Utopia or elsewhere: queer modernities in small town West Bengal

2017-01-19T15:59:06Z (GMT) by Paul Boyce Rohit Dasgupta
This chapter is based on collaborative ethnographic work conducted by both researchers in Siliguri, and Barasat, regional towns in West Bengal, India. We explore concerns around 'liveable lives' and social visibility in terms of explicit same sex sexualities in these contexts, seeking to understand such lives as a part of ordinary and wider social discourses and practices concerning belonging and difference. A prevailing narrative of queer life-trajectories has been oriented around escape from small towns to larger and potentially more anonymous cities , where a sense of freedom and utopia from heternormative social mores and obligations may be imagined and experienced. We want to consider such narratives as undergirded by themes of excess. We explore this both in the sense of queer as an embodiment that might exceed containment within the hyper social visibility of small towns (where many people may be known to one another), but also in terms of big cities as excessive domains, big enough to contain excesses of social difference and diversity. Considering these themes as they pertain to the aspirations of some of our small-town interlocutors we are also interested in these small towns being cast as sites of origination and departure as opposed to the mise en scene of queer life-worlds. In this regard we are questioning what utopia means in a (economically) liberalised contemporary India where same-sex desires are at once contained and disciplined through ideals of modernity, where the urban, homonormative queer Indian subject has been made to stand for ideals of the progressive Indian state and political-economy (even as against the background of resurgent ‘re-criminalization’ of homosexuality in the Indian legal context.) This chapter looks at the experiences of those who might be imagined as queer subjects but who are pushed to the margins of prevailing narratives of queer utopian aspiration in India, for being too regional, peri-urban or rural; bodies and subjects in excess of urban narratives of acceptable difference.