Gay India News & Reports Jan-May 2009

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Islam and Homosexuality

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1 Victorian Morals Still Criminalising Gay People 1/09

2 Eunuchs move SC seeking quota in jobs 1/09

3 Openly happy and gay in Orissa 1/09

4 Male professionals double as sex workers for extra income 2/09

5 Indian city to build trans toilets 3/09

6 Man by day, woman by night 3/09

7 India’s first transgender talk show host talks back 3/09

8 Experts see need for awareness on alternative sexual preferences 3/09

9 At gay workshop, comic strips promote safe sex 3/09

10 Obama appoints gay man interim ambassador to India 4/09

11 TimeOut Bangalore has come out with a BRILLIANT special Queer Issue 4/09

12 Bombay Dost, India’s first LGBT Magazine, is Returning 4/09

13 The ‘Other Side’ of Dostana 4/09

14 Interrogating aravani activism in Tamil Nadu 4/09

15 Decriminalise homosexuality, gay people ask political parties 4/09

16 It’s time to cheer the gay identity 4/09

17 Visiting Queer Calcutta 5/09

18 Family pressure on us disgusting: Indian gays 5/09

19 Censors clear male lip-lock scene 5/09

20 India’s only gay magazine back on newsstands 5/09

January 14, 2009 – PinkNews

Victorian Morals Still Criminalising Gay People via Colonial Sodomy Law

by Felicity Baker
A law that criminalises homosexuality in several countries was originally implemented by British colonists in India, according to a new report from Human Rights Watch. The Alien Legacy: The Origins of Sodomy Law in British Colonialism, states that Section 377, introduced under the Indian penal code in 1860, is responsible for the persecution of homosexual people that still occurs in more than 35 countries, from Uganda and Nigeria to Papua New Guinea. It punishes "carnal intercourse against the order of nature" and was introduced because the British felt the new colonies needed a code of behaviour in order to "reform", as well as a fear that the new colonies could "corrupt" some of their own.

Today homosexuality is still a crime in many countries. Seven nations retain the death penalty, including Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Iran. In the early 1990s Robert Mugabe made the headlines when he described gay and lesbian people as "un-African" and said they were, "worse than dogs and pigs."

Scott Long, director of the LGBT rights programme at Human Rights Watch said: "Half the world’s countries that criminalise homosexual conduct do so because they cling to Victorian morality and colonial laws. "Getting rid of these unjust remnants of the British Empire is long overdue." Different variations on the 1860 law soon spread across most of the British colonies. Later, when many of them achieved independence, a great number kept the sodomy laws. Although initially only meant to penalise against certain acts, the laws ended up discriminating against entire groups of people.

In India, people listed as "eunuchs" (the British term for Indian hijras or transgender members of the population) were seen as a "criminal tribe" and could be arrested and jailed for simply even appearing in public. Homosexuality was decriminalised in England and Wales in 1967. In 1994, the United Nations Human Rights Committee declared that sodomy laws violate a person’s right not to be discriminated against. Despite these moves forward, the laws still stand amongst many of Britain’s old colonies, including India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Bhutan, Myanmar (Burma) and Sri Lanka.

The report concludes: "Sodomy laws encourage all of society to join in surveillance, in a way congenial to the ambitions of police and state authorities. That may explain why large numbers of countries that have emerged from colonialism have assumed and assimilated their sodomy laws as part of the nationalist rhetoric of the modern state. Authorities have kept on refining and fortifying the provisions, in parliaments and courts-spurred by the false proposition they are a bulwark of authentic national identity. The campaigns for law reform are not merely for a right to intimacy, but for the right to live a life without fear of discrimination, exposure, arrest, detention, or harassment.

"Reform would dismantle part of the legal system’s power to divide and discriminate, to criminalise personhood and identity, to attack rights defenders, and to restrict civil society. Removing the sodomy laws would affirm human rights and dignity. It would also repair a historical wrong that demands to be remembered. "The legacy of colonialism should no longer be confused with cultural authenticity or national freedom. An activist from Singapore writes: "It’s amazing" that millions of people "have so absorbed Victorian prudishness that even now, when their countries are independent – and they are all happy and proud they’re free from the yoke of the British-they stoutly defend these laws. He concludes: ‘The sun may have set on the British Empire, but the Empire lives on.’

"These last holdouts of the Empire have outlived their time."

January 20, 2009 –

Eunuchs move SC seeking quota in jobs

Press Trust of India
Accusing successive governments of neglecting their interests, eunuchs have moved the Supreme Court seeking their education, social and political rehabilitation, including reservation of seats in Parliament, state assemblies and legislative councils. The petition filed by Sonam Singh, an eunuch from Rajasthan has sought a direction to the Union Government to constitute a National Kinner Ayog or Commission to take up the rehabilitation of the neglected population by providing them reservation in jobs, education and Parliament, assemblies and legislative councils. In a petition filed through counsel Santosh Kumar Tripathi, Sonam Singh, who identifies herself as a woman, regretted that even the Election Commission has never decided the gender category of eunuchs and has been arbitrarily treating them as female/male without any reasonable or scientific basis.

Stating that even 60 years after independence there was no data in the country to estimate eunuch population, she submitted that atleast 15 lakh eunuchs were physically challenged and were left to fend for themselves by begging. According to the petition, the neglect of eunuchs was wrong as it was violative of various constitutional provisions like Articles 14,15,16,38,39,46 and 47. The said Articles provide for equality of law and provision of special treatment to the socially and economically disadvantaged sections of the society. It was submitted that though several commissions have been set up for the advancement of the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Backward Classes, OBCs, physically handicapped and other disadvantaged sections, no such commission had so far been set up for eunuchs. The petition said the constitutional rights of eunuchs could not be violated by the Government neglecting them. Besides it would tarnish the country’s human rights record, the petition said. PTI RB

January 26, 2009 –

Openly happy and gay in Orissa

by Subhashish Mohanty / DNA
Homosexuality is coming out of the closet in Orissa. “Orissa is now ready to discuss issues of trans-sexuality, lesbianism and gay sex,” says Oriya film personality Dr Sarat Pujari. Till only a few years ago nobody would even think of discussing such issues. But on Saturday, over a 100 young girls, around 20 eunuchs and a number of gays turned up at an auditorium here to see movies on AIDS, sex and trans-sexuality as the Siddhartha Gautam Film Festival-2009 kicked off in Bhubaneswar. The festival is organised by the Solidarity and Action Against the HIV Infection In India (Saathii)

“We organised the film festival to create awareness on these untouched subjects,” said Mayadhar Rath. Four films — Ame Chari (We Four), Mamatara Phul (The flower of Love), Bhul Re Bhul Karani (Never do a Mistake for Mistake Sake) and 68 Pages were screened followed by a panel discussion on gender, sexuality, human rights and HIV. The film festival is being organised in memory of Siddhartha who pioneered the work and died of cancer at the age of 28.

