On July 20, 2020, Sanjit Mondal, a Master’s student of political science and a resident of Rajarhat-Gopalpur, adjacent to Kolkata, was accosted by a number of policemen from the Narayanpur Police Station. The incident occurred around 9 pm in the Chinar Park area of Rajarhat. What transpired next was a horror story of insults, intimidation and physical assault by the policemen. This happened while Sanjit was being taken to the police station and at the police station itself, right up to the time of his release the next day around midday. Most people ‘accept’ such humiliation at the hands of the police, too fearful to take any action, and move on. But Sanjit surprised everyone by deciding to fight back!

Not only did Sanjit take to social media to talk about his harrowing experience, he also moved fast to file a complaint with the Commissioner of Police, Bidhannagar. He was guided in his efforts by NGO Prantakatha. A meeting followed with the Deputy Commissioner of Police, New Town, who apologized to Sanjit and promised to hold a sensitization session on gender and sexuality issues with all the police stations under his jurisdiction. All of this happened within a week since Sanjit’s ordeal.

Quote: When I was in the ninth standard, I came across a guy on Facebook, and from the very beginning of our conversation, I had a crush on him. At that time, I didn't know what was gay or anything but I felt the attraction – I mean it wasn’t lust or anything but it was a really strong attraction . . .The police official kept his word and on September 14, 2020, the Bidhannagar Police Commissionerate and Prantakatha organized a police sensitization workshop on the constitutional rights of LGBTIQA+ communities at the Yuba Bharati Krirangan, Kolkata. Inspectors-in-Charge and other officials from all the police stations under the Bidhannagar Police Commissionerate participated in the workshop, where Sanjit was a key speaker.

Translated excerpts from an interview conducted with Sanjit on August 29, 2020 on his life goals and experiences as a queer person follow. The interview was in a mix of Hindi and English.

Pradosh: Sanjit, how are you managing things during the lockdown?

Sanjit: Life’s going well, but it’s become different because of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s not as if I used to have many friends and was having lots of fun before the pandemic, nothing like that. I always used to stay home and now even more so because of the lockdown. I’ve a friend who comes to meet me sometimes. I’ve always been an introvert, but now with this lockdown, I feel more isolated. The college is also closed, which makes me feel bad sometimes.

Pradosh: Going back in time, when did you first realize that you’re gay?

Sanjit: When I was a child, my parents would dress me up in girls’ clothes and give me dolls to play with. I also used to put on my sister’s makeup and everything. No one ever really had any problems with that and always accepted me as I was. But when I reached puberty, I realized that my family and classmates had started bullying me. This made me feel that I was wrong in wearing girls’ clothes and makeup. So I decided to act and behave like other boys around me, trying to be ‘normal’ as per social norms, so that I’d never get bullied again.

When I was in the ninth standard, I came across a guy on Facebook, and from the very beginning of our conversation, I had a crush on him. At that time, I didn’t know what was gay or anything but I felt the attraction – I mean it wasn’t lust or anything but it was a really strong attraction. So I Googled the expression “I feel attracted towards men”. One of the search results was a quiz; after I’d answered all the questions, it showed that I was gay. Also because I liked masculine men, I Googled, “Why do I like masculine boys?” Again I got the result that I was gay.

On that particular day, I felt scared and I felt shame and hatred towards myself. The question on my mind was if I was suffering from a disease. But again, when the guy that I met online came into my life, slowly the hatred and shame went away. I started to live a better life, I started to love myself. When I realized that this is who I am, I accepted myself to the core.

Pradosh: Have you told your parents about your sexuality? If so, has there been any change in your relationship with them?

Sanjit: As I told you before, during my childhood, when I wore girls’ clothes and everything, my parents never really bothered about it. They would tease me that being a boy I’d become a girl. But I don’t think they were homophobic. When I grew older and realized I’m gay and when I entered into a relationship with a boy, I did tell my parents that I wanted to live with him. Beyond this, I didn’t really need to tell them about my sexuality, nor did I ever want to tell them. In a way, they already knew. Yes, I did get beaten up a little and got bullied by them sometimes, but they never really forced me to change myself or send me to a hospital for ‘conversion therapy’.

