Over 75 speakers and 30 sessions covering themes of gender, sexuality, race, caste, ethnicity, religion, disability, belonging, non-belonging and more. All sessions as online webinars with adequate security. Timezones are friendly for participants across the world.
The Belongg Literature Festival is an initiative of Belongg: a social venture that seeks to bring discrimination-free services to people who face identity-linked prejudice.
Check out the program for BOLF 2020, which has details on the panels and speakers for the four days of the festival. Please note that all times are in IST and we will continue to add a few sessions.
Indian women suffer gender-based violence on a daily basis, including forms of violence, such as restrictions on freedom, that cannot be easily identified. How do Indian women preserve hope and pursue the desire for freedom despite the fear of violence? What role do narratives about violence against women play in this landscape of freedom and fear? And how might women articulate their demand for freedom from fear?
The land that is now known as India has been home to migrants from across the world for several thousands of years. These waves of migration have contributed to the creation of a diverse India. And yet, increasingly, a narrow idea of ‘Indian identity’ is gaining ground--one that is often conflated with ‘Hindu identity.’ How has ‘Indian identity’ been transformed by various histories of migration? How has the ‘foreigner’ adapted to ‘local’ cultures and environments? What does the diverse architecture of our country say about the morphed ‘Indian identity’? And when can someone be said to have ‘become Indian’?
Panelists: Jonathan Gil Harris, Rana Safvi
Moderator: Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty
Caste has a long and pernicious history in India, where it has shaped various practices and professions. How does it manifest, in particular, in the arts and on university campuses? What barriers to equity does it present? What labour does it invisibilise? What beliefs and behaviours does it propagate? And how--or can one--unlearn casteism in these ecosystems?
India’s ‘Northeast’ is a large and complex region that often gets lumped together in popular imagination in ways that are reductive, flattening a people and their histories into simplistic narratives and stereotypes. How are the various regions and states within ‘the Northeast’ different from as well as similar to each other? How does the rest of India understand them and how has this understanding evolved over the last two decades? How does exclusion manifest between different groups in ‘the Northeast’ as well as between the region and other parts of India? And what is the role that literature can play in promoting inclusion from within and without?
Panelists: Sanjoy Hazarika, Nilanjan P Choudhury
Moderator: Teresa Rehman
In today’s polarised world, one cannot overstate the importance of diverse and inclusive literatures, which represent the realities and hopes of those who inhabit the margins of gender, sexuality, race, caste, religion, and ability, across various regions, languages and formats. How does the world of publishing, which plays a vital role in making such literatures available to us, think about diversity and inclusion? What are some possibilities of and challenges to inclusive publishing? How do they vary with the size and location of a publisher? How have trends changed since the rise of independent publishing houses in India? What voices and subjects remain underrepresented, and what can both publishers and readers do to make publishing more inclusive?
While the narrative around non-normative sexualities has seemingly progressed over the last two decades in South Asia, these orientations continue to receive scrutiny. What are some of the mechanisms--both external and internal--through which sexuality is observed in the region? What is, or can be, one’s relationship to sexuality under such circumstances? Where do we go from here?
India is the world’s largest democracy and also perhaps one of the most heterogeneous societies in the world, assimilating hundreds of languages, subcultures, and aspirations. But even so, religion and caste remain major fault-lines that divide Indian society. Why and how might we understand episodes of divisive violence? How has this violence been historically legitimised? Who benefits from these narratives of hate and how might we reconstruct them in order to heal India’s social fabric?
Panelists: Aparna Vaidik, S Irfan Habib, Revati Laul
Moderator: Arfa Khanum Sherwani
What is political fiction? Is all fiction political? How does political fiction engage with various structures of power and identity? That is, how might it shape them and how is it, in turn, shaped by them? What are some of the obstacles to writing political fiction? What are the possibilities for it? How, in short, might we think about the role of the writer of political fiction in an increasingly divisive world?
Panelists: Githa Hariharan, Meena Kandasamy
Moderator: Resh Susan
Our lives are governed by binaries of various kinds including those that relate to and affect our bodies. How can one move beyond the binaries of male and female, human and animal, memory and fantasy? What forms of storytelling enable this movement? What are its implications for notions of body and identity? And what kinds of cross-border coalitions do they make possible?
The Partition of India remains one of the most violent forced migrations in human history with people being divided primarily on the basis of religion. How can we recount this event? What are the ways in which the Partition affected and continues to affect the lives of ordinary Indians? How might the Partition, then, not be an event of the past?
