Betu Singh, LBT rights activist who set up Sangini – India’s first registered lesbian support group in 1997, was awarded the KASHISH Rainbow Warrior Award on Sunday May 31, 2015. Betu Singh who passed away at the age of 49, on October 3, 2014, is the first posthumous recipient of the award. The award instituted in 2015 by KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival recognises the work of LGBTQ persons in furthering LGBTQ rights.
Fashion designer and BJP leader Shaina NC was the chief guest of the closing ceremony of KASHISH 2015 – South Asia’s biggest LGBT festival and she also gave away the KASHISH Rainbow Warrior 2015 Award. The award was received by Betu Singh’s partner and co-worker Maya Shanker.
“The leadership of this country needs to come to events like these to realize what being progressive and being inclusive really mean. To the Kashish family, I would like to say that the road ahead will not be easy. You will meet resistance. But on my part I will assure you that I will stand for you, I will stand with you whether we may succeed or not. More than proving a point, it is about expressing to society that genuine unity starts when we accept each other with all our differences,’’ said Shaina NC.
“Betu would have been thrilled to receive recognition for her vision: your parents and friends are your society, once you get their recognition and love for who you are you can conquer the world,’’ said Maya Shankar. “Whenever I thought of giving up Betu’s conviction, she would give me energy to go on. She went on till the last day. This award is a token of recognition that she was right to never give up when you believe in something. Sangini will continue providing safe spaces for LBT individuals. This award will definitely encourage more people to come forward and fight for what they believe in,’’ added Maya Shanker.
Introduced as a key addition to the festivities of KASHISH, festival director Sridhar Rangayan explained that reason Rainbow Warrior Award was set up in 2014. “We instituted the KASHISH Rainbow Warrior Award last year to recognize and honour LGBTQ individuals in India who have done path-breaking work in terms of activism or cultural outputs like film, art, fashion, literature to mainstream LGBTQ visibility. KASHISH is indebted to these amazing people who walked the untrodden path and have ensured that we have a legacy and history of LGBTQ lives,’’ said Sridhar Rangayan.
Ashok Row Kavi, journalist, gay rights activist and founder of The Humsafar Trust, and Wendell Rodricks, leading fashion designer and the first and only openly gay man to receive one of India’s higest civilian awards – the Padma Shri – were first-ever recipients of the KASHISH Rainbow Warrior Award in 2014.
Ashok Row Kavi, recalled the legacy left behind by Betu Singh, “The KASHISH Rainbow Warrior Awards were instituted to recognize those LGBTQ persons of exceptional grit. And, Betu Singh was one such person who blazed an trail for the activists who came after her. In a personal tribute to the iron-hearted lesbian activist, Ashok Row Kavi recounts an incident where she single-handled defended a lesbian woman from the clutches of an angry mob that were hell-bent on murder. “Betu was sheltering a young lesbian who had run away from home because her father was forcing marriage on her. The father had sent goondas with gas cutters and the local police to break into the home and take away the girl. The police were holding the rest of us back from helping. Betu looked so small and yet so brave as she boldly held them off and protected the girl,’’ said Ashok Row Kavi, adding, : “You never gave up though every damned glass pane in your house was shattered by bullies and you had a bloodied nose with the police sniggering and standing by.”
Watch the Project Bolo Film on Betu Singh