Independence Day Special: For Ria Sharma, Freedom is being truly herself even while being different

TEDx speaker Ria Sharma opens up about her experiences in the society as a LGBTQ and the significance of independence in her life.

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As India celebrates 72 years of Independence, one cannot disagree with the fact that 'independence' is indeed a subjective term for everyone. Whether one is confined within his own thoughts or caged in a prison, the definition of independence differs. With the abolishment of section 377, decriminalising homosexual relationships, independence will hold different significance for people from the LGBTQ community.

Facing bullying, confusion, rejection, disgust and continuous loathing from the society are some common things that people from the LGBTQ community go through the same irrespective of which social strata they belong to. But not for Ria Sharma, who proudly identifies herself as a part of the community. 

19-year old TEDx Speaker Ria Sharma who has always been happily flaunting her rainbow bow tie opens up about what it means to be an LGBTQ in the society and what freedom means to her:   

"This country celebrated freedom 72 years ago but the entire LGBT community was distant from it since the day constitution was framed. Sometimes the freedom struggle was fought within the house for acceptance and sometimes the rally was walked for social acceptance.

Freedom to me is being able to be truly myself even if I am different. I belong to a community that has long been considered outcast and stigmatised.  We have faced discrimination, harassment and even violence based on gender identity and sexual orientation. We have been given freedom to ‘exist’ but not to express our existence fully.  

For me freedom would only be true when each person in our society will be open to accepting differences, may it be in any aspect. Today, people may say they have accepted queer people but within the boundaries of family, home and school, acceptance of their sexuality and gender choices still remain a constant struggle.

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I identify as a lesbian and I have a partner with whom I want to spend my entire life being open about our relationship and fight for our rights. For a woman to have a strong voice of her own is itself considered a taboo.  For a lesbian women, it becomes all the more difficult.

Three years back, something happened that made me realise the importance of sexual freedom for the first time in my life. I met my partner, Sanjana Sawant.

Sanjana at an interview said “I met my partner two and a half years back. My partner is a woman and we're in a homosexual relationship. It's only after meeting her that my concepts about sexual freedom changed. Now it's more about empowerment than shame or hesitancy. Being with a woman has helped.”

This may come as a shock to many but my parents have been very supportive from the day I came out to them.  They themselves made an effort to understand more about the community and work towards it.  They are now an active member of SWEEKAR - the rainbow parents which is a group that consists of parents of LGBTQ  people who work for the social and even legal progress for the community."

Lihaaf by Ismat Chughtai was written way back in 1942 which describes a homosexual relationship between two women in the most subtle form of literature. Literature is the best form to introspect on the society of how these concepts have existed forever but people never really accepted it and considered it as an alien or western concept. Some books had been banned but many have been popular in contemporary literature like 'A Suitable Boy' by Vikram Seth, 'The Boyfriend' by R. Raja Rao, 'Delhi' by Khushwant Singh etc. These form of literature is proof that the concept has only existed in art but never made a place in people's psyche. 

With this conversation with Ria Sharma, we know that Independence is indeed a state of mind. 

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