotions. There was also what we call a heterosexual gaze on the outlook of our lives as well as biases that stemmed from how they led their lives or the norms they followed, not being able to see life from our eyes, minds and hearts.

At the same time, from my experience as an author attending and speaking at several events and literature festivals, queer issues and that of gender and sexuality got a single session or at best, two. While in the overall programming this may have been significant for the various festivals, I felt it was not enough for us in terms of our representation, voices, and stories – published or not. I also saw an appetite out there at some of these festivals with audiences almost filling the open tents or halls. And then there was always this eus and them’ in lots of conversations that took place at heterosexual-dominated platforms.

These factors led me to think of organizing such a fest – with the idea itself resulting from a conversation with my editor and friend, Dibakar Ghosh last summer. The sub-text ‘queer and inclusive’, of course, came from the reality of who we are, our understanding of being excluded and our ability not to ‘other’ heterosexuals.

How do you think the event can help sensitise people on issues faced by the LGBTQ community?

Rangnekar: Literature, art, and music are amongst the most soft and endearing ways to tell stories, engage with people and touch their hearts and soul. Of course, this cannot be the only way forward as we still need to engage with the law, the press, film industry and so on. However, one of the primary reasons for the lit fest and the space it creates is to bring issues out in the open and learn from lived experiences rather than imaginary ones where authenticity may be lacking. There is no doubt that this is one way of educating people, but we can’t ignore the fact that schools and universities need to be more inclusive be it in the treatment of people or that of its curriculum. That is where a lot of change can come at least for the generations that would carry an influence in the years to come.

How do you think art, entertainment can help raise awareness about these issues?

Rangnekar: Art and entertainment have the ability to touch souls, hearts, and the mind. They are subtle and calm ways to tell stories, shared truths and lived life experiences, often without hurting the sensitivities of people and appealing to them.

As a gay activist, what’s the biggest challenge you face?

Rangnekar: I am more of an advocate for our rights using tools of communications be it talks, workshops, music, writing or festivals, and other tools such as these. There are challenges all the time, sometimes it is about safe spaces, at times it is the media that is far from the truth often carrying a heteronormative gaze on whatever they report and understand, or its just people in society who are offensive or it is mental health that bothers many of us.

How important do you think the role of an ally is in the whole scenario?

Rangnekar: The word ally in this context is more recent. In our time we had people who didn’t have labels and were just plain human. People like Anjali Gopalan or Anand Grover, or just so many other heterosexual beings treated us for who we were, no judgement! Having said that, given the many labels out there, an ally is significant in that each one of them adds up to a visible support base that we all need. It gives the community a sense that they can turn to or even run to some people without any fear of being hated and abused. An ally can also on occasion talk about us and tell their own stories about what they’ve experienced in their interactions with us. They can probably even come forward as a voice that influences the mindsets of certain sections of society.

What message would you like to send out to people?

Rangnekar: Live and let live, love and not hate.

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