Working with pride
BENGALURU: Twelve years after he wrote Gay Bombay, Parmesh Shahani is out with his second book –Queeristan (Westland Publications). The business book, which has just as much heart as it has numbers, outlines a case for LGBTQ+ inclusion in corporate India. Or as Shahani, who is the head of Godrej India Culture Lab, puts it, “It’s a business book that talks about hope, fun, pleasure, possibilities and stories.” Edited excerpts from an interview:
Tell us about Queeristan. What was the idea behind writing this book?
It is essentially a business book, wrapped with a lot of masala. At its core, the book outlines a clear case for why any organisation should be inclusive. Besides being the decent thing to do, it can make you money, be more innovative and also helps you find good talent. Each of these cases is supported by data and moving stories, including my own.
It also tells you what any organisation can do to be inclusive, which is second half of the book. The first takes you through my own journey, the past 10 years, and how we pushed Godrej to become an inclusive company. We need to think of our queer employees like our queer children and the book also includes the history of being queer in India.
What’s the story behind the title of the book?
Queeristan is my affectionate title for an India that is queer friendly and inclusive. I have a chapter dedicated to this too. It’s not an imagination, we are already creating facets of this inclusive India all around – whether through our law, through the progressive moves of certain states (for example, Maharashtra last month set up a transgender welfare board), more accepting parents, colleges coming up with all-gender hostels for gender non-conforming students, etc. I call all these changes Queeristan.
Which Indian companies have you quoted as examples for others to follow?
From Tech Mahindra to Wipro to The Lalit Ashok, Indian companies, along with global counterparts, are all in different stages of adopting all the best practices. Companies like ThoughtWorks in Bengaluru are also progressive. One would imagine progressive stuff from companies like Google and Goldman Sachs. But even Tata Steel, which is a hardcore Indian industrial company, or companies like Cummins in Pune, when they offer gender affirmation surgery or relocation benefits to same sex partners – it makes a difference.
It shows that inclusion is not something only service-oriented companies can incorporate. It’s something everyone can do. The LGBTQ job fair in Bengaluru had 45 companies – so I’m seeing more active recruitment. A lot of them were software and design jobs but I’m seeing more companies, like Solidarity Foundation and PeriFerry, work with LGBTQ community organisations, to design a combination of skill building and hiring workshops for entry-level employees. To me, all of these are good steps because it’s happening at every level.
You have an entire chapter dedicated to privilege. Can you tell more about it?
I’ve been conscious of my own position, my background or education, the fact that I’m working at company like Godrej, which has given me access that many of my queer community members don’t have. A lot that is heard in the queer movement happens to be gay, male, uppercaste voices. So I’ve been conscious to write this book to share my journey but also use it as a platform to showcase and amplify voices that aren’t heard enough.
Why did you wait 12 years to write your second book?
Gay Bombay was informed by my experience in academia. Queeristan came after my experience in business. So I saw a different side of the world. Between the two, so much changed in our country. My own understanding of queerness changed so much. Now I think of queerness in intersectional terms. I think of how linked it has to be with other movements, like climate change, gender, the anti-caste movement, etc. Between the two books, my own understanding of how one can’t argue for LGBTQ rights without understanding that all our rights are interconnected, has grown and informed this book.
Are you working on any other book at the moment?
I want to write a sequel – Straighistaan, which will look at the world of straight people through my queer eyes. I’m just joking. But I don’t want to wait another 12 years for my book. I enjoyed writing this and I do have ideas I want to explore around the idea of being queer in contemporary India. I’m sure it’ll be faster – maybe a year or two.
Courtesy : TNIE