Most Orissa girls who witnessed such an event for the first time, said they would always support free and safe sex. “Every individual has the right to enjoy sex,” said Kalpana Bishoi, a student of Centre for Rural Development-IMS. Instead, even trans-sexuality and lesbianism are welcome, she said.

“I would never mind indulging in lesbianism, as long as it keeps me happy,” says her friend Swarna Prabha Mohanta. Most all them sat nearly five hours through four movies. Most eunuchs who attended the festival were aware of the use of condoms to prevent AIDS. They complained that they continued to be ostracised socially. “Why do people continue mock us,” asks Basant Kumar Das, a transgender.

On Sunday, mobile film shows were organised in Bhadrak. “Film shows will also be held at Titlagarh and Balangir on January 27,” said Pawan Dhal, country director of Saathii. Incidentally, a girl from Raghunathpur area left her house on Friday and moved into her “girlfriend’s” house. Raghunathpur police O-C BN Samal, however, does not see it as a case of homosexuality. According to him, “this was a case of love and friendship”.

February 03, 2009 – Hindustan Times

Male professionals double as sex workers for extra income

by Aditya Ghosh, Hindustan Times
Mumbai – Gym instructors, call centre workers and direct sales agents are among thousands of professional men moonlighting as sex workers in the city to supplement incomes they feel are too meagre to give them a decent life in Mumbai.
Unlike female sex workers, these men do not walk the streets but operate entirely through social networking websites, according a study funded by the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation, dedicated to AIDS research, and executed by the Humsafar Trust, a non-profit focusing on gay and transgender sexual health.

“I cannot afford to live in the city if I don’t double up as a sex worker,” said Sujit, 28, who works as a gym instructor in Vakola and was part of the study, but did not want Hindustan Times to use his last name. The six-year study, which will be completed in March, estimates that Mumbai has 6,000 male sex workers. This is a fairly significant number as it is almost a third of the 20,000 female sex workers that civic body’s Mumbai District AIDS Control Society estimate operate in the city.

The study found that most of the men, like Sujit, became sex workers for economic reasons: three-fourths came from lower middle class and working class backgrounds. About 60 per cent of their encounters were with gay men, 20 per cent with women and the remaining 20 per cent with couples. “Most of the women and couples who are clients are from the upper middle class,” said Shantaram Kudalkar, project director of the Mumbai District AIDS Control Society, a civic initiative. “Because male sex workers use social networking sites, this class of clients finds it easy to avail of their services.”

But for the same reason, estimating the number of sex workers was more difficult than if they had used more overt methods of soliciting, said Vivek Anand, Humsafar’s chief executive who headed the study. “Moreover, once we tracked them down, many of them would first deny that they were sex workers,” he said. “But with counselling, they admitted to it.” What helped in tracking them down was the fact that most of the male sex workers met their clients in public places before proceeding elsewhere.

The study’s field workers thus managed to track down 2,600 male sex workers in Mumbai over the past six years, all of who eventually admitted that they charged for sex. Like Sujit, all of them are now registered with Humsafar and regularly visit non-profit’s clinic for health check-ups. Based on interviews with these 2,600 men, who told field workers about others they knew who were also sex workers, the study’s statisticians arrived at a final estimate of 6,000. About a third of these are probably HIV-positive because that was also the percentage of the 2,600 registered men who tested positive.

March 9, 2009 – PinkNews

Indian city to build trans toilets

by Staff Writer,
The Indian city of Chennai is to build new toilets for trans people. Officials from the Chennai Municipal Corporation have identified three areas with the largest trans populations which will benefit from the new facilities. The first will be built in Saidapet, where it will cater to those living in Kothamedu, Theedeer Nagar and Athuma Nagar.
The move is part of a pilot project to recognise the considerable trans community in south and central Chennai.

Each lavatory will have both female and male urinals. Municipal commissioner Rajesh Lakhoni was quoted as saying that the scheme was aimed at "extending recognition to the community and mainstreaming them" and more facilities could be built if the public responded well to the idea. However, there has been a mixed reaction from the city’s trans population, with some saying that it would open the way for discrimination and isolation.

"I don’t agree with this. We want to mingle with the mainstream. We don’t want to be separated like this," said Aasha Bharati, president of the Aravanigal Association in Tamil Nadu state. India’s first transgender television host, Rose Venkatesan, said: "It is a big problem, because not everyone has undergone a sex change. "This is a good idea but in the long run, I see a society where there is no difference and all use the same toilets."

8 March 2009 – The Times of India

Man by day, woman by night

Ahmedabad – At five feet eleven inches height, sultry beauty Nandini is dressed to kill as she hangs out near Ahmedabad airport with friends. Soon, a car drives up to her. Nandini’s seductive eyes light up and her voice takes on an inviting purr as she chats up the middle-aged man behind the wheel. Both go to an apartment where she flaunts her triceps and biceps and even plays with a dildo to entertain her client. Fun over, the man returns home to his staid family life, while Nandini slips back into her real skin as Altaf, a 50-year-old small-time labour contractor.

Surprisingly, Altaf’s wife and three children know about his side-business that supplements the family income by nearly Rs 6000 to Rs 7000 per month. Ditto for Vijay, who works in a factory by day and charges anything from Rs 200 to Rs 1,000 for a few hours of fun with men. "At night I go over to my guruji’s place, who taught me the tricks of the trade. Then both of us go out to hunt for clients," he says. There are many like Altaf and Vijay peddling their wares at a public garden near your place, or even a public urinal in your vicinity. And the numbers of these MSMs (males having sex with males) is fast swelling.

Even as MSM pick-up joints abound all over the city, several exclusive men’s only brothels have sprung up, especially in the eastern and south-eastern parts of Ahmedabad. The burgeoning MSM population has also evolved its own lingo and organises special garba nights where transvestites, gays and commercial MSM workers dance to gay abandon in their finery.

"We have identified around 3,500 MSMs in 18-55 years age group, including those who make a living as commercial workers. But the actual figures could be much higher as many have families and don’t want to come out in the open," says Chandu Patel of Chuwalgram Vikas Trust, which has been working to increase awareness about safe sex practices among MSMs since the past seven years.

"The biggest challenge is to convince them to stick to one partner as each commercial MSM sleeps with atleast three to four men daily, exposing them to high risk of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV early in life," says a doctor, who organizes HIV awareness camps for MSMs in the city.

26 July 2008 – MediaGlobal

India’s first transgender talk show host talks back on gender issues

by Emily Geminder
The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex community is increasingly defining itself as a global one, with struggles for equality playing out in countries formerly marked by impermeable silence on the issue. From pride parades in Cape Town to efforts for transgender legal rights in Thailand, the world is beginning to heed the call of change.
Nowhere is the global negotiation of boundaries more apparent than at the United Nations, to which, after a lengthy battle, two non-governmental organizations addressing gender identity and sexual orientation issues gained consultative status this week. Activists and civil society members called the victory a monumental step towards achieving international equality.

