Indian student gets US fellowship for LGBT research in Tamil Nadu

Washington, July 1 (IANS) An Indian student has received an LGBT scholarship from California University to investigate how political tensions have led to the proliferation of new notions of sexual identity in Tamil Nadu.

“The movements taking place in Tamil Nadu right now draw on LGBT rights language, but they also draw on a lot of other histories,” says this year’s winner Shakthi Nataraj, an anthropology PhD student at UC Berkeley.

She is one of the three recipients of the Philip Brett LGBT Studies Fellowship launched in 2009 to honour Philip Brett, a pioneer of lesbian and gay musicology, who taught at Berkeley from 1966 to 1991, Nataraj grew up in Chennai, and spent time around nonprofits that focused in HIV and gender issues because of the work her mother did, according to a university release.

As Nataraj grew older, she reconnected with the LGBT community in Chennai.

Gradually, gender and sexuality rights became her work, and pursuing a PhD in the field offers an alternate way to engage in it.

Attending Berkeley, she said, has allowed her to explore her interests and to meet a cross-section of students who have taught her about issues of gender, sexuality and race in the American context.

“It’s the dual belonging to the worlds of academia and non-academia that is both the biggest challenge and the most rewarding part of this whole experience,” Nataraj said.

It is from this background that Nataraj approaches her LGBT research in Tamil Nadu, the release said.

As part of her research, she is examining how Indian courts struggle to reconcile notions of “Indian culture” with transnational human rights commitments.

For example, in December 2013, India’s Supreme Court upheld a colonial-era law criminalising homosexual intercourse and then, just months later, issued a judgment affirming transgender identity and rights.

Indian members of the LGBT communities, Nataraj said, are “paradoxically hailed as both rights-bearing consumers and atavistic criminals.”

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