Dear friends, fellow queers, comrades in activism, and everybody else,
Welcome aboard this issue of the old zine SCRIPTS in a very new format with an exciting collaboration as well. There are many departures from our earlier issues, which unfortunately have now vanished into archival glory. But since hope springs eternal and what not, here we are again, having reinvented ourselves, looking forward to some exciting and intense times.
First a bit more on who we are, what we do, and what the meaning of this phoenix act of ours is. Stree Sangam, as you are probably well aware of, started as a lesbian and bisexual women’s collective in April 1995. This makes it one of the oldest surviving queer women’s group of the past decade. Stree Sangam conceived of itself as a non-funded and autonomous women’s space and has retained this aspect through rough and fair weather. Our mandate was networking with individual queer women as well as queer groups in India and in other countries, providing a support space for women to understand and express their sexuality, campaigning for the rights of peoples and communities of marginalised genders and sexualities with other like minded groups, and organising jointly with the struggles of other marginalised groups and people’s movements.
Towards each of these, we, in Stree Sangam, made intense efforts which often led to some astounding results. This is not the space to recount a detailed herstory of our efforts, but some moments remain too important to leave out. As our network of women grew, the need for a space where we could meet each other became important and we organised two “national gatherings/retreats of women who love women” in June 1996 and then May 1998. These were the first such events of their kind and provided a much needed space to express ourselves and connect with those from different parts of the country that share our desires.
At the same time, we had actively started collaborating with other LGBT, women’s groups and human rights groups and with three other such groups, we organised the first ever national workshop on “Strategies to Advance Lesbian and Gay Rights in India” in November 1997. This boosted the space to further evolve our politics and move towards a crucial alliance building with other movements. The Humjinsi Resource Book was one of the results of this workshop.
As women and feminists, we allied closely with the autonomous women’s movement and were able to create space for discussions on queer sexuality within the Women’s Movements’ Conference in Ranchi in December 1997. When the government sprung the 172nd report of the Law Commission of India on reform within the rape laws, Stree Sangam was at the forefront of organising discussions and debates and lobbying for a different set of laws that would address our issues along with those of women, children and other LGBT people.
Meanwhile, we also collected books, films and other resources, tried various avenues for sharing them within the community, and worked towards creating support structures and social spaces for individual women who were dealing with their sexuality. We also continued to form our politics in alliance with other rights movements while responding to the events happening in the country – whether it was the campaign against the Shiv Sena high-handedness on Fire, or protests against the state oppression of NGOs working on sexual health and HIV prevention such as Bharosa Trust in Lucknow and Sahayog in Uttaranchal .
In our work over the past few years, there have been many women who have joined us and some who have left – to other places or other pursuits, or because we could not resolve our differences. One of the major struggles of Stree Sangam has been its dual conception of itself as both a social and a political space. While both these are extremely important concerns and consistently inform each other, the same set of people are not always equipped to deal with all the concerns simultaneously. At the same time, many more spaces that are safe for queer women have emerged since Stree Sangam first started in the city as well as in many other cities, and we have been able to collaborate extensively with some.
In the past few years we have also been confronted with a government led by a right wing ruling party that does not believe in protecting the rights of all its citizens, independent of the religion, caste, class, community, sex, or sexuality they may belong to. With such forces in power, the face of our democracy that is shown again and again is that of a majoritarian one rather than a representational one. Given these contexts, the time is ripe for all people’s movements and struggles to formulate their concerns more clearly and ally with each other to face the onslaughts of right wing nationalism and the global market forces.
Many LGBT groups, such as Stree Sangam and OLAVA, were part of citizen’s efforts for justice and peace after the carnage in Gujarat in 2002. Even before this, in January of the same year, more than 15 LGBT groups from different parts of the country met in Pune to formulate some collective political understanding and to reaffirm that we would not ally with any organisation that supported religious right wing fundamentalist forces or abuse of any other section of people, even if these very organisations stood for the LGBT community.
In the face of these political and ideological concerns as well as processes of intense internal debates over the past few years, Stree Sangam has decided to reinvent itself, in name and in deed. Today we conceive of ourselves as a campaign and action group of queer women called Lesbian and Bisexual Women in Action. We choose to remain autonomous and non-funded. We choose to speak loudly and proudly of who we are and want to reclaim the space for political action and personal expression. We see oppression based on gender and sexuality as part of the same hetero-patriarchal norms that oppress other marginalised peoples as well. We wish to continue to ally with others, who, like us believe that working towards a society where all genders and sexualities would be respected and treated equally is necessary. Our strategies are multiple and complex, but our alliances are crucial. As are our politics and our lives.
Thus we choose to speak today, to open our lips and raise our voices to reclaim our bodies, our expressions and our place in this world to be free and without fear. Thus we speak to add our words and actions to the innumerable others who are working towards a just, peaceful and more egalitarian world.
The beautiful and inspiring words of Faiz Ahmad Faiz, one of the foremost and beloved poets of this sub-continent, say it all for us:
Speak, that your lips are free
Speak, your tongue is still yours
Your well built body is yours
Speak, that your life is still yours
See in the blacksmith’s shop
The embers are glowing, the iron red hot
The locks begin to open
Every chain begins to break
Speak, these few hours are long enough
Before the death of body and tongue
Speak, as truth is still alive
Speak, say whatever you have to say
With these words, we invite you to the literary and visual arts pan-queer international issue of SCRIPTS, which is back after a gap of four years. This is the fourth issue of the zine and we promise that this time it will become more regular than it has been. So look out for announcements for contributions and features. But for now, here is a vibrant selection of poetry, prose, scribbles, photographs, artwork, doodles, cartoons, sketches, what whats and what nots by several queer, gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual, bent, deviant, kothi, eunuch, hijra, queens, drag kings and other contributors. We would like to thank our contributors for giving so generously of themselves at such short notice and our fabulous collaborators and friends who put together LARZISH. Compiling, editing and producing this issue has been a wonderful experience for us and we hope that reading it will be as exciting for you too.
In celebration of all queer selves,
Till dykedom come, Lesbian and Bisexual Women in Action, Bombay. 24th September, 2003.
Editorial, November 2003