07 May 2008
377 petition hearing set by delhi high court
by Justin Ellis
The battle by the Naz Foundation India to amend Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code will continue in the Delhi High Court on May 19. Justin Ellis spoke to Sumit Baudh of the South and Southeast Asia Resource Centre on Sexuality (SSARCS) about the petition and its likelihood of success. The article has been updated on May 8, 2008. The organisation that filed the petition in the Delhi High Court in 2001 is Naz Foundation India and not Naz Foundation International as originally reported.
The police raid of a Naz Foundation International HIV/AIDS awareness workshop in the northern Indian city of Lucknow in 2001 is seen by many as the catalyst for a now five-year-long public interest litigation. The arrested staff had been interrogated and imprisoned under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. Shortly after, the Naz Foundation India filed a petition in the Delhi High Court. Section 377 is rooted in convoluted Victorian language and morality and conviction can carry a sentence of up to ten years imprisonment. “Carnal intercourse against the order of nature with a man, woman or animal shall be punished,” reads the article. Perpetrators of abuse against the LGBT community in India take advantage of its ambiguity, and various possible interpretations. The raid of the workshop in 2001 sent a clear message to organisations doing work on HIV/AIDS and men who have sex with men (MSM), says Sumit Baudh, Senior Program Associate for SSARCS, which is based in New Delhi. “To be living under the threat of criminality when there was so much work – and there is still so much work to be done about HIV/AIDS – has done a huge disservice to the NGO sector.”
The vagueness of Section 377 and the arbitrary application of its use prompted the formation of Voices Against 377, a coalition of NGOs and progressive groups opposed to the discriminatory legislation. Baudh, whose organisation is a Voices Against 377 member says: “The Indian judiciary have interpreted Section 377 to mean anal intercourse, oral intercourse, and even mutual masturbation. The underlying premise is that natural means penile/vaginal penetrative sex, and sex that involves procreation.” Consequently, there are a range of queer people who are obvious suspects under the law says Baudh. “Men who have sex with men, variously defining themselves as gay (mainly English speaking and educated) or kothi (non-gay identifying men who have sex with men) and hijira (broadly male-to-female transgender.) There is an assumption that when two men are together they will be engaging in anal sex. As such people think homosexuality is criminalised but the irony is that homosexuality is not mentioned in the law. Section 377 creates a stigma, an entire myth that homosexuality is criminal or illegal.”
There is nothing mythical about the ‘Gay Bashings’ section of the GayBombay website where members share their ordeals. Previously there was also a subheading for ‘Gay blackmail – a report in the making’ which highlighted the extent to which LGBT people in India are the victims of entrapment, blackmail and extortion. Other indignities suffered by LGBT people in India include conversion therapy, says Baudh. “There are instances of torture and trauma where individuals are given shock therapy a couple of days before their wedding when there is anxiety about a marriage, and people think that shock therapy might be the answer.” Section 377 is usually defined by the Indian men whose lives it compromises, but the stigma around homosexuality is equally applicable to women. While there have been no legal cases presented against women under Section 377, the threat against same sex desiring women is real, says Baudh.
“It is something the LGBT movement grapples with because it’s a catch 22 situation. We don’t want to be talking about same sex desiring women because we don’t want to attract the criminal liability, which in law actually doesn’t exist. At the same time women face the stigma and threat caused by this criminality and can’t do advocacy work as a result.” It’s not only the government and conservative attitudes that Voices Against 377 is fighting. In 2002, an Indian NGO which also conducts HIV/AIDS awareness programs filed an intervention with the Delhi High Court against the Naz Foundation India petition. The Joint Action Council Kannur (JACK) made the intervention on many grounds, including that HIV doesn’t exist, and that NGOs such as the foundation are merely sponsored agencies of pharmaceutical companies. The High Court rejected the JACK intervention but the organisation was made a party to the case, and their point of view will be heard and considered by the court.
In 2006 Voices Against 377 filed an intervention in the high court in support of the Naz Foundation’s stand – to decriminalise consensual same-sex sexual activity. In the same year, author Vikram Seth and former UN Under-Secretary General Nitin Desai amongst others circulated an open letter in support of repealing Section 377. When the Delhi High Court announced on April 7 that the next hearing of the Naz Foundation India petition would be May 19 it had been more than a year since there was a response from the court, says Baudh. “The queer community was getting anxious and losing patience.” The new hearing date has renewed momentum for the campaign. The presentation of the petition by an organisation rather than an individual has been another obstacle in the fight against Section 377. Baudh hopes the right kind of media coverage will give the petition a greater chance of success as well as a personal profile.
“Positive portrayals of LGBT people in the press and on television should lend comfort to any judge on the bench that there are people who are directly affected by this law and that it is something that calls for immediate attention. A lot of discussion within our movement has been around how to build a campaign. Who will be the face of the community? Who will come out? Having said that, there are some very brave people who have done it; Ashok Row Kavi (pioneering Indian gay activist and co-founder of the Humsafar Trust, a Mumbai based HIV/AIDS outreach service) for example, and more recently Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil (founder of Lakshya Trust, an HIV/AIDS awareness organisation.) These people have created a certain visibility in the media.” Baudh is cautiously optimistic about the outcome of the hearing. “There have been two interventions in this case and in light of this opposition it is hard to say what the outcome will be. Also, this case has been moving from one court to another and there have been different sets of judges. Any comments will be closely speculated upon.”
Support the Voices Against 377 coalition to decriminalise consensual same-sex sexual activity by signing the Voices Against 377 Open Letter at: p2.voicesagainst377.org.
13 May 2008
India’s transgendered – the Hijras
by Nick Harvey
With more than 4,000 years of recorded history Hijras have a supposedly sanctioned place in Indian life, but they’ve faced severe harassment. Are things changing? Something old, something new, something borrowed, something … transgendered? If you are an Indian in need of some luck on your wedding day you could do no better than seek the blessing of one of the country’s estimated 200,000 male to female transsexuals or "hijras". Hijras have a recorded history of more than 4,000 years. Ancient myths bestow them with special powers to bring luck and fertility. Yet despite this supposedly sanctioned place in Indian culture, hijras face severe harassment and discrimination from every direction. Deepa is a 72 year old hijra living in Mumbai: “Nobody says, “I’d love to be a hijra!” Not if they know what happens to us. But what else can we do? A hijra has a man’s body, but the soul is a woman.” Something, however, is beginning to alter in the traditional Indian mindset as right now there seems to be both subtle and appreciable changes taking place in terms of how this group are being treated and recognised by mainstream society. Over the last few months India has seen its first transgender fashion model, a transgender television presenter and in the recent Bollywood epic Jodhaa Akbar a hijra, instead of hamming up the usual comic role, was portrayed as a trusted lieutenant of the female lead.
Yet these developments come after years of crushing social stigmatisation, abuse and general derision from the wider community. Pooja, 27, realises there is still a long way to go: “They make documentaries about us and say all these interesting things, but when we walk out on the street we still get the calling and the whistles.” The uphill struggle for the hijras first begins with finding acceptance within the family. “My family didn’t know I was castrated,” tells Chandini, 28. “My hijra friends teased me because I still went home in men’s clothes, so I decided to go home as I am. When I got there some people in the street spotted me and told my mother, “Here’s your son!” She saw me and fainted. My father came, he said, “I don’t have a son, go away!” I lifted my saree and showed him. I said, "I’m not your son, I’m your daughter now."” Once the truth is out, hijras are usually forced to leave the family home. Yet the society they must take refuge in is equally as unwelcoming. Hijras have few rights and are not recognised by Indian law. This denies them the right to vote, the right to own property, the right to marry and the right to claim formal identity through any official documents such as a passport or driving licence. Accessing healthcare, employment or education becomes almost impossible. In the face of such odds they are forced to earn money any way they can. “In the day we go around the shops and beg," says Deepa. "They give us a rupee each and we go away. Sometimes we dance at weddings and festivals, we can get good money from this."
Since 2006, hijras in the state of Bihar have been employed by the government as tax collectors, singing loudly about the debt outside the defaulter’s premises until they are shamed into paying up – one of the most effective tax recovery methods ever used in India. Yet for many hijras the method of making ends is prostitution. “At night I go with the men,” Pooja says. “I am looking good so I can get a room. Many who don’t look so good must use the vehicles or somewhere else outside. Yes, it can be bad at times but I’m happy with this work.” As is the case for all gay, lesbian and bisexual people living in India, simply by being sexually active hijras are breaking the law. Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) outlaws any “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” – in other words, any sex that is not between a man and a woman with the aim of reproduction. Brought in by the British in 1860 to try and curb the “heathen customs” of the local population, it carries with it a potential life sentence.
Whilst attitudes in the UK have matured considerably and such legislation has long since been removed from the British statute books, it still remains very much part of the Indian system. Although convictions are rare, it is in the name of such a law that the police are able to carry out their worst abuses against the hijra community. It seems that every hijra in India has her own story to tell of police brutality: "Once a policewoman attacked me," remembers Chandini. "She said, "Why are you standing here?" and continued hitting me so I grabbed her hand and she ran away. She came back with two policemen and they took me to the station. There they beat me, stripped me and made me dance." As well as the police aggression, gangs of local thugs known as “goondas” frequently rob and sexually assault hijras on the street. These attacks are rarely prevented or reported by the locals. The local people I spoke with whilst reporting this story were all apprehensive, amused or downright hostile. “They are a nuisance!” says Akram, a jeweller from Mysore. “They come to your shop and when you don’t give them money they lift up their sarees.” Later he adds, “I’ve heard they even steal babies from hospitals.”
Until very recently these attitudes were mirrored and strengthened by the Indian media which itself seemed to suffer from a certain amount of gender vertigo. Hijras were routinely portrayed as wily tricksters who led unsuspecting men astray or half-man half-woman freak shows, almost devilish in their customs and practices. In 2003, an HIV/AIDS and human rights research centre in Lucknow was raided and the coordinator jailed under IPC 377 for "conspiracy to promote homosexual activities". An English language newspaper ran the headline: Gay Racket Busted- 2 NGOs Caught in the Act
But attitudes are gradually beginning to change.
Thanks to a large number of internationally funded support groups that are gaining considerable momentum in many big Indian cities, hijras, as well as other sexuality minority groups, are slowly starting to get a better deal. Rex Watts, coordinator of the Bangalore support group “Sangama,” let me know how this is being achieved: “We had to take direct action. For instance, every time a trashy story was published we would ring up the journalist and give them a hard time about it. It has taken time but now they usually go through us before they print something.” Sangama was set up in 1999 and is funded by the Bill Gates Foundation and the Fund for Global Human Rights among others. As well as organising protests and rallies, groups like Sangama have been instrumental in establishing community networks with monthly meetings and safe spaces such as drop-in centres for all sexuality minority groups. Two thirds of their spending goes towards fighting against the spread of HIV infection through awareness programmes and condom distribution. According to Sangama, approximately 18-20 per cent of hijras are HIV positive. “Four years ago,” Rex says, “there were three to four AIDS deaths every month [in Bangalore], now there are three to four deaths every year.”
Just as successful has been the 24/7 crisis intervention. I met Mohammed, a lawyer involved with the project: “As soon as someone calls the crisis number nine people immediately rush to the spot. We aim to get all nine people there within 30 minutes.” In the areas where they have been implemented, the crisis intervention teams have reduced the cases of police violence against hijras to practically zero. “When we are called, to a police station for example, we are straight there, ‘Why have you arrested this person? We’ve been told you beat her?’ like this. They still hassle them and take money from them at cruise points, but the violence has stopped.” Vivek Diwan from the Lawyers’ Collective argues that attitudes are also changing higher up the legal ladder: "Off the record comments are often made by judges [regarding IPC 377] questioning how this kind of archaic thinking can continue, I overheard one saying only recently, "Get with the times man – there’s even a pride parade now in Calcutta!"" Even the Indian government seems to be finally recognising that hijras exist. In March 2000 Shabnam Mausi, or “Aunt Shabnam” as she is affectionately known, became the first hijra to be elected into Indian parliament and since then many others have taken her lead by successfully entering the political arena.
In March this year hijras were factored into the government’s policy making for the first time when they were named as a target group for a breakthrough de-addiction programme. In the same month the state of Tamil Nadu allowed hijras, if they wish, to be recognised as “T” rather than just “M” or “F” on ration cards with the same being planned soon for passports and driving licences. Deepa, at 72, may be too old to really benefit from these new developments but she knows the baton will be carried forward for many generations to come: “If you need joy in your heart, we will come and dance for you.” Deepa lives with other hijras in a house and still dances at weddings and funerals. “We can’t just stop doing this. This is what we feel. And we can’t let it go. This is what we learnt from those before us. And this is what we will teach others. And we can’t let it go.”
