In August 2016, three years into its existence, Varta moved on from a blog format to a webzine housed in a website. This time the website itself has been entirely redeveloped. Almost the entire older content has been retained, but newness has been attempted in appearance, accessibility and other forms.

In particular, the online locator for queer friendly health and legal aid service providers has been revamped in terms of presentation, ease of access, and feedback provision. In the coming months, we hope to present the online locator data in Hindi and other Indian languages. We’ll also initiate online interactions between service providers and service users through webinars, Q&A sessions and the like.

Many of the changes related to website security and functioning will remain behind-the-scenes. But please do explore and comment on what holds significance for you in the redeveloped website. Also, the old isn’t gone entirely. The Website Archives page in the website footer provides glimpses of how the earlier website and webzine appeared.

We thank the old and new website developers – OFlipper, Kolkata and Sputznik, Delhi, respectively, as also Grindr for Equality for the major part of the funding support for the online locator and overall website redevelopment.

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This photograph shows two books mentioned in the article – Varta Trust was involved in the publishing of both in different capacities, and they were milestones in the organization’s publishing work. The two books are ‘Queer Potli: Memories, Imaginations and Re-imaginations of Urban Queer Spaces in India’, an anthology curated and edited by Pawan Dhall; and ‘Out of Line and Offline: Queer Mobilizations in ‘90s Eastern India’ written by Pawan Dhall. For alt text descriptions of the book covers, please refer to the illustrations included in the book synopses in the ‘World of Books’ page on this website. Photo credit: Pawan Dhall

Photo credit: Pawan Dhall

The four months since the Varta webzine was last published has been the longest hiatus that we’ve had since we started in August 2013. But away from the webzine, Varta Trust has been engaged in numerous activities, including provision of legal aid to queer communities in West Bengal, and a wide variety of awareness generation and sensitization events. Some of these activities are already reflected in the different sections of the website, while more reports will follow in good time. For now though, do visit one of our new sections called ‘World of Books’.

As an organization engaged in publishing, research and advocacy on gender and sexuality, November 2019 was a high point for Varta Trust! It doesn’t get better when an organization has two books published almost simultaneously where it had a crucial role to play. The first of these, Queer Potli: Memories, Imaginations and Re-imaginations of Urban Queer Spaces in India, an anthology curated and edited by yours truly, was a collaborative effort started in 2014 with publishers Queer Ink, Mumbai. It has contributions from several Varta associates – Ani Dutta, Madhuja Nandi, Paramita Banerjee, Rudra Kishore Mandal and Sayan Bhattacharya.

The book was launched at a recent event at Deshaj café in Kolkata along with two other books published by Queer Ink (copies are currently available at the café). The book was also distributed at the ‘International Kolkata Book Fair 2019’ from the little magazines stall of Kolkata-based queer support group Swikriti, publishers of Swikriti Patrika, one of the oldest surviving queer journals in India.

The second book was Out of Line and Offline: Queer Mobilizations in ‘90s Eastern India, tastefully designed and published by Seagull Books, Kolkata. This book was partly based on research into the Counsel Club Archives maintained by Varta Trust, and was an outcome of a narrative journalism fellowship that I received from the Svran-Apeejay Journalism Foundation, Delhi in 2017. Tracing the micro-histories of around a dozen queer individuals and their allies from eastern India, the book dwells on the strategies used for queer community mobilization in the 1990s and early 2000s in India (read review by writer Chintan Girish Modi here). This book was launched at the first edition of the ‘Rainbow Lit Fest – Queer and Inclusive’ held in Delhi in December 2019.

This is a night time shot of a public protest being staged at the Park Circus Maidan in South Kolkata against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, National Population Register and National Register of Citizens in India. A long shot from behind a few bystanders shows a large crowd gathered in and around a gazebo near the main entrance to the Maidan. The protestors are almost all women. A huge banner strung on two bamboo poles placed amid the crowd says in bold text: “Swadhinta Andolan 2.0 – No NRC, No CAA, No NPR – Park Circus Maidan, Kolkata”. The backdrop to the text is made up of the national flag colours and pattern. The words ‘NPR’, ‘NRC’ and ‘CAA’ are crossed out. Other smaller banners with similar wording can also be seen. In the background are tall trees, which, along with the gazebo rooftop, stand out against the dark sky. Incidentally, the gazebo in question was the starting point of ‘Friendship Walk ‘99’, which was held on July 2, 1999 and which many believe to be the first ever rainbow pride walk in India and South Asia. Photo credit: Pawan Dhall

A protest gathering at the Park Circus Maidan in South Kolkata against the CAA, NPR and NRC (photograph taken January 14, 2020). The gazebo in the photograph was the starting point of ‘Friendship Walk ‘99’, which was held on July 2, 1999 and is often billed as the first rainbow pride walk in India and South Asia. Photo credit: Pawan Dhall

These happy developments, however, took place amid major socio-political upheavals in India last year. The much criticized Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019 couldn’t be prevented from becoming a reality. The Bharatiya Janata Party-led central government made some highly divisive moves in Jammu & Kashmir, and also in the form of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA), which provides a path to Indian citizenship for Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians (but not Muslims) fleeing persecution in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan before December 2014.

The National Population Register (NPR), though initiated by the United Progressive Alliance government in 2010, has taken on sinister connotations under the present government as a potential forerunner to the National Register of Citizens of India (NRC). See Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India Gazette Notification No. 2503 dated 31-07-2019 here. This notification is in effect about the NPR and is available on the NRC page of the Census of India website.

The earlier NRC exercise in Assam, which was meant to identify illegal immigrants in line with the Assam Accord of 1985, left more than 19 lakh people in the lurch about their citizenship. It is feared that a similar exercise at the national level will exclude many times more people across religions (as it did in Assam as well). But worse, it may well serve as a tool to disenfranchise a large number of Muslims, who, unlike individuals belonging to other religious communities, won’t have the benefit of securing their citizenship through the CAA route if they’re left out in the NRC.

Last year, these issues were beginning to find space in the writings in Varta. But now there’s a new sense of urgency with continuous protests against the CAA, NPR and NRC across India (best exemplified by the Shaheen Bagh protest in Delhi), police violence against students and other protestors in different parts of India, the central government unwilling to change its stance, and acrimonious debates on whether these issues should find space in rainbow pride walks or not. We will be voicing many of these concerns in the coming issues of Varta. Join us in voicing your thoughts on these matters!

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It will be some time before all features of the redeveloped website are completely functional, and the content free of presentation or stylistic errors. Further improvements are planned in some of the website pages to make them more reader-friendly. We look forward to bringing you updates as we move forward – Editor.

About the main photo: Vahista Dastoor’s photographs have graced the pages of Varta on more than one ‘turning point’ occasion – in the very first Vartanama published August 2013, and later when we moved on from a blog to website format in August 2016. Here her photograph symbolizes hope and seems an apt blend of the ‘new’ emerging from the ‘old’ over time.