Gay India News & Reports 2008 Jan-Apr

Also see:
Islam and Homosexuality
Gay Bombay Yahoo Group:

1 Surat AIDS workers go gay-hunting 1/08

2 What’s wrong with playing gay, asks Samir Soni 1/08

3 Mr.Gay India and Gay Blogs 1/08

4 Gujarat’s gay prince to adopt child soon 1/08

5 Police bust ‘gay’ party 2/08

6 Police raid private house party near Mumbai 2/08

6a First transsexual celebrity, Rose, makes a TV debut 2/08

7 Foreign gay couples seek surrogate moms in India 2/08

8 Gay and accepted in Bangalore 2/08

9 Employability of Eunuchs 3/08

10 Call for action against bogus AIDS cures 3/08

11 India gets first trans TV host 3/08

11a The matter of identity Does identity matter? 3/08

11b Visibility versus privacy 3/08

12 Trans Indians mark International Women’s Day 3/08

13 The Queer Media Collective Awards 2008 4/08

14 Ashok Row Kavi 4/08

15 Tamil Nadu to create transgender database 4/08

16 Indian Police Force Launches HIV/AIDS Awareness Program 4/08

17 UN body slams India on rights of gays 4/08

18 Gay Sikhs: ‘You’re not alone’ 4/08

19 Indian men may claim to have a healthy sex-life 4/08

The Times of India

7 January 2008

Surat AIDS workers go gay-hunting

Surat – Guess what hundreds of social workers in the field of HIV, AIDS awareness in the city are working on these days? They are actually learning some of the basic knowledge about how to identify gays. The reason is the nation-wide shift from phase-II of National AIDS Control Programme to phase-III initiated by the National AIDS Control Organisation. In phase-III the core group includes male having sex with male (MSM), sex workers and injecting drug users (IDU) in its phase-III.

While most of the non-government organisations have wrapped up their on-going projects citing funds crunch, those who have been permitted to continue their projects are now looking for gays since the trend of injecting drug is not prevalent in Surat. Those who are in the field work maintained that they have no option but to follow the NACP guideline irrespective of whether they are comfortable with it or not.

Interestingly, some of the NGOs have actually given up their projects simply it goes against their ideology. "There are some organisations which admitted that they would prefer to back out from such projects. Their argument is that they would not like to directly interact with sex workers or gays instead of target groups including youths."

"We have been categorically told to work on core group only with no room for argument, we have started working on gays. Though, we do not have any training to deal with them since all these years we have been dealing with truckers and single male migrants," said a social worker. Earlier, Surat Municipal Corporation’s, STD Care had already cited serious repercussions of avoiding migrants in NACP-III saying that the volume of migrant youths approaching them is too high to be ignored.

"It is going to be a question of survival for large number of social workers. Many who were holding the position of project officers have already opted for other prospective jobs considering the future of the projects which is hanging in the air at the moment. Those who have either decided to continue or selected by the state aids control society have already started learning the trick of the trade or basics of dealing with gays in other words," said a project officer.

January 12, 2008

What’s wrong with playing gay, asks Samir Soni

by Subhash K. Jha
Mumbai (IANS) Model-turned-actor Samir Soni, who started his film career as Mamta Kulkarni’s leading man in "China Gate", has been zeroed in on to play a gay designer in Madhur Bhandarkar’s "Fashion".
And the actor, for whom it has been a troubled and long journey, is pretty excited about the part. "I’ve finally wstangled a role that has got my creative juices running again," Samir told IANS. "When I heard the role I knew I immediately wanted to do it. And so what if he’s gay? It’s about time we as a country and in the entertainment business stopped looking at homosexuality as a peculiarity. I was a model, so I know a lot of gays. My character in ‘Fashion’ being gay is not the issue," Samir told IANS. "Some directors make the mistake of making a character’s homosexuality his identity badge. Madhur is a director who handles all his characters with finesse and sensitivity. I’m positive he’ll make sure the gay community accept my character wholeheartedly," he added.

It’s been a long and tiring search for Bhandarkar to find one of the principal male leads to play a gay dress designer. After Harsh Chhaya, he has zeroed on Samir Soni. Sharing his experience, Bhandarkar said: "It wasn’t an aggressive in-your-face kind of homosexual character. I needed someone tall, fair, handsome, suave and outwardly a ladies’ man. The hunt was killing me because I start shooting with this character in just a few days. But now I’ve found my actor. Samir Soni fits the bill completely. He’s sensitive and yet not delicate, soft-spoken but not effeminate. I needed that."