Quote: Sometimes when I used to complain about the bullies to my teacher, he blamed me instead saying that they bullied me because of the way I behaved. Now, if your teacher is homophobic, what can you expect from your classmates? One of my friends in the sixth class would always insult and bully me and used to mimic me. I’d be scared to go to school because of him.My elder brother used to be homophobic in nature, but I don’t know what happened, he seems to have accepted me and often talks about LGBT related issues with me. I’ve come to the conclusion that he must’ve come to know about LGBT people from somewhere. He’s the only one who actually supports me for me being gay. My mom and eldest brother both don’t quite accept me; neither does my sister accept me fully. Sometimes my eldest brother bullies me, but when I answer him with logic, he just says you don’t have manners and so on. My brother-in-law knows about me and he doesn’t support me, so I don’t talk with him. My sister says that it’s my life and I should live it with anyone the way I want, but she thinks I’ll be happier if I were heterosexual and married a girl.

Pradosh: What are the challenges you’ve had to face as a feminine gay individual?

Sanjit: I’m not that feminine, but yes, I’m a bit gayish, and I did face some challenges in school when I was in the sixth and seventh standards. Like you know, sometimes, the other boys used to say something rubbish or comment on my sexuality. They used to take my bag and make fun of me. Also because of ignorance and lack of knowledge, they used to call me names like “Bhabhi”. They never took me seriously because I was gay.

Sometimes when I used to complain about the bullies to my teacher, he blamed me instead saying that they bullied me because of the way I behaved. Now, if your teacher is homophobic, what can you expect from your classmates? One of my friends in the sixth class would always insult and bully me and used to mimic me. I’d be scared to go to school because of him, everyone used to support him and laugh at me, which deeply disturbed me.

Pradosh: What makes you happy and do you have any passion that you enjoy pursuing?

Sanjit: My one and only dream and aspiration is that I want to become a successful film director. In addition to that I also like to travel and have conversations with friends!

Pradosh: What are your thoughts about LGBT rights in India today? Do you think things are alright now and what should be done to realize these rights?

Sanjit: Obviously we’ve just got the right to have sex in our own bedroom, which isn’t enough for a human being. Nothing’s really been done for our rights. Only when LGBT people are able to avail of all the basic rights that heterosexual people take for granted in their day-to-day life can one say that yes we’ve got our rights. At the same time, I believe that India now has become more progressive about LGBT rights in comparison to our neighbours like Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. We now have the freedom to love and nobody can harass or blackmail us in the name of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.

Pradosh: Would you like to talk about some of the myths that the general public has about LGBT people?

Sanjit: Yes, there are so many myths to talk about, like we’re all supposed to be child sexual abusers, that we’re filled with lust and keep thinking about sex all the time and have more sex than heterosexual people, that we created HIV and are spreading this disease everywhere . . . also another confusion that people have is that being gay and being transgender are one and the same thing. These myths and misconceptions are the result of lack of gender and sexuality education. It’s in this sphere that we need to work a lot more!

Pradosh: One final question Sanjit. What if you were to meet today any of the students who used to bully and harass you in school?

Sanjit: First I’d like to say that many of those who bully others in school grow up to have the attitudes like the policemen who harassed me had. Now, if I were to meet anyone who used to bully me in school, I’d prefer to avoid them. But if I had to speak to them at all, I’d ask them why they behaved the way they did, why did they have a problem with my femininity – though I feel it’d be a waste of time. I don’t think most such people will ever understand these issues. I’d rather talk to people who’re willing to listen and re-examine their ideas.

Pradosh: Well said! Thank you and all the best for your future endeavours.

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). 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.

The author of this article is a participant in the third pilot of the Varta Community Reporters Training and Citizen Journalism Programme (details in inset above) – Editor.

Main photograph courtesy: Sanjit Mondal