Gay India News & Reports 2008 Nov-Dec

Also see:
Islam and Homosexuality
Gay Bombay Yahoo Group:

1 Gay photographer captures life in new book 11/08

2 In their scarred world… 11/08

3 U.N. Calls on India To Decriminalize Homosexuality 11/08

4 For Gays in India, Fear Rules 11/08

5 A Jihad of the Heart a study with practicing Muslim 11/08

6 Promoting safer sex practices amongst MSM youth 11/08

7 Study of transgenders in Tamilnadu 11/08

8 Book Review: Whistling in the Dark 12/08

9 Interview (in India) with Justice Edwin Cameron 1/09

November 1, 2008

Gay photographer captures life in new book

New Delhi – Photographer Sunil Gupta has a different focus on his camera lens. It pans the life and times of his generation – the happening 70s when alternative sexuality was coming out of the closet and young itinerants were journeying the globe in search of love. The HIV positive photographer of international repute, who operates from both New Delhi and London, has captured his sexual preferences, life, aesthetics, art and politics in his new book. "Wish You Were Here: Memories of a Gay Life", an anthology of coloured photographs, was released here Friday. The volume chronicles Gupta’s odyssey as a gay teenager coming out of the closet in Montreal in the 70s, his early years as a globetrotter and his life in Delhi in the company of younger friends in different support networks.

He has 25 solo shows, mostly international, to his credit. The volume of coloured photographs, that goes far beyond the coffee table compendium on alternative sexuality and titillating images, is a fiercely contemporary work that defines the new directions in Indian visual art and ongoing debates about "difference and sexuality".

"The book came about when gay rights activist Gautam Bhan suggested that I should do another book on sexuality. My last book, ‘Pictures From Here’, was published in 2003," Gupta told a packed reading room at the Vadehra Bookstore here. "Initially, I had planned to update it and put in all that happened between 2003 to 2008. We had started with that exercise, but suddenly everything changed. My mother died last year and I was in a hospital in London, recovering from a bout of illness. People did not tell me about it. When I came to know about my mother’s death, I hastily put together a 30-minute video with all the family pictures I had in London and that is how it all began."

The book, published by Yoda Publishers, is priced at Rs.995. For the next one year, it was a collective effort for Gupta and his friends to get the pictures of all the places and people around him – that he had shot over the years – in order. "We opened up family albums and tracked down old photographs. I don’t subscribe to the theory that it was all in the air, but suddenly everything – all my early and later years as a migrant, gay, HIV positive, with partners and without partners – began to make sense. We were all evoking the years together and my editor did not impose any restrictions on me," Gupta said.

The photographer, who was born here and has grown up watching Bollywood movies, moved to Montreal with his family in the late 1960s where his interest in photography began to develop. In the mid 1970s, he moved to the US to study at the New School of Social Research under Lisette Model and then to London to study at the Royal College of Arts. He set up the Organisation for Visual Arts and was involved in founding the Autograph Association for Black Photographers.

Nearer home, Gupta is known for his Sunday gay meetings, "At Home in Barista", a weekly chat session at the café Barista in Alaknanda in south Delhi, where the photographer lives. Some of the images are stunning in their poignancy. Two facing album shots of Gupta’s parents – Ram and Penny holding each other in Montreal and of the photographer as a frail, feminine teenager coming to terms with his homosexuality with a cigarette in the shadow of an alley in the 1970s – are telling comments on Gupta’s early years, jolted by pangs of estrangement.

"For better or for worse, the trajectory of my life changed at 15 when I was put on a plane to Canada by one parent in Delhi to be met by another with a stopover. Aside from a brief hiatus in Montreal, finding my feet and establishing a workable identity, I was suddenly on the road," he writes in his book. Gupta has strong feelings about Article 377 that hold gay sex illegal and a punishable offence.

"It has to be scrapped. India cannot hold anything back. But I think homosexuality is much more visible in India," he told IANS. Gupta, who will host a solo show of his works at Vadehra in September 2009, is already working on a new book. "It is about love and much of it is based in Delhi."

