At the recently concluded and much celebrated Queer Film Festival in Mumbai, Kashish, the three days saw a bevy of prominent personalities grace the occasion; from Hollywood legend Ian McKellen to our very own Sonam Kapoor and Mr. Gay World India, Aneesh Sahoo. The stage was set to take the cause of the LGBTIQ community and celebrate sexuality of all kinds to the next level. Amongst the din of an excited community, brilliant feature presentations and panel discussions, we had the opportunity to catch up with Harrish Iyer, one of the first people in the country to come out of the closet. He talks about his experiences at the festival and the cause he has been actively lending his voice to with equal intensity and passion which goes on to show that he truly has immersed his energies in fighting for what he thinks, is the right thing to do. Speaking about his experience at Kashish, Harrish quips, “I think Kashish is a great platform; besides great films being showcased here it is a great opportunity to network and I’m part of 2 panel discussions here. I think that this film festival is opening hearts and opening minds and there’s no better medium for advocacy than cinema.”
Along with his active participation in voicing his opinions about homosexuality, Harrish has taken up the cause of ‘No More 50’ which emphasises on having a stronger penalty for torturing or harming animals. “I work with an animal welfare organisation though I haven’t stopped fighting for human welfare; animals have gratitude and thank you in a way no human being can. That makes a great deal of difference for me. If you had to compare the struggles different species go through, animals go through the worst kind of torment”, explains Harrish who is a full-time member of a worldwide animal welfare organisation, Humane Society International. Harrish believes that the root of all issues are the same and people are selective when it comes to empathizing with certain things. The cause has been gaining a lot of weightage because of the support it has been garnering from various quarters but yet, the fight is not an easy one. Harrish explains, “For me, empathy is universal; whether it is human discrimination or animal humiliation or a well-grown tree which was shunted in its growth, I take from the same reserve of empathy to support all my causes.”
The campaign, which has been taken to the next level with Poonam Mahajan spear heading the cause on a political level, have been hoping to pass the bill in the Parliament. “There are different other campaigns that we need to be alert about. One of the main causes I feel very strongly about is factory farming where thousands of animals are artificially inseminated and spend all their lives in cramped cages”, rues Harrish. Being a well-known face of any cause helps to reach out to a larger audience and throws brighter light on any cause. After a gentle nudge on what he thinks about it, he says, “To be brutally honest, being a media slut does help. Unknowingly, I project the LGBTIQ cause through my other campaigns too. Homosexuals are not all about dating men or are bothered about our rights. I can’t help it if I’m gay; its like being born with a sty, you have to accept it. Although our cause is important, we’re not selfish and we support other causes like the one for disabled people, women’s rights etc. If you’re a mother, whether you like it or not, you’re a child rights activist. Homosexuality is not even a cause, its being made a cause because people discriminate.”
Moving on to the plight of the LGBTIQ community in India, we ask Harrish if the situation has improved in our country considering he was one of the first people to come out of the closet publicly and was openly supported by his family. “The situation is definitely improving; the law is a separate debate and has taken a backseat. No one is running behind us with a sickle. India is way ahead of many countries its being compared to; the country is not homophobic but there are homophobic elements in the country. I speak to you from one of the biggest queer film festivals where the only people who are out-of-place are the heterosexuals because homosexuals are in a majority”, laughs Harrish. Although the battle for equal rights is a constant one, Harrish believes that self-acceptance is the most important element for anyone who’s afraid to come out. “You don’t need to come out to the world and scream off rooftops. The change begins within you and you need to be okay with that and once that happens the outward genesis happens automatically”, Harrish signs off.