June is celebrated as Pride month around the world. The people from the LGBTQI+ community are advancing in human rights in many parts of the world, however in many other places life is still not so easy. The dire state of queer people in conflicted regions is revealed through an interview with a young queer man from Jammu and Kashmir in India.
To be queer in 21st-century India, which in reality is a modern-day cosplay of its 18th-century self, can be very difficult and stifling. The situation became even worse during the pandemic. Coronavirus had widespread disastrous impacts in India, whether it was in terms of life or resources. However, something that is often overlooked is the impact of the pandemic on people’s mental health.
As per a scientific brief released by the World Health Organization, during the first year of the pandemic, “global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by a massive 25%”. More importantly, studies and data from around the world have shown a consistent decline in well-being across sexual identities in terms of mental and physical health during the pandemic.
This was experienced by a student of Delhi University as well, who wanted to reveal his story anonymously. ‘M’ comes from Jammu and Kashmir, a conflicted region in India. He identifies himself as queer and during the lockdown, he experienced high levels of anxiety and stress. In his family, he has his mother, father, and brother. His mother is a doctor while both his father and brother are working as engineers. During the pandemic, like everyone, M was concerned about his family’s safety from the virus. His mother being a doctor, worked on the frontlines of the pandemic, M says, “I was quite worried about my mother. I feared that she might transmit the virus and that all of us in the family will get it too. She has underlying illnesses as well, I was worried about her health”.
Another prominent cause of his anxiety was his inability to express his identity.
When the pandemic started, M was in his last year of high school. Since high school results play a crucial role in Indian students’ careers, M faced a lot of pressure and stress while trying to keep up with society and parental expectations. After high school, like any other teenager, he wanted to experience some freedom and take measures to adapt to his identity.
“Being confined during the lockdown prevented me from exploring my sexuality. It made me overthink my identity. I felt anxious since I could not express myself, which, in a way hampered my confidence,” says M.
In India, people from the LGBTQI+ community do not receive equitable treatment and acceptance. The cause of this practice comes from religious and stereotypical societal narratives that have been pedestalized. Due to the fear of backlash, many people who identify themselves as queer, hesitate from revealing their sexuality publically. M also is scared about his family’s reaction to his identity.
“Even though I am from a progressive family, I don’t know how my family will react. Because of that, I am scared to tell them. Growing up, I did not have a good relationship with my parents. Things have gotten better with time. I am scared that if I reveal my identity to my parents now, it might ruin my relation with them”, M added.
Not just this, being a queer in a conflicted region like Jammu and Kashmir, where terrorist attacks and riots are common, things are much harder for M.
“Since there are a lot of conflicts in Jammu and Kashmir, people here have not received much exposure. Unlike metropolitan cities in India, the nature of the society here is exceedingly narrow-minded.”
M is scared that if he opens up about his identity publicly the societal backlash will harm his family.
“I am scared about the consequences my family would face. There is a possibility that expressing my identity will not have a desirable outcome. This just adds to my anxiety.”
Even amidst all these hardships, M is persevering to move forward. “I started therapy during the second wave of covid, along with this I read a lot of books which helped me keep my anxiety in check.”
In the future, M plans to pursue his master’s and start working. However, his biggest dream is that one day he will find the courage to explain to his family what it means to be queer.