November 5, 2008

In their scarred world…

by Jackie Pinto
They are not welcome in restaurants; auto drivers dont take them; passengers refuse to sit near them in buses; walking down the street is tough; getting a passport or opening a bank account is almost impossible and they are randomly picked up by the police and beaten mercilessly. Their crime not fitting into the gender roles society has determined.
They are not welcome in restaurants; auto drivers don’t take them; passengers refuse to sit near them in buses; walking down the street is tough; getting a passport or opening a bank account is almost impossible and they are randomly picked up by the police and beaten mercilessly. Their crime — not fitting into the gender roles society has determined. Metrolife met up with Jasmin, a web designer; Akkai, a Carnatic vocalist; Revathi, a soon-to-be-published Penguin author; Rex, a consultant and fashion designer. They all live in Bangalore. Except for Rex, they have been physically and mentally tortured since they were children and forced to perform the most degrading sexual acts just to survive. Sangama, a human rights organisation that helps sexual minorities, has given them decent employment and acceptance

I was born Jaganath but my name now is Akkai. I am an inter-gender individual which means I don’t limit myself to the male or the female. I always loved feminine fashion and naturally walked, talked and expressed myself like a girl. It felt perfectly normal till my classmates, neighbours, teachers and even my family didn’t think so and started getting angry with me. I became the butt of physical abuse that escalated into severe beatings and verbal abuse. It was a free for all and I was mocked and spat at freely. Neighbourhood kids would pelt me with tomatoes, eggs and stones on the street. I managed to graduate from school somehow and joined a 3-year technical training course but had to quit after 6 months as the other students made it impossible,” says Akkai. She has an expressive face and a dazzling smile. She is a ‘Kothi’, which in transgender terminology means, a man born to be a woman. A Kothi shies away from other women preferring men to share a relationship with who is referred to as a ‘Panthi’.

‘Shemale Jasmin’, a web designer, is also a DJ in her spare time. She was born as Shailesh in Amritsar. Hers is also a familiar story of torture and abuse at the hands of the police, family members and strangers. She managed to work in Dubai for 5 years till draconian laws made her return to India. Bangalore seemed like a place where she could live her life on her own terms, she says. She loves the colour pink, rock, hip hop and trance music. ‘’I was a sex worker as no one would give me a job till I joined Sangama,’’ she says. She removes her jewellery, long manicured nails, impeccable make-up and every trace of her femaleness, when she visits her folks in Andhra Pradesh, a process she finds hurtful and degrading but necessary.

Revathi was named after MGR, the icon, but her life has been anything but iconic. Forced to fight for her survival, battered and bruised by the very people who should have protected her, she expresses herself well. ”I studied the legal system as it applies to transgenders, started in Sangama as an office assistant 10 years ago and now I proudly carry the title of ’Director of Collectivisation’ and all the responsibility that goes with it. I have written a practical guide for living a transgender existence which Penguin will publish soon. I write poetry and have acted in two films,” she says.

Tall, almost regal, a beautifully modulated speaker, Rex refers to himself as a Kothi whose childhood memories are happy ones. ”My family was pretty cool. I was always feminine and they didn’t make a big deal of it. Career wise, I was successful as I had good education. There is a big class divide among transgenders. The rich one can live life the way they choose because they have the means that the poor lack. People never see the talented, warm people we really are, who have been pushed to a corner forced into degrading professions like begging or sex work simply because no one will give us a decent job,” he says. Rex was in an 11- year-old relationship with a Panthi that ended when he got married. “Panthis are like gigolos. They prey off Kothis who lavish gifts and money on them then invariably go off and get married. It’s another reality we have to deal with,” he smiles ruefully.

November 10, 2008

U.N. Calls on India To Decriminalize Homosexuality

The United Nations has called on India to decriminalize homosexuality, saying the move would help in the fight against HIV/AIDS by allowing intervention programs such as ones that have been successful in other countries, AFP/ The Delhi High Court currently is considering a suit brought by advocates to decriminalize homosexuality, which was deemed illegal by a British colonial-era law and is punishable by a fine and a 10-year prison sentence.

Jeffrey O’Malley, director of the United Nations Development Programme, on Friday said that countries protecting men who have sex with men from discrimination are better able to curb the transmission of the virus. Although India — where about 2.4 million people are HIV-positive — has witnessed a decrease in new cases, O’Malley said that "rates of new infections among men who have sex with men continue to go up." He added, "Until we acknowledge these behaviors and work with people involved with these behaviors, we are not going to halt and reverse the HIV epidemic." O’Malley also said countries where homosexuality is not illegal, such as China, have seen greater success in preventing the spread of HIV. "In China, male homosexuality has never been illegal. So there aren’t any of these legal barriers to prevention work," he said. O’Malley also said that Brazil has scaled up its HIV/AIDS prevention efforts by combining legal status for MSM with anti-homophobia campaigns. India’s Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss has said that decriminalizing homosexuality would help bring India’s largely hidden MSM community into the open, AFP/ reports (AFP/, 11/7).

