PHOTOGRAPHS AND WORDS BY Bharat Sikka
In the tropical jungle of India’s state of Goa, SanQtuary Goa offers queer people a space to rest, commune, and deepen their connections to nature and ancestry. India recently overturned a colonial British law criminalizing homosexuality, and the sanctuary wishes to create new, joyful stories for the queer Goan community.
There is an abandoned church right across the road, and Claudiu, with his dashing lipstick, told me he wants to restore it one day. The community house sits opposite a 30-acre forest—land that is owned by a reticent queer lady. It’s a special place, an old Goan house that welcomes you. Peace and silence resonates around, and usually when I am outside the house, I feel compelled to lay on the hammock and submerge myself in that world. Maria, originally from Mangalore, is a trauma healer. Her personality reflects that, as she is calm, gentle, and observant.
There are many who come around and visit the SanQtuary Goa, but the community and the message is spread out further. It lingers around many who feel they are a part of this belonging. This artistic, natural, healing community for the queer community in Goa is special and is open to all, a place where they can all collaborate. They do not all necessarily live together, but this sense of community is home for them. Often, they all cross paths and join in for performances, shows, debates and discussions. I met a few members of the community at the sanctuary and the others at their own spaces in Goa.
Claudiu’s love for nature and his knowledge in flora is reflected in his surroundings and within the community. In this eclectic bunch, you hear resonations of the big issues of our times. This is a queer community that is inclusive and open-minded. They are living a much more organic yet modern life.
“Community is connection. Learning and unlearning, keeping grounded and open. Diverse community is resilient, sustained by intricate relationships, much like a jungle where each tree, connected by underground mycelium webs, plays an important role in the life of the forest. I wish for my community to be like a beautiful and abundant jungle.” Claudiu Oprea
“I think rather than just celebrating the ideas of community, I am interested in constantly problematizing it to question who is accepted/heard/celebrated/nurtured in a community and who isn’t and why. A community must hold itself to the highest standards while answering this question. If it cannot do this, it’s not a community; it is a cult.” Esthappen
“As a performer and artist, finding community is the only real way to survive and thrive. It gives you access to learning about what’s going on in the world, debating ideas, supporting creativity, and making sense of all the chaos. Your community can be the physical people around you or even your larger support system of Zoom-accessible friends, family, and peers. Luckily in Goa, with the freedom of movement and gathering without fear, it is easier to find physical community. There seems to be a general trend of people looking to build communities with a distinct purpose of living life more fully and more meaningfully. I am slowly starting to find my community here.” Daniel Dsouza
“Personally, when I say community, two words come to my head. Allowance & acceptance. For a closeted queer from South India, the idea of ‘fitting in’ was a real struggle personally and socially. Once I moved to Goa, I got the opportunity to meet precious people in the community where I feel all of us are thriving together as a conscious family/tribe. I’m now hosting ‘all-inclusive queer nights’ in Goa where we are trying to break all the barriers of normative society and let each other steal the limelight. Starting small with bigger dreams. Thank you so much for the opportunity that you are creating for us.” Aadhi Darshan
“Community is where I feel belonging, where different parts of me have room for expression, and where in the midst of complex relationships with other beings and forces of nature, I can be, love, support, challenge, feel grounded, and spread my wings.” Maria Fernandes
“Ups and downs in life are inevitable. It’s your community who could be your safety net.”
“Community to me is seeing the good in each person, enhancing and empowering individual positive qualities, and being kind, no matter what, to create a more peaceful and compassionate world.” Nickhita Patel
“My community is my safe space, my comfort zone, my refuge. Without it, I would perpetually be on the fritz.” Rhea Baweja
In the face of the climate crisis, one thing is clear: we will only get to an ecologically just future by way of working together. If humankind is to heal its relationship to the rest of creation, it must restore harmony—which cannot exist without collaboration. And what could be more emblematic of holism and harmony than a hive?