From the Editor - Radhika Chandiramani

Letter from Editor Hello again! We are back with an exciting new collection of articles in this year’s third issue of In Plainspeak.

We have been extremely fortunate that one of Pakistan’s leading feminists, Nighat Said Khan, was in Delhi to talk about recent events in Pakistan. In May 2007, Shumail Raj, a transgender man, and, Shahzina Tariq, his wife were imprisoned by Pakistani authorities. Shahzina and Shumail were in love and had got married secretly in September 2006, but were being harassed by Shahzina’s father and had sought legal protection. Instead of protection, what they received was imprisonment. Nighat has since then been fighting tirelessly on their behalf, getting them legal representation as well as soliciting support from all across the world. In the Interview she speaks about the intricacies of the case, her views on sexual and gender expression in Pakistan, as well as, surprisingly, on how religious leaders have not uttered any opinion on Shumail and Shahzina’s predicament. To show solidarity with Shahzina and Shumail, and follow up on what’s happening, or contribute to their legal expenses (pro bono, but there are still expenses around photocopying, and so on), please contact Nighat at Do write letters of support to Shahzina and Shumail at the email address provided, because every letter of support will help in keeping their spirits up. 

From another Islamic country, Indonesia, we have Julia Suryakusuma, again a leading feminist, giving us her views on how Islam actually celebrates sexuality, in the Issue in Focus. She points out that Indonesian Islam is a kind of laid back ‘tropical Islam’, and gives interesting examples of local sexual customs that are still followed in some parts of Indonesia. Of course, all is not smooth sailing and there are groups of people who are still discriminated against and marginalised. 

Speaking of which, an author, who is both gay and Dalit, looks at the intersections between two marginalised identities in The Bigger Picture. What does it mean to be pitched concomitantly in two different social hierarchies that carry the weight of oppression through history? Are there any parallels to be drawn? What happens when two marginalised identities come together? Does it matter? Important questions for us to consider… 

Hot off the Press forces us to think about HIV and the politics of not just representation but also funding. Very hard questions. Demanding tough answers from those of us willing to stand by them.

But it’s not only marginalised identities that we need to consider. Even in the so-called ‘mainstream’, there are curbs being placed on sexual expression. Consider the recent controversies in India over the introduction of a sexuality education curriculum highlighted in the Campaign Spotlight. And then, on the other hand, the efforts of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), in Pakistan, to commission a series of short films of sexuality in Urdu that we review in Reel Review.

In Brushstrokes, we have paintings by Prastowo, the Indonesian artist who reflects on times gone by with a contemporary twist on what happened in earlier times. His art evokes images of ‘the good life’. A life we have left behind. Or, maybe a life we could aspire towards in times to come. We are grateful that he has allowed us the use of his art for the next three covers of In Plainspeak. Some background – Prastowo, in his early years, facing hard luck, brought his paintings to Chicmart, a gift store in Kemang, South Jakarta, hoping to sell a few. The owner, Vonny Hartono, recognised his talent, and appointed herself as his ‘patron’, supplying him regularly with painting materials and eventually organised the exhibition that in Jakarta, Julia stumbled across, an exhibition called ‘Festival of Life’ a collection of almost 50 colourful paintings depicting nostalgic scenes of life in Java, some of which we reproduce here. Julia has kindly shared her photos of Prastowo’s work with us.

We hope that this issue of In Plainspeak will provoke you to think of the multiple ways in which our sexuality intersects with the whole of our lives.

Do write in with your thoughts and feedback. We look forward to it.


Radhika Chandiramani