'India's decision to recriminalise homosexuality a backward move'

Jaipur, Jan 29: Of the six novels Welsh author Sarah Waters has written, five have lesbian couples as protagonists and for someone who has championed gay rights through her writings, she was extremely disappointed, like several others, with the Supreme Court's 2013 order recriminalising homosexuality.

'India's decision to recriminalise homosexuality a backward move'
"It was very disappointing to know that they were again recriminalised. From the outside world, this decision looked very disappointing," Waters told IANS in an interview on the sidelines of the just-concluded Jaipur Literature Festival.

"It is a backward move because the world is such an odd place for gay people all around the globe. On one hand you have liberal countries and on the other you have countries where it is completely banned," she added.

Even though the 48-year-old doesn't know which way India is headed where conservative movements are challenging the existence of the LGBT community within the Indian social system, Waters hopes things will change for good if the state understands the importance of respecting this community's rights.

While India will take some time to recognise the gay community, Waters was blessed to have grown up in a country that had started to develop liberal views in the early 1990s.

And this, indeed, helped her in coming out of the closet about her sexual identity and being welcomed in an open society where she could marry her partner.

One aspect of society however bothered her constantly.

"There was never the right projection of gay or lesbian couples in the mainstream. Their portrayal in the mainstream medium was confined to certain stereotypes and I wanted to break those myths," she recollected.

Hence she chanced upon the writing territory after completing her doctorate in literature. She was surprised by the almost "negligible" reference of lesbian couples in the historic times and always pondered over how they would have behaved. "My plan in the first place was to tell a story through a novel that hasn't been told before in the mainstream and I knew I was taking the chance of meeting the present with the past," she said.

"There were depictions about gay life in our history, but it was because only men were arrested then. They were quite flamboyant and would sometimes dress as women...so they had a record. But what about women, what did gay women do?" Waters asked.

It was in this quest that she delved into historical fiction and wrote bestselling novels like "Tipping the Velvet"(1998), "Affinity" (1999), "Fingersmith" (2002) - shorlisted for Man Booker Prize - and "The Little Stranger"(2009), among others.

"These novels are opportunities to explore their lives and try and imagine what it would have been like to be a gay woman in Victorian times," she said.

Without knowing, Waters' writings have made it to mainstream readers and she feels that what she has been able to achieve is to present "positive representations" of the lesbian couples because their relationship has always been shown as "tragic" and "unhealthy".

"People have been very cozy about lesbian relationships. I am glad my writings have been able to break that stereotype," she said.

However, as a woman, writing about lesbians and their sexual chemistry has put her into an uncomfortable zone which, according to her, "puts a lot of pressure on women authors to be modest in their writings."

"Even in the West, sex is seen as startling when a woman writes about it and this sexualises her. So, in my novels, there are sex scenes but not too much....but they do get noticed. It is about women not having quite the freedom," Waters concluded.

(Shilpa Raina can be contacted at shilpa.r@ians.in)

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