I Speak in Colour
March 21, 2016
Image: Jacob Lawrence, ‘Brownstones’ / Whitney Museum
I study at a law college. Last term, I faced harassment and ragging by a classmate. The ragging was based on questions and issues around my body and sexuality. The issue was taken up after a formal complaint was filed. However, due to ‘procedural’ and ‘technical’ issues of law—to be read as delay in any action by the institution—I was asked to submit a post dated complaint, which I refused to do. Some individual faculty members stood by me, helping me through the process. To all of them, salaam.
If the complaint had been taken to its logical conclusion, there would have been a criminal case with the police involved, which was no solution to the problem at hand. I wanted to talk about it, to start a dialogue so it would not happen again. To someone else. I wanted to see if there was a way for a person to recognise their fault and stop harassing another; if there was a way to stop all those who were party to the act, all those who laughed when I was called either feminine or gay.
I confronted the people who were either spreading this or abetting it by being mere onlookers, and asked for a letter of apology from the person responsible for the same. He kept postponing the same. Finally, I saw he was afraid an apology would be used as evidence against him. I was scared to enter the classroom every morning; I used to feel a sense of fear growing in me. It had to be stopped: I tried writing about it.
This is an attempt to respond to all those who played a part in ensuring I was ragged, with the excuse that ‘it was just plain fun and humour’. I wrote this piece as a response.
There were people who stood by me then, who supported me. To each one of them, thank you for standing up for me. Lots of love to all of you.
I Speak in Colour
My ‘big’ butt sticks out like a balloon pressed against a wall,
way out of proportion to the caricature you made of me on
one of the last benches. I guess you were looking through
your high powered brahmanised spectacles, wondering what
would make me cringe; your brahmanised lenses look
at my brahmanised body, forbidding me to liberate within
the many colours that I reclaim through the ‘kalamkari’
I adorn every day.
Maybe the colours make you cringe,
the brightness makes your eyes shut,
you could have closed your eyes.
you could have shut them and let me live in colour
with a big butt you did not have to stare at.
Maybe you just wanted to look
and stare and dream of the copulation
of two rigid bodies meeting, fitting
like plumbed pipes that enter one into the other.
My friend, did that turn you on?
I wasn’t interested.
I wasn’t willing to enter your room.
And yet I trusted, in bare conversations and ideas, the legacy
of people’s struggles who died asserting differences, colours.
I disregarded instincts which came one after the other
through experiences of betrayal, and opened to the idea
of helping you uncover your truth.
But you? You just used it to create subjects of ‘humour’
your sinister laughter still rings in my ears, and I cringe again.
And you went about announcing, in whispers
to solitary individuals, none of whom stood up
how I was to be ‘cured’ in and out.
Cured of the disease you said ‘infects’ you in hiding—but wait,
your dis-ease is not the one you think. I wanted to tell you and you had no courage to listen. Does your heteronormative lover know now what you did shamed me, forcing me to think my ‘out’ had defects, waiting to be cosmetically removed, modified, changed?
I guess not.
But you know what you did to me, you squashed my spirit
which helped me assert myself, find my beauty in differences.
A brahmanised institution stood to your defence, a complacent authority too busy to speak.
But you forgot the power of solidarity, of listening ears, of burning hearts,
of shouts and cries; you forgot that people live in colour, making it their strength. But you?
You will never move beyond your black and white sophistications. So stay.
And I will be as I am.
You won’t find here another narrative of vulnerability, of fear, of scare, of silencing.
For now, I speak again
and this once, I speak in colour.
Shrenik Mutha is a student of law, before which he studied sociology. He has been associated with the Rajasthan MKSS, a non-party political organisation, and the Pune KKPKP, a waste-pickers’ trade union. He can be reached at [email protected]
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