LGBTQ-themed cafes and restaurants are gaining an increasing footprint in a city that takes pride in being liberal among other Indian cities. How it is shaping up Kolkata’s gastronomy map?
To very well understand this topic, we first need to briefly know what exactly LGBT is. LGBT is also known as Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender. This is the term that has been taken to derive a community as a whole. A term that describes the love between people of the same gender or sexual desires for people of all genders and sexes. LGBTQ has now been made legal in our country under section 377 of the Indian Penal Code where a five-judge constitutional bench of the Supreme Court made this law an act on the 6th of September 2018.
This was initially supported by a majority group of youngsters later giving them the confidence to come out and express their love in public after this law became an act. We have now been seeing various efforts taken by the LGBTQ community to support their friends.
The Biblical phrase “thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” has been rewritten by a history that talks of a linear trajectory of heterosexuality as the accepted norm as “thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself UNLESS, of course, he or she is part of the LGBTQIA community”. These practitioners of “unnatural” acts of sex, a part of life that is already considered taboo, have been cornered by a marginal section of society.
Since 1861, almost around the same time since queer sexuality was ostracised by a heteronormative hegemony, the need for queer-friendly spaces has been a necessity. The allotment of dark spaces imbued with alcohol and burlesque has been considered to be the only places that metaphorically suit the unexplored alleys of non-conforming sexualities. The narratives that are fraught with colonial anxieties coupled with contemporary manifestations of discrimination against this community always dreamed of finding a space devoid of judgmental stares and snide remarks that only bring forth a deep-seated collective insecurity of the society, and this very issue might finally have a solution in the form of queer cafes and queer-friendly spaces, especially in the aftermath of the scrapping of parts of the discriminatory provisions of Section 377 of the IPC.
But why pink?
“The simple reason is that in the food industry, pink food is not that common. We wanted to do away with all sorts of preconceived notions about what should look like, trying things that would intrigue customers. The mocktails too, coupled with live music, make the Café #377 experience all the more enjoyable.
All sections of society come to my café, not just the queer community even though they feel extremely comfortable in this atmosphere. They are appreciative of the non-discriminatory nature of the place. In terms of staff too, we have extremely friendly people working for us. If a person from the LGBTQ community seeks a job here, we will be the last to judge and accept them with open arms,” he added.
Zomato users have expressed their opinions on the place. “What is freedom if you can’t choose the person with whom you want to be? Or the colour of the dress that you want to wear? Well, cafe #377 is one such place which promotes liberty equality and unity in its truest form,” wrote Tuhin Samanta in his Zomato review.
Paradoxically, there were more queer-friendly places before. We always feel that with dating apps, things have become more accessible but with that policing also has increased, especially for queer people.
Arjun, a student of Jadavpur University, says, “Before the advent of dating apps like Grindr and Tinder which now ask for sexual preferences before matching you with someone with the same interest, there were spaces for cruising in Kolkata. Even at the Maidan and Rabindra Sadan, gay men used to meet each other quite openly.
Cruising also helped all rungs of society to meet like-minded people. For queer cafes, the gesture is nice, but the crowd is not diverse. Only an English-speaking, urban and elite class can go to such places. Not many from the LGBTQ community even know the term “queer”. A queer ricksha puller won’t be able to enter such a place during the day because of “nuisance” policing which is not as stringent for heterosexual couples. They do not fear being beaten up. These places are extremely capitalist in nature. That is something that I have a problem with,” he added.
Co-founder of the first LGBTQ café in Kolkata, Amra, Upasana Agarwal, opened up about the aspect of sexual predators in such spaces. The founders’ first endeavour called Adamant Eve had to be shifted for this very reason.
“We are a self-sustainable community centre acting on the need for space that has always existed. We wanted to fund community members, provide community employment and give other folks money to start their own queer and trans-run businesses so that they face less harassment in their work environments,” Agarwal said.
Commenting on how queer spaces might someday turn into capitalist ventures, catering only to the urbane queer community, she added, “People who eat at Amra can also donate a plate of food which can be picked up anonymously by someone who cannot afford it. We also wanted to do one day a week community cook-ins where we would cook together and have one free or an extremely reasonable lunch. Corporate chains severely coop the queer movement making it primarily a space for gay men. We try to eradicate this problem within the community.”
There are several “LGBTQIA Friendly” restaurants and cafes in Kolkata such as Café 75 and Chit Chaat, out of which the Lalit group has been the most vocal when it comes to providing such a safe space spearheaded by Keshav Suri, executive director of the Lalit Suri Hospitality Group.
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(Pragati Pandey is a student of Journalism and Mass Communication from Amity University.)
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