I Never Ask For It - Siddharth Narrain

For lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons in India, shame, guilt and self
blame, (and in some cases self–loathing) are often part of the first encounter
with their gender identity and sexual orientation. This personal discomfort and
low self worth is often mirrored and reinforced by family, friends, popular
culture, societal norms, and the law, and exacerbated by the feeling of being
different, out of place, the joker in the pack, and the circus exhibit. For those who
are lucky to have supportive family, liberal peer groups, exposure to support
groups, or LGBT communities, the feeling of guilt is gradually replaced with that
of pride, pride in being different.

Coming to terms with one’s sexuality and the norms and practices of one’s
community is a life long project. Part of this process is to recognize and deal with
the phenomenon of victim-blame. I.e. the impulse to blame oneself, or someone
from one’s own “community” for being at the receiving end, violence or stigma. If
we are not careful, this then becomes an easy narrative, hiding more structural
problems of discrimination.

Recently, I was advising a university student on a violent attack he faced in his
university campus. The student had met an attractive young man on campus, and
they had exchanged numbers. This person had called him late in the night.
Excited by the thought, the student went out to meet him. When he reached the
designated spot he found two men in a car. They asked him to get in. He got in
the car, and they drove around for a while, all the time chatting with him. At
some point they stopped the car, and thrashed him mercilessly, abused him
verbally, and threw him out of the car.

While listening to the student’s narrative, even someone like me, no stranger to
encounters of this kind, was quick to question the students motive in getting into
the car. “Why did he get into the car when there were two people? He should
have realized there was suspicious on the phone itself.” I wondered to myself.  

Even while I was repelled by the act of violence, I struggled with locating blame,
instead trying to figure out what a reasonable person would do in his
circumstances, and apportioning some amount of blame to the person who was
the victim of violence.

Thinking about this later, I was surprised at how easy it was to question the
actions of the victim/survivor of violence. Why was he dressed the way he was?
Why was she out so late at night? Why were they not more careful? Why was he
looking for sex in a public place in the first place? What was she thinking?
Perhaps, this is part of our own conditioning, our human reflex to assign an
incident in a scale of reasonableness. Unfortunately, this reasonableness turns
out to be nothing but a veneer hiding transphobia, prejudice and stereotypes.
The reasonable man forms the standard on which the law operates too. What
would a reasonable man do in this circumstance? How would he act? How does
this specific instance compare to how a reasonable man may behave? What this
does not account for is that people don’t fit the model of the reasonable man.

They come up short, overstretch, extend, reinvent, and remodel themselves in
ways that we cannot match with the archetypal reasonable man. In a spectrum of
LGBTQHI, it is the reasonable man who seems out of place. When placed against
this illusionary standard, most of us would come up short.

It’s no surprise then that the law that criminalized sex between adults of the
same sex in India, section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, does not take into the
element of consent. The moral opprobrium for non- procreative sex that forms
the basis of this law overshadows the possibility of people choosing to have
unconventional sex.  The unconventional slips into easily into being ‘unnatural’,
not sanctioned by biology, tradition or religion. The range of human sexual
experience is boxed into heterosexual peno-vaginal sex, and consensual sexual
sex between adults is framed as a crime against societal norms.

The discrepancy between the law and lived sexual experience is stark given that
popular culture and mainstream media and high art have brought us firmly into
the realm of sexual and gender diverse narratives, characters and visualization.
To begin to take this diversity seriously, the first step is to be able to empathise
with other people’s circumstances and actions, however strange they may seem
to us. People’s sexual habits, acts and identities differ wildly, from the missionary
to experimental, extremely private to public, commercial to philanthropic
(remember the last time you’ve had mercy sex!), unhappily married to happily
couple swinging, vanilla to fifty shades of grey. The trick is to be able to go
beyond what we think is normal, or correct, or reasonable, to recognizing a
violent non-consensual act, and acts of prejudice and hatred. To be able to do
this, the first step is to move beyond victim blame.

Siddharth Narrain is a lawyer and research associate with Sarai-The Center for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), Delhi. He has worked previously with The Alternative Law Forum (ALF), Bangalore, and as a journalist with The Hindu Group of Publications, New Delhi.