Both ‘utopia’ and ‘dystopia’ refer to imagined places--one marked by pleasure and perfection, the other marked by suffering and injustice. How, in recent Indian writings, are they imagined in relation to questions of identity and community? Are they indeed polar opposites, or do they overlap? How do they bridge the gap between what is and what can be, moving us to push the boundaries of our present? Can utopic or dystopic writing, then, be considered a tool for creating more inclusive societies?
Panelists: Manjula Padmanabhan, Sukanya Venkatraghavan, Sethu, Bishakh Som
Moderator: Jonathan Kennedy
The British Council will screen short films selected from BFI Flare, London’s LGBTIQ+ Film Festival, that explore a range of experiences but focus primarily on finding out--and standing up for--who you are. Some of these films have previously also featured in FiveFilmsForFreedom, the British Council's global LGBTIQ+ online short film programme.
‘The Northeast’ is a tapestry where the hopes and desires of people play out against the larger backdrop of local traditions and an uneasy peace--one that is easily shattered. While much has been written about the traditions of and conflict in ‘the Northeast,’ the everyday is full of nuanced individual narratives that deserve their place in the sun. How does one navigate daily life--find joy as well as grapple with sorrows--in this beautiful but troubled land? What, here, are some of the tensions between the individual and the community? How does storytelling reveal as well as negotiate them, moving beyond a singular ‘truth’ of the region?
Panelists: Parismita Singh, Janice Pariat
Moderator: Nilanjan P. Choudhury
With a resurgence of protests against racist violence, we must ask: What is race? What are the different meanings it takes on depending on one’s location? How does it intersect with other identities? What is racism, and relatedly, what is anti-racism? And what role do literary representations of race play?
We can only have an inclusive future if children grow up with a deep understanding of diversity and learn to celebrate differences rather than recoil from them. Children’s books play an important role in shaping their outlook. However, diversity in children’s publishing seems to be a challenge: There are twice as many books about bunnies than there are any books on children of colour. Children need stories that make them feel empowered as well as provide a window into other people’s lived experiences. What are the existing gaps in children’s literature from the standpoints of diversity and inclusion? What can be done to create more inclusive children’s literature that celebrates diversity and helps children understand “the other”?
Millions of people across the world live with a range of physical and mental disabilities. And yet, disability remains poorly understood and is usually met with responses of indifference or pity. What does it mean to be disabled? How can we speak or write about the category of disability without homogenising or simplifying experiences? How can writing help people understand the intersections between disability and other identities such as gender, sexuality and age? And, crucially, how might we better represent the lived experience of disabled people across different types of literature?
Panelists: Renu Addlakha, Shreya Ila Anasuya, Shruthi Rao
A black goat witnesses the inequality and violence of the human world. A childless couple is split apart by social norms and rituals. An untouchable goat-herd, bound to his powerful master, struggles to find happiness amidst exploitation. These are just some of the narratives that Perumal Murugan, noted Tamil writer, explores in his works of fiction.
In this conversation, translated by Ram Sarangan of The Indian Express, Murugan discusses his life’s work, which consists of varied writings on identity and inclusion, and considers the relationship between literature and social justice.
The impulse behind translation is inclusive because it involves making knowledge available to those who could not previously access it. Translated literature provides a window into the lives of others who are unlike us in some ways but like us in others. But what are some of the challenges involved in translation? How does a translator retain the nuances of the original text? Finally, how much meaning is lost in translation and is it, then, possible to ‘step into someone else’s shoes’?
Desire is often framed in terms of the binary between heterosexual (considered ‘normal’) and homosexual (considered ‘abnormal’). However, history reveals that countries like India have had rich cultures of desire that do not always fit into these neat categories. What forms have these cultures taken? How have they changed over time? What has been the role of colonialism in shaping, and perhaps even impoverishing, modern cultures of desire in the Indian subcontinent? And how can we use various tools from the humanities to weave more complex narratives of desire in India?
Most of us perceive childhood as a time of innocence and seek to protect our children from the harsh realities of an increasingly divisive world. Oftentimes, we are blind to the ways in which children and young adults are confronted with these realities. How are children affected by increasing identity-based discrimination and large-scale migrations triggered by violence in/among nations? How does reading stories that represent children’s emotional struggles make for cathartic and self-reflexive exercise? What is the role of children’s literature in addressing emotional trauma experienced by children, and how might literature help adults engage children with these complex questions?
