Language as sexual practice in a New Delhi NGO

Kira Hall

University of Colorado-Boulder, USA

WS129: Language as social practice in the globalized new economy

This paper focuses on women’s sexual alterity in New Delhi, India, as a means of exploring the ways in which localized subjectivities engage with global and national discourses that legitimate English as the language of modernity and Hindi as the language of tradition. The NGO that is the focus of this paper, which has as its mandate the distribution of HIV/AIDS education and sexual information to the public, sponsors a variety of informational support groups for diverse gender and sexual identities, among them a women’s group that includes both "lesbians" (an identity closely allied with same-sex desire as articulated in Europe and the United States) and "boys" (an eroticized transgender identity long associated with rural India). Because the Hindi language has become increasingly correlated with Hindu nationalism, employees within this NGO tend to view Hindi as an oppressive medium for the expression of both sexual practice and sexual identity, rejecting traditionalist assumptions regarding the superiority of Hindi in the contemporary nation-state. Middle class women who participate in NGO activities, aspiring to a class symbolic that opposes the perceived conservative understanding of sexuality voiced in traditional India, socialize lower class newcomers away from their transsexual imaginings in part by offering them English as a new medium for talking about sex. The paper thus highlights the ways in which progressive NGO discourses of sexual identity, here carried through globalized forms of English, produce differential and potentially injurious effects on distinct class-based sexualities.

Session: Workshop (part 1)
Language as social practice in the globalized new economy
Thursday, April 3, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 03