Not My Shame. I Never Ask For It in solidarity with Happy To Bleed

#‎HappyToBleed‬ ‪#‎INeverAskForIt‬ Stained School uniform. Nervously rubbed white chalk. 
My body. Not my Shame.http://www.ineveraskforit.org/build-evidence 

Meet To Sleep - Bangalore

November 28th, 2015  ( 2 - 5 pm) 
Cubbon Park

Action Heroes include 
Seema Nair, Diya Pinto, Wolfram Thurm, Mahesha Hiremath, Shailaja, Pragati KB,  
Kiri Meili, Anandi Sharan, Silvana Rigobon, Vira Mistry, Tharunya Balan, Sufiya Jay,
 Asfiya Farheen, Yasmeen Taj S, Jasmeen Patheja 

"This was the first time I lay down and slept in a park. I didn’t really have any expectations going into it but the moment put my head on the ground and looked up I was filled with awe at just how amazing the view was. It’s the first time I’ve felt immersed in nature in this city. Having my vision filled by only the green and sky allowed my mind to empty and my body to relax completely. 

Having others lying down and sleeping near by meant I could just be without worrying about my stuff or feeling uncomfortable or exposed. I will definitely be doing this again, with friends and with Blank Noise. Over time I hope to feel comfortable enough to do it alone. Reclaiming our space might not always take a big fight or struggle, small simple acts like these can open us up and open up our world in ways we might never have imagined." - Kiri Meili

"Public spaces are so important to our society - to gather, to meet friends, to picnic with family...and with our expanding cities, where we are literarily building and living on top of each other, a park is a perfect break from all the chaos and noise. As a woman, I want to be there. As a woman I want to feel safe there. It is my right as a citizen of this city. 

Sleeping in the park, facing my fears and dropping my guard for those few hours, was a way of taking that space back from my past bad experiences, and the stories that make me not trust my city and the people who live in it. "-  Diya Pinto

"It was a very powerful experience, for me. I chose a spot under a huge tree, and I could feel the support of its roots below, and of the branches above. It was literally like falling asleep in the arms of Mother Earth..
I hope this initiative that was born in India will spread in other countries. I will invite my friends in other European cities to do the same, next time, so we can connect from many other places, and give our support to this valuable cause.. "- Silvana Rigobon, Movement Medicine teacher  and menstruality educator, Italy

Every Meet to Sleep I've done has been unique in itself. It has been a process to get comfortable sleeping in a public place. At the first Meet to Sleep I was unable to sleep at all and would open my eyes at every sound i heard, However the third one I was finally able to take a nap. This one was very special for me as two of the park dogs also came and napped on my blanket with me. " - Vira Mistry

" I love sleeping in parks because it is a welcome disruption to the monotonous way in the way I relate to the city. I have usually slept in parks with my husband or my dog enjoying a siesta after a heavy lunch, or reading a book in the warm sunshine. To be around bees, flowers, trees and lie on the grass looking into the sky is such a beautiful experience, despite all the stares and ogling from people around. May be they will get used to the idea of a woman sleeping or enjoying the park, if many more of us came out and claimed the space as their own."  - Seema Nair

"I haven't ever lay down in a park or a public place before this. As I lay down and looked up, the dense foliage and its beautiful pattern against the sky caught my eye. Though I could not fall asleep, it was an experience I'll take back. But beyond this, my apprehensions still stay- I will still think twice before sprawling in a park alone. I could lie down and try to sleep only because this was still a protected environment." - Pragati KB

"The view of the tall tree under which we slept was beautiful. It was a peaceful atmosphere away from home. Despite that I could not sleep though. Got bored towards the end. And hence felt that the duration could have been shorter."  - Shailja GP 

"It is a shame that people can not use public spaces. Thats what they meant for. Public paces that should comfort society instead of scaring it. This has to change. But we can not wait for rules and their enforcement. These spaces are ours and we have to reclaim them. Not through limitations, but through presence of society itself. How beautiful it is, to use the comfort of a nap as a step in that direction..." - Wolfram Thurm

photo: Jasmeen Patheja


Meet To Sleep. November 28

An ActionHero was raped in Bangalore's Cubbon Park this November. 
The home minister responded and hence we Report To Remember " 

We will Meet To Sleep for our will to be fearless.
We will Meet To Sleep for our right to be unwarned.
We will Meet To Sleep to build new memory with our very own public parks.

Bring along a mat, a cushion if you like, a blanket , water, snack.
Bring along a potential new Action Hero if you like.
It's on this Saturday, November 28th at 2 pm.
Location will be shared on confirmation only.
phone: 9886840612 ( 9 30 am - 5 30 pm )

There is no excuse for sexual violence. I Never Ask For It. 

This action will be simultaneously built in Pune, Bombay , Jaipur, Bangalore and in your city/ town/place if you sign up to organise.

Yours truly,
Blank Noise Team