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Homosexuality in Contemporary Indian Literature: Issues and Challenges

Homosexuality in Contemporary Indian Literature: Issues and Challenges


       Until the turn of the century the Indian heteropatriarchal society at large made tidy attempts to set aside issues like homosexuality in dusty cupboards for ages. The society adopted strategies of silencing the sexual identities which did not fit into the male/female heteronormative binary. Barring some exceptions, the Indian academia also did not have the courage to dwell upon the sexual identities beyond the heterosexual male/female double. There was little effort in the academic circle to foreground these issues, on the contrary,  there were conscious attempts to invisibilize these subjects. Presentation of homosexuality in literary texts was considered rather offensive.
      Since the last decade of twentieth century the attitude of the society towards these subjects started changing. The discourse of hegemonic power of heteronormativity was gradually facing challenges as poets like Hoshang Merchant, Kamala Das, Suniti Namjoshi and dramatists like Mahesh Dattani were voicing candidly their protests against the heterosexist attitude through their poems and plays. The credit of these writers lies in their efforts to include in their works these apparently tabooed subjects against the subtle politics of exclusion of these debated issues, thereby keeping a harmonious heteronormative fa├žade. The marginalization of alternate sexualities in Indian societies had become the general norm and any deviation from this was considered outrageous by the ‘genteel’ society.

      If we examine the corpus of Indian English Literature carefully, we can locate many examples of sexually ‘deviant’ characters.  India of the mythic past was tolerant of different sexual identities. We can refer to the character of Shikhandi who was born as a girl and was named Shikhandini. One can also cite the example of Ardhanarisvara, who is an example of the androgynous self where the male and the female coexist in perfect unison. But for the heterocentric society such a person is often considered as the ‘other’, as a ‘deviant’ character. By labeling them as ‘other’ the society ignores the reality that all human beings are basically androgynous and the qualities of a man and a woman are not mutually exclusive. And what is more disturbing is that this attitude is often legitimized by law, religion, and at times by questionable medical practice. In the twenty first century a welcome change is noticed when we find the discourses of gendered subalterns and their negotiation with heteronormative ideology are reflected in Indian English Literature. Today there are texts which challenge the cultural constructs of sexuality and gender roles. Foucault’s theorization on alternate sexualities and Queer theory significantly paved the way for re-reading of texts dealing with deviant characters. 

      Alternate sexuality is also becoming a popular subject for Indian cinema. The film ChitrangadaThe Crowning Wish, directed by Rituparno Ghosh, may be mentioned in this connection where the story ends with the words, “Be what you wish to be”, giving a sanction to choose the gender identity one prefers. Another film Memories in March, directed by Sanjoy Nag, can also be mentioned in this context. In both these films the superb acting of Rituparno Ghosh adds an extra dimension to the films.

      R. Raj Rao in the ‘Introduction’ to Whistling in the Dark: Twenty-one Queer Interviews (Ed. R. Raj Rao and Dibyajoti Sharma. New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2009, ix-xxxiii) observes:

In a scenario where homosexuality is criminalized by law, where heterosexism thrives, and where society insists on marriage and procreation, gay love is but likely to rely on chance and casual encounters that do not blossom into permanent relationship on account of the odds. The heterosexual mainstream accuses homosexuals of not being committed to the idea of love…. (xxix)

        In this connection it would not be out of place to mention the legal battle centering on same sex relationship in the recent past. The verdict of Delhi High Court in 2009 decriminalized part of article 377 of IPC and gave its approval for consensual sex between partners of the same sex. This verdict, however, was set aside by the Supreme Court in 2013. Later, following submission of petitions by gay rights activists, a five-member constitution bench of Supreme Court in 2018 unanimously decriminalized same sex relation and observed that to regard gay sex as a criminal offence would go against the fundamental rights of an individual. Today when one reads texts which openly deal with issues related to LGBTQ the verdict of Supreme Court certainly adds a different dimension in appreciating those texts.

