A unique literature festival, focusing on queer rights and concerns as well as inclusivity, will feature Kalki Koechlin, Gurcharan Das, Saurabh Kirpal and others as its speakers
This year has been quite the rollercoaster for the LGBTQIA community in India—one that had started with hope during the same-sex marriage hearings that began in April, and ending in disappointment in October when the Supreme Court decided against passing a judgement on the matter. It is fresh off this experience that the fifth edition of the Rainbow Lit Fest – Queer and Inclusive, will start today in New Delhi.
The fest, headed by festival director, the writer and activist Sharif D. Rangnekar, began in 2019, and will be held on 9 and 10 December at Gulmohar Park Club in Delhi this year. “[B]ecause of the verdict… there’s a sense in the community for the need to regroup, meet up, and think about different aspects of choices, life, mental health, family,” Rangnekar says, adding that he expects about 400 people to be present at any given time during the two days.
This year’s speakers include Arif Jafar, founder of Naz Foundation International and one of the pioneers of the queer rights movement; Hoshang Merchant, poet and eminent voice in the context of queer writing and rights in India; K. Vaishali, author and inclusivity advocate; professor and translator Niladri R. Chatterjee whose latest work is a translation of queer narratives by the Bengali writer Krishnagopal Mallick; Santa Khurai, a transgender woman and secretary of the All Manipur Nupi Maanbi Association; Saurabh Kirpal, a gay rights activist, author and senior advocate in the Delhi High Court; Seema Anand, an intimacy columnist; actor Kalki Koechlin; and intellectual Gurcharan Das.
With this breadth of speakers, across age, fields and experience, Rangnekar says that the fest is trying “to cover many aspects of living…needs and desires, that require being addressed in different ways.”
While a name like Koechlin may not appear to be directly linked to the gay rights movement, Rangnekar points to her work, which conveys her allyship—this includes her character in Margarita with a Straw (2014)—and says that to the fest, “what really matters is (a person’s) body of work and what they advocate”.
In addition to various panels and performances—including drag, theatre and music—with storytellers and activists, the fest’s discussions will also turn an eye on on the experiences of parents, as well as the idea of natal families versus chosen families.
Gurcharan Das, who has previously openly talked about being a parent to a gay son, will be on a panel titled ‘Parental Acceptance, Parental Advisory’ along with Aruna Desai, co-founder of Sweekar-The Rainbow Parents, a group for parents of LGBTQ+ children, and Aarti Malhotra, founder of the Arvey Aesthetic Foundation, which supports children against homophobic bullying and assault.
A panel focused on the history of queer rights in India will remember the life and work of Saleem Kidwai, writer, translator and activist, whose work, especially the 2001 book Same-Sex Love in India: Readings from Literature and History, authored along with academic Ruth Vanita, informed and influenced legal and cultural advocacy of queer rights in the country.
Rangnekar hopes that the fest will reinforce that “within the queer world, too, there are so many ways to be”.