Rituparno Ghosh was queer. What in impolite English is called a drag queen. He wore earrings, lipstick, thick kajal, sarees and heavy jewellery. His sexuality was discussed as much his movies were and in fact in a post Rituparno world, a retrospective of his works and life blend into each other. He was endlessly caricatured but his success as a film-maker ensured he could ignore those jibes. That does not make him any less courageous. Because he came out with his sexuality at a time when the Indian audience was still being treated to half-baked gay jokes and the community itself is looked at with high amount of prejudice. He dared to appear in his ridiculous feminine attires at film awrds and press conferences or even the national awards. Remember he did this long before the kallol Duttas of the world made it fashionable for men to sport nose studs. To Rituparnos credit he constantly denied to be compartmentalized. He fleeted between masculinity and feminity with the kind of surrealism and haze that defined his movies. The man or the queer or whatever gender you choose to apportion him loved breaking boundaries. So he could easily break taboos- show menstruating women and grey relationships and abashed sexuality without the degree of embarrassment or apology that usually accompany such topics.
I think the greatest contribution of Rituparno lies in separating masculinity or feminity from the form or the body and infusing a kind of gender fluidity which is rare in Indian cinema and even rarer in the larger social milieu. To understand Rituparno, you have to look at the characters in his movies – grey silhouttes on the edge of a compartmentalized society. His movies also evolved with the man taking on bolder tones, going into hazier areas. His latest movie Chitrangada broke further taboos by its interpretation of Tagore’s dance drama. In ways he was almost as rebellious and ahead of times as the poet himself, reinterpreting established norms and safe culture. So he could wear a saree in Arekti Premer Golpo and come out and say in an interview that he does not want to become a woman. We as a society are singularly ill-equipped with such people who we cannot place anywhere, give set labels. Rituparno’s triumph was rising above those labels- a legacy with impact far beyond the world of Bengali or Indian cinema.
Home. Casa. Griha. Haus. We know the place by different names in different places but everywhere it symbolises the feelings of rootedness, warmth, assurance that we often seem to take for granted. Some 15 Mof people across the world are however not as fortunate. for them their homes are long lost, razed, burnt or otherwise lying empty in a faraway country that was once their homeland. Driven out of their countries by persecution, war, genocides, poverty or desperation, these people stay on the fringes of the host countries carrying various monikers such as immigrants, refugess, infiltrators etc.The UN convention on regugees defines the term to mean Any person who: owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country”. The definition is not broad enough to cover some of the common causes of displacement such as wars resulting in generalized violence, poverty starvation adding a whopping number of 32M illegal immigrants to displaced people.
Tracing back the practice of seeking refuge originated in ancient Egypt and Greece where people sought sanctuary in places of worship such as churches. This was codified as a law in 600 AD by the King of Kent. In 1685 when protestaniasm was outlawed in France, thousands migrated to escape persecution. After the theory of nations came into practice somewhere around the 18th century.creating national boundaries governed by strict immigration laws, there have been several man made events which have triggered mass exodus from one country to the other. The civil movements, World wars, the rise of Nazism have been some such triggers. Religios and ethnic beliefs have been the strong bases for persecuting particular sects of people causing them to flee the familiar corridors of their homelands. Infact Jews from East Europe and Russia have been fleeing their homes subjected as they were to persecution in these countries even before the advent of Nazism in Germany. Making Jews one of the largest ethnicity constituting refugees over time. Turkey as a nation was shaped by followers of Islam fleeing the persecution in the Balkan regions.Distressing, is it not being persecuted for a narrow identity defined by religious beliefs alone? When in a multi-cultural globe humanity should be the only facet defining the human population.
Over the last 100 years, wars and civil strifes have reared their ugly heads again and again rendering one prosperous nations into ghost countries and happy people into haunted wanderers. Wars be it the World war I and II, the Vietnam war or in Afghanistan have spiked the number of refugees, where people have been fleeing certain destruction into an uncertain darkness. While there have been several humanitarian legislations seeking to confer rights and dignity on the refugees or the immigrants, the truth most often is that they are the outcasts in the host country. Speak of refugees and you have images of stoaways and castaways desperately seeking to land on the coveted land that hold the lure of a happier life. However most of the time these people have worse fates to suffer. There was a shocking article in Guardain the other day of a 26 year old Angolian stowaway falling to death in London from a British Airways carrier. The man was fleeing abject poverty in his homeland, a condition which is too relative and broadbased to be covered by refugee laws. Overall refugees are a rootless tribe vaccilating in a zone which belongs to no country, they are the no land’s men, women and children. During the world war II for example Soviet refugees were tortured in Germany and the few who survived the concentration camp there were treated as traitors when they returned to their country. It pains to live in a world where the basic dignities of the human life are subjugated to egos or whims of the ruling class, arcane laws and the rules of a divided world. In fact possibly most of us in have casually commented on migrants and opined thay they should be packed off to home. Not realizing these people be it the Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka or the Tibetean monks or the liberal Bangladeshis have really no place to call their own. I had happened to visit the Tibetean settlement in the Coorg district of Karnataka. The tibetean monks here have built a home away from home, and as a country we have afforded them a sanctuary they desperately sought. However most of the time refugees and immigrants and asylum seekers are not remotely afforded a similar chance. While we know about and campaign for the more famous causes such as that of Tasleema Nasrin, the lesser humans huddling in dingy camps invite our wrath and ridicule. Their exploitation does not end after thety leave their borders – they are exploited further by touts and miscreants who take advantage of their vulnerability. People run expansive immigration rackets sending illegal workers to slave in the fields or the homes of the prosperous lands. Either existing laws do not protect them or these people are ignorant of the provisions of such laws. In fact so enshrined are human prejudices, that migrants even from within the same country are ostracised, forcing such people to live wretched lives constantly on the run. The midnight’s children who no land claim as their own
There are organizations such as UNHCR- United Nations High Commission for Refugees have done some exemplary work in the rehabitililation of refugees. However the onus of understanding the problem and empathising with the migrants is much wider. Would you for example tomorrow be happy to hire a refugess from Afghanistan fleeing the war ravaged countriy? Would your eyes moisten as you hear him tell stories about his little girl and beautiful wife that he lost, about the green fields which now only yield the poisonous opium. Would you understand he is a person like us, but without the luxury of what we casually refer to as the home and the homeland. Could we say that in such a beautiful world there is place for the no land’s man and there is for him a piece of land where he can build his home where he sits down to a quiet meal with his family?