Samir says he has several very close gay friends. "So the lack of time to prepare for the part – we start shooting next week – doesn’t bother me. I know the community from up close. I’ve often discussed the question of sexual orientation with my gay friends, how it affects their personality and their day-to-day dealings with people. What fascinates me is the closeted existence of the gay who doesn’t or can’t come out in the open. The torment of keeping the secret is just so gut-wrenching. Yeah, I’m looking forward to playing the gay as a grey, dark character."

Samir has only one other film, Sanjay Gupta’s "Alibaug", in hand. "Yes, I’ve done less work. And I’m not going to pretend it’s because I chose to do so. I also did television for the lack of choice. But let’s not undermine the reach of the home medium. The roles have been hard to come by. Maybe I wasn’t pushy enough. Maybe I wasn’t good enough," Samir chuckled self-dismissively.

The thought of sharing screen space in "Fashion" with so many seasoned troupers doesn’t intimidate this soft-spoken actor.

"I had 11 actors, many of them stalwarts like Amrish Puriji, Om Puriji and Naseeruddin Shahji in my very first film. In Rajkumar Santoshiji’s ‘Lajja’, I was paired with Madhuri Dixit. Now in ‘Alibaug’, I’m again in an ensemble cast. I’m not at all scared of sharing screen space with other actors in ‘Fashion’. Whether I’m alone in a 30-second ad or with 12 other actors in a big film like ‘Fashion’, I do my best. The rest I leave to destiny."

From: Mutiny blog, India

January 27th, 2008

Mr.Gay India and Gay Blogs

by Sanjukta in Law, Sex
Mr. Gay contest 2008 results are out. India is not the winner. 33 year old Carlos Fabian Melia from Argentina is. However for the Indian gay community and other gender benders, Indian contestant, 26 year old Mumbai based model Zoltan Parag is no less than a winner. Zoltan may not have won the contest but he sure did make a lot of us proud. I admire Zolan’s guts to come out with his sexuality and to be the first Indian to participate any such contest given that he might well be booked under the criminal law of the country. Many at the contest thought Zoltan stood a good chance merely because of his courage alone. (See for photo.)

I wanted to know more about Zoltan so googled for him. Used various combinations, but couldn’t find any significant information except a few repetitive lines. Found this blog post where the author has spoken about Poornima Advani’s homophobia and found a few news article.
Being a new media evangelist, I expected this invisible section of our society to express themselves freely through blogs. But I couldn’t found many quality blogs to be honest. One reason could be that they are yet to explore blogs as a medium. The other of course is the social stigma behind being homosexual.

Indian homosexuals are an invisible bunch of people. Coming out with homo-sexuality is threatened with criminal prosecution and social ostracism.

Section 377 of the IPC criminalize homosexuality. Not in that term but in effect. It reads,
‘Whoever has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life’.
The words “against the order of nature” can be interpreted in a number of ways but is mostly interpreted as anal sex. It also penalizes sexual acts like oral sex, regardless of whether it is heterosexual or homosexual; even penile-masturbation of one person by another – is considered criminal (basically they wanted to penalize everything that is not the missionary / Victorian penile vaginal penetration meant for procreation)

A non legal person often wonders, ‘how would the law (police, court) ever find out what two people are doing behind the closed doors?’ The thing about criminal law is that, a prosecution can be initiated on a third party complaint. Which means even if the person reporting the crime has got nothing to do with the victim or the oppressor the police is bound to take an action. And the third party complaint might well be by the police itself.

In some of the most horrendous incidents of police brutalities, queers from the lower class and caste have been humiliated and tortured by conducting anal inspection on them to determine if the said crime have been committed. For the police, one of the easiest way to extort money out of a gay couple hanging around the Ulsoor Lake area would be – a threat to arrest under this section. Funnily, there have been reports of gay sex workers being raped by hetero-sexual police ‘men.’

It was only recently that queer activists in India raised a protest against this 150 year old law introduced by the British Raj. In December 2002 Naz Foundation filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) to challenge the section in the Delhi High Court on the grounds that, by prohibiting private, consensual sex, the section violates the right to privacy.

It has been a long standing trend, not only just in India but all across the Globe, to wrap rights related to sexuality under some health issue before they can be sought and lobbied for.

For the first time, through this petition, a right based approach have been taken in queer activism. The text of the petition and other legal developments can be found in Lawyer’s Collective’s website here. The petition got significant support from various Delhi based NGOs who eventually formed into a coalition called Voices Against 377

The social ostracism queers have to face is even worse than police torture. There prevails a blanket homo-phobia in the society, more particularly amongst patriarchal hetero sexual man whose man hood is his honour (which basically is in his D*&$). This ‘man’ refuses to recognize a gay as ‘man’. A gay is called by names, looked down upon, made fun of, looked at with suspicion. For an heterosexual man the idea that a man can be physically attracted to another man is scary and disgusting. I often hear they say, “what if he feels me up”
And I am talking about urban, English speaking men here. The other day I was talking to a friend whose socio political understanding, outlook and inclination earns a huge amount of respect from me but it made me sad to know he is a homophobic. And I just cannot come to terms with that. This homophobia leads to social ostracism. Like he said, he wouldn’t not be friends with a gay, says he won’t even like to be seen hanging around with a gay.

