Sneha Rooh, a palliative physician and founder of Orikalankini, a campaign that uses art installations to engage the public and make them open up to discussions on womanhood and menstruation, speaks about an upcoming session in the city, that will discuss end-of-life care for the LGBTQI community.
When Danyal Lawson’s husband, noted gay activist Lou Rispoli, was brutally beaten and lay dying in a New York Hospital a few years ago, there was one thing for which Lawson was profoundly grateful: his husband did not die alone. As he took his last breath, Lawson was by his partner of 32 years’ side, as were 30 beloved friends at a healthcare centre. But Lawson and Rispoli’s poetically tragic story stands in contrast to that of a major section of the LGBTQI community, particularly in India, where they are invisible healthcare recipients. It is to ensure this right of end-of-life care for the community that still lives on the society’s fringes, that Sneha Rooh has embarked upon a campaign that will have her travelling across the country to spread awareness on the issue. “Having to deal with the social stigma of belonging to the LGBTQI community on top of a terminal illness pushes them to go back into the closet towards the end of their lives. In a country like India, where homosexual relationships are still a crime, their struggles become increasingly difficult. Also, the pure curiosity and observation of the invisibility of people from the community at my workplace is what provoked the idea,” says Rooh who has springboarded marginalised discourses for the last eight years across India.
Rooh will be in the city at Writer’s Café on Sunday at 3 pm where she hopes to listen to voices from the community. “We start off speaking about our coming out story or our story of ‘pride’, how we value ourselves as we are, then share previous experiences with health care services. It will be held in a talking circle model to ensure confidentiality. Then we will make videos to make our faces seen and voices heard to the medical community,” adds Rooh.
Rooh will take it to other big cities in the country through Death Cafes, an informal meet-up where people who are terminally ill, who have lost someone or are simply interested in knowing more gather to share. “To sustain this movement, we are accepting videos from members of the community from across the country. I am looking at translating the findings into a study. I know it’s not going to be easy, but if we are to be heard, we have to go beyond gathering at pride parties,” says Rooh who also launched the concept of Death Café in India. She adds, “I will engage with artists and healers of mixed origins to make the life of my patients filled with life.” The campaign is also important to her at a personal level. “It matters to me because injustice, oppression and snubbing someone’s potential because of their sexuality or otherwise, is viscerally uncomfortable to me. If people are not allowed to be themselves even with the finite lifespan they inhabit the earth, it is a sin. I am a bisexual and belong to the medical community and I wouldn’t want anyone like me to be even subtly jeered at or their opinion not being taken seriously. Hence, I decided to be the bridge,” finishes Rooh.