Nick Harvey, 31, from Northampton is currently knee-deep into an overland round the world tour. India is his 17th country so far. He hopes to come full circle and re-enter his street from the opposite end when he finally returns home.
May 14, 2008
It’s Hard Out There for a Gay Prince
by Tim Murphy
Manvendra Singh Gohil’s coming-out sent shock waves through India. Since then, he’s become a media darling, but can he find true love off-camera? Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil ("Manav" to his friends), 39th in line to the throne of Rajpipla, a principality in the prosperous west–central Indian state of Gujarat, walks stiffly toward the camera in a tight-fitting kurta of luminous champagne-colored cotton and a pataka, or stole, of embroidered red silk organza. His bearing is stately, the better to balance his enormous green Jaipuri-print turban. He is dressed almost identically to his male maharaja ancestors going back centuries — all of them fearsome Rajputs, a group within India’s warrior caste — whose portraits are hung around this cavernous front ballroom of a sprawling rococo 1910 palace. The chairs are cushioned in red brocade, the walls painted an eye-popping tangerine, and the slight down-at-heels scruffiness of the otherwise imposing room is highlighted by an unremarkable 19-inch TV, askew on a richly carved teak end table.
The prince sits bolt-upright on a divan, hands primly in his lap. "My name is Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil," he tells the camera, "and I would be interested to come down to England." Other than me, this is the prince’s media obligation of the day: to make an audition tape for a planned Channel Four reality show, *The Traveling Prince,* in which princes from around the world will travel to England and, hopefully, meet Prince Charles and Harry and Wills. The on-tape interview begins.
"What are you most fond of in life?" one of the cameramen reads from a card.
"Vildlife — flora and fauna," the prince responds in his patient, lilting, slightly adenoidal, V’s-where-W’ s-should- go accent. "And music is my passion."
"What movies do you like?"
"I watch only historical films."
"What are you known for?"
His family, the prince explains, despite having lost their formal power when Britain left India in 1947, still possesses enormous local esteem (not to mention a lot of real estate). "We are even treated as gods in some areas," he says. Then he gets down to the news peg: "I became famous in India because I am the first member of a royal family to come out as a gay."
"Who do you most admire?"
"I admire the courage of Elton John."
"Who is your favorite American?"
"Oprah Winfrey. I really admire that woman, having the best talk show in the world." (He was on it last fall, in a series featuring gay people from around the world.)
"What is your message to British people?"
"Because section 337 of our penal code still exists, there is a lot of stigma and discrimination in our country toward gays," he says, referring to the Indian law, begun under 19th-century British rule, criminalizing gay sex. It’s seldom enforced but often used by police to blackmail closeted gay men. The country’s small cadre of out gay activists have long lobbied for its demise.
"Would you marry a man?"
"We can’t get married. We can only have some sort of understanding between two partners, which I look for."
"What do you like doing on a date?"
The prince squirms uncomfortably. "Can I avoid this question?" The interview is over. "For me," the prince asks, "should they call this show *Traveling Prince* or *Traveling Princess*?"
Two of the prince’s manservants unwind his turban. "There’s always too many reporters here," he sighs to me. "That’s why I can never have sex here." But, after a little more than 48 hours with him, I know the prince doth protest too much. Since he shocked and rocked India with his coming-out two years ago, he’s become a media sensation, and it’s already clear to me that he loves the adulation. In his own princely way, he might even be addicted to it — a veritable Rajput media whore. But the prince, 42, says he wants love, and recently, I’m learning, it looks like he might have found it. The million-rupee question: Can he cool his love affair with the press long enough to nurture one with another man? In March 2006, after years of silence that included what he calls "a nervous breakdown" before a Bombay shrink helped him accept his gayness, the prince told his local paper that not only was he gay but that he had no intention of remarrying. (His first, brief marriage in the early ’90s ended in divorce when the prince wouldn’t consummate the union. His devastated wife left him on grounds of impotence and has remarried. They are not in touch.)
The reaction to his coming-out was seismic. His parents, who first thought he had been slandered, were horrified when they learned he’d green-lighted the story. His kinfolk in Rajpipla burned photos of him in protest. Soon after, his mother took out an ad in the local paper disowning and disinheriting him. Technically, though, she couldn’t — he is the only male heir to the dynasty — and he stood his ground. By that fall, the situation had improved: He celebrated his 41st birthday with a cultural festival at the palace attended by his father — who’d reconciled with him — and declared that he planned to adopt an heir from within his Rajput clan. Meanwhile, the world press beat a path to his palace door, which brought heightened attention to Lakshya Trust, the nonprofit he had quietly started years ago to provide HIV prevention, counseling, and other services for the gays and *hijras* (transgender MTFs) of Gujarat.
Then came the ultimate accolade — Oprah’s invitation. Though he’s been waited on since birth, the prince still marvels at the royal treatment the show gave him in Chicago. "In spite of reaching so much in life, she is so humble," he said about Oprah. "She showed a lot of respect to me, coming from royalty. I had this feeling that we could actually see the struggle in each other’s eyes — I could feel what she’s undergone in life." On the show, he told her, "Had I not been a gay, I would have proposed to you." She replied, "Nothing like living in a palace." A few days before I leave for India, the prince e-mailed me about travel details. It was 4 p.m. my time, the middle of the night his. We emailed back and forth:
ME: Isn’t it your bedtime? 😉
PRINCE: yes it is but am unable to sleep. thinking about you…
ME: I hate to think I am keeping you awake. 😉
PRINCE: r u gay?
ME: YES! i guess i just assumed you knew. yes, been with the same guy for nearly 6 years. you seeing anyone?
PRINCE: will tell u when we meet
Vivek Anand, an excitable former ad man, sits in his tiny office in East Santacruz, a Mumbai neighborhood where he runs the local office of the Humsafar Trust, the pioneering Mumbai HIV prevention and support group for gay men and *hijras* founded by the godfather of Indian gay activism, Ashok Row Kavi, in 1994. "Manav comes here all the time," he says of the prince. "He’s just one of the queens who hang around here." Anand knew Manav for many years as the founder of Lakshya Trust before he realized that he was the selfsame anonymous "gay prince" that financed Humsafar’s hotline — Manav had never mentioned his princely status. "In my mind, he’s not a prince, he’s a friend," says Anand. "I shout at him, I abuse him."
According to Anand, the prince’s disclosure was a massive shot in the arm to the gay men of India, most of whom are under enormous pressure from their families to marry (women). Many do, and have unprotected gay sex on the side. That’s among the factors that have contributed to high levels of HIV in India — about 2.5 million people, or 0.3 % of the population, rates far below countries in sub–Saharan Africa, but grave nevertheless. Will the prince find love? I ask Anand. "He has," he says. "With a very good friend of mine. He’s a royal also. Why don’t you suggest they start a royal gay men’s group that gives money to Humsafar?" Anand then accompanies me across town to Bandra, a leafy middle-class neighborhood. The prince is in town for lessons on his harmonium, an accordion-like instrument he has been studying religiously since he was 5. At a trendy soup-and-salad place, Anand introduces the prince and me, and then heads home, too tired to join us.
The prince, who is polite and reserved, has large, gentle brown eyes, a very prominent nose and moustache, and a diamond in each ear. (A friend of mine, meeting him later, says he looks like Snoop Dogg.) He attracts stares, but it’s hard to know if it’s because people recognize him as the gay prince or for the eccentric traditional Indian dress he wears wherever he goes. Tonight he wears a simple white *kurta* (long overshirt), the slipper-like leather shoes called *mojri,* and the tight-fitting pajama-type pants called *churidar,* which are artfully twisted around the legs. He lengthily explains how to twist them. "*Churi* means bangles, and if you are wearing bangles on your leg, one above the other, how would they look? You see these pleats? You pull this down, and then take small pleats of it, and then
twist." It’s all very Edie Beale. He always dresses traditionally. "When you reach a certain age in your life, and especially when you come from this kind of a family," he says, "I would think it’s better to follow the traditionals, to be nearer to the roots you come from."
Having rebelled against royal tradition by coming out, does he feel he has to be twice as princely? "I would not agree with you," he says calmly. "By coming out I have continued to fulfill my royal duties. I could have very well stayed here in Bombay and lived my independent life. But I came back to Rajpipla immediately after I came out. I am proud that I am born to this family. There’s a superstition that you have to be in your last life mauled and eaten by a tiger to be born into a royal family. So I often joke, if you want to be a royal in your next birth, go to the safari park and present yourself to the tiger and get killed." I ask if he’s dating someone within his caste, the Kshatriya, the second tier after the Brahmins. (Caste-based discrimination is illegal in India, but caste still throws a long shadow across the country.) "Can we wait to talk about that? I have to take some permissions before I talk about it." Then we set to his favorite topic: media coverage. He recently restated his plans to adopt an heir, eliciting a fresh flurry of worldwide news reports. He pulls out yesterday’s copy of the tabloid-y *Mumbai Mirror.* THE PINK PRINCE blares the headline, over a photo of him in front of his palace, which, indeed, looks like an enormous pink wedding cake. The piece, by a gay journalist, is affectionately bitchy, at one point riffing on "the prince’s perineum." But the prince seems happy with it. "The writer told me that the gay and lesbian journalists association has declared me the most publicized gay person," he says. "They want to give me an award."
Two mornings later, the prince, rocking a bright orange *kurta,* picks me up at the airport in Baroda, about a three-hour drive from Rajpipla. Soon, we’re in the bright, airy Baroda branch of Lakshya Trust, surrounded by dozens of chatty Gujarati gays (the more feminine ones are called *kothis*) and *hijras.* On one wall, there’s a little shrine to Bahuchara, the Hindu goddess of the *hijras,* who’ve long held a narrow place in Indian society as wedding performers, beggars, and sex workers. Today, Lakshya Baroda is hosting guys from its other sites in Gujarat, as well as a gay group from Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), making for a festive atmosphere. We sit barefoot in a circle for a delicious, noisy lunch of hot *daal* (lentils) over rice, spicy *acher* (pickles), and sweet *gulab jamun, * which are a bit like Dunkin’ Donuts Munchkins. Later, we gather on carpets at the foot of the prince, who’s seated alongside Anis Chaudhuri, a short, intense, bearded gay man who heads the group from Kolkata. I’m seated next to Viswa Nandi, a sassy hijra who wears piercing blue-tinted contact lenses. Chaudhuri jumps between Hindi and English, "He is one of us," he says of the prince. "All of us know how difficult it is being who we are, but we need to come out. If Manav put so much at risk, why can’t we put our small, small, small, small personalities at risk?" The prince then speaks for a very long time, mostly in Hindi with dashes of English. "I’m focusing on international media now," he tells the crowd at one point. It’s hot in the room, and the gays grow restless and chatty. I ask who could picture themselves living with a lover. Dramatically, Anis asks Viswa to come stand by him. The two tell me that they have long been a couple but that each lives with his parents, because domestic partnership would be, in Viswa’s words, "next to impossible." The group applauds them. It’s a very *Oprah* moment.
Around dusk we arrive at the palace, which has barracks nearby for servants and their family members, about 200 in all. Four men appear to help us unload our bags. Three reporters from a national TV network are there, waiting for interviews with the prince. "I am the honey and you are the bees," the prince says, sweeping his arm over the three reporters and me. He disappears, then returns for the interviews in a silk *kurta* threaded with what looks like Lurex. The TV crew bickers in Gujarati over technicalities while the prince waits patiently. "This is about my adoption," he tells me, before noting, "I’ve had seven or eight cameras in here before." The prince indeed intends to adopt, he later explains, but probably not until his father dies. The child should be about 14, from his extended Rajput clan — "I just can’t get a beggar from the streets and expect them to carry out the royal duties," he tells me — intelligent ("I don’t want to take a dumb boy"), and, of course, a boy. Why not a girl? Absolutely not, he says. "That’s the royal way." Why not change that? "Once the girl gets married, the family name changes and the dynasty changes. I would not like my dynasty to end." That pretty much settles that. The next morning, the personal secretary to the prince’s father shows up, looking stern. He reports that the prince’s father, the Maharaja Raghubir Singh Gohil, was none too pleased with a story in that day’s local paper quoting the prince saying he’d like to eventually shack up with a boyfriend. "I told him, ‘Yes, they keep writing that stuff,’ " said the prince, "and he said, ‘No, you are the one who is giving it to them. They wouldn’t write that on their own.’ So it is a sign that people may not accept [his openly having a partner]. I’m a bit concerned about that."
