LGBT right is an issue, which should be discussed not just in June – the Pride month, but the whole year. Artistic Director and Choreographer Sudarshan Chakravorty expresses his views and opinion about it.
“The Blue sky has borders that rainbow can smear it.”~ On Section 377 of IPC – Sudarshan Chakravorty, Founder, Sapphire Creations
Artistic Director and Choreographer Sudarshan Chakravorty is trained in Bharat Natyam (Guru Bandana Dasgupta), Kathakali (Guru Govindan Kutty) and Thang ta, modern dance and jazz by France-based Nana Gleason, mind-body centering and contemporary dance from teachers in Europe. Pioneer of a dynamic experimental form resulting from individual and ensemble mind-body improvisations, his innovative form raises sensitive contemporary issues.
Sudarshan has led the troupe as director-choreographer for performances in India and abroad. Director of Interface, a writer, workshop leader and collaborator, has worked as a choreographer in the fields of fashion, film and television. He was awarded by Oniel De Fellowship by Kalabharati, Canada in 2005 and Shyamal Sen Smriti Purashkar by Swapnasandhani in Kolkata in 2008.
Sudarshan nurtures Sapphire as an academy of young ideas, growth and experimentation giving birth to performers, productions and art events creating a whole new renaissance for the arts in India.
Section 377 of the British colonial penal code criminalized all sexual acts “against the order of nature”. The law was used to prosecute people engaging in oral and anal sex along with the homosexual activity. The penal code remains in many former colonies and has been used to criminalize third-gender people, such as the apwint in Myanmar.
Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code is a section of the Indian Penal Code introduced in 1861 during the British rule of India based on the Buggery Act of 1533, it makes sexual activities “against the order of nature” illegal.
On 6 September 2018, the Supreme Court of India ruled that the application of Section 377 to consensual homosexual sex between adults was unconstitutional, “irrational, indefensible and manifestly arbitrary”, but that Section 377 remains in force relating to sex with minors, non-consensual sexual acts, and bestiality. (Source: Wikipedia)
Sudarshan Chakravorty had a conversation with Moumita De Das on the repeal of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code and the road ahead back in 2018.
Excerpts of the conversation.
“There is no ignominy in articulating one’s true self….”
Q. In 2018 the Supreme Court partly repealed Section 377. What did it mean to you?
I feel Section 377 speaks about human liberation – the liberation of one’s soul, which is not bound by trivial physical boundaries. I realised quite early that my actual liberty is my choice of life, ‘my dance’ which has given me a platform to search for the true emancipation of life. Section 377 is a draconian section in our Indian constitution and its partly repealed means it’s just a melting pot.
The section directly affects the lives of the thousands who are still in the closet to express their true self. Our society should give them the right to dignity to choose their life as they wish. As I believe, an individual’s identity cannot be only his or her sexual orientation, but the right to live a free life with head held high.
Q. Historically, why do you think India took so long to repeal such law?
You can say it was more of a colonial hangover. Indian culture was never so elusive of homosexuality of one’s sexual orientation. It was always an inclusive culture especially in Hinduism be it in our ancient texts, art, literature, music or dance in every sphere of human life. There was a notion of ‘celebration of sexuality’.
How can we forget that Vatsayana wrote his famous book ‘Kamasutra’ which had been acclaimed the world over as the ultimate sexual manual? Our temples like Ajanta, Ellora, Khajuraho and others depicted this pursuit of sexuality as a tool of human liberation. There was no indignity attached to it then; when did we Indians become so alienated from our culture?
I believe this happened when the British came to India, and we were dumped with the concept of westernisation as the true enlightenment that paved the way to depart from our ancient cultural practices for the next two hundred years. We blindly adapted to an alien culture that was fostered as the supreme in every sphere, especially our education system. So the dichotomy continued for so long…
Q. Do you really think that a SC judgement would amend the social norms that linked to this practice?
This is just a legal stand which will unlock a lot of issues regarding same-sex marriage, property and other essential human rights. This is definitely a milestone that will steer a different society altogether. But I do agree that a judgement can never determine a societal change. Everybody is hell-bent on proving who is more Indian, but they forget our culture is of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’.
We are not a homogenous country; we can’t streamline Indians to belong to a certain specific group. So the need of the hour is breaking down the gender binary and static narrative of the LGBT community. It should not be just a cosmetic change but a beautiful transition that will essentially wear down all kinds of negativity.
Q. Dance takes you to nooks and corners of India and abroad if you compare our City of Joy to any other city. What will be your take?
Historically, our city Kolkata has always been much ahead of other cities in embracing the concept of newness. The recent Metro incident took me aback (where a young couple was beaten up by a few elderly men) this was never my city! In India, Bangalore seemed to be quite open in such issues.
Q. Which city/country do you find the most open-minded in this perspective?
I found Israel to be quite progressive. This year in June they had the first-ever Gay Pride Parade and even they flown the rainbow flag that depicted a sense of hope and a nation based on “freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel. ( An Israel which promised to “ensure equality of socio-political rights to all inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex guaranteeing freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.)
In Seattle, I found rainbow crossing on the roads instead of zebra crossings. It gave me immense pleasure that if they can be such inclusive in their society why can’t we? Rainbow depicts the vibrancy of life when nature is our most prominent teacher, and art is always inclusive. ‘Blue sky has borders that rainbow smears it.’
Q. In the perspective of gender sensitization what will be your suggestions for the future GEN-Y to develop a sensitive outlook?
SC: Our essential transition is necessary for our societal stance. Gen-Y should fathom that any kind of change should be insightful in one’s core of heart. Imbibing integrity will enhance Indian society to progress in the right direction. In Bangla, I can just say, ‘chai monnoner poriborton’ (need a change in their mindsets)
Q. Give us an insight on your dance project ‘Alien Flower’ that celebrated the concept of sexual integrity way back in the 90s?
SC: I admit my concept of ‘Alien Flower’ in 1996 was much ahead of time in the city and the country as well. I dared to delve into the theme which was not much conferred in the public sphere. It was initially rebuked but later busted the taboo and became the symbolic production countrywide. The LGBT community realised that they could express their inner self through their medium of art and culture. There is no ignominy in articulating their true self.
Q. Do you miss anyone after this verdict?
SC: I miss the young lawyer, Siddharth Gautam, the pioneer of the LGBT movement in India in the 90’s. (In 1991, Gautam and six other members cofounded the AIDS Bhedbhav Virodhi Andolan (ABVA) which was India’s first AIDS activist movement. They also published Less Than Gay: A Citizens’ Report on the Status of Homosexuality in India — which was the first publication in India to throw light on the gay rights issue.)
A dear friend Ranja, a very strong woman and contemporary dancer in her own right (“I am battling the dark spaces within myself,” Ranjabati Chaki Sircar, wrote in an e-mail to a friend two days before she committed suicide in 1999)
Of course, Rituda, the director Rituporno Ghosh.
And also a few of them whom I have lost in the last 30 years who deserved a dignified life but were lost in the way of inner oblivion.
(Moumita De Das is Assistant Professor, School of Media and Communication, Adamas University, Kolkata.)