Written by Janani Sampath
About the author: Parmesh Shahani is a passionate advocate for LGBTQ inclusion and the co-founder of Godrej India’s Culture Lab that ignites conversations about contemporary India. His first book ‘Gay Bombay: Globalization, Love and (Be) Longing in Contemporary India (Sage Publications)’ was released in 2008, and its updated version was re-published in 2020.
In September 2018, since the reading down of the draconian Section 377 of the IPC, which criminalized homosexuality, by Supreme Court, there has been a tectonic shift in the discourse. The judgment has opened vistas of hope in hastening their inclusion across realms, and more specifically in workplaces.
‘Queeristan LGBTQ Inclusion in The Indian Workplace’ by Parmesh Shahani is a ready reckoner for those aiming to start the journey in their companies and offers a lot to reflect on and learn for those who have made the beginning.
Picking up threads from his journey of coming out in the open, Shahani, who heads the D&I at GILAC (Godrej Industries Ltd and associated companies) and the Godrej India Culture Lab, makes a strong case for inclusion– interspersing anecdotes and solid data– in his second book.
In what he calls the ‘masaledar’ (spicy) journey, Shahani talks about his own experience of hiding and coming out in the open to becoming the inclusion advocate as a proud gay man.
The book is a tale for all — those from the group, straight allies of LGBTQ, those who want to make a difference in their organizations through their policies, or just someone who wants to know more for their reasons— dispel myths and beat biases.
In the ‘memoir-meeting-manifesto’, the writer deftly intertwines subaltern queer cultures in India, social movements, and pride marches in urban pockets of the country, examining their representation in popular culture, alongside the need and means to open avenues across the board.
Shahani introduces us to some interesting concepts— ‘jugaad resistance’– the strategy of bringing about a change locating yourself staying in the system or environment you wish to change (remember, you have to be in the system to change the system), and cultural acupuncture. The interplay of both is the Culture Lab, which triggers dialogues and experiments involving marginalized communities.
Infiltrating into the corporate world by catalyzing shift towards inclusive policies, he takes us through the monumental changes made within organizations by inclusion champions and business leaders in Godrej, IBM, Tata Steel, The Lalit Group of Hotels, etc.
The highlight of the book is the pain-staking amalgamation. From the queer alphabet soup to historicizing queer India, the business case of inclusion of LGBTQ, parental support, making workplaces inclusive, and laying out the roadmap— Queeristan is a passionate argument that delves a lot into personal experiences and epiphanies. It compels you to listen, question your biases, challenge your preconceived notions, and most importantly, spur into action.
While some assume the change has arrived with the liberal use of rainbow filters and pride-themed parties, the book urges them to go beyond tokenism, emphasizing that it boils down to action.
In all the discussions and topics he opens for his readers, Shahani’s story-telling is cheerily brisk. Yet, he doesn’t dilute hard facts as he reflects on his privilege. He confounds the reader at times with second thoughts on the change he has brought about, and he leaves it open-ended. It has only been three years since the landmark verdict. While legally this is a breakthrough, what about the social systems that take a longer time to evolve to accommodate?