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Pride month special: an interview blog with Nikita Rai

June is a month filled with vibrant colors, joyous celebrations, and a profound sense of unity as the world comes together to commemorate Pride Month. This annual observance serves as a powerful reminder that love knows no boundaries, and every individual deserves the right to live authentically and without fear. The significance of Pride Month goes beyond just the colorful parades and festivities. It is a time to reflect upon the progress made in the fight for LGBTQIA+ rights and to acknowledge the challenges that still lie ahead. It is also an opportunity to celebrate the resilience, strength, and beauty of this community, while recognizing the incredible contributions made by LGBTQIA+ individuals in every aspect of society—art, culture, science, politics, and beyond.

Despite tremendous advancements, discrimination and prejudice persist in various forms, reminding us of the importance of continuing the fight for true equality.  Governance Lab approached Ms. Nikita Rai, co-editor of the book- “Gender, Sexual/Other Identities in The Eastern Himalaya”,  to share her understanding on the pride related issues, her experiences and learnings of the community while editing the book. The book co-edited by Mona Chettri, Ktien Hima along with Nikita Rai, that encompasses the dynamic and static aspects of the Eastern Himalaya region, exploring evolving gender and other identities while also prompting introspection on personal narratives, societal norms, and intersectional experiences, ultimately challenging existing perceptions in the eastern Himalaya. The trio came together to produce this book as they felt the need to contribute towards changing the narrative.

Q. Why is Pride month important and who celebrates it?

Nikita: Pride Month started off to commemorate the Stonewall Riots from back in 1969 when members of the queer community were subjected to police violence. It serves as a reminder for many things- that queer people exist and are here to stay; that they deserve equal rights and that one should celebrate oneself regardless of which part of the spectrum you lie in. As for “who celebrates pride”, of course, members of the queer community and allies celebrate it but nowadays, as part of “Pink- Washing”, corporates seem to be celebrating it a lot more than the community themselves.

Q. How do you see the situation of LGBTIQA+ community in Nepal?

Nikita: If I were to look at Nepal through the Kathmandu lens then I would say everything is hunky dory for the queer community. But even in the capital itself there are issues of social discrimination, education and employment opportunities, housing, etc. But looking at the brighter side of things, the community does have representation in few platforms and they can safely move in select circles without much judgment. The fact that there’s a Pride Parade every year, drag shows are performed now and then, queer art and literature are being embraced, all show that gradually the community is gaining acceptance.

Outside privileged circles, I’m not sure how community members are faring. Even among them, hierarchies exist, hill and terai differences continue to fester and as far as acceptance goes, I think society is okay so long as their son or daughter isn’t queer. To sum it up, I would say it’s not cloudy but it’s not a rainbow either.

Q. What are some data and policy gaps you see that need to be addressed for LGBTIQA+ equality?

Nikita: There is never enough data in Nepal, and even though queer groups are given priority in policy formation, implementing them and having trained individuals attuned to their needs is rare. I think, in addition to queer friendly policies and data, this issue is pretty major too.

Q. What inspired you to get engaged as an editor to the book, “Gender, Sexual/Other Identities In The Eastern Himalaya”?

Nikita: Sheer lack of representation led me to engage as editor of the book. Back home in India, Northeastern voices are only just getting heard. For those of us identifying as Indian Nepali or Gorkhalis, we’re ‘twice marginalized’, first at the central level and then among the Northeastern representatives too. Lack of representation is one aspect, misrepresentation is another. At university, I recall a book that described the “hobbies” of a particular hill community as “watching tv”. Perhaps that group did engage in plenty of tv-watching but it didn’t explain why or how that “hobby” had come about. I consider such findings to be reductive. There’s plenty of scholarly research on the region but I think it’s important for people from the region to represent themselves too, hence the book.

Q. Can you shed some light on what the book covers?

Nikita: The book sheds light on gender and sexuality as they are experienced, expressed and performed in the Eastern Himalayas- specifically in Darjeeling, Siliguri, Sikkim and the neighboring hill areas. It covers a whole array of topics from film to queer literature to linguistics to citizenship, tea economy, missionary schooling and so forth. Each article is well researched and brilliantly written by our scholars. The fact that all of us came together during the pandemic to produce a work simply because of our desire to produce something in our voices and change the narrative is something I’m truly proud of.

Q. How are you celebrating Pride Month this year?

Nikita: Quietly at home while trying to catch up on new queer literature.

Q. Your message to the audience?

Nikita: Recently I came across a message in one of the Nepal Pride Parade posts. It said “Why be homophobic, bi-phobic or transphobic when you can just be quiet?” Given the easy access to information these days, I find it ridiculous that people are still very ignorant and arrogant regarding queer issues but to each one’s own! I know that a little empathy goes a long way so I encourage you readers to educate yourselves and be kind when you can.

Throughout the years, Pride Month has evolved into a global celebration of diversity, inclusivity, and self-acceptance. It serves as a beacon of hope, encouraging individuals to embrace their true selves and promoting a society where everyone is treated with dignity and respect. As we look back on the progress made and the challenges that lie ahead, Governance Lab stands together in solidarity, urging everyone to create a world where every individual can live with pride, acceptance, and the freedom to be their true selves.