Pride is a protest, and having fun is essential while resisting.
Anish Gawande, 23, says resisting the solemn tone that most forms of activism are associated with. With almost childish naivety, the Rhodes scholar researching intellectual history diminishes the notion that groups need a loudspeaker to shout out to people in power to be heard and amend draconian policies. Instead, his advocacy for gender equality and proportionate LGBTQIA+ representation comes through subtle humor, sharp wit, and poetic passion.
Poetry has been a life-long friend for Anish, and his eyes, behind those round Gandhi-framed spectacles, light up as he explains the beauty of "Payakhali Hiravar," a collection of poems by Dr. Ramchandra Siras.
Burden under my feet.
Anish explains it is the meaning of "Payakhali Hiravar." It wasn't long before college that Anish decided to embrace his sexual identity publicly. Anish says that while he had always known that he is gay, he was apprehensive about coming out. Given societal prejudices, he knew that his sexual identity could affect his work and his aim to enter public policymaking. It was only when he was in Paris, working on a university grant, that Anish decided to acknowledge his sexual orientation publicly. Since then, Anish has been advocating for and helping queer people by encouraging them through his social work, public speaking, and political initiatives.
Anish recently completed translating "Zopaychya Kholya" (Rooms to Sleep in) by Ramchandra Siras, whose death had exposed several loopholes towards the protection of rights of queer people in India's societal setup. The poem is part of 'The World That Belongs To Us,' a new poetry anthology edited by Akhil Katyal and Aditi Angiras. Ramchandra Siras has been an inspiration for Anish, who feels that the former Aligarh professor should be recognized more for his poetry than just his sexual orientation.
Anish has always been a brilliant student with an unwavering commitment to do the right thing. His passion for serving and contributing to the development of others was made apparent when he decided to traverse Kashmir as a teenage journalist. His zeal had pushed him to write to the editor of a leading English daily, requesting permission to cover Kashmir as a youth. However, journalism was only the beginning of several roles he would play in days to come.
I was for the longest time in the closet, even though I knew I was queer because I thought that if I came out that I would never be able to enter politics.
When Anish got an offer to serve as a political consultant in Maharashtra for the 2019 legislative assembly campaign, he made several considerations before finally deciding to dive in. At the back of his mind, he had the thought that the worst possible outcome from this political experience would be him writing a few books. But the experience turned into something he thoroughly enjoyed. He summed it up as "crazy and fun, with all sorts of madness." Helping the Indian National Congress design and execute its Maharashtra political campaign taught Anish a critical lesson, which he has since incorporated into his Pink List initiative:
Acceptance for queer rights would come from the most unexpected spaces.
Anish's political journey helped him give shape to Pink List India, a public archive of political stalwarts who have publicly supported LGBTQIA+ rights and the queer movement. He believes the Pink List can transcend from a research project into a platform for queer people to actively participate in the country's day-to-day political affairs. Anish is optimistic that the future will see a lot more political representation from the queer community and believes that the Pink List will encourage youngsters to step into politics, irrespective of their gender and sexual preferences. Pink List places politicians into four categories: Trailblazers from the queer community; Changemakers who are vocal supporters of queer rights; Outspoken Allies who have, in the past, demonstrated their support for queer rights on platforms that include the Parliament; and Allies who have silently supported the queer community through statements and actions in Parliament.
Anish was quick to point out that the list incorporates politicians from all parties, irrespective of their political lineages. The Outspoken Allies list consists of politicians ranging from Rahul Gandhi of the Indian National Congress to Poonam Mahajan of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Representation is not being taken seriously and is not being considered a part of the conversation.
Anish believes that there is a lack of conversation regarding the representation of the LGBTQIA+ community in academic and political spheres but acknowledges that this is changing fast. While the lockdown has delayed Anish's Rhodes journey, he looks forward to researching intellectual history and inculcating more substance towards fighting for equal representation of the queer community. In every aspect of his life, his journeys into various fields in diverse parts of the world have helped him balance his vision towards creating this equal space.
His exposure to Kashmir led to the formation of the Dara Shikoh Fellowship, a platform he created "to drive academic and cultural discourse in a region vitiated by years of cynical political dialogue." Named after the Mughal royal Dara Shikoh, who used poetry and other literary forms to find commonality between religions, Anish wishes to celebrate and preserve the civilizational ethos of Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh through the initiative.