In related news, the Delhi High Court on Thursday said that male-to-male sexual contact does not cause bodily injury, objecting to claims from senior BJP party leader B.P. Singhal that sexual activity among MSM causes injury and should not be allowed, even among consenting adults, the PTI/Hindustan Times reports. The court said, "In several countries where" such a ban "has been lifted, no one has claimed the act is injurious," adding that the World Health Organization( "does not say that it causes injuries to people involved in such acts."

According to the PTI/Times, advocates in court said that research in foreign countries has established that decriminalization of homosexuality does not result in the spread of sexually transmitted infections. The high court previously said that the problem of HIV/AIDS cannot be solved by curbing male-to-male sexual contact (PTI/Hindustan Times, 11/6).

Washington Post – Washington Post Foreign Service

November 15, 2008

For Gays in India, Fear Rules–Blackmailers Thrive Using Law That Makes Homosexuality a Crime

by Emily Wax
Bangalore, India – Even with the white horse rented, his gold-speckled turban fitted and the wedding hall lined up, Mahesh did not feel ready to get married, at least not to a woman. The shy computer engineer is gay. But Mahesh went ahead with the elaborate ceremony in May because someone he had befriended online blackmailed him — threatening to tell his parents unless he paid $5,500. Severely depressed and suffering from insomnia, Mahesh recently swallowed a dozen painkillers. He survived. But his blackmailer heard he was in the hospital and demanded more cash to keep his secret.
Three months later, Mahesh says he is broke and taking several antidepressants. He is still married.

"I really don’t want to die. But I also don’t want to keep lying," said the 24-year-old, who spoke from a counseling center and asked to be called by his first name. "I feel so trapped. According to the law, my blackmailer can report me and have me arrested." That’s because homosexuality is illegal in the world’s biggest democracy. The Indian penal code describes the act as "against the order of nature" and declares it punishable by 10 years to life in prison, longer than most rape or murder sentences. But several human rights groups are now mounting a historic challenge to the law, imposed by the British in 1860, in the New Delhi High Court.

The effort to repeal the law is seen as a test case of India’s commitment to secular democracy, with some legal experts saying that moral or religious arguments cannot trump constitutional rights in a democratic society. A verdict is expected before the end of the year. The challenge comes during a time of sweeping social changes for India’s younger generation. Three-quarters of the country’s 1.1 billion people are younger than 35, and more and more of them are living away from home and working for multinational companies, which often have policies that protect employees from discrimination based on their sexual preferences.

Many young gay men and lesbians say they find slightly more acceptance working in the international call-center and information technology industries. They also take heart from the broader trend among young Indians of favoring so-called love marriages over arranged partnerships. "There’s real hope that the growing freedom in love and in career mobility for new India’s young generation can start to dissolve boundaries for gay and lesbian Indians, too," said Arvind Narrain, 33, an attorney with the Alternative Law Forum in Bangalore, which is pressing for the repeal of the law. "But there are still a lot of problems, especially with blackmail and harassment, which is made possible by the law. We have a long fight ahead."

Being gay is increasingly accepted in India’s artistic and literary communities. Nobel economics laureate Amartya Sen and writer Vikram Seth have backed the push to decriminalize homosexual acts, launching an effort among filmmakers and fashion designers to speak out in behalf of gay rights. A new Bollywood movie called "Dostana," or "Friendship, " has its worldwide release this weekend and breaks new ground with two gay characters. Still, the Hindi heroes pretend to be gay to save money on rent and seduce their alluring roommate — more "Three’s Company" than "Brokeback Mountain."

In reality, gay and lesbian Indians say, they have few places to meet openly, and studies show that they often lead dangerous, closeted lives, with high rates of suicide and mental illness. Lesbians have reported being fired from their jobs and raped for not being feminine enough. Most gay Indians are married, often with children, and have covert relationships with lovers, activists said. That’s part of the reason blackmail has become a thriving mini-industry here, illustrating just how powerful the law is in daily life.

"In India, blackmail is the perfect crime," said Vikram Doctor, a gay activist and writer. "It’s possible because there are so many closeted victims in India, where being gay is a crime. They can’t fight back or follow through on a complaint. There’s little refuge in the law unless it is amended." Even in cosmopolitan cities such as Bangalore, the gay community is seen as a secret club where a special pass is needed to attend gay nights at an underground bar.

Throughout India’s history, homosexuality has been largely taboo. Nonetheless, the transgender community enjoyed some social acceptance in the cultural traditions of Hinduism and Islam in India, and some tribal groups see lesbians as having mystical powers. But European missionaries and British rule further demonized homosexuality, and the country’s pulpits are to this day bastions of anti-gay rhetoric. India remains a largely conservative nation. Not only is marriage a societal duty, it also drives economic activity, activists said. As India’s middle and upper classes expand, so do the enormous dowries given to grooms and their parents by brides’ families. The dowries, though technically illegal, almost always include a car for the new couple, along with an apartment and often large amounts of wedding gold.

