By Ashok Row Kavi
When I heard my young gay brother, Apurva Asrani lament that Pahlaj Nihalani of the Central Board for Film Certification (CBFC) said the subject of his film Aligarh was “not what a family can go and watch together” I nearly fell off my chair. Obviously our ‘sanskari’ censor board chief is not even reading the newspapers.
Just to refresh his memory let me inform him of the evidence presented to Justice Verma who consulted a wide range of feminist groups, NGOs and even government departments regarding the sad demographics of rape; the data was damning; most of the rapes of women in our society happen within families and are committed by men who are friends, family or known to the girl. The biggest danger to our women comes from within the ‘sanskari’ environment.
I know this is very ‘sanskari” but there is worse. My organisation, the Humsafar Trust, publishes what are known as “tracking studies”, of its main interventions in the community. These are scientific studies of the Knowledge, Attitudes, Behavior and Practices (KABP) conducted every 18 months to understand what we are doing. They are presented to our staff and all people interested in what is happening in our population on the ground.
Over eight such studies have been conducted and they offer a consistently horrible figure, which we have shared with UNICEF and UNESCO. In very one of them, the age when the young first have their sexual encounter (called sexual debut) is below 15 years. Most of the time, this is with friends and, again, it happens within families with cousins, brothers and neighbours. All this, dear Nihalani, is very ‘sanskari’. So what’s your excuse for giving an ‘A’ certificate to Aligarh and justifying it with your foolish remarks?
To make matters worse you allowed the most god-awful derisive dialogue on homosexuality in Mastizaade, Kya Kool Hai Hum, Grand Masti (which was pronounced as ‘G***d Masti’ in the theatres). I am surprised a serious subject that handles same-sex relations is being given an ‘A’ certificate because it is “not what a family can go and watch together’. I don’t understand you Pahlaj Nihalani. What kind of double standards are you displaying in the censor board and is this really true-blue ‘sanskari’ at all?
I happen to be an old man of 68. I also happen to be a very family-oriented gay man who is very proud of his kin. Not a single nephew or niece has ever said I am not ‘sanskari’. In fact, they all love my pork vindaloo and dhansak dal and regularly plead they be allowed to visit. You can check my Facebook account to see how ‘sanskari’ I am and how gay family interacts with my biological family. Never once has my homosexuality come in the way of my ‘sanskari’ life and I dare you to show me even one relative – okay there is one but less said about her the better – who is really bothered about my private life. I want to know how and why you have used ‘family’ and located all your regressive views within it.
Indian families are changing very rapidly. Just a generation ago we were a huge joint family with over three generations living under one roof. Within 50 years, I am alone, though not lonely. I have not only my biological family but a new kind of family, a gay family, which is equally ‘sanskari’ to me. Both families are the most moderate and religious ones I know. The gay family is equally religious and they go to their respective temples, mosques and churches, though I am an atheist and still call myself Hindu (that’s allowed in Hinduism if you read the Darshanas).
In Aligarh, too, Professor Siras, the protagonist, insists he is very devoted to his family and is shown as a very religious man. Yet he is hounded by people like you – though he loves such things as Lata Mangeshkar songs, Marathi literature and poetry and its culture. And yet you think his life story on film in “not what a family can go and watch together”?
Okay, let’s approach this in another manner. I have one of Mumbai’s top mental health experts on my panel at Humsafar Trust. He says that he has approached the RSS leadership in Nagpur with tales of how so many ‘pracharaks’ come to him with their sexual issues. Guess what they are about? He has urged the Sangh leadership to tackle these issues in a humane and compassionate manner and the whole lot has refused to even consider them. It’s the same with other religious groups and organisations.
They don’t care for their own Sangh ‘Parivar’ ka problems. How ‘sanskari” is that? As someone close to the Sangh, do you think you can ask them to see Aligarh and understand what a Brahmin like Siras went through? Don’t you think you should let the general public know about the problems of the society of which it is a part? They should be part of the Bharatiya sanskari parampara. Integrated into the big Bharatiya family: heterosexual, homosexual, transgender or bisexual.
My plea to you is stop using your sanskari excuse and let the whole family see this film. You won’t regret it.
The author is an LGBT activist and founder, Humsafar Trust