Book Review: Queeristan by Parmesh Shahani

Book Review: Queeristan by Parmesh Shahani

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“In most countries, one negotiates their identity at home and not at work. In our country, where the home itself is a space of identity erasure, the negotiation starts at the workplace.”

This quote is, in a nutshell, what Queeristan, the book, is all about, and why Parmesh Shahani wrote this book – to outline guidelines for Indian workplaces so that Indian queers have a better life. People shouldn’t have to relate to anyone to understand that everyone is different and has their own experiences. It is this principle that permeates Queeristan, a land, a time, a place, a people that understand.

Throughout time, we have heard of how queer people have been discriminated against and ostracized, crimes being committed against them in the name of ‘natural order’. A ‘natural order’ that straight people put in place because all they could see was their own sexuality and all they could accept were people like their own. It shouldn’t have to come to posing this question to make people understand that queer people are normal, but if this has always happened, then it means that the people who have indulged in discrimination and ostracism were the one in the wrong. To reject people just because they are different from you doesn’t make one a human being who keeps up the law of nature. Nature didn’t tell you what normal is, because nature considers everything as normal. These laws, these ‘rules’ are all man-made, based on the whims of a man who didn’t like what he was seeing.

Indians can be a hypocritical bunch too. When we experience racism, we raise a hue and cry about how the racists can’t accept people who are different from them. But when it comes to us accepting queer people, we do the exact same thing. We swim in the sea of queerphobia while battling the ocean of international racism and queerphobia. And when this rejection of one’s true self starts at home, it destroys something within a person. For, isn’t family supposed to give you strength? Isn’t family supposed to be the people you turn to when the world is wearing you down? So when this doesn’t happen or takes time to happen because of how it has been ingrained within us for ages, we scramble for purchase.

This is where the workplace comes into the picture. Because the place where you receive validation for your work merit can also be the place where you feel your full self. And when companies follow these guidelines, read the heartwarming examples of how much things have changed for the better to make a workplace LGBTQ+ inclusive, and embrace its LGBTQ+ workforce with everything they have, it will make for a better tomorrow in more ways than one.

Parmesh Shahani, who works for Godrej and is the director of the Godrej India Culture Lab that is a space for arts and activism, talks in this book about Godrej and how it is LGBTQ+ inclusive, the companies that took steps to become inclusive, the companies that aren’t, and how every single one of these actions will affect the company in question. It can be a little info-dumpy at places, but it is an important book and one that you can take tidbits from and apply to your own personal life as well.

And while the author educates us on such an important step, he also takes us through LGBTQ+ terms and tells us all about them. He didn’t have to do it, because the burden doesn’t fall on his shoulders. But he does and explains them in a crisp narrative that will make you smile in gratitude. Plus, Parmesh Shahani has an adorable manner of combining Hindi and English, even in writing, and that makes the text fun to read.

While I could sing more paeans to the book, I understood at the beginning that the author has been privileged, a fact that he himself acknowledges in the book. His proximity to power probably shielded him from all the experiences that other queer people go through in their lives. But he talks about issues from the ground up, something that fills me with hope, that India can, in this way, take the first steps towards inclusivity.

All in all, Queeristan is a book that will make you think and make you make changes that will help our LGBTQ+ fellows’ lives a little easier. Especially if you are an employer in India!

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