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Global Roundup: Queer Muslim Author, Justice for Survivor in India, Mexico Town First Pride Celebration, Iran Women Ice Hockey Team, Vietnam Queer Club Night
Curated by FG Contributor Samiha Hossain
Image: Hachette Children’s Group
Not even Jaigirdar anticipated the splash her 2020 debut novel, The Henna Wars, would make in the literary world. After the book hit Time magazine’s 100 Best YA Books of All Time, she went on to land the YA Book Prize in 2022, for her follow-up novel, Hani and Ishu’s Guide To Fake Dating, and became a sensation on Tik Tok. But critical acclaim isn’t what motivates Jaigirdar to write – bringing LGBTQ+ representation to the publishing world is what drives her. The 29-year-old Bangladeshi-Irish writer was born in Dhaka before moving to Dublin at the age of 10, and these aspects of her identity form the heart of her work.
As a gay South Asian Muslim woman, Jaigirdar says it was difficult to find any representation in the media that positively reflected her identity while she was growing up, even in the film empire Bollywood.
There are a lot of Bollywood movies that I loved but, again, the only LGBTQ+ representation we’ve seen has been very, very recent [for example 2019 lesbian film Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga] so even there, it was lacking…There’s also very little Muslim representation in Bollywood…-Adiba Jaigirdar
Jaigirdar says she writes the kind of books she wished she had while growing up and figuring out how she felt about her sexuality and culture. Her books are filled with richly nuanced queer Bangladeshi Muslim characters who intrinsically reflect her cultural values and reject the archetype of the typical oppressed queer Muslim.
I’ve tried to tackle different aspects of queer identity, and how my characters are navigating that or how their family and friends are reacting to it. That’s always been very, very important for me. -Adiba Jaigirdar
Jaigirdar’s latest novel, The Dos and Donuts of Love is inspired by the viral donut trend that gripped Dublin a few years ago. The novel follows the daughters of two rival donut-shop owners who go head-to-head in a reality baking show, with a wider message to always follow your dreams. Jaigirdar believes penning these “hyper-specific stories” will pave the way for even more representation in the book world. She points to her own career as proof of progress in the publishing industry, something that perhaps was not possible even in “2014 or 2015”, she adds.
There is someone out there who is looking for your story, and who needs your story. So, when I’m facing an obstacle I’m thinking about that person, because that person does exist and they’re waiting for you. -Adiba Jaigirdar
Soldiers patrol during a curfew in Muzaffarnagar district, Uttar Pradesh. Photograph: Rajesh Kumar Singh/AP
CW: sexual violence
After a decade of delays and threats, Amena was the last of seven rape survivors in India resolved to fight. Gang-rapes occurred during communal riots that left more than 60 people dead and hundreds homeless. Amena was 26 when the violence swept through the Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts of Uttar Pradesh in September 2013. A decade on, she was the last of seven women to still be pursuing justice for a rape reported to police at the time. The others withdrew their complaints in the face of years of intimidation. Maheshvir, known by only one name, and Sikander Malik have been sentenced to 20 years. The convictions are being welcomed by Muslims facing increasing discrimination under the populist rightwing prime minister Narendra Modi.
The violence was triggered by rumours that a Muslim boy had sexually abused a Hindu girl in Kawal village. The boy was killed by a gang of Hindu men, which allegedly provoked an angry Muslim mob to take revenge. The riot spread across western Uttar Pradesh. When Amena heard chants of “Kaato Musalmano ko” (slaughter the Muslims) in her village in Samli district, she took her three-month-old son and, like her Muslim neighbours, ran. But as she hid in a sugarcane field, three Hindu men found her. The men were local and known to her husband, she says.
Amena told her husband about the attack and the couple initially decided to keep quiet, fearing the shame often associated with rape. But then stories of sexual assault against women started emerging from the displacement camps where many people, including Amena and her family, took refuge after the riots. Hearing that six Muslim women from another village had found the courage to formally lodge rape complaints, Amena decided to send her own written account of what had happened to her to police in Muzaffarnagar.
It took four months and the intervention of India’s supreme court to get her case filed. A charge sheet against the accused took another four years to process. It took a further three years, until November 2021, for the police to interview seven prosecution witnesses. Meanwhile, the three accused were released on bail in 2014. Proceedings were then suspended when Amena filed a petition in the same court pleading for the trial to be transferred out of Muzaffarnagar because of the threats and harassment she and her family were enduring. The Covid pandemic caused further delays. An Amnesty International report on the cases noted that all the women, along with their families, went through years of harassment and threats from the accused and their families before the six withdrew.
Though happy with the conviction, Amena still deals with the trauma from the attack and the legal process, the financial toll of the case as well as threats to her and her family’s safety.
I was adamant to fight my case until the last breath. Now I am happy, but I feel exhausted. -Amena
Photo: Christian Turon
The local tourism authority in Nayarit, a state in Mexico, wanted to boost the number of LGBTQ+ people visiting the area so they invited a group of six queer journalists from Canada, Mexico, and the United States to visit the town of Jala.
While the group was there to investigate the town, as the journalists strolled through the cobblestone streets, meeting locals and learning about their businesses and personal lives, the residents also took the chance to meet and get to know them as well. From a local spice manufacturer to a breathtaking rural family business perched on the side of a volcano that served them breakfast using local produce and meat fresh from the farm, the group was welcomed with open arms.