      The book, entitled Homosexuality in Contemporary Indian Literature: Issues and Challenges, edited by Dipak Giri, includes articles on a number of issues covering some important writers of Indian English Literature. Many of these writers are incorporated in the syllabi of different universities and colleges. This edition, therefore, is going to be helpful to students and scholars by offering them new perspectives to read the texts. While the book incorporates articles on authors who have attained a canonical status, it has a number of articles on authors, mainly fiction writers, who have made their presence felt in Indian English Literature of the present century. R. Raj Rao, Mala Kumar, Mayur Patel, Abha Daweswar, Rita Garg are names familiar to Indian readers today and the Indian academia is showing interest in the works of these writers. The critical essays on these writers are thus going to help the young readers negotiate their works from the perspective of LGBTQ studies. One can justifiably hope that an edition like this will be well received by both the readers of academic institutions as well as scholars and researchers interested in the particular field.

Goutam Buddha Sural
Professor, Department of English & Culture Studies
Bankura University, Bankura
West Bengal



"This book, edited by Dipak Giri, is a timely and apt intervention into the literary studies of sexuality and human relationship. In the context of the epochal verdict coming from the country's apex court, the conventional ideas of sexual propriety were shaken. The conflict between natural propensities and civil laws was problematised as never before. Critical discourses on literary representations of sexual normativity in human relationship underwent a paradigm shift. Literatures written in the past and those being written today in the Indian context are now being re-appraised in the light of the new developments in the history of the liberalisation process. Understanding Indian literature, especially Indian writings in English, will never be the same again. This anthology of twenty six critical essays is a substantial review of the literary affect concerning the East-West binary in the wake of a major socio-cultural upheaval." 

Debashis Bandyopadhyay, 
Professor of English, 
Vidyasagar University, 
West Bengal

 ___________________________FROM ANGSHUMAN KAR 

“This anthology is a timely one. I consider this as a part of the country-wide celebration of the verdict of Supreme Court on Section 377 in the Indian Penal Code. I have been teaching a gay play, “On a Muggy Night in Mumbai,” at the M Phil and PG levels for the last twelve years. This play has been received well by my students who come from different places (including remote villages) and backgrounds. While teaching gay play, I have been convinced of the fact that literature is the best tool to sensitize people about gender. This is exactly what this anthology is designed to do. I have read some of the essays of the book and am also convinced of their societal impact. I wish all success to Dipak Giri, the editor of the book.”

Angshuman Kar
Professor of English
Burdwan University
West Bengal  

 ___________________________FROM MANOJIT MANDAL 

"Homosexuality in Indian Literature: Issues and Challenges is a bold attempt to recapture an old and controversial issue from a contemporary perspective. All the 26 essays in the volume throw some new meaning to the subject of, not just homosexuality but human sexual preference itself. Mr. Giri has, without any doubt, successfully generated more curious discourses to the issue in the contemporary Indian context.” 

Manojit Mandal
Professor of English
Jadavpur University
West Bengal


______________________________FROM SALIM KIDWAI

Any attempt to study the challenges faced by contemporary writers when dealing with the complex issue of homosexuality in the Indian context by contemporary writers now that the Supreme Court of India has decriminalised of what is a normal aspect of human sexuality, is most welcome. Hopefully this volume will break the academic silence that still lingers on this sensitive subject.

Saleem Kidwai
 Medieval historian, Gay Rights Activist and Translator

His Work on Homosexuality: Same-Sex Love in India: Readings from Literature and History (Co-edited with Ruth Vanita) 

___________________________FROM MAYUR PATEL

When I had written Vivek and I I had little knowledge of how would it be received in a country like India where same sex is still considered a social stigma. Now when the Supreme Court has decriminalized homosexuality Indian society has started to talk about it. It was 2011 when my book was released so my apprehension was valid. However, to my surprise, the book was well received by the readers and the reviewers alike. Since then, many scholars have taken its reference in several ways, and Mr. Dipak Giri is one of them. A Teacher in School at Cooch Behar, West Bengal, Mr. Giri has taken an initiative of preparing a study on the subject of "Homosexuality in Indian Literature". I feel honoured that he has considered my book as one of the study materials. Believing that this noble project will have its own positive effects on the Indian mindset, I wish him best for the publication of this unique book.

