It’s not an easy task to accept being gay let alone tell the world about it. But those who have accepted this and have embraced it face a lot of challenges in their daily life, especially in developing countries. The gay community which is also known as LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) promotes gay rights and spreads awareness about it. Recently we heard that the Supreme Court ruled that all 50 US states must allow gay marriage, this was a triumphant moment for the gay community in US and was a step towards equality and freedom. Though gay marriages have been declared legal in US, people are finding it difficult to welcome it fully; so one can imagine what would be the situation in a developing country like Bangladesh?
Bangladesh is perceived to be one of the few Islamic states which exercises considerable tolerance towards the issue of homosexuality, but practicing homosexuality is strictly prohibited by the law under Section 377 A of the Criminal Penal Code. To make people aware and bring together the isolated gay men in Bangladesh under a platform where they can help each other come to terms with their sexuality and help them find like-minded friends and partners and eventually building a gay community based on friendship and solidarity, the Boys of Bangladesh group was formed.
Boys of Bangladesh, popularly known as BoB, is the largest and oldest network of self-identified Bangladeshi gay men from home and abroad. This non-registered, non-funded and non-formal group recently came in highlight with its comic strip, Dhee. Dhee which means ‘wisdom’, is the name of a young, 22 year old Bangladeshi lesbian who will be seen dispelling myths surrounding the LGBT community in Bangladesh and figuring out her life and future.
TheGraphicSlate.com got the opportunity to have a chat with the Project Manager of Project Dhee, Rajeeb to know more about this comic strip and the story behind it.
What made them choose the comic medium is one question that many might be having in mind. To this Rajeeb answered, “When we thought of preparing unique, attractive and effective advocacy material to talk about gender and sexuality, creating a comic character deemed to be the best solution. People find it easy to relate to humane characters rather than just fact, figures and statistics. Comic can be fun and serious at the same time. When you talk about complicated topics such as gender and sexuality, it works better when they are made easier through stories and illustrations”.
The idea to come with this comic dawned on BoB at the beginning of this year where they started planning how to spread awareness about this topic among people. The content developers worked on the format, style and storyboard for about four months and the cartoonist worked on it for a month. With community consultation, editing and printing, it took them about 8 months to bring out these 10 well illustrated flashcards.
The team for content development had four members, one cartoonist and two editors. Each flashcard consists anything between 1 panel to 4 panels and if we observe the art style used in them, they seem a little dated. The purpose behind doing this was that they wanted a clean, colourful and easy on the eye illustration keeping the target audience in mind. The time and budget constraint also had a key role to play.
The most challenging part while coming up with Dhee was writing the storyboard because they wanted to cover a lot of aspects but in an easy, representative and relatable manner. Life of Dhee, or any person for that matter, cannot be just told in 10 flashcards, so they had to choose what story to pick and what to leave out. The other challenging part was the characterisation where Dhee has to be non-conventional Bengali Muslim girl but at the same time rebellious, empowered and different.
Owing to the kind of mixed population that reside in Bangladesh (Extremists and Fundamentalists) who are more vocal than ever before and where homosexuality is as much a taboo here as any of the South Asian countries, many challenges have come across while creating this rebellious (to the Bangladeshi society) flashcards. In terms of responses, Rajeeb says, “Till date the response has been overwhelmingly positive both at home and abroad. One reason is the limited release of the comic. However, we have seen a flurry of homophobic comments on social media and several Islamist groups issued statement asking for punishment of homosexuals.”
The target audience for Dhee is the non-LGBTI people who are aged between 25-40 and belong to various sectors of the society where they can make a difference. The flashcards are currently available in Bengali language but BoB has every intention for Dhee to continue as an advocate and if she chooses to learn other languages, they would be very happy to bring her in other languages.
For now, Dhee will be conducting 15 countrywide campaigns. What’s in store for Dhee or BoB in future, we will have to wait and watch for it.