The capital’s first queer literary festival, titled Rainbow Lit Fest, is starting today. With a diverse list of 80 speakers — ranging from academics and writers Saikat Majumdar, Ashok Malik, musicians like Shubha Mudgal, lawyers like Menaka Guruswamy and Anand Grover, journalists like Anuradha Sengupta and Adrija Bose, filmmakers like Nandita Das, and historians like Mukul Kesavan — the two-day event follows a few other queer lit festivals that took place this year in Kolkata and Chennai.
Anjali Gopalan, founder of Naz Foundation and a part of the eight-member committee that backs this festival, says that there more such spaces for queer and inclusive narrative are necessary: “It’s important, because these build up the community, create a sense of pride, and also, they focus the eyes of society on the [queer] community as a diverse space with people who are active contributors to society — not just as sexual beings. This is important.”
Gopalan’s foundation has been active in spearheading efforts against Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. Other members on the committee include Parmesh Shahani, founder of the Godrej India Culture Lab, and Saleem Kidwai, historian and gay rights activist.
In this interview, author and festival director Sharif Rangnekar talks about what the festival wants to achieve and its diverse list of speakers, including one journalist who was named in the #MeToo movement.
The Rainbow Li t Fes t has close to 30 speakers who don’t identify as queer. Can you talk about the mix of speakers you’ve curated and why?
When you see the logo itself, it says ‘Rainbow Lit Fest: Queer and Inclusive’. The festival is predominantly queer, yes. But inclusion for us isn’t limited to the just the [queer] community — it means including those with different views and multiple identities. We are dealing with caste, class, colour, and body shaming too, among other things.
W ere you selective in terms of sponsors, looking for those who have previously identified as allies?
I was in the corporate world before, so we have a lot of companies (PR and otherwise) who have been doing work in diversity and inclusion. People like [chef] Ritu Dalmia, signed a cheque without batting an eyelid. Lotus Visuals, a company from London read about us online and came forward to support us — they also support a South Asia specific film festival in the UK. But mostly, crowd funding has also been amazing. [The Delhi restaurant chain] Big Chill is a donor too — I refer to the them in my books. The owners were always very [open] — we didn’t need to use words like allies or diversity for or with them. The Nizami Brothers too reached out on their own!
One of the speakers was named in the #MeToo controversy in October last year. What is the festival’s stance on this? It seems a lot of those named are now being ‘rehabilitated’ in various public forums and workplaces.
I know the case that you’re referring to. I have known the individual long enough. I’m not saying that bad behaviour should be accepted, but this person went back and apologised to most people on his own. There was a lot of flirtatiousness that’s there in the gay language – which needn’t be offensive, but sometimes can be.
We need to learn this as a community: that certain language is acceptable in certain groups, but not in other settingss. One should keep in mind that the person has tried to correct it, without waiting too long, vis- a-vis people who deny everything, and come back and get defended.
I spoke to the colleagues and editors concerned [with this case]. We are not here to resurrect anyone.
10 a.m. onwards, December 7 -8, 2019; at the Gulmohar Park Club; tickets ₹250, available on insider.in