Varta Trust's archival research consists of a series of articles intended to create an archive of the queer movement in Bengal and India – not a chronological narrative of the movement, rather anecdotal histories capturing the little voices that are often lost in general historical accounts – voices from thousands of letters received by Counsel Club, Kolkata, one of India’s earliest queer support groups (1993-2002), from the group’s house journal Naya Pravartak (earlier called Pravartak), and from its photographic records and sundry other files and registers that captured the functioning of the group. The articles are written by social researchers and published in the Varta webzine in the column From the Archives.
Articles published till date under this column are listed below:
Letters of Desire; Zaid Al Baset; October 2013 issue.
Missives of Loneliness; Zaid Al Baset; November 2013 issue.
Desire Unbound; Zaid Al Baset; January 2014 issue.
Radical Love; Sayan Bhattacharya; May 2014 issue.
Where to Look for Minuscule Minorities; Pawan Dhall; November 2014 issue.
To CC with Love!; Pawan Dhall; August 2015 issue.
Inconvenient Desires; Sayan Bhattacharya; April 2016 issue.
Beyond Human Bondage; Pawan Dhall; October 2016 issue.
(Re)visiting Cards; Pawan Dhall; April 2017 issue.
Memories in Media Outings – Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4; Pawan Dhall; May, June, July and August 2017 issues. See also video documentation of Queer Lives of the Media – A Panel Discussion, an event focussed on media coverage of queer issues in Kolkata / India in the 1990s, its impact on the early queer movements in India, and how in a parallel phenomenon queer communities began writing about themselves through their own media initiatives. The event marked Varta webzine's fourth foundation day.
Chennai Flashbacks; Pawan Dhall; March 2019 issue.
History Lessons in Growth Pains; Pawan Dhall; August 2020 issue.
Durga Puja in the Archives; Pawan Dhall; October 2020 issue.
Letters as Building Blocks of India’s Queer Movements; Pawan Dhall; August 2021 issue.
Accessing a Shared Past for a Shared Future; Yashita Kandhari; October 2021 issue.
Read here about Out of Line and Offline: Queer Mobilizations in ‘90s Eastern India, a book written by Pawan Dhall, one of the founding members of Counsel Club. The book is based on extensive research into the Counsel Club Archives and interviews with several individuals associated with Counsel Club and the queer movements in eastern India in the 1990s. It was published by Seagull Books, Kolkata in 2019.
Read also The Koti's Ghost: Law, Gender, and Community in Times of HIV by Sayan Bhattacharya in the Radical History Review, May 2021 issue – an article based on Koti Ki Atma, a skit on HIV awareness and community empowerment developed by Counsel Club and sister NGO Integration Society in 2001.
Digitized copies of Pravartak can be accessed below – from its very first avatar in December 1991 (when it was first published by a group of individuals) to its new version in August 1993 (when it was revived by Counsel Club as its house journal), to its renaming as Naya Pravartak in December 1995, till its last issue published in February 2000 (as a Bengali tabloid). Digitization support courtesy Svran Apeejay Journalism Foundation, Delhi.
The journal was always ‘private circulation only’ as it was not registered and mentioned only a ‘suggested contribution’ figure to make itself self-sustaining. It was distributed mainly through word of mouth among queer networks of individuals and support groups, Counsel Club meetings, community events and other connections. A number of copies were also distributed through Classic Books in Kolkata and People Tree in Delhi. This was mid 1990s onwards for a few years. A few copies were distributed through Seagull Bookstore, Kolkata in the late 1990s till around 2000 when the last issue was published.
Digitized copies below are best viewed on a desktop or laptop computer. For digitized copies of the journal, please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
First of the three issues of Pravartak newsletter published by a few individuals between December 1991 and March 1992 – this was before the publication went into hibernation and was revived as Counsel Club's house journal in August 1993.
Second of the three issues of Pravartak newsletter published by a few individuals between December 1991 and March 1992 – this was before the publication went into hibernation and was revived as Counsel Club's house journal in August 1993.
Last of the three issues of Pravartak newsletter published by a few individuals between December 1991 and March 1992 – this was before the publication went into hibernation and was revived as Counsel Club's house journal in August 1993.
‘Dummy’ issue of Pravartak when it was revived by Counsel Club as its house journal in August 1993. The first attempt at revival was a ‘proofing disaster’. It was decided not to distribute the copies printed and a freshly edited version was published. But a few years later, some of the ‘dummy’ copies were displayed at Classic Books, Kolkata as ‘souvenirs’ and a small donation was raised from copies distributed.
First ‘formal’ issue of Pravartak after its revival by Counsel Club as its house journal in August 1993.
Second issue of Pravartak published by Counsel Club as its house journal. Personal classifieds made an appearance in the journal from this issue.
Third issue of Pravartak published by Counsel Club as its house journal. A copy of this issue was the first ever copy of the journal distributed through any public outlet – it was picked up from Classic Books on March 4, 1995 by a bank official who lived in North Kolkata but worked near Gariahat in the southern part of the city.