As the struggle for equality plays out on a global stage, Rose Venkatesan is challenging inequality in her community in India one stigma at a time. Poised atop a lotus-shaped stage, set lights cascading over her throngs of designer sari sequins and headache-inducing jewels, you might think you’d stumbled across a goddess reincarnate. Or at least, an Indian Oprah Winfrey – a name Venkatesan has been compared to frequently. You wouldn’t be far off. Venkatesan too wields her lacquered talk show persona to tackle taboo issues from premarital sex

to divorce in a country that remains, in many ways, rigid in its traditions – particularly when it comes to sex and marriage. But many, not least among them the 28-year-old herself, believe she is uniquely poised to broach the questions society does not want to address: disarmingly articulate and self-possessed, Venkatesan is also transgender.

“I wanted to do something in the media because it is in the media that you can make a major impact,” Venkatesan told MediaGlobal from Chennai, formerly known as Madras.. Six months ago, at the show’s inception, her life was very different. Kicked out of her family home and unable to find work due to her feminine attire, she slept in the walk-in room of a sympathetic local organization providing health resources to sexual minorities. On the streets, she was confronted with near constant harassment, which sometimes ended in violence, and she was briefly forced into sex work to survive.

“During this period of extreme pain and trauma I was facing, I realized enough was enough, I had to do something,” Venkatesan recounted. “I started looking at the media very seriously, and I started hunting for opportunities.” The first two networks Venkatesan approached laughed her away. But the third, Vijay TV, taken with her eloquence and charm, signed her on. In February, the first episode of Ippadikku Rose (“Yours, Rose”) aired to an audience of 64 million viewers. The numbers have only risen.

Venkatesan addresses the unique challenges of her community in part by drawing on its strengths. Many aspects of Indian culture, she notes, are traditionally accepting of unconventional gender identities and non-heterosexual practices. “It was with British rule that things changed,” she said, “because previous to that, Hindu culture was very inclusive of sexual minorities in the name of third gendered people. They were seen as divine.”

Indian culture’s erratic stance toward gender minorities is perhaps best exemplified in the role of the Hijra community. Hijras, India’s largest and most well known (though far from its only) third gender community, were long considered an auspicious presence at weddings and births, but increasing marginalization has led to the primacy of sex work as the community’s means of survival. “They’re completely ostracized,” Venkatsan said. “They’re untouchables. People are highly uncomfortable with the subject. People don’t even want to see them.”

Due to stigmas surrounding sexual and gender minorities and sex workers, as well as healthcare that fails to address their needs, transgender individuals in India are at a disproportionately high risk for HIV infection. On the streets, they routinely face sexual violence – not least from the police, who exploit the criminalization of non-heterosexual intercourse still enshrined in Indian national law. According to a report launched today by the United Nations agency for HIV/AIDS, the epidemic’s prevalence among vulnerable communities – especially men who have sex with men – is on the rise in India.

While Hindu extremist parties tend to produce frenzied uproar at any display of sexuality defying the narrow paradigm of heterosexual marriage, Hinduism can also be remarkably inclusive. “We have transgender gods – can you believe that?” Venkatesan noted. “We have a god who was born of intercourse between two men. The British didn’t like that. They wanted to cleanse this country of what they viewed as evil. They even destroyed a lot of cultural artwork that depicted homosexuality, untraditional sexual acts, and sexuality in general. They imposed the modern idea of rigid heterosexuality.”

Amara Das Wilhelm of the Gay and Lesbian Vaishnava Association also sees a dynamic interplay between traditional and modern forms of acceptance, with the current movement for queer rights drawing on India’s long tradition of the “third sex.” Das Wilhelm told MediaGlobal, “So-called traditional views in India are beginning to slowly change. Homosexuality and other gender variations were formerly accepted and accommodated in Indian society. Only in recent centuries has it become a ‘tradition’ to ostracize and exclude these groups. Some Westerners have a problem with accepting a third sex category but for Indians and Hindus it is an easy concept to grasp and most are aware of it as an ancient Indian tradition.”

While colonial rule may have suppressed the multiplicitous gender expressions of its day, Venkatesan seeks to reclaim the inclusive voice of popular media. “I wanted to use the media, because it was using the media that we were first ostracized,” she said.

And her voice is being heard. Two months after the first airing of Ippidikku Rose, the Tamil Nadu government established a transgender welfare board, hailed as the most progressive legislation on transgender issues in India. Some of its efforts so far have included distributing food ration cards to transgender individuals and creating an official third gender status in government records – including forms for admission to educational institutions, which are now required to accept transgender students.

One student will be Venkatesan, who recently enrolled in a course on camera work and editing. Among the projects she intends to pursue are transgender cast and themed feature films and a reality show depicting her upcoming gender reassignment surgery and transition. When she is not on the set, Venkatesan conducts trainings for law enforcement officers and the medical community on sensitivity toward transgender issues. She also answers fan mail. “Not just transgender people,” she said of her admirers, “many people have been marginalized by society and are looking for inspiration.”

She is theirs.

22 March 2009 – The Times of India

Experts see need for awareness on alternative sexual preferences

Chennai – The society will start accepting members of the gay, lesbian and transgender communities only when there is large-scale awareness of alternative sexual preferences, said expert testifiers at an event to address stigma and discrimination against homosexuality on Saturday.

Psychiatrist Dr Vijay Nagaswami and sexual medicine consultant Dr Narayana Reddy were part of Homophobia: A citizen’s forum’ organized by ActionPlus, which is a consortium of 13 non-governmental organisations from across the country including YRGCare and Nalamdana from Chennai. "There are various phases to acceptance awareness, gaining of knowledge, becoming comfortable with that knowledge and trial and testing. It cannot happen overnight. Discrimination happens because of the fear of the unknown and a person’s fear that his own sexual identity would be changed," Dr Narayana Reddy said. Dr Nagaswami said, "There is a need for more space to discuss such issues." The doctors were responding to issues on same gender sex put forward by representatives of sexual minorities Srivath, Kalki and Sumathi.

Gay activist Srivath spoke about his success story in getting his family and friends to understand and accept his attraction towards members of the same sex. He said, "I realized that I was attracted to members of the same sex when I was quite young so I didn’t have problems with my sexuality or sexual identity. There were problems with being accepted in society, but I realized soon enough that those who bully you usually get bored of it or accept it," he said. He spoke about the need for managements and counselors of educational institutions to be more aware of gender minorities. "There’s a lot of awareness being created on transgenders but not enough about gay men," he said.

Founder of Sahodari Foundation and transgender activist Kalki said that more sensitisation is needed before putting transgenders in jobs in the public. "Transgenders earn more than what they would in a BPO through begging or commercial sex and through this money they also support their biological families who often live away from them. So when NGOs come forward to offer them jobs for much lesser pay, they find it difficult to leave their old lifestyle," she said. Sumathi, who heads Lesbit a wing of NGO Sangama that addresses the needs of lesbians in Bangalore, spoke about the invisible pressure on female homosexuals and the domestic violence faced by lesbians, many of whom are unable to give up their old relationships even after being forcibly married to men.

The speakers also highlighted the need to educate parents, teachers and even counsellors on the issue. Similar meetings have been planned in Goa and Delhi.

