Gaurav Probir Pramanik, the gay man who blew the lid off institutionalized homophobia at Tech Mahindra, passed away last month. It has been moving to read all the online tributes written to honour his memory. Clearly, he touched the lives of many people, gave them courage, and made them smile. A lot of them knew Pramanik only from his vibrant digital presence but that did not keep them from mourning him and celebrating his work.
I learnt about Pramanik when his open letter to Richa Gautam, the former Chief Diversity and Inclusivity Officer at Tech Mahindra, surfaced on social media. He went public with allegations about facing discrimination and harassment on the grounds of sexual orientation. His boss had made remarks insinuating that being effeminate was affecting his work.
Pramanik found the strength to write this letter after the Supreme Court of India read down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, a colonial-era law that criminalized “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”. Tech Mahindra conducted an investigation. A dozen employees came forward and shared similar experiences concerning the officer who had been accused.
Tech Mahindra CEO C. P. Gurnani and Mahindra Group Chairman Anand Mahindra acknowledged the results of this investigation in public, and reaffirmed their commitment to diversity and inclusion by sacking the officer who had made life miserable for other employees. Pramanik stood vindicated, and probably saved others from similar treatment.
He worked with the company from 2013 to 2016 but got himself heard only in 2018. His story must be told and re-told so that others in similar circumstances know that they are not alone. Articulating their concerns might prompt their employers to take action. However, there is no guarantee because homophobic bullying at the workplace is not punishable by law in India.
Pramanik worked as a senior consultant with InterGlobe Aviation from 2017 to 2019, and became a co-founder of Bengal Amphan Relief Initiatives in 2020. In addition to all this, he was a teacher and writer. He loved cooking, and talking about his “part-Gorkha, part-Bengali” cultural heritage. He also documented his experience of living with cancer on Twitter.
His last tweet, dated March 8, 2021 states, “I’m sorry if I’ve not told you this but I’m in Bombay for my surgery, I need to be in complete quarantine starting tomorrow and then isolation post-surgery.” Those who stayed in touch with him through the micro-blogging site did not hear from him again. When news of his death broke out mid-March, tributes started pouring in.
I remember Pramanik for his sense of humour and the pride he took in being gay. Earlier, this year, he tweeted, “My 11 yo nephew learnt about the song ‘Pari Hoon Main’ and he was humming it yesterday when his father told him ‘that is a song for girls’, needless to say, I gave my cousin an earful and I sang along ‘Pari Hoon Main’ with my nephew in our loudest voices.” That note struck a chord with me. I told Pramanik that I too loved the song.
We had another brief chat last year when he tweeted, “Remember that matt black nail paint Rahul Khanna had on the other day? I want that nail paint, does anyone know the shade / brand, I want to order online, if available?” I had missed Khanna’s picture, so Pramanik sent me a screenshot. In return, I shared a link to Kajol Mathur’s article 10 Hot Shirtless Pictures of Rahul Khanna to Take Away Your Midweek Blues on Filmfare.com. Thrilled, he replied, “My week has been made.”
These interactions took place in the public domain, so I am not violating Pramanik’s privacy by sharing these nuggets. I want him to be memorialized as the fun-loving person he was, and not only as a social justice warrior. Of course, I cannot claim to have known him as a friend. This is merely a mark of respect from one queer person to another.
About the main illustration: Gaurav Probir Pramanik’s photograph from his Twitter profile along with an excerpt from the open letter he wrote to Richa Gautam, former Chief Diversity and Inclusivity Officer at Tech Mahindra. The full text of the open letter can be read here and here in a series of tweets posted by Pramanik.