Despite its claim to native status, Indigenous identity remains underexplored and underrepresented. What are some of the major threats to Indigenous rights and ownership today? What does Indigenous resistance to these threats look like? How do experiences of Indigeneity vary by location? How have these varied experiences been depicted in fiction and non-fiction literatures? Why do we find them missing from mainstream narratives and curricula? And can we speak meaningfully about ‘the Indigenous experience’ without homogenising Indigenous communities?
When people migrate from one nation to another, the shift in cultures often culminates in a conflicted identity--one that involves the collision of differences and the feeling of not fully belonging anywhere. This feeling is exacerbated by various forms of racial profiling and discrimination against immigrants. How do immigrants respond to these? How do they reconstruct their cultural identity and sense of home without letting go of their own beliefs? How do immigrant families bridge cultures across generations and embrace each others’ differences?
In recent times, we have witnessed an escalation of discrimination against Indian Muslims. What are some of the political, social, and historical factors that have contributed to this present moment and how much of this hate is 'manufactured' versus deeply embedded in Indian society? How has this sharp spike of hate impacted Muslims and how they get perceived by others? And, perhaps most importantly, how might one imagine a more inclusive India for all religious identities?
History in India and elsewhere has predominantly focused on men, been written by and from the perspective of men. The existing interpretations of our past have largely relegated women to the background, making them merely incidental to our readings of major historical events. Who are some important women in Indian history? Why do they matter? Why is it imperative that the retelling of history be inclusive?
Independent bookstores and libraries serve the dual functions of making inclusive literature accessible to readers as well as forging thick connections, oftentimes through this literature, in their local communities. What examples can we learn from? What are the challenges, including economic ones, that might be key constraints? How have and how can independent bookstores and libraries be reimagined as cultural spaces that promote dialogues of inclusion and diversity?
Oftentimes, women are exclusively perceived through the prisms of institutions such as marriage and family. This, over time, results in an erasure of their individual identity and agency. How are women restricted and overwhelmed by traditional familial roles? What role does ‘choice’ play in women’s decision-making, and with what consequences? What alternate possibilities exist for women’s role in family and society?
The relationship between the self and the society is a complex one and reveals itself in literature related to emotional and physical trauma. In an increasingly divisive and lonely society, how does trauma manifest in the body of both the individual and society? How is trauma shaped by incidents, social interactions, and upheavals? What is its relationship to gender and sexuality, religion and migration, class and disability? And how might we need to write about trauma in order to enable healing for individuals and societies?
‘Brownness’ is commonly used as a catch-all term for South Asian identities overseas. Like other children of colour, ‘brown’ children rarely see themselves in popular narratives, resulting in feelings of marginalisation and exclusion. How can children’s literature extend its imagination to bring ‘brown’ children to the centre of the narrative? What is the role of children’s literature in representing ‘brownness’ and helping children take pride in their skin colour?
Sexual rights in India have seen significant transformations over the last few years with 2018 being a watershed moment when the colonial-era Section 377 was read down. This has renewed the need to better understand sexual rights: Can we conceive of sexuality as a right? What falls within the ambit of sexual rights? How do sexual rights manifest in Indian law and society? And how might we use rights-based frameworks to further the inclusion of sexual minorities?
Like adults, children, too, experience different socio-political events that surround them and are deeply impacted by them. It is important that the stories children read not only describe fairies and leprechauns but also inform and educate them about their environment. How does literature for children enable them to understand the complexities of their world? How can the politics of the world be made accessible for children to understand, and how can they participate in these realities? What happens when children see themselves as agents of change in the stories they read?
Journalism in India and across the world seems to have settled into some sort of a bipolar equilibrium. The ‘liberal’ media emphasises values of democracy and inclusion to its audience whereas the ‘conservative’ media sends almost diametrically opposite messages to its own audience. Echo chambers, which are very hard to break into or out of, come to be created. What role can the Indian media play in inviting more people to engage with themes of diversity and inclusion? What limitations must it reckon with? And, equally, what are its possibilities?
The Belongg Online Literature Festival (BOLF) will feature 75+ Indian and foreign authors, illustrators, translators, and publishers who focus on themes of gender, sexuality, race, caste, ethnicity, religion, disability, belonging, non-belonging and more. Read about them here.
Please note that this list is subject to regular updates.
A multifaceted exploration of belonging & non-belonging.
Book readings, panel discussions, interviews, contests, & more!
Authors, illustrators, translators, publishers from across the world.
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BOLF has a pay-as-you-will policy to the Festival with different levels of patron passes.