A Gay Guy in a Turban


Written by Randeep Singh

On December 15, 2013, Kanwar Anit Singh Saini attended the Global Day of Rage in Toronto to protest the Supreme Court of India’s upholding of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which criminalizes homosexual sex.  He kisses another gay man at the protest. Another protester holds a poster above them with two men and the word “pyaar” written in Urdu. The photo was posted on his Facebook page with the caption “proud to be illegal.”

It’s interesting that while many in the diaspora have condemned what has happened in India, fewer have bothered to reflect on homophobic prejudice and intolerance within their local communities. The photo of Saini kissing another man generated hateful comments on Facebook from within the diaspora. Saini recalls on his Facebook page how his uncle once said the family would’ve killed Saini as a boy had they known he was gay.

South Asian GLBT persons like Saini continue to fight hate and intolerance within (and outside) their ancestral communities, including from “progressive” Indians, Pakistanis etc. Recently, I received a statement issued by a local South Asian group to the Indian Law Commission condemning the Supreme Court ruling. I was surprised to see the statement being lauded by people whom I have experienced homophobia from personally. I asked the group’s President that while I welcomed the statement, we’d do well to challenge prejudices in our backyard.

The openly gay former Indian prince Manvendra Singh Gohil said recently in an interview on CBC Radio that challenging Section 377 in India’s courts is one thing, but challenging Indians to open their hearts and minds is the greater struggle. That too is true here in Vancouver, as well as in Toronto, London, California and Queens. Saini has helped us all in that struggle by reminding us that GLBT South Asians are here and will keep up the fight.

Facebook’s Lifted Ban on the poem ‘Pakistan’s Mock Oscar’

Yesterday, Facebook blocked an Uddari post containing my poem ‘Pakistan’s Mock Oscar’ on basis of it being ‘spammy’ or ‘unsafe’. View the details here: https://uddari.wordpress.com/2012/06/07/facebook-blocks-fauzia-rafiques-poem-pakistans-mock-oscar/

I am grateful to Uddari readers, my peers in the writing community, and Facebook friends for responding to my ‘urgent’ message by checking out the links from different places, searching the poem on the Net, sending messages of support, and sharing ideas on what to do next. In particular, my warmest regards to Qayyum Khosa, Khalid Toor, Sarwar Sukhera, Shahid Mirza, Janet Kvammen, Ihsan Ul haq, Kadri Pereira, Chaman Lal, Surjeet Kalsey, S. K. Alam, Valerie B.-Taylor, Hasan N. Gardezi, Rajesh Sharma, and Cesar Love for rapid responses and for staying with it.

As this activity was taking place, and you can view a part of it on my timeline at Facebook, the block on the poem was lifted. Link to my timeline:

The block may have lasted a couple of hours but it has left us with a few important questions. Like most questions, these are about How and Why if not Who, Where and When. How did it come about that this particular poem was blocked in the first place? Are there certain words that Facebook filters catch onto, and if so, what are those? And then, why this particular poem raised some alarm and faced a block when many other poems have not raised/faced any?

So, let’s look at the possible keywords that could have caused some concern. It can’t be ‘pakistan’, ‘mock’ or ‘oscar’ because we are not where it can matter to anyone. Sure isn’t the ‘vegetarian menu’ or the ‘lush green/ forest’. ‘US-NATO’, ‘Daisy-Cutter’, ‘BLU-82, 1500lb.’, ‘(ammonium nitrate, aluminum powder, polystyrene) bomb’ may be. Or may be it’s ‘extreme violence,/disfigurements, deaths, causing irreparable damage/to body and spirit,’.

Second guessing the keywords is one thing, but the first thought is that it was a robot or a software filter that flagged it, but if so, why did it not flag it on June 5 when it was published at Uddari and shared at Facebook. Why did the filter flag/block it on June 7?

Valerie B.-Taylor, the president of New West Writers who came searching to Uddari to read the poem, said to me on the phone, ‘The poem has nothing pornographic, graphic, racist, sexist or homophobic, and it does not incite hatred or violence. There is no reason for anyone to block it.’ She also said another important thing: ‘By blocking you, they are blocking me because i can’t share the poem either.’ As Khalid toor concludes it, ‘Believe that no one can stop the voice of Truthfulness’.

More likely, some ‘humans’ did not like the content of the poem as opposed to the robots not liking some keywords in it.

We better be ready.

Fauzia Rafique

Viva Saudia: They Want Their Fours!!!!

Islam allows Muslim men to have four wives but in these tough economic times only a small proportion of male population can afford to have them. Now, there is new hope on the horizon, and again Saudi Arabia emerges in the lead where some men have come up with a predictable yet innovative push that may help more Muslim men to acquire not-just-one-or-two-but-more-and-at-least-up-to-four wives.

A campaign launched on Facebook by a group of Saudi men titled ‘We Want Them Four’ recommends that every Saudi and Arab man who is ‘financially and physically able’ should proceed by taking four wives each to end spinsterhood in the Arab region. The success of the campaign is apparent from the numerous requests registered by its match-making service. Most requests are made by Saudi men who are married and seeking a second or a third wife.

The campaign for ‘We Want Them Four’ has three stated objectives: To reduce the number of unmarried women in Saudi Arabia, to make it affordable for unmarried Saudi/Arab men to get married, and to reduce the amount of dowry. The idea is innovative because without shame, it uses polygamy as the basic promotional concept to launch a new match-making business in a competitive market of arranged Muslim marriages.

If that was not the case, this initiative would have had at least some semblance of having a level-headed appreciation of the status of women in Saudi Arabia, a country that has kept women so far back in society that basic statistics about women’s health and well-being are hard to find. ‘We Want Them Four’ is acting on the assumption that there is a large number of unmarried women in Saudi Arabia but is unable to provide even an approximate number. We can have a wild guess about the status of women in a country where 3,000 child-bride marriages were reported in the past one year.

This week, one woman each is condemned to being stoned to death in Iran and Pakistan. At least we know it. We don’t come to know about most of what happens to women in Saudi Arabia.

A note to the uninitiated: To the privileged and justice-meting Muslim men, Islam allows a mini-harem of a maximum of four wives. This means having two three or four wives at-the-same-time and not one-after-the-other. With this divine permit, there comes the famous advisory that asks the devout men to assure ‘equality’ and ‘justice’ between their simultaneous wives.

To bring home the concept of equality and justice upon polygamy-protecting Muslim men and their value systems, i was about to forward this rhetoric on behalf of at least some Muslim women, ‘Viva Fauzia: We Want Them Four Too!’ But its just a bad joke. Returning ignorance with ignorance will only increase it.

Information from an article by YOUSUF MUHAMMAD in Arab News

Fauzia Rafique

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