"Being gay is hard all over the world. But try it in India, where being blackmailed is every boy’s fear," said Khaleel Syed, 21, a somber-looking computer technician in Bangalore who is open about his sexuality with his friends but not with his family. "I’m taking a risk. Because in India there is just unbelievable pressure to get married. Those working in blackmail know this. So we can never really be ourselves, be free." Blackmail rackets have taken hold recently in India’s cities, largely because of the Internet, Doctor said. Blackmailers cruise chat rooms, flirt and set up dates. They then extort money from their victims. Bhavna Paliwal, a "wedding detective" who is hired to ferret out the truth about prospective mates, said she often discovers grooms who are gay and being blackmailed.

"Their lives are so stressful," she said, adding that many cry when they are caught and beg not to be exposed. "Being gay is one of the most well-guarded and shockingly common secrets in marriages. The blackmailers can rob them blind." Gay Bombay, a support group in Mumbai, recently posted a warning on its Web site about a gang of criminals targeting young gay men. This summer, Mumbai police even apprehended one of their own, Sub-inspector Ashok Temkar, who was arrested along with four associates for repeatedly extorting money from gay men.

The gay men would meet Temkar on a social networking Web site and arrange a face-to-face date. Then several men dressed in police uniforms would demand money and take the men’s cellphones and wallets, saying that being gay was illegal. The extortionists were caught because they were doing this so frequently, amassing hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, phones and jewelry.

"It was Thursday night, June 4. I found a gay room in yahoo messenger. I started looking. I was invited by a guy of 21 years old," a young man wrote in an online warning on Gay Bombay’s Web site. "When we reached, there were three guys not one. They demanded we go to a police station. They wanted 10,000 rupees. I had 3,000. He said he would call my wife. I said I would have to get a loan from my work. In fact, I had to seek that. Please everyone beware that this blackmail is spreading through our community."

Many young gay activists say the time is right to challenge the prejudices that feed blackmail and start a wider discussion here on what being gay really means. "Gay rights is growing by leaps and bounds in India," said Ponni Arasu, 24, a lesbian who is working to change the law. "But if this is the new India, we should leave the old law behind. It’s too dangerous a law to live with."

Dominique Chambless
Asia Division
Human Rights Watch
+66 (0)847 555 128

November 2008

A Jihad of the Heart a study with practicing Muslim MSMs to see impact of religious belief on them

by A. Jafar1, S. Khan2
Background: Sexual identities, masculinities and sexualities take shape within psychosocial and historical processes, which in turn are contextualised by religion, culture and language. Different cultures will often contextualise similar words and phenomena so as to take on different meanings with inherent subtleties typical of that culture. This is true of the South Asia region.

Methods: Through focus group discussions and one on one interview 150 muslim self identified MSMs i.e. kothis, were accessed in 4 cities in India and 1 city in Bangladesh (30 per city).

Results: For Muslim kothi-identified MSM, the daily conflict between sexual practice, desire and gender performance and their Muslim beliefs leads to an emotional life that swings between pleasure and depression as a constant experience. They believed they could never be true to themselves, resulting in very low level of self esteem and self worth. Faced with an either or choice, kothis often expressed their low self worth upon themselves as a form of physical self-damage along with suicidal depression and low condom usage believing that possible HIV infection is upto Allah.

Conclusions: Further studies are planned towards developing resources that will empower Muslim self identified kothis and other muslim MSMs in regard to their religious belief.

November 2008

Promoting safer sex practices amongst MSM youth through Youth Corners in Hyderabad, India

by S.K. Pilli1, P.K. Gouthami2
Issues: Hyderabad like other cities in India, also has significant number of youth aged 21 and under. They are unmarried and also sexually active with males and sometimes with females too. Due to lack of Low education, lack of Money, Job and booze they opt for odd jobs like body massage, Sex work and others. They also participate in unsafe sexual activities.

Description: These youth often don’t identify themselves as MSM. They don’t have access to STI, Condom and other sexual health services. The Knowledge awareness amongst them on safer-sex practices are very low as they don’t identify their behaviour at risk and the sexual activity they take part is for money not desire. In drive to create awareness amongst these MSM youth. The field teams of mithrudu have started Youth-Corners. These Youth-Corners are small group meetings in the fields to share and express their problems and issues of concern in regard with health, Psychosexual, employment and family issues. Those who are having problems are identified and addressed individually. Regular awareness classes on Safer-sex issue are imparted to them regularly. A network of such youth is in the process of formation. In regard to address psychosexual issues counselling is provided to in group and one-to one basis.The knowledge levels of these youth increased to 85% and timely treatment for STI increased by 16%.