Mayur Patel
Indian Novelist and Story Writer
His Work on Homosexuality: Novel: Vivek and I

___________________________FROM RITA GARG

             To forget self and delve deep into the creation of a writer is as divine as the art of poetry. Be fully justified and also produce innovative interpretation is unique. A serious critic scholar without any bias recreates on his part. Judging the work of others is as tough a task as creating one's own magical web of words 
             Critics and publishers make a writer is as truthful as the brightness over the darkness. Associated is a fear also if a word goes amiss on the part of a critic, there would be no end to the havoc played and replayed.
             Such a devotee is Dipak Giri who edits Indian Women Novelists in English: Art and Vision. The multifaceted effort is a genuine research work in appreciating/ analysing the works of many creative luminaries, Anita Desai, Shashi Deshpande, Sarah Joseph, Meena Alexander- a recent loss to the literary world- Anita Nair, Kiran Desai, Jhumpa Lahiri, Nayeema Mahjoor, Githa Hariharan, Chitra Banerjee, Divyakaruni, Quarratulain Hyder, Arundhati Roy, Mahashweta Devi, Manju Kapur, Shobha De and Rita Garg. The abundance of gems in a string pleases the reader.
            Specifically, the book in hand leads a researcher to a well-defined, crystal clear, and scholarly opinionated brook enough to submerge into the wit and passion of the novelists.

            Some of the above authors are not much explored but the study of all is unfailing as such, nowhere does any sign of reconciliation peep out. Rather the level of a full length critical book is feasibly achieved. 

            As usual, after following novelists and their creations, I question self about the factor that provokes me to write. I realize: When winds go awry, suffocation darkens the brightest rays of the sun and the moon, mind transpires to catch the flame to enlighten the dimness.

             It was long back that as a teacher I had insinuation of the lesbian mentality or attitude or acceptance of such a relationship to make or to mar.

             What is not nature accepted is not a gift to mankind but on this, the Difference of Opinion is Always WELCOME. For this purpose, I have created this plot of, Precursor of Love. Here is the negation of lesbianism and the names of the characters suggest that. Through the central character, Amilya, a relevant issue is raised that a woman cannot have the same manly strength as a man has. As required, a lesbian woman may not be able to go to a strange destination in the dark night. On the contrary, a man, if willing might. Her refusal to the proposal of the Girl is based not only on this fear but also on the improbability of reproduction. Thus her nomenclature signifies-not meeting. The Girl implies the commonality of her type- a common woman without moral values. She hardly requires a name. The third big name in the novel is of Dr. Surya Narayan. He symbolizes manly strength. In the Mahabharat, Surya and Kunti begot the son Karna, the great sacrificer. Srishti, also represents the class of those woman who look forward to own children and for this she deserts the Girl.
             Last but not the least, reading, writing and editing on a controversial issue call for a hypothetical approach to reach the conclusive note. Undoubtedly, this anthology shall eliminate dust of confusion from each and every iota of uncertainty on the topic. The editor, Dipak Giri, as a column of the edifice on lesbianism shall carve a niche for self. For certain, his effort on lesbian studies shall not be lost in the jungle of books. Lots of best wishes are his right.

Dr. Rita Garg
Indian Novelist
Her work on Homosexuality: Novel: Precursor of Love

             ---From Salim Kidwai           
            ---From Mayur Patel
            ---From Rita Garg
1.      Uncommon Paths: A Study of Mala Kumar’s The Paths of Marriage as a                                         Lesbian Text -Sabuj Sarkar & Farida Parvin

2.      Hoshang Merchant: A Doyen in Homosexual Indian Literature –Falguni Bharateeya

3.      The Beast in the Sandal Woods: Searching for a Norm of the Lesbian in Kamala Das’The Sandal Trees -Thulasi Das B.

