First of its kind, a Queer and Inclusive Literature Festival in India.
Ever since the Supreme Court read down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code in September 2018, legitimising men having sex with men and recognising homosexuality, conversations around sexuality have been on the rise. While there have been books and films on gay love and life, there has been wide range media reportage on LGBTQ topped by the coming out of the award-winning sprinter, Dutee Chand.
Even as there was a lot of good for the queer community there were near horror stories emerging from different parts of the country. While certain NGOs recorded a rise in suicide cases since the order, there were news reports of a lesbian woman being tied to a tree and beaten up in Madhya Pradesh. In Delhi, there was an increase of blackmail. In Chennai, a young gay schoolboy committed suicide following repeated bullying. A Mizoram-based fashion designer took his life too. And many transgender people were harassed, beaten, and abused in most parts of the nation.
Clearly what was missing was empathy, safe spaces for the community, and a readiness to accept the queer identity. It was with this backdrop that the Rainbow Lit Fest – Queer & Inclusive came into being, attempting to engage with society and to tell them that the community has no fears other than the fear of hate from society itself.
Hence, the often-used ‘diversity and inclusion’ (D&I) term propagated by corporations and the media, suggesting they were open to including LGBTQ, was turned on its head with the Lit Fest stating it was queer and inclusive.
While Epic India is adept at working for corporate clients to curate together campaigns and events, we also develop intellectual properties with target interest audiences in the field of entertainment, music, art, and environment.
We – Epic India and Embrace: Music Justice Arts – decided to create a space that was inclusive, helping people engage with common ground and the connecting threads of humanity while exploring intersectionality between the alternate and the mainstream. This pretty much set the tone for an event that was predominantly queer but not queer alone.
This was arguably the first lit fest that included so many forms of expression – discussions, films, book launches, keynotes, a drag story hour for children, a puppet show, a qawwali performance, a mushaira and live music from bands that use music as a means to send out messages or even educate people on gender and racism.
For venue selection, we decided to go for something different from most Lit Festivals that had their events at hotels, convention centre venues and historical sites. We picked the ‘symbolic’ Gulmohar Park Club. The club is located in a residential colony of Gulmohar Park in South Delhi where the first-ever press briefing was held on the Section 377 case back in 2001 when the petition was filed by Naz Foundation.
We signed up performers including bands such as The original knock offs and Manzil Mystics, noted puppeteer, Varun Narian and Bhojpuri-styled drag artist, Avatari Devi amongst others. The hosts included Mr. Gay India 2016, Anwesh Sahoo and noted singer and feminist, Parvati Krishnan.
As the buzz grew we had top-line sponsors coming forward such as Godrej, Carlton, Skybags, Barclays, RBS Bank, The Canadian Embassy, The Pride Circle to name a few.
The diversity of the event was such that the speakers and panelists collectively represented over 18 towns and cities from across the world: Mumbai, Pune, Chennai, Bangkok, Washington DC, London, Sydney, Lucknow, Vadodara, Delhi, to name a few. In terms of an audience, there was an age range of 18 – 78 years across the gender spectrum.
The keynote speakers included Devdutt Pattanaik, a renowned Indian mythologist, author and speaker; eminent vocalist of Hindustani Classical Music Shubha Mudgal, and filmmakers, Nandita Das and Onir.
There were other prominent names such as Urvashi Butalia, India’s first feminist publisher; Apurva Asrani, National award-winning filmmaker, editor and screenwriter followed by young activists, writers and business leaders.
The fest also saw the launch of several books such as Pawan Dhall’s Out Of Line And Offline – Queer Mobilizations in 90s Eastern India along with Vikram E Kolmannskog’s anthology Fearless Love, among others.
The films screened included India’s first gay film – BOMgAY – starring Rahul Bose and made by the late Riyadh Wadia, U For Usha and the Konkona Sen-starrer – A Monsoon Date, besides films such as Khwaaish and Sisak.
While we targeted a footfall of 500 people per day, we had over 650 on day one and just over 800 on day two.
As for the print media, we were covered by 17 publications and reached over 10 million people. While as many as 75 online media covered us with a total reach of close to 700 million.
The event also got listed amongst the milestones for LGBTQ in 2019 by HT City. It also featured as the fourth most important development for the queer community as per www.feminisminindia.com – a very respected online portal focused on gender and queer issues.
One of the leading literary portals – The Curious Reader – says that there are 12 literature festivals that one ‘must’ visit in 2020 after the J-Lit. The Rainbow Lit Fest is on this list with just one edition so far, sitting side by side with premier festivals in South Asia and Singapore.