Dhiren Borisa and Dhrubo Jyoti
What is your PR id?
When I was asked this question on an anonymous gay chatroom by Z on Yahoo messenger 10 years ago, I had no answer. I didn’t want to sound stupid but I didn’t know what PR meant beyond public relations.
Growing up in a small town in Rajasthan, I had heard of the Internet but never had much access to it. I didn’t have much money and an hour of surfing at a cyber café cost ₹45. Internet to me, then, meant a shop in the local market that would help us print our results or application forms.
The little money that my parents earned got me an hour of internet after a gap of three months at a café with a friend. I was in love with this friend and he would later convince my parents to send me to Delhi for studies. My parents, especially my grandmother was apprehensive.
Mine was the first generation in our family that had ever seen the insides of a school. We would often be told stories of children from our castes who went outside to study, never to return alive — bullied, beaten, killed or pushed to suicide. This was the offline for us.
But is online any different?
My friend was an upper caste boy who lived in a big house. He would tell me with a smile that he could take me home because I didn’t look lower caste. That, I was good in studies and popular in school. Merit comes with caste and class. It helps you pass.
Orkut was rising in popularity and Facebook hadn’t arrived yet. On my first visit to the café, my friend made me my first yahoo ID to log into the messenger, also an Orkut account. Here, he showed me chat rooms — some used the word gay. He told me, we could chat with other boys who like boys and this can stay as our secret. This was addictive in the loneliness of the small town. There were so many people across the globe just like me — mostly in Delhi, Mumbai or London. They said there was a different world out there.
I was scared. I didn’t know how to erase history, of the web browser or otherwise. To be desirable and have easy access to spaces, so far the complex of my caste, class and queerness made me unfit for. Internet made it possible to perform oneself to be somebody or anybody. This performative was survival. So I hid myself behind fake names and ideas of the self. When I made my first Facebook account, I took a pseudonym and an upper caste surname. A good lie doesn’t leave traces. So I kept the same name when I made a PR ID. PR meant Planet Romeo — a portal for men to meet other men.
Now, I had answer for Z. My PR ID was Sanidhya Sharma aka Sanidhyalove87.
If our lives are stories, and our loves are lies, then our research must look at the tales, how they are built and who narrates them. We plan to use multiple narratives collated through our work with queer and non-dominant communities to highlight how in the context of LGBT folks in India, spaces are increasingly neither exclusively online, or offline but are hybrid — Using location-based sex apps while on the go, going to cruising sites but thinking the danger is mitigated because you have a smartphone and can therefore, filter target audiences.
We try to explore the possibility of the cyberspace as a foundation for spaces of desire and their ephemeral nature, in terms of safety and freedom and anonymity. We look at the play of caste and class in our maps of Grindr, online smart-phone based dating app, through the city of Delhi.
The session is envisioned to end as a forum of open discussion, where we can tease out how our sexual lives are hybrid spaces, where the violence of the so-called real world is mapped onto the virtual. We hope you will question the caste of your Tinder matches by the end of it.
Audio Recording of the Session
The third edition of the Internet Researchers' Conference series was held at the Sambhaavnaa Institute, Kandbari…archive.org
Dhiren Borisa teaches at Miranda House, Delhi University, and is awaiting his doctoral degree from the Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Dhrubo Jyoti is a journalist based in Delhi who studied astrophysics in a previous life, if luxuries such as previous lives were allowed for their caste.
Note: This session was part of the Internet Researchers’ Conference 2018 (IRC18) - #Offline organised in Sambhaavnaa Institute, Kandbari, Palampur, Himachal Pradesh, during February 22–24, 2018.