March 22, 2009 – Express India

At gay workshop, comic strips promote safe sex

by Georgina Maddox
Mumbai Sometimes it is easier to say difficult things in a humorous way. This is why comic strips talking of safe sex, HIV awareness and transparency with partners, are an easier way to get the message through. Given that the first graphic novel came into being because of some comic strips drawn for an NGO, graphic art has come full circle.
This Wednesday and Thursday, Delhi-based Sharad Sharma of World Comics India conducted a three-day ‘Grassroots Comics’ workshop at The Humsafar Trust in Vakola, an NGO that reaches out to gay, transgendered and MSM (Men who have Sex with Men) groups in the city. The participants were encouraged to draw their own comic strips and posters and spread the message.

“Grassroots comics’ are drawn by the people themselves and not by the artists. So drawing ability is not of primary concern. Participants can share their stories, incidents or develop some story on information they want to disseminate using comic posters,” says Sharma, who was in Mumbai to attend a seminar at Ali Yavar Jung and to conduct this workshop at Humsafar. At present, the creations are on view at the Humsafar office. “Booklets and posters are efficient tools when we conduct sensitisation workshops with people who are not part of the community,” says Urmi, a Trans Gender (TG) person who works with Humsafar.

The outreach workers who do projects like Josh, Gaurav and Sankalp, were also part of the cartoon-making workshop. “These are separate units of Humsafar, involved in various aspects of advocacy for safe sex practices and outreach for homosexuals. These visuals will give them something concrete to talk with,” says Girish, who manages the daily workings at the NGO. “There is a hope that we will get sponsorship to turn these leaflets and posters into a graphic novel,” he adds.

The cartoons have been drawn in various naïve art styles, in some cases the ‘artists’ like Gagan have done this for the first time. “This story about a man who is married but has a gay partner, brings out the fact that if we are diagnosed with HIV, one should tell both partners,” says Gangan. “This one talks about a TG who is a CSW (commercial sex worker). In the story, she tells her customer to wear a condom, and when he refuses she says ‘Main jawan hun lekin naadan nahi (I am young but not naïve),” says Urmi, with much glee.

Ravi is not sure if their stories will ever make it to a graphic novel, but “we are happy to have done this much,” he says, indicating the posters lovingly wrapped in cellophane and are ready for the display.

(First names have been used to protect the identity of homosexuals)

April 6, 2009 – Gay Politics

Obama appoints gay man interim ambassador to India

Peter Burleigh, a seasoned foreign service officer with deep expertise in South Asian affairs, will serve as America’s top diplomat in India until a permanent ambassador is named, according to reports in the Indian press. In a 2008 profile of Burleigh in the South Florida Bladeburleigh, the former acting ambassador to the United Nations said he had sometimes had to hide his sexual orientation during his more than 30-year career as diplomat:

“Up until the 1980s, it was dangerous [to be out] because you couldn’t do foreign work without security clearance,” Burleigh said. “By 1990, it was no longer a problem if you were out.” Burleigh said he was open about his sexuality within the State Department once the policy changed. He kept his private life to himself, however, when he was assigned to foreign countries where homophobic attitudes prevailed in the culture. The Gay & Lesbian Leadership Institute’s Presidential Appointments Project is championing several openly gay candidates for ambassadorial nominations as President Obama pulls together his diplomatic team. For information on the Presidential Appointments Project, go here.

April 8, 2009 – From: Gay Bombay Yahoo Groups
Posted by: "Vikram" 

TimeOut Bangalore has come out with an absolutely BRILLIANT special Queer Issue
– with full Queer Cover! – to coincide with the big queer film festival happening in Bangalore this weekend. That is important enough, but this Queer Issue adds to it hugely. It is, hands down, one of the most impressive magazine issues on queer subjects that has ever been done in India. It has diversity, many stories, covers many different issues, looks at complicated problems, avoids covering up things, and is very well designed and readable.

BIG kudos to everyone involved with producing it, above all Joshua who must have almost died producing it. But the effort was worth it because this is a real collector’s issue. And its all on the Net, so you don’t have to buy it, but if you see it (or any other TimeOut for that matter!) please do, as appreciation for bringing out this issue. But even if you can’t find the physical copy, here’s are the links to the stories and the full intro:

TimeOut Bangalore: The Queer Issue
Agenda Bender

The situation of alternative sexuality is one that’s often made a travesty of, and not merely in the sphere of mainstream entertainment. In either the popular perceptions of a gun-toting Malashree – the Kannada actress who often portrays the role of a female cop – the stereotyped effeminate male sidekick in Bollywood comedies, the social idea of accommodating members of other sexual communities has almost always been relegated to that of a curious oddment.

Then there’s the issue of acceptance that people who embrace alternative sexual identities face and the way common society upon encountering members of these communities on the streets of a metropolis like Bangalore react. The biggest predicament for both the society in general and the queer community in particular, it appears, is about not knowing what to do, and whom to approach, when confronted with issues of gender, sexuality, discrimination, relationships and the act of making life-changing choices.

When Time Out came across a group of people in the city who were willing to be of assistance in explaining these predicaments – significantly, each one of them agreed to reveal his or her identity – there was a larger picture that emerged, clamouring for attention. In discussing issues relevant to alternative sexualities with members of these communities, the discourse ultimately veered towards the city’s larger cultural fabric.

In reading this six-part cover story, you can expect a lot more than just the breakdown of the "queer" notion (which loosely denotes the broader framework of gay and lesbian sexualities, and also looks at non-heterosexual identities in general). The people we spoke to were not only willing to come out, be photographed and talk about certain sensitive aspects, such as their idea of family, activism, accessing public spaces in the city, they even let us in on their preferences in entertainment, and the aspects that went into crafting their individual style.

Of the ten people whose voices make up this first Queer Issue of Time Out, the youngest were Christy Raj and Abhishek S Murthy – both 22 years old. Raj, a female-to-male transgender works in a community-based organisation, and Murthy, a queer man, is a former teacher of English. Sunil, 26, also works in a community-based organisation and identifies himself as a gender queer, biologically a woman, but is identified as a man, while Nitya Vasudevan, 27, is a post-graduate student and lesbian.

They were joined by Dhruv Dhody, 27, who works with a technology company, and Ralph Daniels, 31, a make-up artist – both gay men – and Nithin Manayath, 31, a college teacher, and the activist Elavarthi Manohar, 38 – both of whom identify as queers. Revathi, 40, an activist from the hijra community who identifies herself as a heterosexual woman, and Veena S, 32, director of a community-based organisation who identifies herself as a transsexual hijra, also joined the discussions that appear in the pages that follow.

Joshua Muyiwa.

Read the stories here.

April 14, 2009 – From: Gay Bombay Yahoo Group

Bombay Dost, India’s first LGBT Magazine, is Returning

Bombay Dost, India’s first LGBT magazine, is returning in a new, bolder-than- ever avatar. The boldness has to do with the forthrightness with which LGBT cultural expression is showcased. The magazine is now a full 56-colour pages with a glossy cover.