Fourth issue of Pravartak after its revival by Counsel Club as its house journal in August 1993. The journal size was reduced on popular demand to allow for ease in storage and carrying around. The editorial title What’s in a Size? was cause for much humour in Counsel Club’s gatherings.
Fifth issue of Pravartak as Counsel Club’s house journal – with the prefix Naya added. This addition was prompted when an article profiling the journal was published in Ananda Bazar Patrika in August 1995, and Prabartak Sangha, a long-time charitable institution, in a letter to the newspaper objected to its name being 'appropriated' for an obscene purpose. A lawyer member of Counsel Club advised the addition of the prefix to preempt any potential legal action.
In its sixth issue as Counsel Club’s house journal, Pravartak experimented with comic pages in Hindi for the first time (Jhintu Aur Shintu), though this did not last beyond two issues. The sixth issue also captured important off the pages ‘queer developments’ in Kolkata. One of these was the debut performance of Sapphire Creations Dance Workshop’s The Alien Flower, billed as “India’s first full length ballet on homosexuality” (including an ‘audacious’ French kiss between two men on stage). The second development was the inclusion of queer concerns in AIDS, Sex, Knowledge (ASK) – a popular interactive newspaper column for the youth on sexual health prepared by Thoughtshop Foundation, Kolkata and published in 1995-96 in The Statesman, then still going strong as a venerable publication.
Seventh issue of Pravartak as Counsel Club’s house journal – Bengali content, inclusion of queer women’s issues and illustrations in the journal went up some notches, and Counsel Club acquired a logo, almost three years since its start. The themes for the cover page and editorial of the seventh issue were based on the group’s logo. The group also continued with its tentative attempts at providing livelihood support to queer individuals, and this was reflected most prominently in the sixth and seventh issues of the journal.
The eighth issue of Pravartak as Counsel Club’s house journal captured the proceedings of ‘Network East ‘97’, the first attempt by Counsel Club to organize a biennial regional conference for queer people living in eastern and north-eastern India. The conference was held at the CINI-Chetana Resource Centre campus at Pailan Hat, on the southern fringes of Kolkata, on January 25-26, 1997. The motivation behind this regional networking event was provided by the Humsafar Trust-Naz Project conference titled ‘Emerging Gay Identities in South Asia – Implications for HIV/AIDS & Sexual Health’ organized in Mumbai in December 1994, a first of its kind for South Asia – see report in the fourth issue of Pravartak (Jan-Apr 1995). The ‘Network East’ conference was held twice again in 1999 and 2002.
The ninth issue of Pravartak as Counsel Club’s house journal was an attempt in enhancing the analytical and literary content of the publication. Fiction and poetry as well as articles on ageing concerns of queer people and prevalence of aversion therapy to ‘cure’ queer people in India dominated the issue. New ways of presenting issues of sex, sexuality and sexual health were experimented with, including articles with humour content. Comic characters Jhintu and Shintu reappeared after a gap to discuss the art of kissing (but their lingo changed from Hindi to Bengali). The print run of the journal crossed 300 for the very first time. Seagull Bookstore replaced Classic Books as a distribution point for the journal in Kolkata.
The 10th issue of Pravartak as Counsel Club’s house journal was also its last. It was published after a long gap during which Kolkata and India saw many milestones in relation to queer activism. For instance, the controversy around the film Fire which provided significant visibility to the issue of homosexuality among women in India (1998-99); the ‘Friendship Walk ‘99’ in Kolkata, often billed as India and South Asia’s first rainbow pride walk (July 2, 1999); and the formation of Sappho, also in Kolkata, eastern India’s first exclusive queer support group for lesbians and bisexual women (and later transgender men as well). By this time, Counsel Club had also a sister NGO in the form of Integration Society, which was started in January 1999. While Counsel Club continued to function as a non-registered, community-funded and safe social space for queer people (till the end of 2002), Integration Society was a registered charitable agency that undertook donor-supported health and human rights programmes for queer communities (it was active till at least 2005). During 1998-2000, Counsel Club had had important changes in its leadership, and this was reflected in the editorial, language (all Bengali content), format (tabloid) and sharply reduced suggested contribution changes in Pravartak.
Just as Integration Society was a sister NGO to Counsel Club, The Network was a sister publication of Pravartak. When Counsel Club converted Pravartak into a Bengali publication, Integration Society started The Network with content in English (and Hindi). The editorial in the first issue explained the rationale behind Integration Society and The Network. Eventually only one issue of the new journal was published, and both The Network and Pravartak wound up because publishing queer journals was overtaken in priority by other activities of Counsel Club and Integration Society – a variety of community events, a counselling helpline and reference library-cum-archives, sexual health research and outreach, legal aid and livelihood support, sensitization and training activities, contributing to articles and publications on queer issues, and organizing and participating in health and human rights campaigns and conferences. Integration Society continued till at least 2005, but it did not publish The Network again.
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