In a society still not comfortable with the idea of homosexuality or bisexuality, it is difficult for college students to come out of the closet. But a group of students from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay are striving to change that. Saathi was formed in 2011 as a resource group for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community on the IIT Bombay campus. Says Nivvedan, one of the founders of the group, “An alumnus of ours, Harishchandra Ramdas, and I came together and decided to form this group as we felt that the issues of the LGBTQ community were not being given enough impetus on the campus. We felt it was necessary to have a body that stands for this community.”
Nivvedan says Saathi has three aims: providing a support structure for students who struggle with their sexual or gender identities, creating awareness and fostering sensitisation vis-a-vis LGBTQ issues in and around campus, and advocating the rights of this community by trying to influence institute policy and rules. “We’re just trying to create an inclusive and comfortable space for those members of the campus community who may belong to gender and sexual minorities,” Nivvedan says.
For Aditya Shankar, a second-year student, Saathi helped him become more confident with his sexual identity. “When it comes to being different, you need the support of others who are different,” he says. “I was introduced to Saathi in my first year, and when I saw how comfortable Ramdas was, how vociferously confident he was about his sexual identity, it gave me confidence too.”
Saathi has the support of the IIT administration. “We have never had a problem with discrimination,” says Nivvedan. Saathi conducts various events throughout the semester to raise awareness about the LGBTQ community.
They conduct informal and open meetings for newcomers and organise film screenings and theatre performances.
Says Nivvedan, “I remember a professor of ours, one who really supported the group and the community, saying, ‘The objective of Saathi should be to obliterate itself’. I had never thought of it that way but it was a striking statement.” The group hopes to see a day when Saathi will no longer be needed.