4.      In Search of Lesbianism: Revisiting the Writings of Kamala Das -Dr. Priyalekha N. S.

5.      Reconciliation of Dichotomies in Sex and Gendered Paradigms: A Reading of Shobhaa De's Strange Obsession and Vivek And  I by Mayur Patel in Indian English Fiction -Sreetanwi Chakraborty

6.      The Agential Fire- Exploring the Repressed in Chugtai and Mehta -Shaoni Dasgupta

7.      Connotation of  Lesbianism in Ismat Chughtai’s The Quilt and Manju Kapur’s The Married Woman –Dr. Manjiree Vaidya

8.      Social Acceptance and Legal Inclusion of Homosexual Community: A Study of Mahesh Dattani’s On a Muggy Night in Mumbai -Neha & Dr. Geeta Phogat

9.      Homosexuality in Mahesh Dattani’s On a Muggy Night in Mumbai: A Critical Reading -Anamitra Chatterjee
10.  A Study on Sexual Degradation in Weight Loss by Upamanyu Chatterjee  - Dr. B. Visalakshi

11.  A Staunchly Feminist Writer: Ismat Chughtai -Dr. Brajesh Kumar Gupta “Mewadev”

12.  Marxo-lesbian Approach to Rita Garg’s Precursor of Love - Dr. Pinki Arora

13.  Sexual Tansgression in Begum Jaan: A Lesbian Study of Ismat Chughtai’s The Quilt -Rajib Das

14.  The Idea of Feminist Sensibility in Lihaaf (The Quilt) by Ismat Chughtai -Ragini Kapoor

15.  Homosexuality as an Escape:  Revisiting the Theme of Homosexuality in Ismat Chugtai’s Lihaaf (The Quilt) –Shazia Qadri

16.  Transgression and Homosexuality in Mala Kumar’s The Paths of Marriage -Neha Chatterjee

17.  Lesbian Sliding into Post-Queer in Manju Kapur’s A Married Woman -Abhisek Ghosal

18.  The Queer Flight of Migratory Birds: Searching the Lesbian Continuum in Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness and P. Padmarajan’s Movie Desatanakkili Karayarilla (Migratory Bird NeverCries) -Drishya Jayaprakash

19.  The Theme of Otherness: A Study of  Kamala Das’s My Story -Sabari Sengupta

20.  Scintillations of Lesbian Romance: A Study of Manju Kapur’s  A Married Woman -Jayasree Jayagopal

21.  Lesbian  Echo in Abha Daweswar’s Babyji –Anindita Datta

22.  A Study of Suniti Namjoshi’s Select Poems through the lens of Cultural Feminism -Rabindra Sutradhar

23.  Intricacies of Religion, Caste and Class Casting Shadow over  Homosexualities : A Study of Raja Rao’s The Boy Friend -Tinku Das

24.  Mahesh Dattani’s On a Muggy Night in Mumbai as an Odyssey of Indian Homosexuals: A Queer Reading – Saurabh Debnath

25.  Breaking the Barriers of Heterosexual Love and Converting into Homosexual Love; Creating Homosexual Identity through Mahesh Dattani’s Bravely Fought the Queen and Manju Kapur’s A Married Woman - Achyut Tilavat

26.  Sense of Insecurity and Guilt Arising out of Social and Familial Tension: A Psychological Study of Lesbian Protagonist in Vijay Tendulkar’s A Friend’s Story – Dipak Giri


1.      Sabuj Sarkar is an Assistant Professor, Department of English, University of Gour Banga, West Bengal, India.

2.      Farida Parvin is a Guest Lecturer, Department of English, Gazole Mahavidyalaya, University of Gour Banga, West Bengal, India and an M. Phil. Research Scholar, Raiganj University, Raiganj, Uttar Dinajpur, West Bengal.

3.      Falguni Bharateeya is an Associate Professor of English at Nalini- Arvind & T.V. Patel Arts College,VallabhVidyanagar, Anand, Gujarat.

