Last updated on Mar 04, 2017.
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 fulfillment 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 of identity such as caste? How does digitally caste and class play in with our genders and sexualities?
The proposed session offers to look at the various new and intermingling 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 has transformed our methods and assumptions.
We also take that queer lens to look at growing online anti-caste activism and how they are breaking away from historically mainstream-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.
The ‘hooking up’, so to say, of queer-Dalit desires and intimacies then steps away from trying to create a false binary between the two (least of all because our lives don't obey that binary) and explores the mediums and negotiations through which both find themselves in amalgamation with each other.
It is the not just a question of how caste and queerness influences our digital modes of life, but how they are often indistinguishable and collectively governing our sexual responses: in activism and/or bed. Anti-caste is therefore queer and vice versa.
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. The questioning of these spaces reveals anxieties of not just how one navigates online platforms vis-a-vis their intimacies (both in terms of being queer but as well as being Dalit), it also opens up realities of language, access, self-acceptance, body-shaming, racism etc. Therefore exploring these ‘hook-up’ platforms tells us a very multiple layered narrative, the one where there is no strict compartmentalizations of intimacies (yet seemingly present - in terms of who exactly one desires), and the one in which identities fuse into each other, and yet, remain identitarian.
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 and 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, they face a barrage of hate messages and explicit rejection from dominant caste people. But, at the same time, in his acknowledgment of their 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:
The discussion will be in an open-house format driven by narratives with invitees from outside to share their experiences. The aim will be to understand, empirically, what technology does to caste, gender and sexuality.
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.
Akhil Kang is a lawyer, researcher currently based in New Delhi. He graduated from Nalsar University of Law, Hyderabad in 2015 and is currently working at Advanced Centre for Women’s Studies, TISS on exploring discrimination of non-normative gender and sexuality. He also works/writes on caste-sexuality and is associated with the Queering Dalit collective.
Christina Thomas Dhanaraj
Dhrubo Jyoti is a journalist based in New Delhi who identifies as queer and Dalit. They is a part of the Queering Dalit collective.