Pride Month Special: Drag Artist Sushant Divgikar Says, “Our Talent Speaks Louder Than Our Gender”
New Delhi: “There are a lot of misconceptions about the large and beautiful transgender community. It is assumed that trans people are only capable of begging, prostitution or sex work, but this mindset needs to change. I have trans sisters and brothers who are doctors, lawyers, teachers, medical professionals and in the business world. You see people like me who are in the entertainment industry and thriving. This is not not because our gender is this or that. It’s because our talent speaks louder than our gender,” says Sushant Divgikar aka Rani Ko-HE-nur, 31, LGBTQIA+ icon and Drag Queen, in an exclusive interview with the Banega Swasth India team.
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Sushant was born as a male, but today they identify as a non-binary and trans person. They wear many hats – actor, singer, model, columnist, environmentalist, motivational speaker, contest manager and video jockey. In the past, Sushant has been a psychologist and represented the country as Mr. Gay World 2014. When asked how they do all this, they replied:
I wanted to be the representation that I didn’t see in the mainstream.
Speaking more about the traditional representation of the LGBTQIA+ community, Sushant said, there is hardly any representation in mainstream cinema or the performance-based industry. They said,
We certainly need more representation and positive and correct representation. It shouldn’t be symbolic because it doesn’t pay my bills. I would really appreciate it if people take into consideration that these are stories of real people. It shouldn’t be a laughing stock or there shouldn’t be some sort of cartoonish portrayal of our community. It was done to death in the 90s and 2000s. We are evolving as a society and a community and I think we need better scripts, better representation and real stories flowing.
In 2015, Sushant officially performed as a drag artist for the first time. It was for Merchant of Venice, a production directed by Vikram Kapadia. Sushant believes that drag has been part of Indian culture and philosophy since time immemorial.
This is not new in our country. It is unfortunate that we have not claimed this space and given it a name. We could have called it any name, but performance art and drag has always been part of our culture and is very deeply rooted in our Indian culture, they said.
Explaining in more detail the history of cruising in India, they said,
Right from the palaces of kings and queens and their courts, you have seen men performing as women. From small towns to big cities, you always see people performing at our biggest festivals like Diwali and Navratri – men performing as women and women performing as men. Even in our classical dance forms like Kathakali, Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam you see many references where people present the opposite sex in a very beautiful way through their art which is dance, song or art performance. So it all drags on.
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Sushant urged people to celebrate the vast and varied culture of India which has already dragged on in the form of classical dance forms and the duality of voice as Sushant does. They added,
We don’t need to look at western benchmarks. We have everything here. Just celebrate your culture as much as you can. I chose very Indian drag. I chose to say Rani Ko-HE-nur because rani means queen.
Rani Ko-HE-nur is Sushant’s stage name. They represented India at Queen of the Universe, a drag-singing competition. When asked how Rani Ko-HE-nur was different from Sushant, they replied:
It’s gotten to a point where now Rani and Sushant kind of synergize and become one person and I think that’s beautiful. The public appreciates it because what I am on social networks is what I am in reality. I think being more accessible these days is just the way to go. I think now Sushant and Rani are slowly becoming that one person. Because earlier, when I identified as a cis-gender man, this distinction between Sushant and Rani was huge. But now that I would like to believe that Sushant is getting closer to the fabulous Rani in their everyday life.
The conflict of gender identity and coming out
While talking about gender identity, Sushant said:
The conflict is always within ourselves than with the people outside.
When we disclose our sexuality, we always wonder if the people around us – friends and family will understand us or not. But, Sushant believes that we always underestimate the nuances that others might understand about us. They said,
I have to say this to the younger generation who please believe that the people who came before me and my generation worked so hard just for you all to get a better future. I want to tell every child that yes, you will have conflict. Yes, you will have all these questions within you about who you are, who you should be, what you should be. We’ve all been there, but I think the best thing is that when you sit down with yourself and ask yourself where you started and where you are now, you’ll get all the answers in between. There will be conflicts, but please believe that you are not alone.
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Sushant shared that they were afraid to come out as trans not because their family was against it, but because of an internal conflict.
My family is the most wonderful family,” they said and added, “Few people are as privileged as I to receive so much support from their family and that is why in the queer community we become the family of the queer. ‘other. We have the power to choose families.
The changing face of homosexuality in India
Section 377, a controversial law from the British era prohibited consensual same-sex sexual relations. But on September 6, 2018, the Supreme Court decriminalized all consensual sex between adults, including same-sex sex. Speaking of the same, Sushant said,
Homosexuality has never been criminalized in our country. We tend to forget that we are the land of the Kama Sutra, the land of sexual liberation. I think during the period of colonization, the British couldn’t accept the fact that we were so advanced in our thoughts and our spirituality and that we were so sexually evolved that they held us back. They kind of oppressed our sexual freedom and that’s where they created rules like this.
Sushant thinks India is not a homophobic country, but that said, it will take time for us to unlearn and accept people from the LGBTQIA+ community. They said,
Our country has never been disrespectful. It’s never been so respectful but it’s never been disrespectful. And they haven’t abandoned us. Like we weren’t hanged for being gay. We weren’t killed because we’re transgender. Yes, there are hate crimes and that will fall under the jurisdiction.
Read also : From begging on trains to photojournalism, here’s how this trans person made her way
In the quest for equality and to leave no one behind, Sushant believes that more policies need to be developed for transgender people, especially trans women. For example, India’s first comprehensive clinic for the transgender community was launched in Hyderabad in 2021. Sushant, who inaugurated the clinic, said:
It’s a transgender-run clinic. Now, you have medical professionals who are transgender, there are doctors who are transgender who run these clinics. After a while, you’re just like, they do everything, why don’t we give them supplies? Why can’t we give them basics like education? If you can educate your daughter, you should educate trans people, because many of them are asked to leave their homes at a very young age. So they don’t go to school.
To promote education for trans women, Sushant recently pledged to donate half of her earnings from her current tour to the education of her trans sisters.
I am neither a millionaire nor a billionaire but if I can do my bit, why not. We need to create policies and create awareness through advocacy and awareness.
During his signing, Sushant emphasized respect, something that is available for one, for all and for all. They said,
Your journey is your journey and someone else’s journey should not and should not be similar and exactly like yours. So, respect; live and let live; to love and let love.
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NDTV – Dettol has been working for a clean and healthy India since 2014 through the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is led by campaign ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the interconnectedness of humans and the environment, and of humans to each other, with a focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. He insists on the need to take care and consider the health of everyone in India – especially the vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous peoples, different tribes of India, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. With the current Covid-19 pandemicthe need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed because handwashing is one of the ways to prevent coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness of the same while emphasizing the importance of nutrition and health care for women and children, the fight malnutritionmental well-being, self-care, science and health, adolescent health and gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign realized the need to also take care of the health of the ecosystem. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which not only overexploits available resources, but also generates immense pollution due to the use and extraction of these resources. The imbalance has also resulted in an immense loss of biodiversity which has caused one of the greatest threats to human survival – climate change. He has now been described as a “code red for humanity.“The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, Waste Management, plastic ban, manual scan and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also advance the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign believes that only a clean Swachh or India where bathroom are used and without open defecation (ODF) status obtained under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014 can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a healthy Swasth or India.