Charan Singh

Going Sideways: The Poetics of Becoming-Queer in India

PhD Viva completed 2021-2022


Liberation movements based on identity present themselves with enormous challenges regarding rights and inequalities. The Indian public health response to HIV/AIDS resulted in foregrounding the existing identity ‘Kothi’ and adopting a behavioural category called ‘MSM’ to designate the main beneficiaries of aid (Cohen, 2005) (Puri, 2016). This underprivileged part of the population was consequently provided with victim narratives which explains why it is impossible to render its stories without pathos. Linked to a quest for emancipation, identity is a complex category especially in post-colonial nation-states like India. Here identities are unavoidably entangled with other modes of governance such as religion, caste, class, and the law. The socioeconomic and geopolitical realities of the Kothis confine them to HIV/AIDS discourse (Kapur, 2018), where they continue to be labelled as subaltern queers (Narrain, 2004). Failing to embrace the specificities of identities, this discourse erases differences and inevitably undermines the very creative and liveliness of what can become queer.

Going Sideways is a practice-led inquiry that problematises the neo-liberal, neo-colonial approaches to identity politics, while resisting the sense of concerted queerness that occurred in the form of already-known prescriptions to assimilate all subjects of desire in India, thereby discounting historical and social inequalities. Going sideways offers a threefold framework which builds its artistic resistances through critical fabulation (Hartman, 2008) and storytelling (Benjamin, 1999, Arendt, 1998; Cavarero, 2000) as minor forms of literature (Deleuze and Guattari,1986) that in-turn demand a listening-encounter (Golding, 2018) which enables a queer possibility, a leap into the future (Muñoz, 2009). The threefold braid consists of stories that function as an auto-collective-biography of the Kothis, a glossary as a non-closed, living-breathing archive that politically and conceptually binds this thesis, and a moving image work which helps to visualise this project empathetically, but also creates a political bent. This project seeks creative ecstasy through storytelling which prepares for an encounter to happen. Together these aphoristic approaches create a gentler ‘knowledge-system’ as a ‘rehearsal,’ invoking the essence of becoming. It allows a queer-wisdom to be shared, and its orality enables us to hear the mumble of the unvoiced. Sideways thinking has an erotic energy which brings us to life in a queer way, without being categorised. This work also marks an urgency to rethink identity politics subversively, by inhabiting a path that is always-already sideways. It is a work of love and friendship, that calls for radical and ethical equality. This resituates the poetics of Queer-Becoming in the field of emergence, where one can imagine new ways of encounters in a queer multiverse.