Highlights of the re-launch issue include: a round-up and analysis of events in the past year; Bombay Dost’s people of the year; an alternative guide to cinema featuring 100 films that have a queer resonance; articles by Ruth Vanita and Sandip Roy; original, new art and short fiction; tributes to Nishit Saran and Chetan Datar; a translation of ‘Lihaaf’; an extract from Amruta Patil’s ‘Kari’; essays on bisexuality and on friendships between gay and straight men; a rewind to the beginning of Bombay Dost in 1990; interviews with Mr Gay Europe and Mr Gay India; and lots more.

The re-launch edition is truly a collector’s item. Watch this space for the launch date and where to pick up your copy. The re-launch of the magazine is supported by UNDP and The Humsafar Trust.

You may visit us here for a sneak preview

2009 April 01 – Mid-Day

The ‘Other Side’ of Dostana

by Ketan Ranga
Mumbai – Visually-impaired NRI makes film on homosexuals; will screen it for the community in city tomorrow Dostana looked at the lighter side of homosexuality, but Karan Goel (27), an NRI businessman settled in Chandigarh looks at ‘The Other Side’ of this sensitive subject. Goel, who suffers from retinitis pigmentosa (90 per cent blindness) has made a film, The Other Side, on the gay community that urges society not to treat them as outcasts.

It’s his disability that helped him relate to homosexuals. "I have been visually impaired since childhood and though my family supported me, society did not accept me. Homosexuals face similar discrimination." "When I was studying in the US, I observed that one out of every 10 people I met was a homosexual. I befriended them and learned that they are a neglected lot. Overseas they find some acceptance, but back home homosexuality is considered a taboo," he added.

Sensitive subject
After Goel returned to India in 2007, he decided to make a film that addresses this sensitive subject. Now that the film is ready, he has planned a special screening for the members of The Humsafar Trust, India’s first gay community organisation tomorrow in the city.

"The movie is based on the hardships faced by the homosexual communities. We need to have feedback from them, and hence have planned for the special screening," said Goel, who is the writer, the producer and associate director of the film. He added "One needs to understand that homosexuality is not a disease, and this is the message we are trying to spread through our film."

The story
The Other Side is the story of a boy Ankur Mathur, who is abandoned by his family and friends, as he discovers he is a homosexual. The film has Gaurav Bajaj and Manoj Biddvai in the lead roles and is directed by Honney Rommey

April 19, 2009 –

Interrogating aravani activism in Tamil Nadu

by Padma Govindan
Does the struggle for civil rights and mainstreaming of a community such as the transgender community of Tamil Nadu sound the death knell for the rituals and traditions that hold the community together and give it a sense of coherence and narrative power.
As a result of political action demanding the recognition of their individual civil identities and ongoing engagement with issues of economic justice, Tamilian transgender women (known as aravanis) have become the most public of sexual minorities in the state of Tamil Nadu and in the queer movement as a whole. A group of aravani activists have forged a social movement in this decade that has successfully procured certain civil rights such as the possession of ration cards, voters’ identity cards, passports, and the constitution of a special welfare board with the specific task of addressing their community’s social exclusion at the state and local level.

What have been the roadblocks in the way of social transformation? After all, transgender identities mark the boundaries of normative definitions of gender and sex, and also expose the power structures that are served by keeping these boundaries intact. Does the process of integration and mainstreaming of Tamilian aravanis and their transformation to legitimate subjects of the State necessarily point to a thorough engagement with the ‘accepted’ definitions of gender?

Any analysis of a political, rights-based movement demands a close examination of the techniques of visibility, inter-community tensions, and the nature of that movement’s engagement with processes of government. The aravani community in Tamil Nadu is marked by a multiplicity of voices, identities, and values that are frequently stifled when the real social stigma and violence they face is defanged and brought in line with the State project of ‘rehabilitation’. The aravaniactivist effort must contend with the silencing of disruptive voices and the potential erasure of radical subjectivities through a civil rights discourse if the movement is to coalesce into a larger public dialogue. How does any movement contend with the question of placing cultural practices in the context of political action?

A history of actions
The history of transgender involvement in the Indian queer visibility movement dates to the mid-1990s with international aid agencies such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNAIDS identifying their communities as being at risk for HIV infection, and the subsequent flood of international grant and donor money into the Indian non-profit sector for anti-prostitution and anti-trafficking activist movements in India. However, a community-based initiative to address issues of rights and identity did not truly coalesce—at least in Tamil Nadu—until 2003. In 2003, a group of aravani women who had worked in the HIV sector decided to work with an NGO in the Theni district of Tamil Nadu called Arogya Agam, setting up self-help microfinance groups and small businesses for transgender women. When attempting to register the organisation, they were informed that without a bank account, ration card, or electricity bill to confirm their identities, they would not be able to register Arogya Agam. As transgender women, they would be unable to procure official forms of identity—because they present themselves as women but are forced to call themselves men for the sake of legal identification, their documents have no legitimacy.

In response, this foundational group of activists decided to petition the Chennai High Court for the right to choose their gender identity in official documents. On March 6, 2004, a writ petition was filed in the Chennai High Court asking for ration cards for transgenders. Simultaneously, this foundational group of 15 aravanis was involved in other ongoing initiatives to create visibility and a support network for transgender women in Tamil Nadu. They registered the Sudar Foundation for transgender advocacy and economic empowerment, and also formed a theatre troupe, Kanadi Kalai Kuzhu. CK Gariyali of the State Women’s Commission compiled a report on the status of transgender-specific rights in other countries, which the group presented at court.

Finally in July 2004, the High Court of Tamil Nadu announced that transgender individuals could choose either ‘male’ or ‘female’ as their gender when applying for official identity documents. In their petition the group had asked for a third gender to be added to official documents, and so they were not entirely satisfied with the judgment. However, lacking both the funds and the wherewithal for another protracted legal battle, they decided to accept the announcement for the time being. Also, district collectors in Kanchipuram and Vellore began offering free and subsidised housing to aravanis under government schemes such as the Indira Awaas Yojana.

In December 2006, the state subcommittee on transgender welfare (formed in 2003), re-convened to issue a second government order with recommendations to the state government in order to “improve the living conditions of the aravanis (sic)”, which the state agreed to instate. The recommendations of the subcommittee included large-scale counseling and sensitisation programmes, particularly for children with “behaviour changes” in schools and their parents, as well as counseling for MSMs (men who have sex with men, but are not gay-identified) against pursuing sex-reconstruction surgery. In addition, the government order issued a raft of guidelines for disciplinary actions against schools and colleges who refused to admit aravanis, small loans and training programmes for aravani self-help groups, and information for medical institutions should they receive patients who wish to undergo SRS after counseling, and quarterly ‘grievance day’ meetings with collectors to address the distribution of ration and identity cards. The list of recommendations also suggested conducting a large-scale, comprehensive study of the “behaviour and lifestyle” of aravanis in Tamil Nadu with the aim of “giving full rehabilitation for their improvement and upliftment of life”.

