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India's drag queens put politics front and center

Their performances carry messages against Hindu nationalism and gender oppression

Performing as Maya the Drag Queen, Bangalore-based Alex Mathew addresses gender equality and transgender empowerment through adaptation of folk tales. (Courtesy of Alex Mathew)

NEW DELHI -- Covering her face in a red gamchha, a piece of cloth used by daily wage workers in India to protect themselves from the tropical summer heat, drag queen S.A.S. sings sadly in the regional Bhojpuri language: "The train takes away my husband, let the city where the train takes him catch fire."

The song, where a wife remembers her husband who has gone far from their village to a big city in search of work, is a prelude to S.A.S.'s act about the distant workers who are now unemployed and traveled thousands of miles home after the COVID-19 lockdown in India cut short their jobs.

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