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An estimated 4-minute read

The NALSAR Gender and Sexuality Forum

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It started with Foucault.

“Do not ask me who I am and do not ask me to remain the same ... let us leave it to our bureaucrats and our police to see that our papers are in order.” 

A good way, we felt, to headline the invitational notice of a forum whose primary aims include questioning the identities we’ve had so painstakingly constructed  for us in the first place.

We started small. Three of us, huddled around the less rickety of the two tables at our friendly neighbourhood coffee shop, throwing around  ideas about scope, structure, organization, readings, and most importantly (we felt), the group name. Unable to come up with something sufficiently quirky, we stuck with the staid but hopefully respectable “Gender and Sexuality Forum”.  The minutes of the meeting were stored as text messages on our mobile phones. The modus operandi  was simple : discussion and debate, film screenings, and street theatre.

Like I said, small.

The number of people who turned up for the first meeting though – not small at all. With 60 active participants, and 10-odd curious onlookers, this was pretty much a wildest-expectations-matching turnout.   We started with playing to our strengths :  What better way to kickstart a group conceived by a couple of queer students, than to weave in a discussion on the Naz Foundation judgment ? The theoretical tool to be used was intersectionality;  the object of application -  a critique of the judgment by the current Vice-Chancellor of another of India’s premier legal institutions.  While the critique itself starts with a disclaimer against making  any kinds of value judgments, the statement “Naz Foundation …. has picked up and placed in the central stage an issue that I doubt deserves so much prominence….    was hardly very encouraging. The group agreed with us, and debated on how those in positions of power or privilege could easily afford to create a hierarchy of oppressions, placing whatever didn’t serve their interests at positions lower in the hierarchy. An hour later,  and we’d finished the meeting, flushed with the adrenalin of a good  discussion.

And so, it began.  Small as we might have started,  we’ve allowed our hopes for the Forum to  get pretty darned big. For my part, I like to think of it as an epochal development in the admittedly short  history of our law school (a decade, to be exact) , and my life (two decades and counting). For the college, it marks the first open forum to discuss and deconstruct issues of gender and sexuality, to critically explore  areas which our often staid curriculum refuses to even  glance at. For me, it marks the latest checkpoint in my  coming out journey.   

Our mandate also pushes us towards exploring readings far outside our comfort zone. Case in point : a discussion centering around a paper where the writer, a self-identified paedophile, makes a case for consensual sexual relations between adults and children. Heavy moral outrage was expressed at the start of the meeting. The conclusion of the discussion, too, involved unanimous disagreement with the writers’ argument.  Somewhere in between, though, was where we felt the forum was achieving its purpose : the moral outrage was replaced with logical, nuanced argumentation : rational thought over pre-adjudicated prejudice.  Slowly, we worked our way around the fact that while we may think of ourselves as free, liberal thinkers, throw something at us from outside our lived experience or comfort zone, and it was hard to keep  our disapproving  moralities from  kicking into action.

Its been two months since that first Foucalt-headlined notice, and I’ve been catching myself thinking - this shouldn’t work. Not here. Here, in a law school I’d assumed  found it hard to care beyond basic CV building exercises, where so-called “student groups” flare out even before they’ve started, where the pervading sense of ennui has often stopped the most steely initiative in its tracks.

And yet, we have this.  We have a space, an open space, where we confront our preconceived notions, our most deep seated prejudices on a weekly basis.  We have the kind of discussions that constantly surprise us, where we invariably end up learning something new, often about ourselves.  We’ve observed the importance of seeing how conversations are avoided, on the same level as how they’re made. Our  vision is  expanding, we’ve started thinking bigger : Future plans include getting academics on board, taking the forum beyond the confines of the campus and into other colleges in the city, a conference on Gender and Sexuality, and, my personal goal – a Pride March in Hyderabad.

Law, said Justice Frankfurter, is what lawyers are – and lawyers are what law school makes them.

Call me a dreamer, but I’m feeling pretty darned  optimistic about the law right now.





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