Lessons learned: Self assessment and sharing of problems would lead to timely solutions and towards collectivisation of groups. These can be used with different categories of MSM where issues can be addressed properly. Community based approach has to be adopted to implement this strategy as it works with more results.

Next steps: Detailed process documentation is being developed to be passed on to different partner projects across the country to adopt Corners. Funding for implementation has to acquired to increase the outreach through Corners.

November 2008

Study of transgenders in Tamilnadu

by S.C. Prabakaran
Background: An attempt made to find out the socioeconomic background of transgenders in tamilnadu to find out the life and vulnerable situations contribute to their risk factors of getting infected. the broader objectives are to analyse the process of becoming transgender and explore the factors that causes discrimination in that family to assess the problems of transgender and identify the social network of transgender and explore the sexual behavior of transgenders.

Methods: Survey researh method adopted with interview schedule as the method for data collection there are 50 transgender from chennai city selected randomly for the study purposes and the data collection done during 2008 jan at chennai city.

Results: 56 percent of the TG s are discriminated in their own families and adoption is identified as and important event in their life time which will save them from communty isolation and 76 percent of TGs undergone the surgery at the age of 15-25yearsand 70 percent of them denied of jobs and forced to involve in sex trade and begging 64 percent faced violence in their community 46% engaged in commercial se and fifty percent of them getting emotional and social support from their own groups and majority of them living with temporary partners surprising finding is that 46 percent of the TGs are indulged in sex at the below 10 years age.

Conclusions: Stigma and discrimination for transgender in the state is high compare to other vulnerable groups and government taking all steps to make them part of social life but educational institutes have to take extra care in identifying them at the early age and see that they have to continue their education with any break so that proper counselling to face the life and their self esteem will help them to face the society.

Whistling in the Dark’ – Twenty-one Queer Interviews (Book Review)
edited by: R Raj Rao, University of Pune
Dibyajoti SarmaI, Times of India, Pune
Published : December 2008
Pages : 300
Imprint : SAGE India

Whistling in the Dark
: Twenty-one Queer Interviews focuses on issues like sexuality, sexual identity, marriage, gay marriage, heteronormativity, gay utopia, gay activism, gay bashing, police atrocities and the laws vis-Ã -vis these. The interviewees represent a cross section of society ranging from university professors, gay rights activists and students, on the one hand, to working class men such as office boys, auto-rickshaw drivers and even undertrials who have served prison sentences, on the other.

The thought-provoking narratives in this book are the outcome of probing and incisive questions put to the respondents by the editors R. Raj Rao and Dibyajyoti Sarma. Appealing to a wide readership, the narratives go beyond the conventional and provide a rare insight into the private lives of the respondents. Besides being a must read for gay activists and organisations, the book will also be a useful resource for post-graduate students and academics working in the fields of sexuality studies, feminism and alternative literature.

The Contributors: Hoshang Merchant / Sushil Patil / Manish Pawar / Kama Maureemootoo / Christopher Benninger and Ram Naidu / Satish Ranadive / Mahohar Shitole / Thomas Waugh / Narendra Binner / Arman Pasha / Aslam Shaikh / Ana Garcia-Arroyo / Avinash Gaitonde / Ankit Gupta / Ganesh Holay / Raja Chandraratne / Darius Ankleshwaria / Dilip Sheth / Shivji Panikkar / Mohammad Soltani / Bindumadhav Khire

To order this book in North and South America visit www.sagepub. com and in UK, Europe, Africa and the Middle East visit www.sagepub.

GayBombay Yahoo Group

January 8, 2009

Interview (in India) with Justice Edwin Cameron of the Constitutional Court of South Africa

by Vikram
Edwin Cameron has just been named to join the Constitutional Court in South Africa. He will be the first openly gay and openly HIV+ judge to be named to the Court – and to a supreme court anywhere since Michael Kirby, whose retirement from the Australian High Court also recently made the news, was not out when he joined the court. We in India owe a big debt to Kirby and Cameron who did a series of very important programmes with Indian lawyers and judges some years back, organised by Lawyer’s Collective, where they came here and spoke very openly and frankly on issues of human rights, HIV, sexuality and other issues.