I don’t get to meet the prince’s father, or his fearsome, indomitable, politically connected mother, the Maharani Rukmani Devi, who by every account sounds like a major bitch. (After his coming-out, the prince has said, she would avert her eyes when they passed on the stairs.) They are at a wedding in Bombay, where they inhabit the top few floors of a luxury high-rise. At the palace, they live in a separate wing from the prince and rarely see him, communicating mostly through their respective secretaries. This is not just a result of the prince’s coming-out. It’s always been this way, he says. "I was brought up by a paid servant," he explains over lunch on a balcony of the palace overlooking banana fields and the sinuous Narmada River. As a child he assumed the servant was his mother, until learning otherwise. Because he never got real love from his parents, he says, he fears he’s unable to really love someone, even his new mystery man. "I don’t know the definition of love. Say, for example, when you have fever, your head will be warm. That’s a symptom. But what’s a symptom of love?" Does he miss the guy when they’re apart? "I’m so busy with my own work that I don’t even think of him," he says. Yes, they’ve spent the night together, but he won’t talk about it. "I’m trying to have a relationship, because I strongly feel that for gay men, you need to have a single partner sooner or later. As we grow old, there should be a companion for us."
He says he’s never had a serious relationship before, just some tricks and a few admirers. But he does seem hung up on a palace servant boy he’d mess around with when they were 12 or 13. "He loved wearing jingles on his legs and jumping around," he recalls. "He was so effeminate that a blind person could tell he was a pansy. We never got caught — the palace was so huge. Now he’s happily married, in quotes, in Rajasthan," he adds, somewhat bitterly. Earlier, he showed me a portrait of himself he’d commissioned some years ago. "Sometimes when I get depressed, I look at this picture and feel better," he explained. I asked what he meant. "I feel that had I not been gay I would have been leading a family life today, married to a princess, having kids to look after," he replied. "When I go for public functions with other royal families, they are there with their princes and princesses, whereas I am alone. So that’s what makes me a bit depressed."
How does the portrait help? "It cheers me up," he said. "It says, ‘No, you are something. You can’t forget that you’re a prince.’ " He doesn’t brood for very long. "I’ve seen donkeys with full erections in Rajpipla," he tells me excitedly as we come down from lunch. "They’re huge!"
I start meeting the people in the prince’s life who are the surrogates for the parents he barely knows. The next afternoon, we drive through the narrow streets of charming, small-town Rajpipla to the hospital, to visit the ailing wife of the prince’s 85-year-old longtime secretary, Champak Singh Mahida. He is a frail but sweet-natured, quick-minded gentleman, formerly the secretary to the prince’s father and grandfather, and speaks a courtly formal English. The affection between him and the prince is palpable. "I’m his father, guardian, friend, companion, and nearest secret servant," says Mr. Mahida. "And sometimes I become his secretary also," says the prince. When the prince’s coming-out story hit the paper two years ago, Mr. Mahida woke him to show it to him. "I was the first man to congratulate him," Mr. Mahida tells me. "I always knew something about him was very weak. He shouldn’t try to hide it. It’s in his nature that he has this physical weakness. But his heart is clear and he always tries to help." The prince is smiling resignedly. I ask Mr. Mahida if he would like to see the prince settle down with a man. No, says the old gent — the prince’s status is too high for that. "What is the necessity of that? He has many friends. If he wants to live like that, I’m the person."
Mr. Mahida has a few choice words about the prince’s parents too. "They hate me due to his company. Everywhere he goes, I go. His father is very kind-natured, but his mother is very proud and strong-natured. " By coming out, he says, the prince "is the only person who has defeated her ego. One day she will believe that she had wrongly acted." We bid the Mahidas goodbye. In the car, I ask the prince if he’s bothered by the old man’s mixed message. Not really, he tells me. He’s grateful that he accepts his being gay at all. That night, we visit the prince’s dear friend, Dada, whose real name is Jayant Trivedi. He’s an elderly, liberal-minded Brahmin who lived nearly his entire life in Toronto, amassing a small fortune in business, before returning to India and building a big, airy home perched high over the Narmada. He lives there with his sweet-natured, enormous, couch-ridden wife, Indu. Dada is very important in the prince’s life, particularly because of Dada’s new vocation as an astrologer — a highly respected profession in India, where people consult astrologers for everything from wedding dates to buying a new car. It was Dada, after all, who after the prince’s divorce read his chart and told him flat-out that he was gay.
Dada remembers that he looked at the prince’s chart and said, "Manav, you don’t like the touch of a woman, do you?" This was an enormous relief to the prince. I ask Dada how else, other than in the stars, he might have known. "His gestures," he says, standing on his terrace overlooking the lush acres where he and the prince are planning to build an old-age home and AIDS hospice for graying gay men. Dada says he has told many young local men and women that they’re gay. "To this day," he says, "I haven’t come across a person who said, ‘No, I’m not.’ " At dinner, the prince says that he thinks being gay is inborn. Indu says she thinks it’s karma for doing something bad in a previous life. An awkward silence ensues. That’s the only explanation for bad things happening, she goes on. Otherwise, why would she be laid up with so many illnesses that she can barely walk? It’s a sad moment, but it’s also sobering: Even the people who accept the prince think he’s done something wrong to end up this way. Still, he and the Trivedis are very close. In fact, this is where the prince first spent the night with his new mystery lover, whom Dada refers to more than once. The prince shushes him.
Soon, the prince and I will fly back to Bombay together to hit one of the regular dance parties put on by Gay Bombay (GayBombay.org) , the city’s major gay social network. But first we make one last stop in Rajpipla — his small farm, just a few miles from the palace on the banks of the Narmada. There, he grows millet, lentil, and wheat, accompanied by his farmhand, Devji, Devji’s wife, and two dogs, one of which the prince insists is gay. Here he also cultivates earthworms, which eat the farm’s biodegradable waste, and whose poop he sells as organic compost. He digs into a worm bed and pulls one up in his palm. He’s loved worms since he was young — they give him "a good, gentle, ticklish feeling," he says — and especially loves that they have both male and female organs. "That’s the womb," he says, pointing to the worm’s bulge. "The female end is more aggressive and does most of the foreplay." He is happiest here on this remote farm; it’s where he hopes to build a home and settle down with a man. The party Saturday night, at a club called Karma just off Bombay’s iconic Marine Drive, draws about 250 guys, not as many as the last one — but then again, the police raided another gay party in the nearby suburb of Thane just a few weeks ago for no apparent reason, and it’s put a chill on the scene. There are two rooms, one for Bollywood pop songs and one for western-style dance music, but the boys pack the Bollywood room, getting as drunk as they can off the very weak drinks. Wearing a light blue *kurta* and sipping a white rum and Coke, the prince stands or sits awkwardly off to the side. He says he is delighted when guys come up to him and tell him he’s inspired them—"I think my sacrifice is having some positive consequences, " he tells me—but otherwise he is profoundly shy. We sit together and watch the other dancers. A cute, petite, Chinese-looking boy sits down next to him. "You’re a prince, right?" he asks. The prince nods. The boy drags him up on the dance floor and virtually vogues around the prince, who stands there haplessly for a few seconds before sitting back down.
The party ends at 1 a.m. "I didn’t know I had so many admirers," says the prince in the cab home. He receives a text from one of them. It reads: "omigod i’m still shaking. i can’t tell you how amazed i am at your humbleness. thank you for making my night." He also got three invites to lunch or dinner. He says that he’ll have to start mimicking the automated message you hear when you make a customer-service call in India: "You are in queue, please wait." He then smiles at his own joke. The prince flies back to Gujarat. He has Lakshya business to attend to there, and he’s going to have a few quiet days with Mystery Lover at a friend’s country house. I attend a meeting organized by Gay Bombay, about 25 gay guys who are scared in the wake of the Thane raid. The organizers, Vikram Doctor, a journalist, and his boyfriend, Alok Gupta, a lawyer, tell the guys that often the cops will try to blackmail you only if they sense you fear being outed. "Are you scared?" asks Doctor. "Are you closeted? If you are, you’re fucked." It’s Doctor’s plea, in a sense, to get more of the men to come out, but it’s a tough sell. "*Hijras* and *kothis* have the guts to organize," says Doctor. "We [straight-appearing ] gay men don’t." The meeting leaves me depressed, wondering if the gay guys’ fear will ever boil over into rage, and street protest.
Back in Bombay a few days later, the prince calls me and puts me on the phone with Chirantana Bhatt, the 27-year-old journalist who broke his coming-out story. She’s become his first female friend since then, a confidante. "He can’t resist the temptation of talking to media," she tells me. "He likes the attention. His mother never gave him that." When we meet for dinner that night, he’s got a surprise for me — his Mystery Lover, a hulking, swarthy, 44-year-old Gujarati musician, not quite a royal but hailing from a Rajput landowning family. He’s dressed, like the prince, in a traditional red *kurta,* his ears heavy with ancestral gold rings and studs. Mystery Lover, or M.L., who was educated in the United Kingdom and speaks with a plummy Indo-British accent, asks me not to use his name in this story. "This will bring all sorts of strange people into my life that I’m not ready to deal with," he says. "And I don’t want to put any additional strain on a new relationship. " I ask how they met. M.L. does most of the talking, diving into a plate of tandoori prawns, while the prince, who has a tiny appetite and is rail-thin, picks at his food and mostly listens. They connected a year and a half ago through the Gay Bombay list-serve. There was no immediate attraction, they say. "We took one look at each other and I thought, *Oh, God,*" says M.L. "Me too," says the prince. "I thought, *He’s absolutely not my cup of coffee.*" But they stayed friends, bonded by their Rajput roots and love of classical Indian music, and talked in general terms about what each wanted in a lover. Finally, out of town one night for a concert, they shared a bed, with a bank of pillows between them.
"It was the Great Wall of China," the prince says coyly. "He didn’t want to break my virginity." "What virginity?" says M.L. The prince ditched M.L. in the morning. "My suspicions were confirmed about blue bloods being shit," says M.L. But they started dating. Eventually, they really slept together, at Dada’s place. The proper affair began rockily because of gossip from the Gay Bombay crowd. "We go to a movie premiere," says M.L., "to find these bitches doing these low-sweeping curtsies, calling us ‘Your Highness.’ " Since then, things seem to be going OK. M.L. is affectionate with the prince, calling him *Hukum,* a Hindi honorific that means "your command." The two talk about building a house together on the prince’s farm. There is just the matter of the prince’s fear that he can’t love. He can’t quite answer seriously when I ask him what he likes in M.L. "He’s arty-farty," he says. "I thought he’d be a good hunky guy from the warrior
M.L. senses the hedging. "I think you will find that our Manav is not very communicative, " he says. But I’ve come to feel protective toward the prince, and it’s not the first time M.L. has disparaged him in front of me for being a frigid noble. Does it bother the prince? He shakes his head. "Sometimes I feel I’m not human at all," he says. "Don’t say that," says M.L., suddenly tender. "I want to change," says the prince. After dinner, we walk along the promenade by the stinking, trash-filled Arabian Sea and talk about gay rights. I tell them about the Gay Bombay meeting, how confronting the police had barely come up. "India needs a Stonewall," says M.L. That’s why the prince never stops talking to the press. "The moment you stop doing press…" he trails off. "I’m trying to see the next celebrity come out."
We hug goodbye on the roadside and promise to talk soon. In the cab, I turn around to watch them walking side by side up the highway — just two more gay men trying to cut through the baggage of adolescence and find love in midlife. Except, of course, one lives in a palace, oversees 200 servants, and commands millions of hits on Google. Not that you’d have to remind him. Even on bad days, you can’t forget that you’re a prince.
18 May 2008
Harassed lesbian couple ends life
Chennai – Two married women, who allegedly shared a lesbian relationship, committed suicide by setting themselves ablaze after their families tried to separate them. The police recovered the charred bodies of the women, who died hugging each other, from the residence of one of the women at Sathangadu, near Thiruvotriyur, on Saturday. The incident came to light on Saturday morning when the family members noticed thick smoke emanating from the house, where the women stayed the previous night. They peeped through the window and were shocked to see the bodies lying as if they had died hugging each other. Police identified the women as Christy Jayanthi Malar (38) and Rukmani (40).
Malar and Rukmani studied in the same class at a Tondiarpet school. Malar got married to Chinappa Raj, a small-time biscuit seller, and lived in Sathangadu. Rukmani was married to Mohan and lived in Ernavur, near Sathangadu, when she met Malar again, 10 years ago. Rukmani later married Vijayan, a labourer, and shifted to Washermanpet. The classmates continued to see each other. Sathangadu inspector A J Ravikumar, who registered the statements of the relatives, said the relationship had caused much consternation in both families. On Friday, Rukmani had gone to Malar’s house. Rukmani’s relatives went there and abused her. Malar’s relatives, too, shouted at her. The two women stayed together on Friday and set themselves afire early on Saturday. One of the relatives said Rukmani was forced to move from Ernavur, near Malar’s place in Sathangadu, after the families came to know of their "unusual relationship." Despite the opposition from the relatives, the two women continued to meet when their husbands were out on work.