The cumulative effect of activist efforts from the transgender community and government sanction resulted in the constitution of the Aravani Welfare Board in May 2008, established specifically to address the issues of the aravanis in Tamil Nadu. The board includes ten official members who vote on and pass policy decisions, and ten unofficial aravani representatives who act in an advisory capacity. In the same month, in response to long-standing demands from the community and after intervention from the newly-formed Aravani Welfare Board, a third government order was issued, guaranteeing reserved seats to transgendered individuals in Tamil Nadu colleges and universities. In August 2008, in response to growing dissatisfaction with the welfare board’s silence on key issues of violence and stigma and also the increasingly infrequent meetings, a few aravani organisations came together under the banner of the Federation of Indian Transgenders (FIT) to constitute a body to ensure the proper functioning of the Aravani Welfare Board as well as the execution of the several policy-level changes made by the state government.

Contradictions in cultural identities and political action
Male-to-female transgender people of India have traditionally organised themselves in communes, usually called jamaats. A unit of this matriarchal structure features an older hijra or aravani as a ‘guru’ (or mother-figure with several chelas (younger, newly initiated hijras/aravanis) as her acolytes. There are elaborate rituals that mark one’s entry into a jamaat and acceptance as a chela. These rituals, with their mytho-religious underpinnings, bind them to a structure of kinship in which relationships, roles and duties are both implicitly suggested and explicitly performed. Among these duties include the tribute of money by chelas to gurus from begging, sex work, or other forms of employment, obedience to community norms with regards to behaviour and dress, and affectionate devotion. Gurus are expected to provide guidance, emotional support for the young chelas, and advice about undergoing castration. This community structure, while looser and less binding in south India than in northern regions of the country, nevertheless provides one of the few real-world (and admittedly rigidly hierarchical and problematic) models for aravanis in how to organise as a family and community after establishing a public transgender identity.

It should be noted at this juncture that the jamaat system frequently fosters violent and coercive behaviour between gurus and chelas, in no small part due to the pressures to earn money and support community members in the context of a larger social stigma. For example, in July 2008, Devayani, a young transgender woman living in Chennai, committed self-immolation allegedly in response to harassment from her guru, Jaya. Latha, a friend who tried to save her from the flames, survived while Devayani suffered third-degree burns and died at the hospital a few days after the incident. Jaya was charged for extortion and abetment of suicide. The incident accentuated the existing tensions within the guru-chela system and emphasised its profoundly hierarchical and potentially repressive possibilities, while also highlighting the inability or unwillingness of the newly-constituted Aravani Welfare Board to publicly address issues of violence against and within the community. There was little intervention from the Aravani Welfare Board during or after the Latha-Devayani episode.

At the same time, there is a valid argument from both older and younger members of the aravani community that the effort to ‘rehabilitate’ transgender women by the Tamil state and aravani activists can lead to an erasure of all that is oppositional, subversive, and empowering about the re-authoring of heterosexist Indian traditions by the aravani jamaat religious practices. For example, in her book Aravanigal Samugya Varaiviyal, Priya Babu refers to a popular aravani religious event, the Koovagam Festival, which takes place annually at the Koothandavar temple in the Villupuram district of Tamil Nadu. “Even the name ‘aravani,’ though of recent usage,” she writes, “bears permanent reference to the story of Aravan in the Mahabharatha. Aravanis see themselves as that transgendered aspect that Krishna assumed for a night to marry Aravan, to fulfill his wish for conjugal union before his sacrifice to the gods the next morning…Even today, at Koothandavar Temple in Villupuram district, aravanis congregate every year to commemorate this narrative. Ecstatic celebrations of their marriage to Aravan are followed overnight by their sorrow of mourning for their dead husband.” This festival, in addition to being a common gathering point for aravanis in south India, also serves as an empowering space in which to publicly worship and rewrite the framing of religious texts from a genderqueer perspective and as a subaltern re-reading of an episode from the Mahabharatha. However, the reformist tendencies of the state processes are revealed in the following observation made in The Hindu in a news item on the aravanis’response to the constitution of the Aravani Welfare Board: “KM Ramathal, of the Tamil Nadu State Commission for Women, said the transgenders had rights to celebrate, but by taking part in certain rituals like tying the ‘thaali and removing them’ in Koovagam, the transgenders were only lowering themselves” (May 6, 2008).

In acknowledging the historical context of the jamaat system, many aravani activists point to its storied past as an instance of the respect transgendered women received in the medieval Moghul courts, as well as to the mention of transgender women in ancient south and north Indian texts such as Silappadikaram and the Mahabharata, as a legitimising example of the aravani place in the Indian tradition, and as a way of drawing a sharp distinction between the de-stigmatised identity of aravanis in the past and their marginalised identities in the present. Simultaneously, many aravani activists decry the violence, rigidity, and acceptance of heterosexual feminine norms within the jamaat system as primitive and incompatible with the modern identity as citizen. Several younger aravanis have publicly expressed discontent with the traditional structures and find them restrictive and undermining in their pursuit of civil rights. In Revathi’s book Unarvum Uruvavum (a transgender activist with Sangama in Bangalore), she includes this commentary on generational and cultural differences within the aravani community: “In today’s context, when we go to work fighting for rights, and when they say, ‘I am your naani, I am your guru. You should obey me. Sit down. Do this, do that, massage my feet,’ it is an impediment in our rights-based work in the world. We accept their opinions. Elders (in the community) must also listen to us.”

The use of a strategic essentialism, to borrow Gayatri Spivak’s term, certainly has its political uses by presenting the aravani identity as homogeneous across the population, part of a supposedly blameless and glorious Indian past, and thus deserving of civil rights and social acceptance. However, this technique of visibility has the effect of denaturing all that is subversive, sexual, and liberatory about the traditional jamaat practice—preventing an honest community appraisal of what is both an oppositional and oppressive alternative social system, while giving it the sheen of non-threatening tradition. Ultimately, without a space in which to openly assess the internal struggles of the community and acknowledge the sheer multiplicity of voices and values within the aravani population—a space that the Aravani Welfare Board does not appear to provide–the uses of strategic essentialism effectively erase the shifting strategies that give aravani identities and desires the strength of opposition and draw the larger identification of the community under the purview of State-defined identities in the name of attaining provisional rights and privileges.

It is tempting to argue that the sense of individuation that is inherent in the demand for and bestowing of civil rights is in some senses antithetical to community structures that are strictly vertical and hierarchical. Another troubling binary in which this debate is framed is that of communing and mainstreaming, with the latter (problematic) concept dreaded – many times understandably – as a process that tolls the death knell for rituals and traditions that hold the community together and give it a sense of coherence and narrative power. The issues and arguments here need to be teased out without falling into the traps of some simplistic binary framework of tradition versus modernity where the individuation emphasised by the discourse of civil rights is somehow perceived as detrimental to traditional collective arrangements.