The interview was done about 5 years ago and some things have changed since then – like Thabo Mbeki happily no longer in the SA Presidency spreading his bizarre and destructive theories on HIV. At that time Cameron had just finished a temporary stint on the Constitutional Court, but thanks to Mbeki’s views on HIV, he was not confirmed there and went back to lower Court of Appeal. Now with Mbeki gone Cameron has been confirmed on the Constitutional Court, which is excellent news even for us in India, for it ensures that there is a very well respected legal authority out there, who knows India, and who can be guaranteed to carry on Kirby’s advocacy of human rights for all.

Interview with Justice Edwin Cameron:

Vikram: Is this the first time you’re coming to India?

Cameron: No, I was here about a year ago to conduct a similar programme. That was just for judges, of the High Courts, District Courts and Sessions Courts. Michael of course is much more familiar with India. He’s spent quite a long time driving through the country in the past.

Vikram: What’s the level of awareness you’ve found among the legal community in India regarding AIDS issues?

Cameron: Not very high. There are of course a few people who are involved and aware of the issues. But there’s a noticeably lower level of information among non-specialists in the legal community.

Vikram: So what have you done on this current trip?

Cameron: We have been subjected to cruel and unusual punishment! We have been slave driven by Mandeep and Anand! We’ve spent five days in four different cities and addressed seven public meetings. In all these meetings we’ve been talking about the urgency of the AIDS problem and how the legal community needs to become aware of it. And we have been emphasising the importance of a non-discriminatory response to the issue since discrimination will just drive the problem underground and make it harder to deal with.

Vikram: What sort of response have you got?

Cameron: Very positive. People have really responded very well at the meetings.

Mandeep: The Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court even suggested that they return for a national level workshop for judges from across the country. I think that’s tremendous progress.

Vikram: How did you get involved with this programme?

Cameron: Mandeep and Anand had heard me speak in Greece on this subject, and they approached me there and asked me if I’d be interested in speaking with Michael on this subject in India. And of course I said yes. I was really keen on doing this because I can see so many parallels between the situation in India and South Africa. As I said in my speech we have the historical links with Mahatma Gandhi and both countries have been though similar freedom struggles They are both large third world countries facing issues of poverty and equality. Both are tremendously vulnerable to the threat of AIDS. And in both countries there is a commitment to justice under law through a constitution. There are differences of course. For one, our democracy is a much younget one. And in South Africa at the moment we are facing a crime wave which is threatening the existing legal system. But there are many parallels between the two countries.

Vikram: In your speech you mentioned your regret that one thing President Mandela did not do was take leadership of the AIDS issue.
Why do you think that happened?

Cameron: Its true. I’ve gone on record saying this.
President Mandela did not show the sort of commitment to the AIDS that I wish he had. I do not for a moment underestimate what he did for the country. President Mandela saved our country. Partly he did this by developing a huge rapport with the young people of the country. And that is the tragedy – he could have used that rapport to do so much on the AIDS issue. I suppose he just felt it was not important enough or he didn’t have the time for it. He’s an old man, a proud and stubborn man, and I guess he just couldn’t adapt to this issue. When he hadhis birthday he had Michael Jackson and the Spice Girls come down to South Africa and the fact is that he spent more time with them than he has ever spent on the AIDS issue. Its a tragedy.

Mandeep: Whereas one good thing in India is that the person who is most committed to dealing with the AIDS issue is Prime Minister Vajpayee.

Vikram: Could you give us a chronology of how the AIDS crisis developed in South Africa?

Cameron: AIDS was first reported in 1982-83 among gay white men. Two years later it was reported among mine workers from Malawi. They were forcibly tested and 4-5% were found positive and were deported. This was a big injustice, and futile as well since it did not slow down the spread of the disease. Its a good example of how quarantining doesn’t work. Despite deporting people like the Malawian mine workers the disease has spread rapidly and the rates are now.

Vikram: How did you get involved in the AIDS issue?

Cameron: I got involved because in 1985 I was a labour rights lawyer working with the largest mine working union. I had got involved with human rights issues while working at the University of Witwatersrand, with which I’m still associated. I got involved in labour issues, trade unions, the National Union of Mineworkers and through that with the AIDS issue and with AIDS NGOs. When the apartheid regime was overthrown I was appointed a judge in 1994-95.

Vikram: Could you tell me something about growth of the gay movement in South Africa? Its not the sort of country where one would assume there was an open gay movement. Yet I’ve recently been reading Mary Renault’s biography, and I was fascinated to read in it about this thriving gay community that existed in the Cape region with which she was associated with. Of course, it was a white gay community.