This infuriated the relatives. Rukmani got separated from her first husband, Mohan and her relatives got her married to another man, Vijayan, four years ago and they moved to Washermanpet, some five km away. This, the relatives thought, would help in keeping the two women friends away. But that was not to be. They continued to meet, often at Malar’s house. On Friday morning, Rukmani went to Malar’s house after their husbands had left for work. Not finding Rukmani for a long time, her relatives started searching for her and finally found her in Malar’s house. In front of several people, they abused her for having a "physical relationship" with Malar, whose family members also started shouting at the two friends. "Around midnight, they poured kerosene on their body and set themselves on fire. They appear to have hugged each other during the final moments of their life," an investigation officer who inspected the scene said.
Based on a complaint by Rukmani’s elder sister Padmavathy, Sathangadu police have registered a case and further investigations are on. The case has been handed over to the revenue divisional officer (RDO), as Rukmani died within seven years of her marriage with Vijayan. "We will proceed with the case after getting the RDO’s report," a senior police officer said. Reacting to the incident, lawyer and activist Sudha Ramalingam said it was time Section 377 of IPC (unnatural offence) was scrapped. "We have reached a stage where one has to accept relationships which are not termed normal. Everyone has the right, especially two consenting adults, to choose their way of life," she said. All India Democratic Women’s Association leader Vasuki said suicides are not a solution to any problem. "Same sex relationships are coming to the fore these days, and we do not have a coping mechanism in place," she told The Times of India.
Vasanthi Devi, former Chairperson, State Women’s Commission, said, "In India, same sex relationships are not in any way accepted, and even talking about it is considered taboo. Since it is perceived to be unnatural and unacceptable, a lot of sensitivity is required in handling the issue. Sadly, counselling is virtually unknown in our society, be it for students or adults. If we had counsellors to guide, any number of tragedies can be avoided."
20 May 2008
Delhi HC to take up PIL on gay rights
by Shibu Thomas,TNN
Mumbai – In a tony neighbourhood in Andheri, Rahul, a 25-year-old IT professional, shares an apartment with Brian (27), who works at a multi-national bank. For the last two years, their landlord and neighbours know them as perfect roommates, but to friends and a few family members they are a gay couple. In a country where homosexual acts are punishable with life imprisonment, few like Rahul and Brian manage to make a home for themselves. A public interest litigation being heard in Delhi HC this week seeking to decriminalise homosexuality is being watc-hed with bated breaths by the lesbian and gay community.
"Living with one’s partner is taken for granted by my straight friends, but I have to make sure who I tell about our relationship," said Rahul, the more outspoken one who has also told his family about himself. Brian is still to decide what to tell his parents.
"The Constitution guarantees the right to privacy and right to health, but the law treats gay people as criminals whose rights can be abrogated," said Lesley Esteves, a lesbian activist and spokesperson for Voices Against 377 a coalition of LGBT, women’s and human rights activists. Voices is one of the organisations that has filed an intervention application in the high court seeking a "reading down" of the law.
Section 377 says "whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal shall be punished with imprisonment of either up to 10 years or life". Enacted in 1860, it was more stringent than anti-sodomy laws that existed in English law of the time. The section says, "Penetration is sufficient to constitute the carnal intercourse necessary for the offence. It includes a whole range of offences from mutual masturbation, to fellatio and anal sex."
The Law Commission in 2001 had recommended a repeal of Section 377, a move backed by the Union ministry of family and child welfare in 2006. The law, however, remains. Gay activist and founder of NGO Humsafar Ashok Row Kavi explains that the PIL does not seek a repeal of Section 377. "The court has been urged to read down Section 377, so as to decriminalise homosexuality," said Kavi, adding that more than legal repercussions, it is the social consequences that makes the law draconian.
May 22 2008
It might be illegal and disputed but Bangalore embraces its gays: Young, cosmopolitan workforce and non-discriminatory policies of multinational companies have helped
by Poornima Mohandas
Bangalore: Every Sunday, half a dozen gay men run in the city’s Cubbon Park. Later, more join in as the group meets for idlis, vadas and coffee at the old-world Airlines Hotel. They call themselves the Gay Running and Breakfast (GRAB) club—though for many it is really “grab minus the running”, quips co-founder Arvind Narrain. Thursdays, meanwhile, bring together a group of information technology (IT) professionals, lawyers, doctors, artists and others under the umbrella, Good As You (yes, that stands for GAY). They put out newsletters and offer a social platform for gays to interact and share experiences.
Among the city’s growing expatriate population, there is a lesbian club. Private gay parties are common at pubs and restaurants across the city, where same-sex couples can freely kiss and hold hands. In mid-July, the Indian franchise of London-based TimeOut magazine plans to launch in Bangalore and include a section with gay- and lesbian-specific content and listings, as it has done in Mumbai and New Delhi. All this is playing out here even as India debates its attitudes—and laws—towards homosexuality. Earlier this week, the Delhi high court directed the Union government to figure out its stance on homosexuality; the ministry of home affairs favours prosecution (homosexuality is punishable under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code), while the health ministry is against enforcing this law for issues related to health monitoring. But, cities such as Bangalore are showing no such quandary: Over the last few years, a gay scene has emerged and entered the mainstream here.
“I was astonished at the gay scene in Bangalore,” says Naresh Fernandes, editor-in-chief of TimeOut, which also provides weekly event listings for Mint. “My activist friends tell me there is a level of openness hitherto never seen in any city in the subcontinent. Going by anecdotal evidence, Bangalore may very well be the gay capital of India.”7aa92c20-2806-11dd-9894-000b5dabf613.flv A younger and more cosmopolitan workforce—often away from family and relatives who might recognize them—has been the main catalyst. Institutionally, the movement has gained recognition from multinational companies. Spurred by home office policies, companies such as Hewlett-Packard Co. and International Business Machines Corp. have non-discriminatory policies in place, and include sexual orientation.
“IT and globalization is an obvious suspect here,” says Raj Ayyar, the US-based columnist at Gaytoday.com who frequently visits Bangalore. “Many IT companies…have very progressive policies when it comes to their LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) employees. Even if they are somewhat watered down in their application by Indian bosses, these policies cannot be flagrantly violated.” Indeed, India’s acceptance of gays is nowhere near Europe or the US—last week, California legalized same-sex marriage—and homosexuality remains a criminal act here. And so, anonymity and double meanings remain. At some bars, the advertised “ladies’ nights” transmute into a lesbians’ night. The three columnists at TimeOut will all write under pseudonyms. For many gays in the city, GAY has been a stepping stone. Apart from organizing film festivals with LGBT content and bringing out a newsletter called Sangha Mitra, the group members have gone on to set up other non-profits—Swabhava has counselling services and a helpline for the sizeable LGBT population, while Sangama works exclusively with non-English-speaking sexual minorities, including lesbians, gays, female to male transgender, hijras (male to female transsexuals) and kotis (feminine men). About a dozen such support groups have sprung up in the city.
Observers say, Bangalore’s large migrant population feels increasingly free to follow their sexual orientation. In a city where relations between locals and newcomers are often strained, gay organizations in Bangalore report much cooperation between the two. While the outsourcing hub of Gurgaon can say the same (and gay parties in its farmhouses are also popular), activists note Bangalore has a close-knit group of activists and professionals, locals and transplants. “I came to Bangalore three years back with my partner from Tamil Nadu. We’ve been happily living together since then,” says a lesbian resident, who requested anonymity.
Going by anecdotal evidence, it may well be the gay capital of India.
The city is serving as a safe haven for sexual minorities from the neighbouring states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Scores of lesbians from Kerala have fled their homes to escape violent parents and heterosexual marriages they were forced into. “We offer psycho-social support to as many as 6,500 people in a year,” explains Rex Watts, executive director at Sangama, who describes himself as a koti. The non-profit also spawned a support group just for lesbians, Lesbit. Lesbit consists of eloped lovers, female to male transgenders, and those who find it difficult to find jobs. These women are in their 20s and 30s, and meet every Sunday. Bangalore is special, insists Shekhar P. Seshadri, a child psychiatrist at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences, or Nimhans. Here, he points out, there is collaboration among non-profits, professionals and activists. Seshadri helped train and set up the telephone helplines for Swabhava and Sangama. “Coming out is an easier process today, thanks to the increased advocacy, support groups and affirmative attention given to homosexuality in medicine, civil rights and mental health,” he says. One 19-year-old, who lives in southwest Bangalore and has come out to his parents and his friends, says: “The scene has changed now. More and more men are coming out of the closet, recognizing and realizing what they are.” But he still declined to give his name, saying overall societal acceptance remains elusive. Seshadri cites parents who want to “cure” their children.
Vinay Chandran, executive director of Swabhava, says: “The primary concern in parents’ minds is still, ‘What will the world think?’” The advocacy groups rely on all kinds of evidence to make their case. For instance, from Hindu mythology: Ayyappa is the son of Shiv and Vishnu. From the 15th century Krittivasi Ramayan: “Children of two wombs” are believed to be born to two women. In Bangalore, activists point to relationships that have lasted three decades or more, and to the frequency with which more couples are committing to each other by exchanging garlands in a temple or with friends as witnesses. “My partner and I have been together for five years now. All my close friends and my parents know and accept my partner. Holding hands is no problem, but if I want to get my partner a club membership, I can’t say he is my partner. I have to say he is my roommate,” says Mahesh Iyer. He works with a small British consulting firm, and is a member of the company’s global diversity team.
Despite more social outlets for gays to meet each other, anecdotal evidence suggests that random sexual encounters are rampant—and dangerous. A cursory look at gay networking websites in India, such as www.guys4men.com, reveals hairy-bodied men soliciting sex with strangers. “The situation in India is worse than what happened in New York in the 1980s,” says Ashok Row Kavi, referring to the era when unprotected, promiscuous, and often anonymous, sex helped spread the AIDS virus. Row Kavi is a prominent AIDS activist, who also consults with UNAIDS, the joint United Nations programme on HIV/AIDS. A significant number of people on these websites are married men thus, once infected, they will spread the infection to their heterosexual partner as well, Row Kavi adds.
The HIV infection rate among gays in Bangalore is an appalling 19%, according to a report from the National AIDS Control Organisation and the National Institute of Health and Family Welfare. Row Kavi calls the statistic one of “hyper-epidemic levels. Anything above 5% is extremely dangerous.”
May 23, 2008
City treads gently on Rainbow Road
by Shikha Shah
For the general public, sexuality is a can of worms best left unopened For a long time now, Mumbai has been touted as an open and progressive city. But the reality is a different story — one that is starkly narrow-minded and conservative in its outlook. And no one knows this better than the city’s gay community. Class and status come into play over here. “It generally depends on the economic status of an individual. These days, gays are accepted in high-profile societies. It is possible for them to lead a double life. Some gays are quite open about their sexuality. But Mumbai is still as ignorant as other cities in the country when it comes to issues like homosexuality," said Nitin Karani, Trustee of Humsafar Trust, a gay and transgender sexual health, NGO.
Members of the community feel that as Mumbai, being a cosmopolitan city, should lend a patient ear to their views and not discriminate them on the basis of sexuality. “Many filmmakers have made movies based on homosexuality, but they are yet to highlight important issues. They sometimes tend to show our negative qualities, and this affects the outlook of the general public," says Ganesh Jadhav. “If a lady is raped, timely action will surely be taken against the offender. But if gays are mistreated, who is bothered about it? If two individuals are mature enough, why can’t they be allowed to lead their lives as they wish?" he asks.
While families are willing to discuss homosexuality, they’re usually not so open when a son or daughter comes out of the closet. Mumbai, however, is still the most hospitable among all the metro cities in India. “Mumbai is quite safe and comfortable for homosexuals, even though the general public is homophobic. But to be fair, I have never felt singled out because of my sexuality," says Geeta Kumana. “But sometimes I do have to face weird situations. In my earlier job, when my boss realised that I was a homosexual, I felt a change in his behaviour. He started criticising my work without a valid reason; I was finally forced to quit," she says. But she takes such incidents in her stride.
The question that’s doing the rounds these days is how can loving someone be a criminal act. “I strongly feel that Section 377 of Indian Penal Code should be challenged for criminalising homosexuality. How can the government afford to give a confused response to such issues? Mumbaikars still need to be broadminded when it comes to accepting gays and lesbians," says Vikram from Gay Bombay. And there is a need, there say, for the government to step in.
