Being queer anywhere is far from easy. For example, in India, despite the increasingly liberal young population, many people still hold relatively conservative views. Arranged marriages are common, the caste system has not completely disappeared, and heterosexuality is the presumed norm.
Queer rights activist Malini Jeevarathnam takes a stand against this homophobia with her film, Ladies and Gentlewomen, which documents the lives, deaths and suicide attempts among lesbians in India. The controversial film is bringing India’s queer community to light.
But Jeevarathnam knows that not everyone will want to watch an entire film. And even if they want to, censorship, Internet access and monetary funds can prevent them. Since she wants to spread her message as far as possible, she commissioned a songwriter to write something that captures the essence of Ladies and Gentlewomen, but which can be shared worldwide: a music video titled #LesbianAnthem.
The song follows two lesbian couples in love. The first couple lives in the city – they’re what you could call liberal or modern. The second couple is much more traditional. They’re confined to the rural region of Tamil Nadu, but their traditional surroundings do not prevent them from getting a happy ending.
Jeevaratham was heartbroken when she found out that many Indian lesbians couldn’t relate to traditional pop or Bollywood songs. #LesbianAnthem finally gives them a song that documents their experiences. She enlisted composer Justin Prabhakaran and Kutti Revati, a love poet. Jeevarthnam had only one direction for Revati: “Keep the lyrics simple, uncomplicated and cheerful.”
You never know what will happen to a song like this after you release it to the general public. Macklemore’s Same Love inspired queer people across the United States to come out, comforted by the fact that a mainstream white rapper was affirming their existence, or something. But a 2016 cover of Same Love in Kenya left the creators terrified, facing death threats and eventually forced to flee the country.
So what will the reaction be in India? Only time will tell. In the meantime, check out the song for yourself.