The vibrant media landscape in the southern Indian state of Kerala, where kiosks overflow with magazines and colorful film posters line roadside walls, creates a sexually charged public sphere that has a long history of political protests. The 2014 “Kiss of Love” campaign garnered national attention, sparking controversy as images of activists kissing in public and dragged into police vans flooded the media. In Unruly Figures: Queerness, Sex Work, and the Politics of Sexuality in Kerala (University of Washington Press, 2019), Navaneetha Mokkil tracks the cultural practices through which sexual figures—particularly the sex worker and the lesbian—are produced in the public imagination. Her analysis includes representations of the prostitute figure in popular media, trajectories of queerness in Malayalam films, public discourse on lesbian sexuality, the autobiographical project of sex worker and activist Nalini Jameela, and the memorialization of murdered transgender activist Sweet Maria, showing how various marginalized figures stage their own fractured journeys of resistance in the post-1990s context of globalization.
By bringing a substantial body of Malayalam-language literature and media texts on gender, sexuality, and social justice into conversation with current debates around sexuality studies and transnational feminism in Asian and Anglo-American academia, Mokkil reorients the debates on sexuality in India by considering the fraught trajectories of identity and rights.
Shraddha Chatterjee is a doctoral candidate at York University, Toronto, and author of Queer Politics in India: Towards Sexual Subaltern Subjects (Routledge, 2018).