Law behind closed doors

An exhibition explores if India’s queer community has actually benefitted from their new-found legal freedom

Placed at the outdoor space in India Habitat Centre, his portrait shot amid leaves and plants, the face of a bespectacled Ishaan appears hidden within the green landscape, much like how he hides a part of himself from his family. A dupatta and pink flowers form curtains to the photograph in the backdrop. A life sciences college student from Mumbai, he tells viewers of his fears: “My boyfriend and I went into the relationship, and obviously because there is no marriage equality, so he was like, ‘Where is this going to go?’” In the 55-panel exhibition, titled “Both Sides of The Veil — Living and Loving In Queer India”, he informs how many like him from the LGBTQ community are scared to fall in love because one can’t stay together or even get an apartment.

The project, put together by photographer Jake Naughton from Mexico, a gay white man himself, and Washington-based art director Aarti Singh of Suno Labs, comprises of photographs and video projections of India’s LGBTQ community. It kickstarted in the summer of 2017, as the duo visited, photographed and interviewed queer communities in Delhi, Mumbai and Bihar, till the Supreme Court’s reading down of Section 377 last year.

Talking about the aim of the exhibition, Singh says, “Our first shoot was in Bihar at a time when Section 377 was still part of the Indian Penal Code. India was the only country at that time that had decriminalised and recriminalised sexuality, and so it put the country in a very interesting vacuum of space and time because there were so many people who had come out. One couldn’t go back into the closet when it was recriminalised.” The Delhi High Court had read down Section 377 in 2009 before the Supreme Court nullified the decision in 2013, and finally struck it down last year.

An unnamed figure of a man with free-flowing hair poses in front of a bedsheet of flowers, his hands caressing his forehand like the female protagonists of a Raja Ravi Varma painting. Two men hold hands during Holi near a seashore in another frame. Another participant, Satya, points out how the judgement has had no effect on his personal life. He says, “The law made no difference. I am living the same terrifying life before and after. I love a man but I know I could never marry him. He has a wife and kids. It’s not as if walking down the street and holding the hand of a man I love has become acceptable.”

A bald Faraz hides his face behind a blue shimmery dupatta. He believes the society has pushed people like him to the corner where they are unable to celebrate themselves. Then there are those who hide their true selves from their families. Featured in the exhibition is Rajai from Patna who “fixes” himself as soon as he gets to the gate of his house. “I become someone else. So the law makes no difference for me because the law in the house stays the same,” he says.

Singh says, “We realised that social acceptance plays an equal part. Many candidates spoke of how the law is just one part of the equation. People mentioned the ‘log kya kahenge’ notion that exists. Upon seeing this show, people will start to look at the LGBTQ community just as themselves.”

The exhibition is on till January 31 at IHC, Lodhi Road

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