It’s been a couple of years since Sushant Divgikar took over as the organiser of the Mister Gay World India pageant, and he has been putting together this event with a lot of splendour and love. He has roped in the very best from fashion, fitness as well as activism and journalism to groom the contestants, so that they may reach their full potential. I was one of the judges at the contest and for me, the winner had been found when he came and sat on the chair to brave the ruthless question-and-answer round. His name is Samarpan Maiti, and he is a doctoral research student in the field of cancer drug discovery.
Samarpan hails from Siddha, a small village in West Bengal. He will soon have the “Dr” prefix before his name. I asked him about the importance of a pageant like Mr Gay World India in a country that doesn’t yet recognise LGBTQI rights legally and where Section 377 is still part of the Constitution. “It is very important to send a representative from a country which has not yet acknowledged the rights of the LGBT community to speak about the discrimination, battles and issues we are fighting here. It will also help us to gain knowledge about how other countries are fighting for LGBT rights, and to apply this knowledge in India for the betterment of our community,” he replied.
Usually, many pageant contestants seem like tutored, caged parrots. They mutter the same things, relying on what may seem like quotable statements but which actually lack conviction. However, Samarpan is someone who means what he says and understands the weight that words carry. When I asked him what he would focus on if he was crowned Mr Gay World India, he said he wanted to work with the economically and socially marginalised sections of our society “to make them feel included in all LGBTQ events, to assure them that we are standing beside them in their fight.” Samarpan has conducted sessions in schools and colleges about gender and sexuality education. He is clear about wanting to ensure that future generations should live in a better society devoid of any discrimination based on gender identity.
Samarpan had an on-stage faux-pass sort of moment when he struggled to answer the question “What is the definition of love?" put forth by the jury. Speaking from experience, he said, “I find it difficult to pronounce words in English and speak fluently. When this was noticed by one of the judges, the host Rohini Ramnathan came forward in full support of me. She said, 'Why are we as Indians so obsessed with English? You should not be ashamed of your language, be proud of who you are. Now, I want you to answer the question again, in Bengali.' It was really incredible how she made me feel proud of myself. This what we are all fighting for — to accept and celebrate ourselves the way we are. I salute her and thank her.”
I asked Samarpan about what he thinks is the most critical aspect of intersectionality in LGBTQI activism, and he said, “We need to acknowledge everyone as they are irrespective of race, socioeconomic status, body types and age. My work focuses on the socio-economically backward and geriatric population within the LGBTQ community, which is an important area where the intersectional approach needs to be undertaken to properly tackle the issues at large.”
When asked about the recent development whereby the Supreme Court will be listening to the people petitioning against Section 377 regarding the decriminalisation of adult consensual sex in private, he said, “The first step we need to take is the decriminalisation of homosexuality and legal protection from gender identity-based discrimination. However, within the community I find that we are still unable to accept each other the way are. There is a lot of discrimination based on femininity or masculinity, fat shaming and other factors which has made many people of the younger generation unable to accept themselves. They would rather compromise their individuality to make themselves look as others want to see them.”
The LGBTQI community is no different from other communities when it comes to discriminating against anyone who is feminine. When I brought this up, Samarpan simply pointed to his photographs and said, “If you see my photos, you will find me celebrating my femininity, as well as different body types; at some points in my life, I've had six pack abs, at others, I've looked lean. I wanted to question stereotypes and send across the message that one should explore all possibilities and celebrate every characteristic with pride.”
I quizzed Samarpan about his newfound celebrity status and what it takes to become a star. He said these words: "Accept yourself and feel proud about your true self. Stop hating yourself, acknowledge who you are, go beyond labels and try to do good for society, irrespective of whether you are an LGBTQ person or not. If people love you for your work, they will accept you as who you are, one day.”
Updated Date: Jan 19, 2018 23:16:36 IST