SHORTLY AFTER THE Supreme Court read down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code in September 2018, I said in a talk that I was better off when Section 377 was in existence. What I meant by this was that I preferred to continue to be a resisting subject in some sense rather than be co-opted by the state, which now saw me as a citizen with locus standi. I recalled this sentiment while reading a recent book by the academic Rahul Rao, titled Out of Time: The Queer Politics of Postcoloniality. One of the questions the book poses at the very beginning is articulated by the scholar Jasbir Puar: “What happens after certain liberal rights are bestowed, certain thresholds of parameters of success are claimed to have been reached. What happens when ‘we’ get what ‘we’ want?”
Rao’s book is not as interested in examining this question at length since he writes, “Rather than offering critique in the smug afterlife of victory, I am interested in critique in contexts in which people cannot not want things that they do not have.” Nonetheless, his book poses a useful starting point for considering how responses to Puar’s question might play out in India today. Out of Time’s critique of certain tendencies when it comes to contemporary queer politics could provide a valuable framework for a reading of a very different recent book: Queeristan, a work slanted more towards the political Right. Read together, the books throw up questions regarding how queer individuals position themselves within the nation today.
Out of Time examines the political aftermath of various nations’ struggles with the decriminalisation of queer sex and focusses in particular on Uganda and India, both of which inherited certain anti-queer laws from British colonisation. It examines histories of queerness against those of imperialism and anti-imperialism, paganism and Christianity, whiteness, embourgeoisement and caste. In Uganda, Rao says, he is identified as a “muyindi,” or an Indian, and at times even a “muzungu,” or foreigners who are thought of as being white. He acknowledges himself as “a postcolonial Indian citizen with a great deal of gender, caste, class and religious privilege,” but contrasts this with “the coloniality of my sexuality.”