May 25, 2008
Homosexuals seek social networking sites` support
New Delhi – Unable to come out in the open most of the times about their sexual orientation, thousands of homosexual youngsters are now turning to popular networking sites to get heard and evolve a social consensus for their rights. Online social networking sites like Orkut, Facebook and Myspace are getting flooded with hundreds of communities advocating "natural rights" of gays and lesbians and inviting "like-minded people" to pour out their views and emotions with anonymity. Forums like Indian Gay Liberation Movement, glad to be gay, anti-homophobia (India) and support gay rights are among hundreds others, which are actively discussing several problems being faced by the homosexuals.
The clamour for the gay rights has resurfaced after the Union Home Ministry had contended in the Delhi High Court that by treating homosexuality as a criminal offence, the government is protecting public health and morals. "Indian society strongly disapproves of homosexuality and the disapproval is strong enough to justify it being treated as a criminal offence," it has said. The argument was made in response to a PIL demanding changes in section 377 of IPC which makes all types of unnatural sex a punishable offence.
The contention has triggered furious responses from the homosexuals and right activists, mainly through social networking websites and blogs, terming it as "arbitrary and illogical." Terming the government`s stand as "detrimental to the very spirit of the constitutional right of equality," a gay right activist, Aditya Bandhopadhyay, said that government is keener in protecting a rule made by the Britishers nearly 150 years back while ignoring the fundamental right of equality. "Internet has proved very helpful in creating awareness about homosexuality as a natural behaviour and in protecting the rights of those having a such sexual orientation.
Networking websites are helping in generating a national response to the problem," added Bandhopadhyay, also a legal consultant. Twenty one-year old Nipun from Indore, leading an Orkut forum Indian Gay Liberation Movement, says in his online profile, "Social networking sites and blogs have been a wonderful forum for me to reach out to a large number of people with my views in the issue of gay rights." His community on popular networking site put forward a three-pronged demand – replacement of section 377 of IPC, making discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation a criminal offence and approval for the gay marriages in the country.
However, in a respite to the community, the National Aids Control Organisation (NACO), which comes under ministry of health, has said that the law has to go because it impair controlling the HIV infection. Highlighting the vulnerability of homosexuals to HIV infection, the NACO has said there were around 25 lakh male homosexuals and around eight percent of them were infected with HIV while in normal people it is only one per cent, an affidavit by NACO has said.
May 22, 2008
Section 377 hearing in Delhi High Court
by Mayur Suresh, Fridae’s special New Delhi correspondent for the case, Mayur Suresh, reports on the proceedings of May 22. Click here to read the proceedings on Monday, May 19.
Delhi High Court – Proceedings on May 22, 08
(The Bench did not sit on May 21 as originally scheduled.)
Naz Foundation (India) Trust v. Government of NCT, Delhi and Others
Anand Grover appeared for Naz Foundation while the respondents were represented by Monica Garg (Union of India), Ravi Shankar Kumar (Joint Action Council Kannur or JACK), H.P Sharma (Mr B.P Singhal) and Vrinda Grover (Voices against 377).
Mr Anand Grover, counsel for the Naz Foundation, continued his arguments in the case challenging the constitutionality of India’s anti-sodomy law, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. Relying primarily upon the United Kingdom’s Wolfenden Committee Report of 1957 which recommended the repeal of the buggery and sodomy laws in the United Kingdom, Mr Anand sought to make three main points in today’s arguments. He argued that Section 377 was so wide that it covered even consensual sexual acts committed by adult men in the privacy of their homes and said that the State needed to show an overriding interest that would justify such a severe intrusion into the privacy of homosexual men.
Mr Grover argued that, contrary to claims made by the Federal Home Ministry, morality is not an overriding concern that would justify the limitations on the right to privacy. He argued “While people may be shocked, disgusted or offended, this is not sufficient a reason to intrude into the bedrooms of homosexual men.” He further stated that the High Court has to decide whether the deemed immorality of certain acts was a sufficient reason to make them criminal. He brought it to the Court’s notice that a number of Asian countries, which have similar cultural mores as India, either never had criminalised homosexual sex, or have recently moved to decriminalise it and pointed to the laws of Nepal, Fiji, China, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia and Iraq. Referring to the arguments that the opponents of the petition made, that homosexuality leads to the break up of the family and that laws against homosexuality would prevent homosexual men from seeking liasons elsewhere, he stated that often gay men are forced into marriage in order to conform with dominant heterosexual mores in the country. He further argued that the Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code has never and will never prevent gay men, married or otherwise from having sex with other men and only further serves to deepen discrimination and prejudice against gay men.
He said that the Naz Foundation, the party challenging the anti-sodomy law, was only asking for consensual acts to be decriminalised. Thus Section 377 would still be applicable in cases where the sexual acts were non-consensual, and done under coercion or force. Rubbishing the argument that the striking down of Section 377 would lead to increased paedophilia, he argued that Naz Foundation was only asking for the decriminalising of consensual acts between those parties who could give valid consent and minors clearly could not. As Justice Sikri put it “Just as minor girls cannot give consent to sexual acts under section 375 (the provision on rape), the same thing will apply here” (sic).
He also stated that a number of Government bodies had recommended the repeal of Section 377. In particular he pointed to the 172nd Report of the Law Commission of India which stated that Section 377 should be repealed and a new section be included to specifically deal with child sexual abuse. He stated that the complications with Section 377 arise from the fact that while it is used to target homosexual men, it is the only law available to counter child sexual abuse. And hence, following the lines of the Law Commission, the Naz Foundation was only asking for the Court to interpret Section 377 to exclude consensual acts between adults. At which point, Mr Sharma, counsel for Mr B.P. Singhal, an intervenor in this case, stated that consent could never validate a crime and he referred to the United Kingdom House of Lords decision in R. v. Brown which upheld the assault conviction of men who were caught in the performance of sadomasochistic practices.
Mr Sharma further pointed out that this case was merely an academic exercise since there was no arrest, prosecution or conviction under Section 377 and hence the petitioners had no immediate reason to challenge the sodomy law. Ms Monica Garg, counsel for the federal Government then clarified that the Home Ministry’s affidavit stated that Section 377 has not used against any persons.
Ms Vrinda Grover, counsel for Voices against 377, interjected that her client has filed affidavits to show that while arrests are rarely made that homosexual men, transgendered persons were illegally detained on a regular basis. She further stated that the police rarely register any arrests since they are merely out to make quick money off LGBT people who are easy prey because of Section 377.
Justice Midha inquired about the number of instances when the Section 377 has been applied by the prosecution. Mr Anand Grover clarified that there were 48 judgments from High Courts (appeals from orders of lower Courts) but reiterated Ms Vrinda Grover’s point that Section 377 is used arbitrarily and arrests are rarely registered.
Counsel for the Joint Action Council Kannur, an opponent to the petition in this case, again pointed out to the fact that it is not tenable for two ministries the federal government to have two contradictory positions with regard to the same matter. The Court in response, requested that the Attorney-General be present at the next date of hearing to clarify the matter and to present the views of the federal government at the next date of hearing.
Given that the Court holidays begin next week, the Court posted the next date for hearing on July 2, 2008.
Reports in the Indian media about the case
Meanwhile in India’s most populated city Mumbai, LGBT activists were making their voices heard. The Mumbai edition of the Hindustan Times on May 20 reported that “Gay rights activists quietly but confidently made themselves heard on Monday. Nine of them boarded several local trains and stopped at almost every station on the Central and Western Lines, holding placards which read ‘We are against 377’ and ‘It’s better to love than hate’. While in the southern city of Chennai (formerly Madras) local LGBT activists organised a condolence meeting for Christy Jayanthi Malar (38) and Rukmani (40), two married women who were in a relationship with each other. They were being forced apart by their families, and rather than being separated they committed set themselves ablaze. They passed away on May 18, 2008.
An editorial in the Indian Express on May 21, 2008, commented: “It is indeed unacceptable that in 21st-century India we still have a law which denies ‘the right to love’ to a section of the Indian population. If the constitutional promise of equality is to have any meaning at all, then homosexuals too, like heterosexual married couples, should have the freedom to engage in intimate sexual acts without being subjected to state harassment… The question is whether India will live out the meaning of its creed as the world’s largest democracy or will keep company with fundamentalist and tyrannical regimes, to be seen in certain parts of the globe, by continuing to retain the archaic Sec 377 of the IPC (Indian Penal Code).”
26 May 2008
What’s law got to do with it?
by Arvind Narrain
Aside from the threat of life imprisonment if convicted, what are the effects of the existence of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code? Human rights activist and lawyer Arvind Narrain highlights the insidious impact of the 148-year-old law and its existence (or non-existence) as a cultural signifier. In a dramatic development, Nepal became the first country in the South Asian region to elect an openly gay man working for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people as its representative in the Constituent Assembly. This election followed another historic first by a South Asian country – a decision by the Nepali Supreme Court recognising LGBTI people as persons before the law. In short, the South Asian region is going through a dramatic transformation in terms of its attitudes towards notions of gender and sexuality, led wholly by the small Himalayan nation.
By contrast, its gigantic neighbour to the south continues to live in a time warp – circa 1860. Attitudes towards LGBTI persons in India stand governed by a colonial-era monstrosity – Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) 1860. The section punishes "carnal intercourse against the order of nature" with the maximum punishment being life imprisonment. The question which the judiciary has struggled with since 1860 is to determine what exactly "carnal intercourse against the order of nature" means. In an obvious echo of Judeo-Christian attitudes, the notion of sex without the possibility of conception has been rendered a criminal offence under Section 377 of the IPC. It has been used by the judiciary over the last 148 years to characterise a homosexual as a "despicable specimen of humanity" and homosexuality as a “"perversion", "abhorrent crime", "result of a perverse mind" and "abhorred by civilised society".
The judicial understanding of Section 377 has remained unaffected by over half a century of human rights jurisprudence under the Indian Constitution. The right to equality, the right to dignity or the right to expression have never been seen fit to apply to lesbians, gay, bisexuals, hijras (a Hindi word to refer to the third sex) or others whose sexual orientation does not conform to the heterosexual mainstream. This unsympathetic judicial attitude only legitimises and reinforces state power to persecute and harass those of an alternative sexual orientation or gender identity. The enormous power in the hands of the state to enforce its vision of morality finds frightening expression in the form of arbitrary and brutal state action. The known victims of this unpredictable state fury have been HIV/AIDS workers in Lucknow (2003), gay men in Lucknow (2006), hijras in Bangalore (2007) and a British tourist in Goa (2007) who have all been arrested under Section 377.
However, the question of arrests is by no means the whole story of what Section 377 implies for LGBTI persons. One of India’s best-known thinkers, Amartya Sen, in an open letter demanding the repeal of Section 377, made the insightful point that the harm from Section 377 was not restricted to cases of actual use but covered the wider canvas of harassment, extortion and victimisation of LGBTI persons by the police. The insidious impact of Section 377 also permeates different social settings like workplaces, families, hospitals and the popular press and ultimately creates a popular understanding of homosexuality as perverse, dirty and illegal. This in turn legitimises violence against LGBTI persons. Section 377 provides the fig leaf of legitimacy to the harassment of LGBTI persons by families, the medical establishment and other official institutions.
The effect of the very existence of this law on actions by authorities right from the medical profession to the police to the National Human Rights Commission should be seriously studied to grasp how Section 377 is a cultural signifier which converts what some people might consider a “private immorality” into a public and prosecutable illegality. The social intolerance fostered by the legal regime of Section 377 results in a terrible situation where lesbian couple after lesbian couple feels they have no option but to commit suicide when faced with the dire reality of the Indian norm of compulsory marriage. Just in the tiny state of Kerala, over 23 couples have committed suicide rather than be forced into marriage. Section 377 is thus a visible symbol of all that is wrong with a social order that has little tolerance for any sexual expression outside the heterosexual norm.
It is indeed unacceptable that in 21st-century India we still have a law which denies “the right to love” to a section of the Indian population. If the constitutional promise of equality is to have any meaning at all, then homosexuals too, like heterosexual married couples, should have the freedom to engage in intimate sexual acts without being subjected to state harassment. The simple logic being that a colonial law based on pure animus towards one section of the population has no place in a modern democratic society. The question is whether India will live out the meaning of its creed as the world’s largest democracy or will keep company with fundamentalist and tyrannical regimes, to be seen in certain parts of the globe, by continuing to retain the archaic Section 377 of the IPC.
This column was first published in The Indian Express on May 21, 2008 and is republished with permission from the writer.
