Vishwadeep Mane, a PhD student at the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru, shares his experience as an LGBT ecologist in India. This post was written as a part of a short series in celebration of Pride Month.
When I was a child, I was absolutely mesmerized by Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park trilogy. The films changed my perspective and sparked my interest in biology. As a result, I pursued my degree in Microbiology, because the subject fascinated me a lot.
My engagement with ecology blossomed during my undergraduate education, where I worked on plant-microbial interactions, revisiting microbial ecological succession in soil and its relationship with plant growth. During my master’s degree thesis, I collaborated with the ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy (AYUSH)-Centre of excellence, located in Pune, India to work on microbiological aspects of traditional medicines employed in “Ayurveda”. Certain processes in formulation of traditional medicines in Ayurveda employ fermentation. However, the whereabouts of the entry of inoculum and the ecological dynamics of the process is not known. I worked on the microbiological profiling and dynamics of community structure before and throughout the process of fermentation taking a fermented formulation having 18 different botanicals. Currently, I am pursuing my PhD at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru. Here, I am working on mechanical forces that shape leaf morphogenesis.
Apart from my identity as a researcher, I’m a proud LGBT+ person. To be very frank, I always knew about my orientation, but accepting my own self took a lot of time; the major reason being inexhaustive societal moral policing with respect to toxic masculinity, patriarchy, misogyny and homophobia. When I started to explore my identity and orientation, I came across a beautiful person named Swakshadip whom I fell in love with. Much of my understanding with respect to gender identity, orientation and social constructs stems from him. He is a Sociology student and a LGBT+ person at the University of Bristol and has been an active person in helping people in the LGBT+ community. Today, I work with him in helping the LGBT+ community in rural areas of West Bengal state through an online platform named “Kontho” started by him and his colleagues.
Since the decriminalization of gay sex in India in 2018, things have become a little easier for homosexuals. However, acceptance without discrimination is certainly a long journey. In academia, it is the same case. IISc has a prominent community of LGBT+ individuals and allies who run a forum called QUASI (Queer and Straight Allies at IISc). Since last year, QUASI plays an important role in orienting newcomers to the institute. This seems promising, as educating people about sexuality and gender identity is imperative. At least, in places where science is practiced, discrimination based on orientation and identity is not acceptable. I think, personally, educating the coming generations on sexual orientation and gender identity as a part of curriculum is necessary. Changes cannot be brought in a day without acceptance from inner self. Therefore, acceptance and anti-discrimination policies need to be etched at an institutional level as well as in the government level to provide a platform for people to be themselves in front of the society without fear of being judged and morally policed. In academia, gender-neutral spaces are still a dream in Indian context, but I still hope that this might change in coming years. I have seldom seen an open trans-person endorsed and accepted in the scientific fraternity. That is why inclusivity should be portrayed on all scales to avoid discrimination and support individual identity.
I am very fortunate to have colleagues who accept me with my identity. It is an immense pleasure to come out to people and to be embraced with my own identity. One must give that free space and provide an environment for a person to come out, as it is a trust-based process. I was delighted to know the accepting attitude of my PhD supervisor as well, who had supervised and openly endorsed a LGBT+ student earlier. As an LGBT+ person, I have not faced so much discrimination at least visibly. However, I know of people being bullied for the same in India. Mental health wellness is a serious issue during PhD life, and support from friends and family plays a crucial part. One thing that needs to be amended, not only in academic institutions but elsewhere, is the criminality of sexual harassment of LGBT+ individuals, as LGBT+ persons currently receive no protection. This is one of the crucial requirements of safeguarding one’s identity and I really want to work on policymaking in academia with respect to this. I have been to the Annual meeting of BES in 2019 to present my work at Belfast, along with my partner. I was amused by the gender-inclusive spaces and LGBT+ mixers that were organised to bring together people with similar interest. In the longer run, endorsement of LGBT+ people in the academia is very much needed or else the core principles of diversity and inclusion remains a daydream. More support and acceptance from the scientific fraternity to stand against discrimination and fascist governmental policies is need of the hour.
For me, my identity is my personal choice. Evolution has shaped the world without discrimination. However, in this Anthropocene era, we are trying to forge the planet based on religion and outdated morals. All we need is a little acceptance. Changes are always hard to accept, but they change the entire course of the future and landmarks the legacy on the sands of time. I am very positive about myself and I want to fight for others as well, to make world a better place.