Kalyani, March 21, 2021: The green environs of Kalyani Central Park today were filled with a riot of colours, diverse people in equally varied clothes (and masks), music, dance, refreshments, and camaraderie. The ‘excuse’ for this coming together was to celebrate Basanta Utsav or Dol Jatra, and, though unstated, also to overcome the fatigue of nearly a year of the COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing, and lockdowns.

In this daytime medium-shot photograph, Argha Ray Chowdhuri, aka Silk, Secretary, Nadia Ranaghat Sampriti Society welcomes and thanks the speakers for the Dol Jatra event, seven of them, seated in a row on a small open air stage. Silk speaks into a microphone, facing the speakers who are seated behind two long tables covered with red and yellow drapes. The tables have small bouquets of flowers gifted to the speakers and small bottles of drinking water placed on them. Behind the speakers is a wall of long curtains in deep pink and white. A narrow roof has been created above the speakers with the same cloth as the curtains. A colourful event banner is pinned on to the curtains behind the speakers. The banner carries the name and logo of Nadia Ranaghat Sampriti Society and has “Basanta Utsav” written across the centre in large Bengali letters. The background of the banner is a mishmash of Dol Jatra colours. The banner carries also the event date, time and venue details. Photo credit: Rafiquel Haque Dowjah

Argha Ray Chowdhuri, aka Silk, Secretary, Nadia Ranaghat Sampriti Society welcomes and thanks the speakers. Photo credit: Rafiquel Haque Dowjah

The three-hour event beginning sharp at 4 pm was organized by Ranaghat-headquartered queer support forum Nadia Ranaghat Sampriti Society. Bikash Das, President of the organization, made the opening remarks: “Today’s gathering is about removing all forms of discrimination, and treating everyone with kindness and friendship. It’s a joyous occasion and we want to forge ahead towards our goals with this joy in mind. Thank you everyone for joining us and lending us your support.”

Apart from Kalyani itself, participants and members of the audience came from Chakdaha, Gopalnagar, Halisahar, Kanchrapara, Kolkata, Krishnanagar, Naihati, Ranaghat, Santipur, and several other places within and beyond Nadia district. Trans and queer community members were joined in with people from different social sections and included several allies and well-wishers of Nadia Ranaghat Sampriti Society.

Chief guest Balram Majhi, Coordinator, Ward No. 10, Kalyani Municipality, was all praise for the organizers. He said, “I can’t imagine such an event being so well organized in the current situation of a pandemic. I promise to support all future endeavours of Nadia Ranaghat Sampriti Society in whatever capacity I can.”

This photograph shows three participants in the Dol Jatra event applying ‘abir’ to each other. To the left is Mousumi Guruma holding a plate full of ‘abir’ in different colours. She’s smiling with her eyes closed as a bespectacled male participant (to the right of the photograph) applies some colour to her face. The male participant also has some colour on his face. A third participant, a woman, facing the camera, is standing next to the other two; she smiles and looks on. She too has spots of colour on her face. In the background, some tall trees of the Kalyani Central Park and a few buildings beyond the park are visible. Photo courtesy Nadia Ranaghat Sampriti Society

Mousumi Guruma (holding the plate of ‘abir’) in some Dol Jatra revelry with other participants. Photo courtesy Nadia Ranaghat Sampriti Society

Hijra community leader Mousumi Guruma thanked the organizers, speakers and the audience for their participation. She said, “Such efforts hold a lot of meaning for my community members, and I’m very happy to have been invited to be a part of this event. We all need to make sure that there’s no one left behind in society.”

The cultural performances of the day provided ample evidence of the talent that trans and queer community members have. Rabindra Nritya and classical dance presentations, contemporary dance performances, vocal music presentations, and recitations received good applause from the 70-80 strong audience. Among the speakers was dance teacher Kabita Dutta, whose troupe for young children presented a number of enjoyable performances. See videos here and here. Local TV channels were present in strength to cover the event.

This is a near dusk-time long shot of the audience for the Dol Jatra event. There are around 70-80 people, seated in an amphitheatre arrangement in the Kalyani Central Park. The audience is seated in three rows gracefully arching away from the camera, with each row on a higher ground than the one in the front. The audience includes some of the event performers and is a colourful lot in terms of the apparel worn. Some audience members are busy peering at their mobile phones while the others are watching the happenings on the stage (not in the picture). Behind the last row is a line of round columns. The space between some of the columns is screened with red and yellow cloth. Where the cloth is missing, buildings beyond the park are visible. The sky above is bright though the sun is already setting. Tall trees frame the background of the photograph. Photo courtesy Nadia Ranaghat Sampriti Society

A section of the audience at the Kalyani Central Park event. Photo courtesy Nadia Ranaghat Sampriti Society

The distribution of sweetmeats and other refreshments was intermixed with people applying abir in multiple hues to each other. At least for these few moments all differences of identities around gender, sexuality, class and caste seemed to be forgotten and everyone was equal.

The organizers thanked everyone who had contributed to make the event a success and promised to be back with a similar event next year.

About the main photo: Scenes from the event at Kalyani Central Park on March 21, 2021. Photo credits: Rafiquel Haque Dowjah (dance performances) and Nadia Ranaghat Sampriti Society (plate of abir)

Inset: ‘Coronavirus Diary’ – queer citizen journalism in action! This monthly Varta webzine column brings you news and analysis on how queer communities, other vulnerable groups, and their allies are responding to the hardship caused by the coronavirus pandemic and associated lockdown in India. Content published under ‘Coronavirus Diary’ is contributed by participants in the third pilot of the Varta Community Reporters (VCR) Training and Citizen Journalism Programme (May to September 2020, extended till March 2021). This edition of the programme also involves strategic dissemination of the published reports for community morale building, experience sharing and advocacy to ensure that affected people gain access to resources for immediate survival and long-term self-sustenance. The VCR Programme aims to build communication, documentation and journalistic skills among youth and other groups marginalized around gender, sexuality or other social markers. In the process, it also attempts to enhance the employability of the participants. The programme consists of training workshops (including online ones), mentoring sessions, and writers workshops on gender, sexuality, human rights, communication, documentation and storytelling. The current pilot is the third under the VCR Programme. It covers Assam, Odisha and West Bengal states, and there are seven VCRs (queer individuals and allies) engaged in the programme. This pilot is supported by CREA, Delhi. The first pilot of the VCR Programme was conducted in Manipur from March to August 2018, and stories generated through the pilot were published under the ‘Manipur Diary’ column. The second pilot, from February to July 2019, covered Assam, Manipur and West Bengal and the stories generated were published under the ‘VCR Diary’ column – Editor.

Visit this page for more details on the Varta Community Reporters Training and Citizen Journalism Programme.