Arvind Narrain is a human rights lawyer with the Alternative Law Forum. He is the author of Queer: Despised Sexuality, Law and Social Change (2004) and co-editor of Because I Have a Voice: Queer Politics in India (2005). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
May. 30, 2008
Be gay, be anything — just not single! With same-sex marriage now legal in California, mothers across India and elsewhere are eager to see their gay sons and daughters finally get hitched.
by Sandip Roy
When I left India for America, my aunts worried about who I might end up marrying. "I hope you’ll marry another Bengali," an aunt told me. Over the years that relaxed to, "I hope she’s a Hindu, even if she’s not Bengali." Then it became, "At least another Indian," until finally we reached, "I hope you’ll get married to someone before we all die." She probably didn’t mean another man. But now it might just happen. Same-sex marriage is on a roll in California. First a Republican-dominated Supreme Court said there was no reason gays and lesbians couldn’t get married. Now there comes a new Field Poll that says that, for the first time ever, a majority of Californians think same-sex couples should be allowed to marry. As the pink confetti settles around us, I’m left wondering how immigrants are going to come out anymore. Many of us come from countries that really don’t have a word for "gay." India certainly doesn’t. There are epithets and some rather technical terms. Coming out in India is usually about marriage, as in, "Mom, Dad, I don’t think I am going to get married."
Now the California Supreme Court has yanked that coming-out line away. Perhaps it’s time. After all, the Oxford English Dictionary has apparently had to recalibrate its definition of marriage to allow same-sex nuptials. The Field Poll shows that Californians support the right of same-sex couples to marry by a margin of 51 to 42 percent. In a state where one in four Californians is foreign-born, that seems to be an astonishing change. When San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom started issuing same-sex wedding licenses in 2004, some of the first protests came from Chinese churchgoers. After all, immigrant families are supposed to be socially conservative. But that might be part of the reason why the tide is finally shifting on gay marriage. (Of course a younger, more socially liberal state helps.)
For my immigrant friends, being gay in California is not much of an issue. Being unmarried in their 30s and 40s is the real issue, the conversation-stopper at Indian potlucks, the thing that makes them stick out at Chinese banquets. My friend said that when a heterosexual but unmarried Chinese friend of his told his parents that at least he wasn’t gay, the parents retorted, "We’d rather you were gay with kids." Immigrant families just understand marriage, even same-sex marriage, more easily that singlehood. Singleness means you never grew up. It’s the biggest failing of parenthood — the incompleteness of the unmarried child.
It leads to acts of desperation. I’ve seen the ads for marriages of convenience — 29-year-old professional Indian gay, 5-foot-9, good job, looking for Indian lesbian facing similar family pressures. There was even a Web site devoted to Assisting Matrimonial Arrangements for Lesbians and Gays from India, complete with a "gaylerry" of posted ads.
In 1993 my friend Aditya Advani went to India with his boyfriend Michael Tarr and complained to his mother that no one would ever come to his wedding. She promptly organized a ceremony. The family priest presided over it. "Openly gay and married in my parents’ drawing room at the age of 30," marveled Aditya. "Right on schedule as a good Indian boy should be!" I recently watched their wedding video at their home in Berkeley while their cats purred on the couch. It still felt like a fairy tale, a lump-in-the-throat act of domestic revolution. In 2004 when San Francisco started issuing same-sex wedding licenses, Arvind Kumar and Ashok Jethanandani rose at 5:30 a.m. to drive from their home in San Jose to San Francisco to stand in line to get married.
The couple were already married in a sense. Arvind’s mother, who had once adamantly rejected her son’s sexuality, presided over a Hindu ceremony for the two after they had been together for more than a decade. They are registered as domestic partners in Palo Alto and the state of California. The registration licenses hang on the wall where other couples might have pictures of their children. Arvind and Ashok couldn’t get married in 2004. Despite getting up so early, they were behind 300 other couples in line. They finally got an appointment but by then the Supreme Court had halted the marriages. At that time Arvind was philosophical. He knew it was going to be a long fight. "We are just fighting to simplify our lives," says Arvind. "I don’t want a Palo Alto date, a state of California date, a Hindu ceremony date. I just want one date, one wedding anniversary like everyone else." Now Arvind and Ashok can get their one date after all. On June 17 California counties will start issuing marriage licenses to couples like them.
The next generation of immigrant gays and lesbians will have to come up with some other coming-out line. And the revolution will have to find some new frontier. Imagine this ad in the local Indian weekly: Hindu very well-established Los Angeles family invites professional match for daughter, 25, 5-foot-3, slim, wheatish complexion, U.S. born, senior executive in Fortune 500 company. Loves music and dance. Prospective brides encouraged to reply in confidence with complete bio data and returnable photo. Must be professional, under 30, caste no bar. It might just be time for the gay arranged marriage.
A version of this story was originally published by New America Media.
June 4, 2008
Indian Government To Establish Rural Antiretroviral Clinics
The Indian government plans to establish "link centers," or small antiretroviral clinics, in rural areas to address the challenges associated with accessing the drugs in isolated areas, Reuters reports. According to Reuters, long distances between clinics are hindering the country’s efforts to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS, particularly in rural areas.
Although there are 147 clinics that provide antiretroviral drugs in India and the government provides access to no-cost antiretrovirals, many HIV-positive people in rural areas are unable to travel to the clinics to receive treatment. According to a physician at a hospital in New Delhi, HIV-positive people from rural areas who do not have support from their families cannot afford to travel, and women who are reluctant to travel alone often "give up" on HIV treatment. Patients who do not follow treatment recommendations could develop resistance to first-line antiretrovirals and require second-line treatments, which are not widely available in India, according to Reuters.
The link centers will be small facilities located closer to rural areas to make it easier and more affordable for people to obtain treatment. "They just come to pick up the [antiretrovirals] if they have no side effects, and they go home," Sujatha Rao, director-general of the National AIDS Control Organization, said, adding that the approach "saves transport and other costs." Rao added that the government eventually plans to establish 500 link centers throughout the country.
India has 2.47 million HIV cases, and the virus is spreading to the general population, according to health workers. Rao added that in some areas, HIV prevalence among pregnant women is 1%. Of India’s 611 districts, 156 have an HIV prevalence greater than 1% of the population, Reuters reports. "The epidemic is getting deeper into (certain) rural, general areas of the country … it is migrant-related," Rao said. According to Reuters, many health workers have said that India’s HIV epidemic is related to poverty and that the government should address poverty in its efforts to reduce the spread of the virus (Lyn, Reuters, 6/3).
June 11, 2008
India’s First Helpline on Reproductive Health, Family Planning and Child Health
Those wishing to know about contraception, reproductive health and sexual dysfunctions can take heart as the answers to their queries are now just a phone call away. In a novel public-private venture to stabilise the country’s exploding population and promote safe sex and family planning methods, the country’s first helpline on "Reproductive health, Family Planning and Child Health" was inaugurated in the capital Tuesday. Callers can dial 011-66665555, with their queries from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. A team of executives and a doctor will answer questions about sexual health concerns, breast-related problems, sexually transmitted infections, contraception, pregnancy, infertility, abortions, menopause and puberty and explain the functioning of the reproductive systems of males and females in the context of queries. Besides, the helpline will also work towards removing popular misconceptions about sex, important in a country like India, where the subject is still taboo.
The Jansankhya Sthirata Kosh (National Population Stabilisation Fund), a registered autonomous society under the health and family welfare ministry set up with a corpus of Rs.1 billion from the government, tied up with vCustomer, an international business processing organisation (BPO), to spread sexual health awareness. The target audiences are from the small and medium towns in the Hindi heartland states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana.
"These are the states where the rates of fertility, infant mortality and maternal deaths are very high and awareness about sexual health abysmally poor owing to a combination of socio-economic factors and scant access to information, " the fund’s executive director Shailaja Chandra told IANS. Speaking at the inauguration of the helpline centre at the yCustomer premises, Health Secretary Naresh Dayal said the government has been trying to address the issue of family planning over the past four decades. "But it is sensitive in nature. The positive thing is that we now have a young population who wants to make informed choices." The service has a data bank of 550 questions on reproductive and child health, prepared with the help of doctors from the Maulana Azad College, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, St. Stephen’s Medical Hospital, Lady Hardinge Medical College and Kalawati Saran Children’s Hospital. It was running on a pilot basis in Delhi and adjoining townships like Noida and Gurgaon since April. The centre receives 500 calls on an average every day, said Smita Agarwal, operational in-charge of the fund.
"The callers were mostly from the fringe areas of the capital and NCR till last week, but since yesterday (Monday) we have been flooded with calls from Uttar Pradesh. We did not advertise; publicity was by word of mouth," Agarwal said. The calls are charged, but six months later the number will become toll-free, officials said. According to Navin Joshua, director of vCustomer, it is a new kind of business opportunity for the company in the healthcare customer support segment, which has tremendous potential. "When business comes with a cause, it becomes delightful. The knowledge and the expertise that we acquire about the domestic health market from this initiative will help broaden our sphere of operations in India," Joshua told IANS.
June 13, 2008
UNAIDS Response to Potts et al (2008) "Reassessing HIV Prevention" in Science magazine
[Editors note: Potts et al (2009) in their Public Health Policy article in Science, argued that the largest investments in AIDS prevention targeted to the general population are being made in interventions where the evidence for large-scale impact is uncertain]
"Only" doesn’t work for HIV prevention. UNAIDS advocates that countries implement HIV prevention programs that will be truly effective in reducing new HIV infections. This requires a strategic combination of interventions that address populations that are at risk or vulnerable for transmission and that utilize behavioral and social change methods that are appropriate and informed by the latest evidence. The word "only" doesn’t work for AIDS—whether it’s for treatment only, HIV prevention only, condoms only, abstinence only or male circumcision only. In reality we need it all— a truly comprehensive approach. For UNAIDS, the three pillars of a comprehensive and effective AIDS response, as we move towards universal access, are HIV prevention, treatment and care and support.
Since its establishment in 1996, UNAIDS has supported comprehensive approaches to HIV prevention, applying a combination of strategies that respond to actual needs. Countries should determine the right combination of HIV prevention interventions through an analysis of the current epidemic and the state of the national response. Part of this analysis should include an understanding of the effectiveness in the relevant populations and settings. This approach was endorsed by the member states when they adopted the UNAIDS policy position paper on intensifying HIV prevention in June 2005. Recently in a Policy Forum article in Science, Dr. Malcolm Potts and nine colleagues call for "Reassessing HIV Prevention." (Potts et al 2008) UNAIDS definitely agrees that programmes should undergo regular monitoring and evaluation of impact, but we disagree on the narrow prescriptions that these authors provide.
These include their interpretations of the linkages of HIV and poverty, the effectiveness of condoms and HIV testing and counseling as HIV prevention tools, the need to prioritize male circumcision and the reduction of sexual partners, at the expense of other HIV prevention programmes. We also wish to clarify UNAIDS’ assessment of resource needs for HIV prevention in countries with generalized HIV epidemics. AIDS is a globalized epidemic. However we are seeing many different epidemics, each with their own characteristics and contexts at the community level. HIV epidemics are diverse in their dynamics and causes, so a given HIV prevention strategy (e.g. STI treatment, or condom promotion) may be effective in one epidemic scenario or place (e.g. early, concentrated epidemics) but not in another (e.g. mature, generalized epidemics).
Therefore the selection and scale up of prevention strategies should be based on evidence about the local situation, and about programme effectiveness. Expert analysis of this information inevitably finds that a combination of HIV prevention measures is required, including not only strategies that focus on individual susceptibility and risk—such as male circumcision— but also on the societal factors that affect individual risk and vulnerability. Primary among these are gender inequality, HIV related stigma and discrimination, and lack of respect for human rights. In the 60th anniversary year of the International Declaration of Human Rights, it would be regrettable to turn back the clock, to advocate exclusively for measures that focus on individual risk.
The "UNAIDS practical guidelines on intensifying HIV prevention" provides information to help countries scale up HIV prevention programmes based on evidence and the nature of their epidemics, and taking into account the importance of acting to protect those most at risk, and also to act urgently on the social norms, policies, and other societal level causes of vulnerability and risk.
Poverty and HIV
Are poor people more likely to become infected with HIV than rich people? Some widespread beliefs or "assumptions" about immediate or underlying causes of HIV transmission because of poverty need to be revised. The primary rationale for considering poverty in national AIDS responses is one of equity, not due to the assumption that poverty necessarily causes AIDS. A UNAIDS analysis of national wealth and HIV prevalence, and the analysis of DHS studies show a complex relationship between poverty and HIV risk or vulnerability. These studies do not support the simple proposition that poorer people are more likely to have HIV than wealthier people. The analyses suggest that there are multiple and countervailing associations between wealth and HIV risk and vulnerability. For example, relative wealth and peace enhance mobility and disposable income, which in turn increase access to paid sex. Poverty, especially among women and girls, can impede access to HIV and other health information and services, and can increase food insecurity. Food insecurity is associated with increased transactional sex or multiple sexual partners, which in turn increases risk of exposure to HIV.
