"Not a criminal." A best-selling writer, speaking up for gay rights and against their criminalisation, holds a placard with those words for a magazine cover.
Look at the photograph closely. This is the much-feted literary celebrity Vikram Seth, the toast of many a festival and publisher craving his next work. For him to strike a stance mimicking and caricaturing a criminal is irresponsible and insensitive. Worse, he is conveying that this is how gays who might be deemed criminals would look like, which is quite unlike what he and his charmed bunch look like in reality. This is just so awfully patronising.
'India Today' has covered stories about undertrial prisoners. Here is a picture from one.
This is the reality of criminals. Not the hair standing on edge, carefully dishevelled look of a writer who is posing, darkened by shadows. Such posing amounts to posturing too. A couple of years ago, Vikram Seth, along with some other activists and celebrities, had signed a petition against Sec 377. Following that, he was interviewed, as they almost always are whenever they take up a cause, often to be timed with the release of a book, an art work, a film. (It begs the question then: are prominent people helping a cause with their name or merely using the cause to keep their prominence alive?)
In the interview, he had explained that his involvement was as a "gay or at least partially gay" person. This dithering has been the hallmark of many celebrity outings, and it leaves one distressed that their voice holds currency at all. Indeed, he is more open now, but I still cannot understand why does a cause that is the concern of a few million need an endorsement from one who will not be criminalised because he holds a privileged position?
Why did the news magazine not think about someone from the LGBT community who is not a suitable boy, but has probably suffered due to the law? Because it would not appeal to the sponsors who depend on acceptance by the drooling class.
I also take strong exception to the portrayal of criminals in such a manner. Is this some template?
Think about custodial deaths for several crimes, about undertrial prisoners being beaten up, about those rounded up because the cops need to chalk up a quota for their promotions.
Vikram Seth on the magazine cover is acting a part, and is therefore not only inauthentic, but also demonises what he is standing up for.
© Farzana Versey