It is in this context that activities like the ethnographic work undertaken by people like Priya Babu documenting aravani cultural practices and arts, theatre work by groups like the Kannadi Kalai Kuzhu, and the compilation of aravani self-narratives by Revathi figure as some of the diverse efforts that have contributed to the cumulative strength of the movement. I further suggest a deeper commitment to both self-reflexive practices of assessment from within the community as well as building alliances—both strategic and personal–with other political movements.

Any empancipatory movement demands an ongoing engagement with both, the powers of the State, the desire for legitimation, and a critical stance towards the choices made in the attempt to achieve a space for oppositional desire and identity. This level of engagement with larger issues of heteropatriarchy and sexism within the community, as well as a critical approach to the pragmatics, risks, and limits of engaging with the State, can help sustain a movement beyond the specific pursuit of legal rights and also create a more equitable and accepting space both within and outside the community itself.

(Padma Govindan is the founder and co-director of the Shakti Centre, a sexuality advocacy and research non-profit organisation in Chennai. She is also a sex advice columnist for Marie Claire India)

April 24, 2009 – Indian Express

Decriminalise homosexuality, gay people ask political parties

New Delhi – With key issues related to them finding no mention in heated election debates, transgender and gay rights activists asked political parties to put their demands in the agenda and make their stands clear on issues like decriminalisation of homosexuality. At a ‘People’s Panchayat’ in the capital on resisting stigma and homophobia, the activists said political parties, which have mindset dating back to years, need to wake up to the existence of sexual minorities or face electoral boycott from the estimated four crore population.

"In Mumbai, our groups are actually meeting political parties with major demands, including decriminalisation of homosexuality and a law against discrimination," said Mumbai-based gay rights activist Ashok Row Kavi. "Every reaction from the parties is conveyed through our wide networks to the members of the community throughout the country," Kavi said.

He said it is high time the members of the community get together on a larger scale to strike a political bargain. The meeting that saw a number of transgender and homosexual people come together to relate their experiences in fighting the stigma, was the last in a series of such ‘panchayats’ held in five major cities of the country. "We feel that the agenda of political parties across the spectrum should include their stand on sexual minorities," said a statement released by the activists and experts after the ‘panchayat’.

2009 April 07 – Mid Day

It’s time to cheer the gay identity

by: Kaumudi Gurjar
R Raj Rao has authored a book titled Whistling in the Dark, which is a narrative compilation of the experience of 21 homosexuals from across Pune Being gay is no longer a taboo, as everything about the community is coming out of the closet. Hence, there no need to hide about one’s sexual preferences, says R Raj Rao, a city-based writer. Rao has authored a book titled Whistling in the Dark, which is a narrative compilation of the experience of homosexuals. The book highlights how most of the homosexuals have been forced to hide their sexual orientation fearing backlash from the larger heterosexual society.

Sting operation
Although Rao is comfortable sharing his identity, the other men whom he had interviewed were quite hesitant to speak about their sexual preferences. "Interviewing them was like a massive sting operation, as many of them were reluctant to share their experiences. May be it’s because they didn’t want to speak about their private lives or maybe they didn’t want to reveal the biggest secret that they had hidden since long," said Rao. According to Rao, most of the people he had interviewed were associated with Queer Studies Centre a support group that works for the intellectual, cultural, social and political rights of gays in India. He has recorded testimonies of 20 men and one woman from all walks of life, including professors, auto rickshaw drivers, under trials and even foreigners visiting Pune.

Speaking about how he convinced them to speak for the book, he said, "I became friends with them, partied with them sand even took them to overnight jaunts and hill stations. It was then that they opened up to me."
While a majority of interviews in Rao’s book appear under assumed names, there are a few people like Christopher Benninger, Ram Naidu, Hoshang Merchant and Bindumadhav Khire who readily agreed to being

Rao said, "The interviewees told me how the they were bashed up by the heterosexuals. Some even said that their wives had no inkling about their sexual orientation, while some even shared their experiences of being waylaid by the police and hoodlums who threatened to reveal their identity."

Romantic aspect
Rao added that, "Issues related to homosexuality are often hijacked by associating them with HIV. But nobody explores the romantic aspect of being gay. I have attempted to bring that element in my book."

Edited by Rao and Dibyajyoti Sarma, the book will be launched on May 6 at Oxford Books Store in Mumbai.

May 2009 – SAATHII

Visiting Queer Calcutta

This past December (2008) I conducted preliminary research on queer collective action for social change in Calcutta. This was part of my graduate studies in anthropology at Syracuse University in New York. The oral history of queer activism in this city can be traced back to 1989 when a small group of gay men got together to form a club. In 1999, Calcutta was host to the first queer pride parade in India. Today, the city and its surrounding districts are home to a network of at least 25 different organizations and groups that work on issues of same-sex sexuality.

A couple of stressful days after my arrival in Calcutta, I was finally ready to go out into the city all by myself. By this time I had found an expensive paying guest accommodation in the Salt Lake neighborhood that was willing to host a non-Indian Muslim. Understandably, most landlords were tense in the aftermath of the Mumbai terrorist attacks. After two noisy rickshaw rides, 30 minutes of standing in a crowded bus, and 15 minutes of walking along dust-laden streets, I finally reached my destination. Taking this route to the Solidarity and Action Against The HIV Infection in India (SAATHII) office became a part of my daily routine for the remainder of my month-long stay in Calcutta.

The primary goal of SAATHII, an NGO where I volunteered, is to create an awareness of HIV/AIDS and to strengthen efforts towards the prevention and treatment of the infection. I spent my time at SAATHII working on several ongoing projects, such as, analyzing surveys from media advocacy training workshops, and editing interview questionnaires for a baseline project on coalition building amongst community based organizations. I spent every opportunity I had speaking to the organization’s employees about their work, life experiences, and views on social change. I also made good use of the SAATHII reference library by watching short independent films made by local activists on issues of same-sex sexuality.

SAATHII employees, many of whom are queer activists, welcomed me wholeheartedly, and I was immediately comfortable in their company. Amitava, a transgendered social worker and musician, adopted me as her son and insisted that that I call her “Mummy.” Soma, the Documentation & Library Officer, and Pawan, the Calcutta Office Director, encouraged me to speak in Bengali, and Souvik, a SAATHII programs coordinator, treated me as a friend and confidant. I was also invited to office parties and other social gatherings where I met with activists, scholars and supporters from various queer networks.

My friends at SAATHII introduced me to representatives of other key organizations like MANAS Bangla, a grant funded coalition of 13 community based organizations (CBOs) located in different parts of West Bengal. I learned that each CBO has its own drop-in- center (DIC) that functions not only as a clinic but also a safe space where local queer support groups can host their monthly meetings and social events.

I visited two of the four DICs based in Calcutta. The Kadapara DIC was a small apartment with two rooms, a kitchen and a bathroom. One of the rooms was set up as a clinic, complete with a bed and medical supplies, from where a doctor administered treatment to patients. The other room was used as a common area. Here, I observed a meeting in which peer educators narrated their experiences from the field. The role of peer educators is to go to cruising areas, such as parks and public toilets, to advise men on safe-sex practices and on the risks of sexually transmitted diseases. I discovered that fieldwork is fraught with dangers for peer educators; many of them are effeminate men who are routinely harassed during interventions with target populations.

