Maya Sharma, a leading feminist scholar, and activist wrote: “Loving Women: Being Lesbian in Unprivileged India” in 2006, which was one of the earliest explorations into female sexuality from underprivileged backgrounds. The book has 10 such stories of “woman loving woman” (WLW) experiences that carefully allow the reader to step into the worlds of these individuals. These stories were set in 2006, which is way before the decriminalization of IPC377 by the Supreme Court of India.
This was a much-needed and welcome addition to the Indian Lesbian Writing shelf, especially in 2006, when these stories were still being dismissed by responses like “it is not what you think” or “we are just friends.”
Maya Sharma, with utmost determination and sensitivity, brings out the stories of these almost “invisible” women and takes us into small villages and towns. Some of them are young girls or unemployed women, and even women with blue-collared jobs. They are fighting not only for identity validation but also for survival. These women had many other identities like caste, class, and religion apart from their queer identity.
There are unexpected and moving stories about working-class women (who love women) and they aren’t always aware of the word ‘lesbian’ itself. They don’t have support groups, online content creators, or helplines. They are simply those who are simply led by simplicity and their honesty about the desire they feel for the women they love. Back in 2006, and maybe even today, these narratives, identities, and spaces explored effectively challenge the notion that love between people of the same gender is a Western or upper-class phenomenon. The women talk about their full sexual lives and also their sense of their own sexual agency.
In one of the stories, we have the impulsive and angry Vimlesh (with a masculine gender expression, i.e., shirt-pant wearing) who was always questioning. They ask, ‘Why create categories, such deep differences between male and female? Only our bodies make us so. We are all human beings, aren’t we?” Then there is the adorable and fascinating story of Sabo and Razia. For decades, they were able to masterfully navigate religious divides, marriages, as well as their families through the tag of ‘female friendship’.
Through their friendship, they were able to celebrate festivals, take care of each other’s kids, and through this friendship, they remained in each other’s personal and social lives. There is another story of a teenage couple, Menaka and Payal, who loved each other and ran away from home. They were found and later forcibly brought back to their families. Despite saying ‘we love one another and want to live together,’ it was hard for them to withstand the pressures of their society and they were forced to separate.
Many of these stories give voice to queer individuals with little or no privilege, and the world gets to hear their lived realities and their queer lives. These narratives also wipe away the myth that women are sexual beings without agency, and it has been a huge influence in offering visibility to lesbian in the queer narratives in India.
The author, Maya Sharma, is an activist in the Indian Women’s Movement and is currently working with an organisation that advocates for the rights of marginalised women and gender/sexual minorities called Vikalp in Baroda, Gujarat. Get your copy of Loving Woman: Being Lesbian in Unprivileged India on Amazon!