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Maya and Betu: courageous activists

December 16, 2009

Sitting in their living room, with sunshine pouring in through the open windows, we can hear the sounds of this New Delhi suburb outside.  Horns honking, birds singing, a man on the main road wailing in a haunting voice announcing the merchandise that he is selling.  In the garden, fragrant tropical flowers sway in the wind, and inside Hindu icons and statues blend in with the otherwise secular decor.

This is the home of Maya and Betu – founders of Sangini – an Indian organization committed to lesbian rights that runs a shelter, a support group, and a help line.   On the outside, this may appear to be an ordinary middle-class suburban home but inside the walls live this openly lesbian couple who are daring not only to challenge their society’s boundaries for themselves (homosexuality was illegal in Delhi until just a few months ago), but also daring to ensure that others find safe spaces to direct their own destinies as well.  Having heard of these two courageous women, I was intrigued to learn what gave them the strength and the hope to continue their struggles in the face of such adversity.

Maya smiled at me when I asked her my question of her thoughts on the future of humankind.  “Things repeat themselves, and they will always repeat themselves.  The only thing that changes is who is in power”.  A never-ending cycle of human greed and power-struggles?  Is this really what she believes we have to look forward to?   No.  Maya firmly emphasizes that she really does have optimism for the future of humankind.

She does not actually think that things will change appreciably in the manner in which society as a whole conducts itself, but she has hope that over time perspectives will slowly change on certain issues.  Though root prejudices will continue to pervade our psyche, and those once-oppressed will in turn become oppressors – she believes that despite this there will be moments of victory and moments of breakthrough on various fronts.  I suppose one could liken this to a sort of upwards spiral – with patterns and cycles repeating themselves, but with gradual overall change and overall upliftment of the human condition.  I interviewed her prior to July 2009 -when Delhi repealed the criminalization of homosexuality – but I suppose that this historic event really does speak volumes to support her perspective.

We spent the morning sipping tea and speaking of war, peace, prejudice, oppression, the importance of supporting local economies, the importance of tradition and culture – and the dangers they see India facing today as her youth lose touch with their cultural traditions and values.  Betu in particular seems to feel quite mournful of the loss of India’s soul, and the commercialization and westernization of their nation.

When speaking of war, Betu has some unique ideas to reduce the impact conflict can have upon the masses.  Much like sports are played on an athletic field, so too says Betu, should wars be “played” on a battleground to avoid involving civilians and civilian infrastructure.  Since it really is all about economics and politics, these things should be conducted outside of normal habitation regions, and only those who wish to fight may participate.  “You know like we watch cricket on tv – like that we could start watching these wars on tv.  ‘Oh, tonite Iran and the US are fighting and the Pakistan and India war is on too’ ” she chuckles.  She also speaks of borderless nations as a means of helping us to connect as humans and to really begin to understand one another.  This too would go a long way in preventing conflicts rooted in fear and ignorance.

I say that I remain unconvinced – not just that sensible solutions like Betu’s will ever be considered, but that we will ever make enough incremental positive change faster than we repeat the cycles that destroy ourselves.  Maya chuckes “It’s just a perspective.  There will never be hope for humanity – only for individuals”.  And this apparently is enough for them to continue their fight, enough for them to reach into their souls and follow their passions, and enough for them find glimmers of hope in the uphill battles they struggle with.

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