Cameron: Yes, a strong gay community did exist. And it got its real boost after a private party in 1967 which raided by the police. That lead to the enactment of very anti-gay legislation. It was a totally absurd clause which prohibited the assembling of men at a party, a party being defined as any gathering at which two of more men were present! It was completely unjust and much more severe than just an anti-sodomy law since homosexuality itself was explicitly made criminal. This lead to the formation of the Gay Equality Movement. The next significant step was the emergence of Simon Nkoli, who died last year of AIDS. Simon emerged in the early Eighties and he brought up the gay issue in the black community. At the same time he challenged the mostly white and middle class Gay Equality Movement, and tried involving the gay movement with the anti-apartheid struggle. Which was wasn’t easy, since the Gay Equality Movement was initially quite resistant to black issues. I hooked up with Simon at that time. I had always been outspoken about my sexuality. I was always emphatically open about being gay. Simon and I became good friends. We worked together, trying to talk to both sides of the community, and things did start to change.

Vikram: That’s really interesting, since its another parallel to the situation in India. On the one hand you have the upper class and now an emerging middle class gay community which is self consciously Westernised and has by and large adopted a gay identity. And then there are also emerging gay communities in lower income, vernacular language groups. They often are uncomfortable with the gay identity since they see that as Western and alien. And there are a lot of tensions between the two communities, which is a pity since both seem to be important.

Cameron: Yes, both communities are important. The grass roots movements are vital since without them there will be no real change. Yet you can’t dismiss the middle class communities, since its with them that the movement is usually started and develops. They are very valuable people and their contribution should not be underestimated.

Vikram: How did this the apartheid movement react to the gay movement? And how did this interaction result in the amazing achievement of the rights of sexual minorities being included for the first time in the world in the new constitution?

Cameron: What happened was that in 1987 an executive on the African National Congress’ governing council made some very anti-gay remarks. And that created a furore in the West, where the groups who strongly supported the anti-apartheid movement were generally also strongly committed to gay rights. They lobbied the ANC and as a result Thabo Mbeki, who is now the President, publicly repudiated the anti-gay remarks that had been made. That brought the issue of sexual minorities up and the ANC’s commitment to equality proved to be so strong, that the rights of sexual minorities were naturally included. I also think that blacks had suffered so much oppression, and in particular, from sexually oppressive laws like those on miscegenation that they naturally understood the importance of ensuring the rights of sexual minorities. So when it came to framing the constitution, these rights were automatically included.

Vikram: Was there any reaction to your being openly gay when you became a judge?

Cameron: In the first interview I did after becoming a judge we talked about my being openly gay. After that its never come up. I’m not even the only openly gay judge now. I think there are four of us now who are openly gay or lesbian.

Vikram: Wasn’t there any reaction from the churches?

Cameron: The churches have been supportive of us.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu in particular has been incredibly open and supportive. And the Dutch Reformed Church may not have been too happy about it, but they were also supportive.

Vikram: So where does the gay movement now stand in South Africa?

Cameron: I can’t really speak for the gay activists in South Africa, because after becoming a judge I necessarily had to distance myself from them to some extent. But speaking about the gay scene in general there has of course been this amazing explosion of gay life with a lot of openness and people coming out. On a more organised level though its now getting into tricky areas like gay marriage and spousal rights. Its the same thing that’s happened in the West. There are two issues. The first is the legality issue, abolishing the laws against sodomy and that is really the easy one because the argument for privacy between consenting adults is so obvious. And really, anti-sodomy laws like Article 377 in India are colonial legacies, imposed by the British on a culture which like in Africa probably never really penalised homosexuality. So getting rid of that is the easy one. Its the second issue of spousal rights which is much harder since then you are talking about issues affecting institutions like the family, and it gets more complicated and you run into more resistance.

Vikram: How does the AIDS link with the gay movement in South Africa?
Its a particularly urgent question over here. Unlike in the West AIDS has not automatically become a gay issue. Its seen as a threat to society as a whole. And in a way, perhaps this is a good thing, because we aren’t being additionally victimised on this score. Yet at the same time we can’t ignore it, because the threat is real. You could even argue that we have benefited from it because the government has given de facto acknowledgment to the gay movement under the head of AIDS awareness. Organisations like Humsafar have got funds and support under the AIDS awareness head. And not because there’s been any radical shift in the government’s feelings towards the gay movement, but simply because the gay movement’s involvement with AIDS issues internationally has forced them to acknowledge it here – or they wouldn’t get funds. So – finally – coming back to my question, how has South Africa dealt with the linkage between the issues?

