The poem will be part of the fourth semester Kannada paper at Kuvempu University.

Queer womans Kannada poem on gender dysphoria selected for university syllabus
news Poetry Wednesday, February 12, 2020 - 11:23

24-year-old Shilok Mukkati from Bengaluru is overjoyed. Her Kannada poem titled Kabalisidha Kranthi Kadu —an open letter which addresses the struggles of gender dysphoria— has recently been selected for the undergraduate syllabus of Kuvempu University. The poem will be part of the fourth semester Kannada paper and has been published in the textbook titled Nudi Vihara – 4.

A media consultant, dancer and writer, Shilok who identifies the feminine energy in her as “shakti”, believes that she best expresses herself through poetry and athmanatyam (the language of the soul).

“The acceptance of the poem feels like a closure, in all honesty. I’ve always had to fight— all these years I’ve had battles with the law, battles with my body, I have fought for my identity as a woman. My body or clothes don’t define what I really am,” begins Shilok.

 “Particularly because, as a child, there was a moment when a teacher actually bullied me. He insulted me in front of 80 students in class, owing to my style of narration, and that had everyone in splits. I broke down and the insult somehow remains etched in my memory. The acceptance of the poem feels like an acceptance of my closeted identity all through high school,” she adds.

Shilok identifies as a queer woman and it hasn’t been an easy journey for her thus far.

“Dr Shivalinge Gowda of Kuvempu University got to know about me from my mentor Dr Belururaganandan, a professor from Bangalore University. Dr Beluru has always been supportive of my writing. Dr. Shivalinge was on the lookout for voices that deserve to be heard— gender, sexuality and the like. Dr Beluru suggested my name, and then I presented my works to Dr Shivalinge sir. The poem Kabalisidha Kranthi Kadu caught his fancy in particular. It went through the process of selection and that’s how it became a part of the syllabus,” she explains.

Speaking about how she wrote the poem, Shilok says, “I think poetry in itself is like a conversation with myself, when I don’t have people to speak to. It was no different with this poem—it is an open letter which addresses some of my innermost battles, the process, the journey, what has changed and what had to change. I also feel, when words flow from your heart, it resonates with your readers a lot better.”

While she’s currently in a better space, Shilok asserts that her struggles have only strengthened her desire to be identified as a woman. 

“I do not identify myself as a transgender woman. I identify myself as a queer woman. As a child, I’ve always dreamt of being a woman, so that is my identity,” she says.

“As any other queer person, it has been very challenging to me—breaking the gender binary, being trapped in a man’s body. Coming from an orthodox family, high school was very depressing. My shift to Bengaluru changed things for the better, that’s where I found my voice. I tried understanding the world. Understanding gender and sexuality. It led me to know what I am,” she adds.

As someone who’s always been inclined towards literature and dance, Shilok believes that creativity played a crucial part in her growth.

"Poetry has always been therapeutic. Aside from poetry, I use the medium of dance to express myself. When you’re being jailed/trapped in a certain condition and not given a chance to express your gender, art is the only thing that helps you unleash your inner voice. I’ve written so many different poems on gender and sexuality. I started writing in Kannada because there’s a genuine lack of language to talk about the LGBTQ+ communities. I believed there was a need to spread it in Indian languages. The poem was written during the beginning of my transitioning, where I was figuring out what gender is for me. And, how it’s affected by the conditioning of the society and coming to terms with the fact that I am a woman,” she explains.

She won a national award for her radio programme Lesbians and the Shadows —which was on the story of a lesbian girl opening up about her sexuality to her mother. “The programme was divided into three segments, and I clinched an award for the same,” she says.

Shilok currently works with a Switzerland- based dance production.

“I do a show called F_feminity with three other performers. It’s a Swizz-Indo collaboration. I’m also working on a project titled Zubaan with a publishing house. I have choreographed a piece called Unraping Silence—it’s a very personal testimonial, which talks about sexual harassment and impurity. I’ve shed light on the five stages of my life where I’ve faced sexual harassment. The piece doesn’t victimise and yet questions several aspects of gender and sexuality,” she says.

After Section 377 was struck down by the Supreme Court, things seemed to have gotten better for the LGBTQ+ communities. But, Shilok says that the battle isn’t over.

“There’s the Transgender Persons Act, which has been passed. Yet incidentally, it doesn’t safeguard our rights at all. We still have to fight for our rights. It’s tainted by misogynist power. There is a need for people to be sensitised as the law cannot change people’s minds,” she says.

Taking us through her forthcoming projects, Shilok says, “I will be travelling to a festival in Berlin in March. There’s a lot of poetry yet to be released from my end. I’m a full-time student at COMMITS, so my hands are full as life’s a constant juggle between performances and studies.”

Giving us a peek into her plan of action for the next five years, Shilok signs off saying, “My journey from political activism to art has been rather insightful. Art has always been a tool for activism. I want to stick to art as it’s powerful and from the business perspective also it makes sense, because money is important. I want to become an entrepreneur, get into art management. I hope to have an art residency and work deeply on gender,” she says.

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