While the simplistic assumption that "poverty causes AIDS" has been overturned, economic inequality, or disparities in wealth, may still be an important factor underlying HIV vulnerability, and in some contexts poverty may drive people into transactional sex where HIV risks are manifest. Preventing sexual transmission of HIV – no simple solutions In the real world, programmes normally use a variety of approaches where it is not necessarily appropriate to separate out different component elements – for example HIV testing and counselling, peer education, STI treatment and condom promotion are often delivered in an integrated fashion. Few national or sub-national programmes promote condoms alone, but, instead, promote several elements of behaviour change, making it difficult to isolate the impact of condoms by
Multiple Sexual Partners
Reducing multiple sexual partners (including commercial, concurrent, and casual sexual partners) as well as addressing stigma and discrimination has been critical to the declines in incidence and prevalence of HIV in a number of countries, such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Thailand, Uganda and Zimbabwe. We need to better address behaviour change, especially in the context of multiple sexual partnerships. As the paper by Potts et al states, "there are few demonstrated replicable approaches to reducing multiple sexual partnerships on a large scale." Investment is urgently needed to establish such approaches. We need to know more about how to successfully promote behaviour change to reduce multiple sexual partnerships, and to promote safer sex within regular partnerships and among discordant couples, and to sustain these changes over time.
UNAIDS has been working with governments, civil society partners and academic experts both globally and in the southern Africa region where the issue is most acute to refine and scale up HIV prevention programming responses to HIV transmission in discordant partnerships and in concurrent partnerships. Role of HIV testing and counseling in HIV prevention Does HIV testing help promote HIV prevention? UNAIDS has been monitoring the evidence on this issue. HIV testing and counseling has been proven to reduce risk behaviour in people who test HIV positive, but the evidence of risk reduction in people who test HIV negative is less convincing. Nevertheless, we believe that strategies that enable people living with HIV to prevent onward transmission are fundamental to HIV prevention. One must not ignore the leadership and contribution of people living with HIV in promoting HIV prevention. In addition HIV testing and counselling plays a pivotal role in access to treatment.
Medical male circumcision has been proven to reduce risk of acquisition of HIV in men by at least 60%. UNAIDS, together with the World Health Organization, has been at the forefront of working with countries to act on this evidence. Many of the most affected countries are moving rapidly to conduct formative research, assess demand and service readiness, and to expand access to adult male circumcision as part of comprehensive HIV prevention programmes. However one has to be mindful of cultural and religious sensitivities and of the danger of risk compensation. Medical male circumcision is recommended by UNAIDS and WHO in settings, where HIV prevalence is high, together with other HIV prevention measures.
Spending on HIV prevention
Spending on HIV prevention should also match the local realities. This should happen on a country-by-country basis, and not according to any global formula. It is unfortunate Potts et al have chosen to illustrate their argument about generalized HIV epidemics by using a graphic of UNAIDS’ estimates for global resource needs, which aggregate all low and middle income countries, most of which (75%) are experiencing low and concentrated epidemics. Thus, it is not surprising that a good proportion of the HIV expenditure is focused on activities addressing the high risk populations which are the predominant feature of these epidemics.
However in countries experiencing generalized or hyper-endemic scenarios, UNAIDS estimates of resource needs are very different – with a strong emphasis on youth, community mobilization, communication, and workplace interventions, which primarily focus on delayed sexual debut, decreasing multiple partnerships and condom use in casual sex, as well as the resources needed to bring about the most rapid feasible scale up of male circumcision in young adults (estimated to be 2. 5 million circumcisions per year by the year 2010 in the 12 most highly affected countries). These resource needs estimates also include provision for HIV testing and counseling, whose importance in generalized epidemics cannot be discounted now that around half of all HIV infections occur between discordant couples.
Continuous appraisal of HIV prevention programmes required HIV prevention efforts around the globe should always be subject to continual reappraisal. The injunction to "know your epidemic and response" is the centerpiece of UNAIDS’ advice to national HIV responses. Determining the right "mix" of interventions is challenging, and should be locally driven. In one’s eagerness to promote different strategies, we should not risk promoting one overly narrow prescription with another equally limited one.
Malcolm Potts, Daniel T. Halperin, Douglas Kirby, Ann Swidler, Elliot Marseille, Jeffrey D. Klausner, Norman Hearst, Richard G. Wamai, James G.
Kahn, Julia Walsh (2008) Reassessing HIV Prevention.
Policy Forum. PUBLIC
HEALTH: Science 9 May 2008: Vol. 320. no. 5877, pp.
749 – 750. DOI: 10.1126/science. 1153843
Survey About Being Old and Gay in India
16 June 2008
I’m writing an article on the problems of growing old in the gay community. This is certainly an issue that a lot of people have expressed fears about, and its one commonly given as a reason not to lead an unmarried gay life. Yet there are many gay men who have retired and seem to leading their lives with no more problems than others – and there are certainly going to be many more of us who will be joining them in the years to come. So how does one plan for it? What should one start doing now to make things easier later? What are the fears one still might have? One interesting new possibility is the retirement home for gay people that Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil has announced he wants to start building in Rajpipla. The land has already been donated for this, so to take it forward now people need to start expressing interest and committing themselves in a (literally) concrete way. So people need to think about this frankly.
I’ve heard lots of people say this is a great idea (I think so too), but are you likely to commit to going and staying in a smaller town, in a community of other gay men, when you’re older? By the time we’re old many of us may be too set in our regular urban routines to be willing to make the shift. But then urban life has its risks for senior citizens, so maybe that consideration will count.
Lots of questions, so here are some specific ones. I would be really grateful if you could go through them and send me your responses at vgd67@yahoo. co.uk All identities will be strictly guarded, of course. I’m primarily interested in gay men living in India, but if you’re not and would like to give your views anyway, please feel free. I’m also interested in the stories of older gay men you might know.
Here are the questions:
1) The personal stuff – are you based in India? In a metro or small town? And could you give me some idea of how old you are?
2) More personal stuff – are you in a same sex relationship? Are you married? Are you living with your family, and you are likely to continue doing so?
3) Last bit of really personal stuff – are you taking care of a parent or another older member of the family? Some gays and lesbians have complained how these responsibilities often seem to land on unmarried family members like them, with no clear indication that they might get the same support in time? Would you agree? Is there someone in your family who might take on the same role for you?
4) Have you had to deal with the argument that one shouldn’t lead a gay life (meaning unmarried) in India because who will take care of you when you’re old? How have you dealt with this argument?
5) Are you afraid of growing old as a gay person in India? What specifically are your fears?
6) Do you think going abroad might be a better option than growing old as a gay person in India?
7) Do you think having a partner makes a difference when you grow old as a gay person in India?
8) Have you started planning for your retirement? What are the things you think that gay people in India can do to plan for their retirement?
9) Have you considered the option of moving into special senior citizen accomodations in India? There are currently some in operation which are not specifically gay – do you think you might face problems in them?
10) Would you consider an option like Prince Manvendra’s scheme for a gay retirement home in Gujarat? What do you think such a scheme would need to have to persuade you to invest in it? What do you feel would be the pros and cons of such a scheme?
These are my general questions, but if there are other points you’d like to talk about please feel free to mail me on them. As I said, all answers will be kept confidential – I’ll use what you’re saying in my piece, and perhaps a report for these mailing lists, but your identities will be concealed (unless you’re willing to be identified, in which case please indicate that).
Thanks a lot!
Vikram E-mail: vgd67@yahoo. co.uk
GayBombay Yahoo Group
June 22, 2008
Old, Gay and helpless in Hetero India: Vikram Doctor lauds Rajpipla prince Manvendra Singh Gohil’s plan to set up an old age home for gays
It could be called the WHW factor. It comes up when gay men or lesbian woman in India announce their intention of leading their
lives on their own terms. Which may or may not mean being open about their sexuality, but usually does mean not doing the heterosexual-marriage-and-kids thing. Such a declaration to friends and family is met with a deep sigh and the question: "Well, maybe that’s OK now, but What Happens When you grow old, fall sick, don’t have family to take care of you?”
What Happens When (WHW) applies, of course, to all those who choose not to marry and have kids. But it’s never invoked as strongly for straight people probably because friends and family always retain a residual shred of hope that they will someday find the right person, and perhaps even have kids. But saying you’re gay or lesbian seems to close that door (not quite fairly, given the many gays and lesbians who want to adopt and raise kids) and condemn you to a bleak, lonely old age. "The middle age of buggers is not to be contemplated without horror,” wrote Virginia Woolf (a married bisexual herself).
In less lurid terms, that sentiment is repeated at forums like the support meetings for the parents of gay people organised by the Gaybombay group. Parents say they can accept their children’s sexuality, but worry what will happen when they are no longer around since their children won’t have families of their own to take care of them. Their children counter that many straight people also end up single, which is correct, but shifts the problem rather than solves it. Shyam, who’s 33, admits he often discusses it with gay friends: "Most have a great career and are earning well. I suggest that we pool funds and design a building where each member gets an apartment. So we live together but not in each other’s face.”
Something on those lines is now being proposed by Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil of Rajpipla. Gohil’s open admission some time back that he was gay caused a huge controversy in Gujarat and even made news around the world. But this did not deter him from working with his Lakshya trust to support sexual minorities in Gujarat, and it was in this connection that the idea of an old age home came about. "Old age is a fact of life,” says Gohil. "Those of us likely to be single need to plan for it.”
The actual impetus for the home, though, came not from a gay man, but a straight one. He goes by the name Trijayananad, an NRI, originally from Gujarat, who had gone to Canada to make his fortune but decided to retire back home. He always intended to start an old-age home, but after speaking with Gohil decided to make it a gay one. "He was influenced by his time in Canada,” says Gohil. "He saw the freedom homosexuals have over there and the problems we have here.”
Trijayanand donated two acres for the home, and Gohil is lobbying with the government for more land. He doesn’t think there will be problems from local people because Lakshya will sensitise them to gay issues: "We have found that once you remove misconceptions that people have about homosexuality, they don’t have a problem with it.” Beyond this, there are no firm plans: "We must consult the gay community to see what it wants.”
The gay men we spoke to had mixed responses. "I would love it if such a scheme is implemented everywhere in India,” said Shyam enthusiastically. Bala, who’s in his 40s, is dubious about old-age homes: "Being only among other old people would be reason to die soon… better to have gay community-living where gay people of all ages live together.” Sachin, who’s 32, says real estate developers might be interested if shown how to market to the gay community, but notes that the differences among Indian communities, which override gay identity, will pose problems: "Our culture is not homogeneous. This makes Floridastyle mass condos a questionable success.”
Whatever the problems, Gohil deserves credit for highlighting an increasingly important issue for gay communities around the world. In past generations the few who were out were usually affluent enough for old age to be less of a problem; other just got married, as many still do in India. But starting from the 70s abroad, more gay men started coming out, and that first generation (those spared by AIDS) is now dealing with the problems of ageing. The New York Times recently wrote of how many, after years of standing up for their rights, now find themselves facing discrimination again in regular old-age homes—which, now older and enfeebled, they find hard to fight.
That this would likely happen here too was shown when this writer tried raising the issue of gay senior citizens with a lady who
pioneered campaigning for senior citizen rights and creating old-age homes in India. Her instant, embarrassed response: I don’t think our members would be comfortable discussing that.” It’s an indication of how much a project like Gohil’s is needed. TNN
June 23, 2008
Bangalore Pride Event June 29th
For the first time this year Bengaluru and Delhi are joining Kolkata in marching to celebrate Pride in India. This is a chance for the
lesbian, gay, bisexual, hijra, kothi, hijra, transsexual, transgender, doubledecker and intersex communities to celebrate being part of this country and also to protest how the government of this country continues to treat us as criminals. In doing so we will be connecting with the origins of Pride Marches. Around the world these take place towards the end of June and they are treated as colourful occasions for the LGBT community to celebrate.
DATE : Sunday, June 29th, 2008
TIME: 2 pm to 5 pm
VENUE: National College Basavangudi to Town Hall
In India today we are closer to where Pride was whenit started in 1970. LGBT people face a lot of harassment from thepolice. Lesbians are subject to violence and even forced to commitsuicide by their families. Gay men are blackmailed by organised racketsthat involve members of the police. Bisexuals are denied the chance to express same sex love and forced into opposite sex marriages. Transgenders are routinely arrested and raped by the police. Same-sex couples who have lived together for years cannot buy a house together, have a joint bank account or will their property to each other without being challenged by their families. All this is possible because Section 377 of the IndianPenal Code treats LGBT people as criminals.
