Rafiul Alom Rahman Explores How Gay Men Adjust to Life in India’s “Big Cities”

Earlier this month, first-year graduate student, Rafiul Alom Rahman, shared some of his insights on how gay men from small towns in India adjust to life in larger cities, living in what he terms a “self-imposed exile.” He notes that:

For gay and bisexual men from small towns who flock to urban centres for higher education or employment opportunities, the city has much to offer. But, as my friend suggested, this also comes at a cost—an exile from one’s roots in an alienating city.


SOURCE: Money Sharma / AFP / Getty Images
Delhi Queer Pride Parade, 2015   (SOURCE: Money Sharma / AFP / Getty Images)

Rafiul goes on to describe the variety of ways that gay and gender-nonconforming people who relocate to larger metro areas like Delhi must utilize the anonymity of the city, as well as online spaces such as YouTube and gay dating apps, to explore their identities. With this growth  comes a comfort in participating in public events, such as the Delhi Queer Pride Parade. Rafiul states that:

Delhi’s LGBT movement, like that of many major cities in India and, indeed, globally, has been criticized for its lack of critical engagement with questions of caste and class, among other things. For the first time ever, 2015 saw a public articulation of caste in the Delhi Queer Pride Parade. A gay man and a Dalit, the assistant professor had hailed the “coming out” of three young Dalit queer individuals, Akhil Kang, Dhiren Borisa, and Dhrubo Jyoti, at Pride. “Our pride is incomplete without acknowledging and celebrating our caste identity as Dalit queer individuals,’’ they had said. The first Telangana Pride March that took place last year also made a point of drawing a connection between the anti-caste and queer movements—it was flagged off by Dalit rights activist Kancha Ilaiah and led by members of the local hijra community.

Splitting his time between his village and Delhi, the assistant professor says life in the big city has been both a boon and a curse. “It is better than what it could have been if I had stayed in the village. But at the same time, you feel a sense of rootlessness. And living in semi-closets is never fully liberating and freeing. The bigger anxiety is of what will become of us in old age, especially living away from family and with no children or spouse,” he says.


Read more from Rafiul at Live Mint Lounge!

Better Know a Sociologist: A Conversation with Sarah Brayne

by Ilya Slavinski

Faculty Headshots

This fall, Dr. Sarah Brayne joins the faculty here in the sociology department at the University of Texas at Austin. She comes by way of Princeton University, where she received her PhD, and the University of British Columbia, which she attended for undergrad. Sarah does innovative and interesting work in surveillance, policing, and inequality. Her current project focuses on the use of big data in law enforcement. I was recently able to sit down with her for a cup of coffee, and I can confidently say we are very lucky to have her!

What first drew you to sociology?

As an undergrad, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer. Then, one of my friends who had taken a sociology class thought it was interesting and suggested I take one with him the next year. I was immediately hooked. I loved how sociology offered a new lens of viewing the world. It made me think of everyday things in a different way; everything that was familiar became unfamiliar. After taking sociology classes on the criminal justice system, I realized that I wanted to study the law rather than practice it. So, I decided to apply to grad school.

What did you do your dissertation on?

My dissertation was on police use of big data. I studied how the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) uses predictive analytics, and what the implications of new surveillance practices are for law and social inequality.

Why did you decide to work here at the University of Texas?

I wanted to work at a large department where faculty and students were conducting cutting-edge research and had diverse interests. When I interviewed here at UT Austin, I was so impressed with everyone I met. The strength of the department, coupled with the opportunity to live in Austin, sealed the deal for me.

What’s your experience of Austin?

I love Austin so far. I’ve only lived here for about a month, but so far I love the food and the weather. I know people complain about the heat, but I spent the last year living in Boston and would take hot over cold any day. I also love how easy it is to find beautiful places to hike and swim nearby. I don’t love the traffic (who does?), but honestly it is not as bad as some other places I’ve lived, like LA.

If you could teach one sociological concept to the world, what would it be?

I’d like to teach everyone the sociological imagination—the ability to see the connections between individual circumstances and broader social forces. I think that developing this quality of mind is crucial to redressing a lot of issues we are facing today.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

The most rewarding part of my job is that I get to learn something new every single day. There is so much variety in this line of work. On any given day, I might be doing fieldwork, writing, teaching, going to talks, reading, or working with policymakers. Also, although it is definitely challenging at times, I am grateful to be working on a topic like police use of technology that is at the forefront of important national debates right now.

What are your current research interests? What are you looking at these days?

I’m currently writing a book about the use of big data within law enforcement. In my future research, I’m planning on broadening the scope of institutions I study to better understand how predictive algorithms and new technologies are (or are not) transforming surveillance practices in a variety of institutional fields, from healthcare to immigration.

What’s one book that you’ve read over the past year that you’ve really enjoyed and why?

Matthew Desmond’s Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City is an incredibly impressive research project and beautifully written.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I like traveling, trying new restaurants, and getting outside whenever I can. I love skiing, but now that I live in Texas, I’m going to have to travel a little farther to find snow. Also, I used to teach sociology classes in state prisons in New Jersey, and would love to do something similar here in Texas. Please get in touch with me if you’re interested!


Ilya Slavinski is a PhD student in the Department of Sociology. He is also a graduate trainee in the Population Research Center, Ethnography Lab Fellow, and Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice Affiliate. Ilya received his MS in Non-Government Organizations and Development from the London School of Economics and his BA in Philosophy from Rutgers University. He studies the field of carceral policy decisions in Texas and how these decisions lead to unequal outcomes along class and racial lines.