Cameron: Its certainly a very difficult area. I can appreciate that for reasons of tactics and strategy one doesn’t want to explicitly link the gay movement with the AIDS issue. You don’t want to deal with too many issues and confuse things or maybe even antagonise the situation. So I understand the feeling that the two issues shouldn’t be linked and in South Africa its like India, the two issues have not been really linked. AIDS is seen as a threat to society as a whole. Yet in the process the real threat of AIDS to the gay community has been downplayed, and I think that has been very wrong. I feel guilty about it, since I played a part in drafting the initial legislation on these issues, and I feel that we could perhaps have done more to raise the importance of AIDS issues. We didn’t, for much the same tactical reasons you talk about, but I increasingly feel that as a consequence the threat of AIDS to the gay community has been downplayed. And that should never happen. It is just too much of a risk.

Vikram: Yet I notice that today when Justice Kirby and you spoke you didn’t raise the gay issue at all…

Cameron: Yes, that’s true. When Michael and I spoke to the Bombay Bar Association today we both discussed whether to bring up the fact that we were gay. We have done so in all workshops. We were open about being gay, just as I was today about being HIV positive. And it didn’t seem to be too much of a problem. But today it wasn’t a workshop. It was a talk to a Bar Association which had asked us to speak on a particular topic, so perhaps we shouldn’t throw too much at this audience. You need to suit things to the occasion. You see, I really do understand the arguments over tactics and strategy. But as a result of it, the gay community simply cannot afford to risk reducing its focus on the threat of AIDS. The simple fact is that it is too much of a threat. The simple facts of how anal sex happens and how it increases the risk of transmission through it are just too much. Yes, I’m speaking as a gay man, who is HIV positive, and I have to say this. The gay community simply has to keep communicating the threat that AIDS poses to us. You can’t play with people’s lives.

Vikram: But isn’t it also true that encouraging the growth of an out gay community will eventually encourage safe sex?

Cameron: That’s true. The people most at risk are definitely self- denying gay men who have unprotected sex in one night stands and other risky encounters. And encouraging open, long term gay relationships is a very important tactic in preventing this from happening. But the threat of AIDS is too much, and the realities of having it are so bad, that we can’t shift our focus from the safe sex message. Two years back I was really sick because of AIDS, before I came on my current drug regime, and I can tell you that it is truly horrible. The facts of being sick with AIDS, of dying because of AIDS, are just to awful. Its because of that that I’m speaking out. And because I think in South Africa we have ignored the real threat of the AIDS issue to our society. The death of Gugu Dlamini – a young African woman who tested was HIV positive last year and who because of that who was stoned to death by her own community – convinced me about this. That’s what forces me to stand in front of a group like the Bar Association today and talk about AIDS and about being HIV positive.

Vikram: You just mentioned your new drug regime, and you talked about it in your speech. You spoke about the cost of it, how the international drug pricing policies pharmaceutical companies have kept these high. And of how this leads to the unjustness of you as a well paid judge being able to afford it, but there are so many millions who can’t. You said you didn’t want to talk about it then, but this is obviously an issue you feel strongly about.

Cameron: Very strongly. The pricing policies followed by the international pharmaceutical companies for AIDS related drugs is completely unfair. They talk about their research and development costs, but the fact is that these do not apply to these drugs. These are not expensive drugs to make. They can be made cheaply available to the millions who need them. But the pharmaceutical companies are not doing so, and the international community is not forcing them to do so. I feel very strongly that these pricing policies have to be a focus for AIDS activism.

Vikram: My last question. Do you think you and Justice Kirby are likely to come again? Because I think you make a great team. Justice Kirby may not have spoken on AIDS or gay issues today, I think his speech on legal issues actually helped because it interested the legal community and established the credentials of both of you. And after that what you said on HIV issues and about how you were positive, had all that more impact!

Mandeep: Perhaps I should say that what happened was that when we spoke about doing this talk with the Bombay Bar Association, they said we shouldn’t say we were going to talk about HIV issues, because, they said, `no one would be interested’. So instead they asked them to speak on Legal issues in the new millennium! I guess that shows their attitude, but what was good to see was that so many people came and seemed to be interested in the AIDS issues.

Vikram: I noticed that Justice Srikrishna was the one who argued that given the low level of awareness about AIDS issues and safe sex in India, and given the urgency of the issue, the government perhaps needed to take a more active role. And that perhaps one couldn’t afford the luxury of non-discrimination against AIDS victims. Since he’s known to be one of the more liberal judges that must have been a bit disappointing.

Mandeep: Yes, that was certainly disappointing. But Justice Srikrishna wasn’t part of the workshops we had the last time, and I think his remarks just underline the importance of having these workshops for judges.

Cameron: It certainly does and I certainly do intend to be back with Michael for more workshops. Doing these workshops over the last few days and the response we’ve got – its been an amazing experience.
You’ll definitely see us back here in a years’ time.