Humari Zindagi Humari Choice was a collaborative campaign between LGBTQ and womenâ€™s rights groups across Mumbai city. Conducted during the 16 Days of Activism to end Gender-Based Violence in November-December 2011, the campaign highlighted the ways in which stigma is a form of violence faced by many groups of women. For many, this stigma comes from choices or taboos around their sexualities: lesbian women, trans women, sex workers, single women, disabled women, women who have multiple sexual partnersâ€¦ as the list goes on, we come to realise that almost all of our sexual choices can in some way be stigmatised. The stigma is often simply being a woman.
As a part of this wider campaign, Point of View took the campaign to six groups of college students across Mumbai city. Given that many colleges were hesitant or unwilling to address issues of sexuality and sexual orientation head on, we conducted broader sessions on the violence of stigma. Bringing together speakers, film screenings, discussions, presentations and quizzes, our component of the Humari Zindagi Humari Choice campaign sought to highlight the stigma faced by gay, trans, disabled and sex-working women.
The most interesting thing about the campaign was the varying responses from students we got.
At Usha Praveen Gandhi College of Management, speaker Deepak Kashyap â€“ counsellor, sex therapist and a member of the LGBTQ community â€“ spoke about gender, orientation and identity following a screening of Point of Viewâ€™s Out of the Closet â€“ a short film recording the testimonies of 3 LGBTQ Indians soon after the repeal of Section 377. Almost the entire class had previously had no exposure to queer issues, and there was a great deal of discomfort, ignorance and homophobia. Though some opinions had perhaps slightly been altered towards the end of the two hour session, the shock of sudden exposure meant that many students were still extremely uncomfortable.
The session with a small group of Sociology students from St.Xavierâ€™s College brought together a panel dealing with two types of stigma â€“ Shireen Juwale, a burns-victim and founder of Palash Foundation, who spoke about disfiguration as disability, calling on people to question their notions of beauty. She was joined by two members of queer collective LABIA (Lesbians And Bisexuals In Action), who spoke about issues of gender and sexual orientation. Students had been widely exposed to gender issues on a theoretical level, and were initially resentful of being â€˜told what they already knewâ€™. The discussion was detailed, and spoke about moving from theory to praxis.
At Wilson College we conducted a session with a group of BMM students on two issues â€“ sex work and LGBTQ rights, which included the screening of Point of Viewâ€™s film Zinda Laash â€“ exploring Bollywoodâ€™s representations of sex workers, and talks by Bishakha (POV) and Robin, a queer rights activist and founder of Kranti, a sex workers rights and rehabilitation organisation. Most students had been exposed to and were comfortable with the topics, and those who expressed discomfort or disapproval only did so after the session was complete.
At Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies (NMIMS), a panel brought together Pallav and Sonal â€“ gay rights activists from Humsafar Trust, and Sushmita Bubna, a visually impaired woman and founder of Voice Vision. Students were relatively uncomfortable around issues of sexual orientation, but participated in discussions and role-plays on how, as future-managers, they could make workplaces both disabled and gay-friendly.
Deepak Kashyap did another session at St. Andrewâ€™s College alongside a screening of Out of the Closet, and despite many students having not being extensively exposed to the issues before, were still keen to learn more. Students anonymously wrote down questions on pieces of paper, which ranged from â€˜If you have an abortion in your teen years, can you get pregnant later?â€™ to â€˜What purpose do homosexuals serve in nature?â€™
For the final session of our campaign, we returned to St. Xavierâ€™s College and carried out a session with second and third year BMM students. Once again bringing together the stigma faced by disabled and gay, bisexual or trans women, visually-impaired lawyer and activist Kanchan Panmani was joined by activists from LABIA. Students were engaged and interested, and the session culminated in a heterosexuality quiz, which was an interactive way of asking students why the validity of minority sexual orientations are questioned in ways that heterosexuality is never subjected to.
The campaign definitely highlighted the need that exists for such initiatives to be happening with younger audiences in colleges, as well as the disparities that exist between the levels of tolerance in colleges (often with a North vs. South Mumbai divide in terms of exposure to issues). Humari Zindagi Humari Choice is an ongoing campaign in Mumbai city, and is bringing sexuality to the fore of womenâ€™s issues in a range of spaces.