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If there has been one tangible imprint of the so-called digital revolution, people say, it is in the realm of recasting the articulation and fulfilment of desires for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT+) people. Whether it be social media, dating apps or the ways we express our sexual and non-sexual desires, technology is said to have changed the rules of the game and created a less violent, more egalitarian playing field for queer folks.
But how much of this is true, especially when dealing with fundamental markers such as caste?
The proposed session offers to look at the various new modes of articulating desires -- political, sexual and social – from a queer lens and explore how and whether the advent of the digital has changed anything, and for whom -- in short, how the digitization of the research object transforms our methods and assumptions.
We look at the growing online anti-caste activism and how they are breaking away from historicallymainstream-set upper caste and savarna modes of research and production of knowledge/narratives in many Indian languages -- not just academic English -- while facing violence that is familiar to Dalit folks for centuries.
We also look at apps, social media and online sites that are the new sites of cultural assertion and articulation of desire, especially for historically oppressed communities such as Dalits. We question spaces such as Grindr, Tinder and Planet Romeo – that offer room for anonymity, fantasy and play – as opposed to the physical world marked by caste humiliation and oppression.
But memory and power don’t die and nurture the desire to be an insider instead – so when a Dalit person creates a fake social media account, they use upper-caste names, photoshop middle-class locations. The trigger is double – can I be of another caste, but also, can I forget my own (because in the “real world”, I cannot).
So when a Dalit gay person is open about his caste status, he faces a barrage of hate messages and explicit rejection from dominant caste people. But, at the same time, in his acknowledgment of his caste – or messaging people on Grindr saying “Yes I am Dalit” is an assertion enabled by the specific site.
Through our research on Grindr data from neighbourhoods in Delhi, we try and look at what has changed and what hasn’t over the years as desire has moved from cruising in parks to apps – how communities are formed, whether the desire for a “place” is still crucial and if smaller-town folks are still at the fringes.
The session will comprise people working in the digital spheres, researchers, anti-caste activists and queer folks who will converse on how technology has shaped their lives, and the challenges thrown forth by the digital disruption.
We attempt to raise – if not dare to answer – some queries:
We propose to bring out a paper accompanied with multi-media support for the discussion between the various kinds of actors described above. In addition, we propose using the Grindr data analysis to map neighbourhoods and explore how digital has shaped desire, if at all.
Dhiren Borisa is a doctoral candidate at the Centre for the Study of Regional Development, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Akhil Kang is a lawyer and researcher currently working with the Advanced Centre for Women’s Studies, Tata Insitute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.
Dhrubo Jyoti is a journalist based in New Delhi.