CHANDIGARH — At the beginning of the 42-minute video he streamed live on Facebook last week, Pawan Kumar looks a little uncertain. Then he seems to come to a decision and begins, “Bhai, kisko lagta hai mujhe change hona chahiye? Anyone who thinks I need to change?”
“Why should I change myself and try to be what I am not?” he said in a conversation with HuffPost India. “My wardrobe, hairstyle or my language do not hurt anyone’s sentiments or cause communal violence or embarrassment to others.”
On the one hand, the legalisation of consensual same-sex relationships has meant that people like Kumar — who identifies as queer — can now speak of their lives and struggles without fear of violent reprisal or arrest. On the other hand, as Kumar’s Facebook video reveals, LGBTQ people continue to attract a disproportionate amount of online backlash.
But Kumar, who works as a business analyst and voice modulation trainer at a telecommunication company in Gurgaon, says he will not stop posting videos; his purpose in life is to bring happiness to others.
“I post videos and pictures on my social media handles not to gain publicity but to spread smiles and happiness with my little acts of stupidly. I love to travel across the globe. Though I wanted to be a flight stewardess, I could not get through. Now I work for the whole year, accumulate my leaves and save money to fund my foreign trips every year,” Kumar told HuffPost India.
Kumar’s videos on TikTok, where he has more than 66,000 followers, are infectious in their excitement. In many of them, he’s lip-syncing and dancing to Bollywood songs, often the woman’s lines. He also posts videos of himself speaking to his followers or dancing in foreign countries.
Video-sharing apps such as TikTok are enabling Indian users, many from small towns, to act out their Bollywood fantasies, helping some of them learn English and also providing a safe space to many young people to express themselves in ways that would be frowned upon in the public sphere.
Most of Kumar’s videos—like those posted by the millions of Indian users on TikTok—are shot in the places he frequents every day and convey a joyous sense of subversion of gender roles and assertion of his right to occupy public spaces. There are videos of him dancing on a footpath in his housing society or at an office event to cheers from his colleagues. In a few, he seems to have convinced an amused barber or beauty salon worker to act as the recipient of his dramatic expressions of love or mock outrage.
Kumar, who is active across multiple social media platforms, uploads 3-4 videos a day on TikTok, Facebook and Instagram. While some videos are spontaneous, he takes time out to plan videos in which he’s acting with friends or colleagues.
While most of the public comments on his TikTok videos are appreciative and encouraging, he does get his share of taunts and hurtful jokes, especially over his colourful style of dressing.
“No one knows me better than me and I know the best way to express myself. Why should I change just because no one likes me wearing a floral kurta or having short hair?” he said.
‘Chief Fun Officer’
Kumar says he was around 8 years old when he first noticed that he was ‘different’ from other boys.
“I was not able to understand as to why, like other boys, I do not get attracted towards girls. Slowly, my identity was revealed to others and I became a target of sexual, mental and physical abuse,” he said.
His relatives mocked him and he was sexually abused by one of his uncles inside his own house.
He decided to fight it alone and not involve his family members because he did not want to create more trouble for his mother, who was a victim of domestic violence.
“That time only I decided to change for good and to create my own little space in this world. I began working at the age of 19 and have been (independent) from the last eight years,” said Kumar.
After studying in a convent school in New Delhi, Kumar got a degree in Sociology and later an MBA in HR and a diploma in Hospitality. He joined the MNC around four years ago.
Kumar’s vibrant, open nature has won him many friends in his office.
A senior director in his company told HuffPost India that Kumar was the “most precious gem” on her team.
“Along with handling client servicing, he is equally good in handling logistics, and providing voice and modulation training to our employees. While he loves to travel abroad, he never takes extra leaves for travelling. He works hard the whole year, accumulates his monthly offs and then takes all of them together,” said the director.
A colleague said that Kumar is great fun to work with, and has tremendous inner strength.
“We call him the CFO, which means the ‘Chief Fun Officer’ of the company,” said the colleague.
So is there anything left on Kumar’s bucket list?
“I am yet to find a true love who accepts me the way I am and not what he likes. I like ‘chocolatey personalities’ and am roaming across the globe to find one of my choice. Inshallah, I will soon get one,” he said.
He has now booked tickets to visit a bunch of South-East Asian countries in November this year to search for his ‘true love’ and to post more TikTok videos.