4.      Thulasi Das B. is an Assistant Professor, Department of Studies in English, Kannur University, Kerala.

5.      Dr. Priyalekha N S is an Assistant Professor, Centre for Comparative Literature, Sree Sanakarachara University of Sanskrit, Kalady, Kerala.

6.      Sreetanwi Chakraborty is an Assistant Professor, Department of English, Amity University, Kolkata.

7.      Shaoni Dasgupta is an Assistant Professor, Department of English, Amity University, Kolkata.

8.      Dr. Manjiree Vaidya is a Head of the Institution, Amity School of Languages, Amity University, Mumbai.

9.      Neha Chaudhary is an Assistant Professor, Punjab Engineering College (Deemed to be University), Chandigarh, Punjab.

10.  Dr. Geeta Phogat is an Assistant Professor, Bhagat Phool Singh Women's University, Khanpur Kalan, Sonipat, Haryana.

11.  Anamitra Chatterjee is an Asssistant Professor, Department of English, Maulana Azad Government College, West Bengal.

12.  Dr. B.Visalakshi is an Assistant Professor, Department of English, E.R.K Arts & Science College, Erumiyampatti, Dharmapuri, Tamil Nadu.

13.  Dr. Brajesh Kumar Gupta “Mewadev” is the Head and Assistant Professor, Department of English, Eklavya Mahavidyalaya, Banda (U.P.).

14.  Dr. Pinki Arora is presently Chairperson, South Atlantic Modern Language Association, Georgia State University, Atlanta, United States along with the member of the F Scott Fitzgerald Society, Minneapolis, United States.

15.  Rajib Das is a Guest Lecturer, Department of English, P.K. College, Contai, Purba Medinipur, West Bengal.

16.  Ragini  Kapoor is a Ph. D.  Research Scholar, Department of Modern Indian Languages and Literary Studies, Delhi University.

17.  Shazia Qadri is a Research Scholar, Department of English, Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah University, Rajouri, J&K.

18.  Neha Chatterjee is an M.Phil. Research Scholar, Department of English and Culture Studies, University of Burdwan, West Bengal.

19.  Abhisek Ghosal is an M.Phil. Research Scholar, Department of English and Culture Studies, University of Burdwan, West Bengal.

20.  Drishya Jayaprakash is an M.Phil. Research Scholar, Kannur University, Kerala.

21.  Sabari Sengupta is a postgraduate, Department of English,  Madras University, Tamil Nadu.

22.  Jayasree Jayagopal is a Postgraduate, Department of English, Little Flower College Guruvayur, Kerala. She was formerly a Guest Lecturer, Little Flower College, Guruvayur, Kerala.

23.  Anindita Datta is a Guest Lecturer, Department of English, Cooch Behar College, Cooch Behar, West Bengal.

24.  Rabindra Sutradhar is an Assistant Teacher, Khirerkote High School (H.S.), Alipurduar, West Bengal.

25.  Tinku Das is an Assistant Teacher, Uttar Khapaidanga High School, Cooch Behar, West Bengal. He is an Academic Counsellor, Netaji Subhash Open University, Cooch Behar College Study Centre, Cooch Behar, West Bengal.

26.  Saurabh Debnath is an Assistant Teacher in Pundibari Ramgopal Lakhotia High School (H.S.), Cooch Behar, West Bengal. He is an Academic Counsellor, Netaji Subhash Open University, Cooch Behar College Study Centre, Cooch Behar, West Bengal.

27.  Achyut Tilavat is an Assistant Professor, Department of English, Diu College, Diu, Gujarat.

28.  Dipak Giri is an Assistant Teacher, Katamari High School (H.S.), Cooch Behar, West Bengal and a Ph. D. Research Scholar, Raiganj University, Raiganj, Uttar Dinajpur, West Bengal. Besides he is an Academic Counsellor, Netaji Subhas Open University, Cooch Behar College Study Centre, Cooch Behar, West Bengal.