A case currently being heard in the Delhi High Court calls for this law, imposed on us by the British, to be amended so that it no longer applied to consenting adults. This very small change will not remove all problems for LGBT people, but it will be a vital step towards affirming that we are equal and accepted citizens of India. On June 29th LGBT people in Bangalore, Delhi and Kolkata will march in the hope that this change will come soon. Kolkata first did this in 1999, and has done so every year since 2003. Today in 2008, Pride is going national as a sign that the time for national change has come.
June 09, 2008
Asian gay, transgender groups fight for their rights
by Irawaty Wardany, Denpasar
(Bali) Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) groups in Asia have agreed to develop an international network to advocate protection of their rights in their respective countries and at the regional level. Bali hosted a conference of the groups from June 2 to 6 in the tourism enclave Nusa Dua. The conference was attended by 21 participants from eight countries — Indonesia, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, China and Thailand. "We agreed to make some kind of international network to advocate protection of LGBT rights in our countries," Rido Triawan, head of Arus Pelangi, an Indonesian non-governmental organization that fights for LGBT rights, told The Jakarta Post on Saturday. He said it would be like an open communication channel connecting LGBY communities in different countries, so that when there was a problem in one country the communities could work in unison to apply political pressure on the government in question.
Generally, Rido said, LGBT communities in Asia faced similar problems. "We are all at this time suffering from stigmatization, discrimination, persecution from religious groups and discriminative government regulations," he said. "For example, the 2004 regional regulation in Palembang, South Sumatra, categorizes LGBT as a form of prostitution," Rido said.
He said religious-based persecution was the most difficult problem LGBT groups faced in Indonesia. "Those religious doctrines are then being integrated into the formal education curriculum. Naturally, the curriculum educates the students that the only ‘normal’ and accepted sexual orientation is heterosexuality," he said. Consequently, other sexual orientations are considered as not "normal" and unacceptable. This has resulted in students and communities discriminating against members of the homosexual and transgender community. "There are many cases of discrimination experienced by members of the LGBT community. One example involved a man who openly acknowledged his sexual orientation of being gay. Suddenly, his company fired him for no apparent reason," Rido said.
He said other gay workers faced varying levels of hostility from co-workers. "They suddenly keep a distance or, even worse, socially isolate him just because he is gay," he said. He said upholding the rights of the LGBT community was a significant issue since sexual orientation was also part of human rights. Rido said the LGBT community in Indonesia just wanted to be acknowledged and treated the same as the other Indonesian citizens, who enjoyed the right to education, health, work and all the other basic human rights. "It is still very hard for people to accept the fact that LGBT are also human beings, who should be treated humanely," said Arus Pelangi secretary general, Yuli Rustinawati.
A Sri Lankan LGBT activist, Rosanna Flamer-Caldera, said the situation in Sri Lanka was worse than in Indonesia. "Being part of LGBT communities in Sri Lanka is similar to committing a criminal offense. That’s the reason why people with LGBT sexual orientation prefer to be invisible," she said. She said members of the LGBT community in her country who fell victim to criminal acts often didn’t report their cases to the police, because the treatment they would receive could be worse than the perpetrators of the criminal acts. She said she participated in LGBT conferences and seminars around the world to learn about human rights instruments that could be used to advance the struggle in her country.
19 June 2008
Suicide exposes gay racket
by Rohit K Singh, Lucknow
Suicide bya 50-year-old man has exposed a gay racket in the Mahanagar area of the state capital.Harish Chandra, who took his own life on Wednesday, left behind a four-page suicide note in which he confessed to his involvement in a homosexual relationship with a 17-year-old youth for the past two years. In the suicide note, he also alleged that two dozen youths of the slum area near Kukrail Bridge used to provide their services to homosexual men for money. The racket had been thriving for the past few years, he alleged.
The police have taken four youths, including the one having relations with Harish, into custody for interrogation. They may also be sent for medical examination. Senior Superintendent of Police, Akhil Kumar, said that a case for forcing a man to commit suicide under section 306 IPC will be registered against the youths. Harish, originally a resident of Lal Kuan, Hussainganj, had been living in a rented room at Narad’s residence in Raheemnagar locality of Mahanagar near PAC gate for the last two years. The youth he was involved with lived at a distance from there.
SHO, Mahanagar, Virendra Kumar said Sunder Lal Gupta informed the police on Wednesday morning. that his uncle Harish had hanged himself. Police recovered the body, which was sent for a post-mortem, the SHO said. In the suicide note, Harish said Ghulam, Waris and Saddam of Raheemnagar were blackmailing him ever since they came to know of his relations with the youth six months ago. The trio had made him cough up over Rs 20,000, the note added. They also sodomised the youth whom Harish was involved with.
In another case, Sumit Kumar aka Kallu of Azadnagar and Imran of Shantinagar, Sarojininagar were arrested after a woman of Azadnagar complained that they sodomised her nine-year-old son.
June 27, 2008
Indian LGBTs march this weekend to protest anti-gay laws
by News Editor
Three cities in India – New Delhi, Kolkata and Bangalore – are expected to hold the largest ever display of gay pride in the country as the Delhi High Court is set to resume hearings on India’s sodomy law in early July. Conceived merely weeks ago via email groups, LGBT activists are planning to march, give speeches and have candlelight vigils in New Delhi, Kolkata and Bangalore (officially known as Bengaluru) on Sunday. The Delhi High Court is expected to resume hearing a petition filed by the Naz Foundation, a HIV/AIDS NGO, challenging Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 – which criminalises ‘carnal intercourse against the order of nature’ – on July 2.
Gautam Bhan, a co-organiser of the march, has been quoted as saying in a NDTV India news report that the aim of the parade is to raise awareness of the issues facing the gay community in India. The Delhi-based gay rights activist and author of Because I Have A Voice added that "response from gays as well as straights has been quite encouraging." "Pride in India is at a stage where it’s not just pure celebration, it’s always part protest. A reminder of how difficult things are," he said.
If convicted under Section 377, the laws provide for up to10 years imprisonment. Although several dozen people have marched in the eastern Indian metropolis of Kolkata first in 1999 then annually since 2003, the parades will be a first for the national capital of New Delhi and southern hi-tech hub Bangalore. Mumbai, the largest city with an estimated population of thirteen million and commercial centre of India, will not be hosting its own pride parade, as noted by the Times of India.
"It’s embarrassing to admit but the truth is that though Mumbai has a strong social scene it has a very weak activist base," says Vikram from Gay Bombay, a gay social group, was quoted by the newspaper as saying. While homosexuality is generally considered a taboo subject by Indian society, it is gradually becoming more open in urban centres at least. Even, the Delhi edition of Time Out magazine remarkably features a gay and lesbian section and column – in no less explicit terms.
Delhi Queer Pride
We now have a new route and a new meeting point with full police permission and support! New Meeting Point: The Corner of Barakhamba Road and Tolstoy Marg, just south of the Metro station on Barakhamba Road, and in front of the Intercontinental Hotel on Tolstoy Marg. Meeting Time : 5:30pm! March to Jantar Mantar for celebration, singing, speeches and candlelight vigil.
Rainbow Pride Week, Kolkata (June 24-29, 2008)
Assemble at 3 pm at College Square for Rainbow Pride March to Esplanade East (Metro cinema) for public meeting and media interaction
Bengaluru (Bangalore) Pride March
Assemble at 2 pm at National College, Basavangudi to march to Puttana Chetty Town Hall for public meeting at 4 pm.
More info: bengalurupride.googlepages.com
(Source: Queer Media Collective, a group of professional journalists who aim for a more balanced treatment of queer issues in the Indian media and entertainment industries.)
June 29, 2008
Gay Pride Delhi-Style
by Madhur Singh/Delhi
For a city of 14 million people, a gathering of a couple of hundred may seem miniscule. But for Delhi’s gay community, the turnout at their first-ever Queer Pride this Sunday was beyond belief. Over 500 marchers carrying rainbow-colored flags and ‘Queer Dilliwalla’ banners marched to bhangra beats, breaking into Bollywood-style pelvic thrusts and bust-heaving from time to time. Starting from Barakhamba Road in the heart of the city’s business district — at which point the media seemed to outnumber the marchers — they walked 2 km to Jantar Mantar, an 18th century astronomical observatory that has become the unlikely hub of sundry protests in India’s capital.
Along the way, they were joined by NGO workers and advocates of all causes, droves of tourists and resident expatriates, and a handful of curious onlookers, all shouting "British Law Quit India!" They were evoking the famous slogan from India’s freedom struggle, but referring here to Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which was introduced by the British to criminalize sexual acts "against the order of nature." Perhaps even more unexpectedly, few marchers wore masks — which the organizers had provided for those who haven’t come out — and there were no protests from religious or socially conservative groups. "This is amazing," said Ranjit Monga, a public relations executive, "No one would’ve believed 10 years ago a gay parade was possible in Delhi."
Sunday’s march was a landmark, especially for a city long accustomed to sexual repression, and now grappling with a newfound permissiveness brought about by economic liberalization, and aided in no small measure by satellite TV and the Internet. Other metro cities like Kolkata and Bangalore have been holding Queer Pride marches for a couple of years now but this was the first in Delhi, considered more conservative than some of its metro sisters. Unlike the mostly university-educated, urban crowd that marched in Delhi, Kolkata and Bangalore’s marches attract people from all classes as well as rural areas.
It took years of activism and advocacy — particularly fervent over the last few years — to make Delhi’s Queer Pride possible. In 2004, Voices Against 377, an umbrella group of 12 NGOs working on a range of issues from women’s rights to HIV/AIDS, was formed to file a case in the Delhi High Court against Section 377. (The case will have its final hearing on July 2 this year.) In 2006, celebrated author Vikram Seth wrote an open letter against Section 377, which was signed by the likes of Nobel-laureate Amartya Sen. "We just felt the time was right and Delhi was ready," says Gautam Bhan, a city planner and gay activist, "We have come a long way from the ridiculous attitude that there are no gays in India. With this march, we hope to move from saying ‘Hey, we exist!’ to issues like respect and dignity."
A steady gay scene has slowly evolved in most metro cities including Delhi, and mainstream magazines like Time Out list gay socials. "Even smaller cities have a thriving gay scene today," says Monga, "It happens on the quiet, but it’s there. Attitudes have definitely changed. If you don’t wave your sexuality in people’s faces, they let you be. There are jokes sometimes, but no organized anti-queer violence as in the West." But, as Bhan admits, there may be greater resistance in future as the movement becomes more widespread and successful.
On Sunday, though, the mood was euphoric. "It’s been great fun," said Mather George, an anthropologist from San Francisco, "I missed the dykes on bikes, the naked people and the music, but I guess they’ll get there!" There was much back-slapping and an ecstatic sense of accomplishment. "Delhi has come out and spoken about the kind of people we want to be," said Bhan, "This is not just about queer rights, it’s about women’s rights, about Dalits, about justice for everyone."
But the enthusiasm wasn’t shared by the passersby, many of whom looked on perplexed or peeved. Passengers in a bus that stopped near the marchers said they had no clue what the rainbow flags stood for or what the marchers were doing. Even the three men beating the bhangra drums for the marchers — Monu, Mahesh and Inder Bhat — said they had no clue what the march was about. "We came to play so everyone could dance and have a nice time. That’s all we know." The march was clearly only a beginning.
June 30, 2008
Indian activists march in Delhi, Bangalore and Kolkata (See photos of Kolkota march)
by Staff Writer, PinkNews.co.uk
More than a thousand people took to the streets of three major Indian cities to celebrate Pride this weekend. The largest turnout was in Bangalore, where 600 people marched. An estimated 300 LGBT people took part in New Delhi’s first ever Pride parade, while 400 marched in Kolkata. Fears that the events would be targeted by religious groups proved to be unfounded.
Some participants wore masks to protect their identities in a country where homosexual acts are illegal. "More of the youth are coming out to join groups of gays and lesbians in the city," Kolkata organiser Pawan Dhall told AFP. Others said they were moved that the watching crowds had welcomed them. "This is one of the very, very few occasions when we have not been booed or been cursed at," Pramada Menon told AFP. Though the perception is changing, it remains a largely upper class phenomenon. People like me can afford to come clean and take a stand. Those who are poor are still killing themselves because of ‘abnormalities’ that they and their families cannot understand or cope with."
The expanding economy of India has created the climate for a growing and visible community of homosexuals and transgender people. The gay scene in larger cities such as Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai is increasingly vibrant. Time Out Delhi was launched last year with a homosexual section and listings featuring gay nights and social gatherings. Homosexual relations are still a crime under an old British era statute dating from 1860 called Section 377, though the government no longer seeks to prosecute adults engaging in private consensual homosexual acts. In India there are huge social and legal pressures to live a heterosexual lifestyle but in recent years, the campaign to decriminalise homosexuality has strengthened