Sappho For Equality Organises Third National Queer Conference In Kolkata

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The third National Queer Conference, organized by Sappho for Equality, took place between 13th-15th September 2013 at Vivekananda Hall, Jadavpur University (JU), Kolkata. This year the conference was titled “Gender-Sexuality: Exploring the Conjoined Possibilities”. Like every year, the prime objective that led Sappho to organize the Conference was to listen to the voices of the young scholars, activists and researchers who they believe would be decisive in the future potential and direction of queer activism, research, and the wider queer movement in India.

This year Sappho also took the opportunity of the Conference space to launch their vernacular FAQ Book on Gender-Sexuality. The publication named Prashnottore Jounata: Katha Tathya Alochana was released by award winning poet, novelist and academic Prof. Nabaneeta Dev Sen. In her brief speech to the audience she explained the importance and relevance of the book in the context of queer lives. She said that this jargon free book would help many children to explain their non-normative gender-sexual desires to their parents, and therefore would help to bridge the gap between them.

The overarching theme “Gender-Sexuality: Exploring the Conjoined Possibilities” was divided into seven sub-themes for discussion and exploration. Under these sub-themes 26 papers were presented in separate sessions over a period of three days. Further to these sessions, each morning a plenary lecture was given by way of introduction to that particular day’s themes and academic bent. The plenary sessions given were ‘Exploring “Gender-Sexuality”’ by Prof. Shefali Moitra, former Director, School of Women Studies, JU, ‘What is queer about love?’ by Mr. Arvind Narrain, founder member of Alternative Law Forum, Bangalore and ‘(Not) Looking like Women, (Not) Behaving like Women: Unsettling Gendered Boundaries in Public Space’ by Dr. Shilpa Phadke, Assistant Professor, School of Media and Cultural Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai.

The sub-themes presented included – Conceptualizing Gender-Sexuality, Expanding the Scope of Gender-Sexuality, Contextualizing Gender-Sexuality in Social Justice Movement, Searching for the Margin of Margins, Voicing Gender-Sexuality, Representing Gender-Sexuality, and, Performing Gender-Sexuality. Each of these sub-themes comprised of 3-4 papers, presented by young scholars, researchers, vocalist, dancer, doctor, sportsperson and activists across India. They came from various institutions/organizations like Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi; TISS, Mumbai; St. Xavier’s College, Ahmedabad; Centre for Social Sciences (CSSSC), Kolkata; English and Foreign Languages, Hyderabad; Ambedkar University (AUD), Delhi; Civilian Welfare Foundation, Kolkata; Srishti, Madurai; Osmania Medical College, Hyderabad; Jamia Milia University, New Delhi; JU, Kolkata and Benaras University, Varanasi, along with others who work independently. These sessions were chaired by Prof. Paromita Chakravarti, Director, School of Women Studies and Associate Professor, Department of English, JU; Dr. Anup Dhar, Associate Professor, School of Human Studies, AUD; Prof. Anirban Das, Faculty in CSSSC; Dr. Chaynika Shah, Queer-feminist activist and active member of FAOW and LABIA, Mumbai; Niladri Chatterjee, Associate Professor and HOD of English, University of Kalyani, WB; Dr. Brinda Bose, Associate Professor of English, University of Delhi and Ms. Bishakha Dutta, Film Maker and Executive Director of Point of View, Mumbai. The diverse presentations dealt with contemporary issues of gender, sexuality, and gender-sexuality in the present context. They were all intensely thought provoking and provided food for thought to many.

The attendees, who numbered more than 300, represented a wide range of ages, occupations, varying levels of academic or activist experience, and importantly, gender diversity. During the interaction sessions enthusiasm of the participants is worth mentioning. Most of the chairpersons had to extend their session timings to accommodate the responses from the audiences.