At the Dumdum DIC, I attended the monthly meeting of a queer support group called Swikriti. This group aims to empower sexual minorities, sponsors community building initiatives, and organizes programs to create an awareness of alternative sexualities. I sat cross-legged on a large thatched floor mat with 15 other people consisting of gay men, kothis (an indigenous queer identity category), and male-to-female transgendered individuals. Amongst those assembled were a university instructor, a law student, two social workers, and a former male-sex worker. On the agenda was a discussion of the progress towards the group’s annual publication, “Swikriti Patrika”, a compilation of essays and poems on queer sexuality and activism. Each year Swikriti sells these anthologies at the Calcutta Book Fair.

My time in India was well spent. I met a large number of people, made new friends, learned fascinating details about their lives, and gained valuable knowledge about queer activism in Calcutta. I hope to be back for more detailed research!

Contributor: Faris A. Khan, New York

May 24, 2009 – New Kerala

Family pressure on us disgusting: Indian gays

by Shilpa Raina
New Delhi – Homosexuality is a criminal offence in India, but many gays believe that a change in the law will do no good to them unless society starts accepting them and stops putting pressure on them to conform.
According to Ranjan, 43, who works with an NGO in the capital, family pressure in India is "disgusting". "Family pressure in India is disgusting. As a gay, I am not supposed to disrespect my family reputation even though I am feeling miserable from inside," Ranjan said. "The law can’t make any difference till we help ourselves and get support from society and our family. There is a lot of discrimination against us and no law can change that attitude of people towards us. The need of the hour is to garner support from society to live a normal life like other human beings do," said Ranjan."

There is no official data on the country’s gay population, according to UNAIDS officials. The Indian Penal Code holds homosexual acts as an offence, with Section 377 providing punishment up to life imprisonment for indulging in them. For 44-year-old prince Manavendra Singh Gohil from Rajpipla in Gujarat, it wasn’t easy to disclose the fact that he was gay, but after a failed marriage that lasted 15 months, he decided that succumbing to peer pressure would do no good to his own life.

"Initially, I didn’t have the courage to be open about my identity but as I came out of a failed marriage, I decided not to take it any more. After this, my mother had almost disowned me for some time. But slowly everyone around me accepted me," Gohil explained. "What I realised was that by getting married I was not only failing myself but also my wife and my family. Being a gay is no threat to our values and tradition. Most of us shy away from accepting our selves because of the dilemma of social acceptance," he added.

History lecturer and gay activist Rajarshi Chakrabarty told IANS on phone from Murshidabad in West Bengal: "There is so much struggle and stigma associated with homosexuality that it becomes difficult for a gay to survive." "According to society, you should get married at a certain age, whatever your sexual orientation is because that is a rule you have to follow to gain acceptance in society. Unfortunately, this leads to pressure on homosexuals which in turn leads to fights and confusion within." These people will pour their hearts out on the television show, "Zindagi Live", to be aired on IBN 7 Sunday at 8 p.m.

Sunil Menon, 43, an anthropologist and founder of Sahodaran that deals with male sexual health projects, says one should never feel guilty about being gay. "The guilt cycle starts from childhood when he is confused about his feelings and does not get the opportunity to explore who he is and come to terms with it," Menon explained. "People take medicines and run after psychiatrists to change this nature but you can’t do anything about it because you are born with it. It is part of a person’s personality and he should accept it rather than focussing on changing it," he added. Menon also believes that importance should be given to sex education in schools and colleges to raise awareness about the issue, especially among people from a low strata of society so that they don’t feel lost and save themselves from verbal and emotional abuse.

Said Ranjan: "It’s not just society, the problem also lies with us because we are scared and have fear within us. "It took me 30 years to accept myself as I am, so how could I expect my family to understand me and my emotions overnight? It is a long and difficult process." Today Ranjan is happily living with his partner and their parents come to visit them.

(Shilpa Raina can be contacted at


May 27, 2009 – DNA India

Censors clear male lip-lock scene

by Soumyadipta Banerjee / DNA
The Central Board for Film Certification, also called censor board, has for the first time decided to pass a male kissing scene in a Hindi film.
Audiences will see little-known actors Maradona Rebello and Amit Purohit locking lips for 10 seconds “in a drunken state” in Pankh, which has already courted controversy for showing male nudity. Pankh, directed by Sudipto Chattopadhyay and produced by Sanjay Gupta, also features Bipasha Basu, Lillette Dubey, Mahesh Manjrekar, Ronit Roy and Sanjeeda Sheikh.

“We have seen the scene and decided not to raise an objection as there is no way we can prove it is unnatural sex,” said Vinayak Azad, regional censor board officer. “We are not against homosexuality and don’t want to project ourselves as such. [But] we will be releasing the film with an ‘A’ [adults only] certificate.”

Homosexuality is a crime in India under section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.
Azad, however, sounded concerned about the film’s climax in which Rebello, playing a character named Jerry, drops his towel in front of his mother (Dubey) and is shown bare-bottomed. “I have asked them to modify that particular scene,” he said.
Chattopadhyay said he was not expecting the kiss to be passed so easily, “especially after they asked us to cut scenes from the climax because we have shown the actor butt-naked”. Explaining the context of the kiss, he said: “Salim [Purohit] has always grown up thinking that Jerry, a cross-dresser, is a girl. So he is kissing Maradona thinking he is a girl. Even Maradona is shown fantasising about a woman [Basu] all through the movie.”

In Pankh, Rebello plays a former child actor whose mother used to dress him up as a girl on screen. The movie dwells on how the screen image proves overpowering for the child’s sexuality when he grows up.

May 28, 2009 – PinkNews

India’s only gay magazine back on newsstands

by Staff Writer,
Bombay Dost, India’s first and only gay magazine, has been relaunched and is now back on sale. The English-language magazine was forced out of print in 2002 when it ran out of money. It has now secured funding from the United Nations Development Programme for the next three years, although the first issue will be a limited run of just 1,500 copies.
According to editor-at-large Nitin Karani, social change has meant it can now be sold in major bookstores, rather than being wrapped in brown paper and only available from roadside sellers.

Bombay Dost

Karani told the Times: “India’s gay community is still illegal, but it is more confident and happier than ever before. We’re not constantly beating our breasts over discrimination and marginalisation. The new magazine reflects that.” The 56-page glossy contains just one shot of Mr Gay India in swimming trunks, alongside book and art reviews and reportage on gay rights issues. It will cost 150 rupees (£2) and be published twice a year. The magazine’s official launch party was attended by Bollywood star Celina Jaitley, a former beauty queen who is now one of India’s most famous gay rights advocates.

Speaking at the launch, she said: "It saddens me that people have so much hatred towards sexual minorities and people who show them support. It’s also unfortunate that people have not stopped their hatred against the gay community but have only learnt to mask it.” She later revealed she had been the target of hate mail after expressing support for the gay community, saying she had found her inbox overflowing with abusive emails.