But as they left, Brian Webb, the owner of Homoculture, had the idea to stage an impromptu Pride parade. As the group unfurled Webb’s Pride flag and assumed position, the nearby businesses emptied into the street to watch. People gathered around to cheer and encourage the mini-parade and quickly started taking photos as nearby children ran to the edges to watch. As locals clapped and laughed in enjoyment, the group walked up and down the small block, posing for photos for their publications and, now, for the community. After the mini-march, people walked up to ask for pictures with the group and offered encouragement.
Our Pride march was inspiring. The way we all came together to do it, not knowing what could happen and the reaction we received, was freeing. People came to the sides, looked at us, cheered us on, and recorded history being made alongside us. That was special…-Gustavo Rivas-Solis, organizer
The journalists were uplifted by the town’s overwhelmingly positive reaction and they were proud to be a part of the first Pride celebration in Jala.
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Azam Sanaei is the captain and assistant coach of Iran women’s ice hockey team [Courtesy of Azam Sanaei]
The national women’s ice hockey team in Iran are dreaming big and want their unexpected success to inspire other Iranian sportswomen. The team did not even exist three years ago, but now looks like it could be a force to be reckoned with. In May, they travelled to Bangkok to play in the IIHF Women’s Asia and Oceania Championship for the first time.
Iran started the eight-nation tournament with a 17-1 demolition of India, followed by even more emphatic wins over Kuwait (20-0) and Kyrgyzstan (26-0). They beat the United Arab Emirates 14-0 in the quarters and Singapore 3-0 in the semis. Iran’s run was ended by the host nation in the final. The score was 1-1 for much of the game before Thailand – roared on by a big and partisan crowd – pulled away in the closing stages to win 3-1 and take the gold medal. Still, silver was a fine reward for the women from Iran.
It was our first official Asian ice hockey championship experience. All our competitors had much more experience in ice hockey than us, so even getting to the tournament was a huge step. It was the sweetest feeling and proudest moment to get to the final and take second place. -Azam Sanaei, captain and assistant coach of Iran women’s ice hockey team
The onset of the COVID pandemic meant the women had to wait for their first opportunity to play other countries. In January, they finally played their first international games in Russia where they reached the final of a five-team Islamic Countries tournament. The team also reached another milestone during the tournament when their matches were screened back home – the first time Iranian women’s sports were broadcast live on Iranian national television. In a country where women are not allowed into stadiums to watch men’s football, this was seen as significant.
Our achievement can help all of Iran’s women to know that there is nothing that can stop them and, even with all the barriers in front of them, if they try, they will make it to wherever they want. -Azam Sanaei
SNUG ALWAYS OPENS WITH A DRAG SHOW BY DRAG PERFORMER GROUP PEACH. PHOTO: TONYA DZYUBENKO
Snug is a queer club night in the district of Tay Ho in Hanoi, Vietnam, that, according to its Instagram bio, is home to the city’s “fabulous, dancers, kissers, homos, queers, posers, [and] bitches.” Their first party was in 2016, not long after the opening of their home club, Savage. There have been over 50 Snug nights since, and the fun is showing no signs of slowing down. This month’s edition welcomed around 600 people. For many, it’s the one time in the city they feel comfortable letting go and being themselves.
Before Snug, Ouissam, a celebrated DJ and the founder of both Snug and Savage, said the queer nightlife scene in Hanoi was a bit too serious and dull. It was thirsty for color and diversity, both in its crowd and its music, and young people had little to no affinity for it. There was a gap in the city’s nightlife—the idea was for Snug to fill that.
It did so by introducing a new sound to Hanoi. Ouissam invited DJs from other queer clubs and parties around the world to bring in music that was refreshingly different from the dark and monotonous tunes in other parties in the city. According to him, the resulting sound is eclectic, fun, uplifting, groovy, but still full of surprises. This way, Snug has been able to build a new queer scene from scratch.
But Snug is not just a rave. In 2018, it opened its stage to a group of drag performers called Peach. The drag show Peach produces for Snug is now an integral part of the monthly festivities. Peach is made up of a diverse group of performers with varying styles and acts that might not fit into other shows and venues. The group has also grown to involve not just drag but other queer performance art.
One of the things we’ve prided ourselves on with Peach is encouraging an open queer space, not targeted toward any one demographic or audience. We have always wanted Peach to be what the performers and audience wanted it to be. For a long time, one co-organizer described our job as ‘pointing a light at a stage, telling people about it, and seeing what happened.’ - AnnieTagonist aka BroTagonist, Peach organizer and drag performer
Over the almost seven years that Snug has been around, it has lived up to its name and become a place where people, queer or not, can feel comfortable and cozy with themselves and with others.
Samiha Hossain (she/her) is a student at the University of Ottawa. She has experience working with survivors of sexual violence in her community, as well as conducting research on gender-based violence. A lot of her time is spent learning about and critically engaging with intersectional feminism, transformative justice and disability justice.
Samiha firmly believes in the power of connecting with people and listening to their stories to create solidarity and heal as a community. She refuses to let anyone thwart her imagination when it comes to envisioning a radically different future full of care webs, nurturance and collective liberation.