I don’t know what the RSS thinks about this law, but to me this law is more against the Indian culture than protecting it. Homosexuality have always been a part of Indian culture. One can find mention of the transgender Shikhandi in the Mahabharata. Yet it is so difficult being a homosexual in India. If anybody has any knowledge on what stand does RSS / BJP has on Section 377 please share with me. I am curious to know.

This post is getting long yet there are a lot that can be written on this topic. As of now I’ll close it by aggregating some of the interesting blogs written by homosexual authors. I know, none of the popular blog aggregators subscribe to these blogs, I also know 95% readers of this present blog also don’t read any such blog but may be today you should take a look at the other world.

I. While searching I first stumbled upon Jalaj’s blog ‘A gay Delhi guy at the crossroads’. To quote the author from one of his posts,
“I decided that when I would start writing a blog , I would state it on the masthead that this is a blog written by a GAY individual. Period. Anyone who sees the website sees ‘Gay Delhi guy…’ There is no place for beating about the bush here”

II. Queer India by Nitin Karani. There is an incredible quote line in the description of the blog which caught my attention.
“Oppression can only survive through silence.” -Carmen de Monteflores
This blog is about looking at queer issues and culture through my eyes…It will also be of interest to people interested in sexuality, gender, pop culture and queer activism.

III. Confessions. Confusion. Connotations. Conundrums. And Close Talk.
Didn’t read this blog in details but it has got an interesting look to it. Found the link from Jalaj’s blog and I’ll quote Jalaj here,
One great thing about our lovable Bong-Boy is his honesty. Most guys you meet love assuming a holier-than-thou posture on matters sexual and simultaneously lust after every piece of new flesh their eyes can humanly feast on. Bong boy lives life kingsize (size does matter…) and wears it on his sleeve.

IV. In small pieces by Monica Mody. A friend who is a lawyer, a poet and a queer activist. She is not blogging these days for some reasons but do check out the archives.

V. Lesley E (writes by the name Bombay Boy), a queer activist and an editor in a leading English magazine, I have met her couple of times while attending the voices meetings. I personally admire her personality and attitude.

The Times of India

31 January 2008

Gujarat’s gay prince to adopt child soon

Bharuch – Gujarat’s gay prince of Rajpipla, Manavendrasinh Gohil, who was disinherited by the family for going public about being gay but later taken back into the fold, now wants to carry on the royal bloodline, in a manner of speaking. The gay prince, who wants to ensure the lineage does not end with him just because he can’t have children, wants to adopt a child and make him the royal heir. Manavendra hit the headlines recently by going on the Oprah Winfrey Show and proclaiming his homosexuality. The prince was in Rajpipla on Wednesday to perform the annual ritual of garlanding his great-grandfather Vijaysinh Gohil’s statue on his 119th birth anniversary. Asked who would continue this tradition after him, he said: "I have carried out all my responsibilities as the prince so far and will continue as long as I can. I will also adopt a child soon so that all traditions continue."

Manavendra, who is a divorcee, added that adoption was not new for the royal families as many had taken this route in the absence of a legal male heir. "The Gohil dynasty itself is a case of adoption. Rajpipla was ruled by the Parmar clan, not the Gohils. But the Parmars at one point did not have a male child. One of the Parmar princesses then married the maharaja of Bhavnagar. One of their sons was adopted by the Parmars giving birth to the Gohil dynasty." But the boy is unlikely to be a complete commoner. Manavendra said it was common in royal families to adopt a child from the extended family. "I will also adopt a child from my extended family only."

Although there are no known cases of single gay men adopting children in India, advocate Sudhir Nanavati says Manavendra should not have legal hassles in adoption. "The law states that one should not have any children before you apply for adoption," he says. "There also has to be a respectable age difference between the person wanting to adopt and the child. If these conditions are met, there should be no problem."

The Times of India

4 February 2008

Police bust ‘gay’ party

Thane – The Thane police on Saturday night raided a party at a farmhouse in the Yeoor Hills following a tip that it had been organised through a website for homosexuals. A team, led by deputy police commissioner Bhujangrao Shinde, raided the Agrawal bungalow at Yeoor and detained six persons, including the main organiser, Sahil Bhoricha (24). Liquor bottles and condoms were seized from the bungalow. Entry to Yeoor Hills was restricted during the operation. Ashok Row Kavi of Humsafar Trust, a gay rights group, condemned the action as unfair, given that all the men detained were adults and were not found violating any law. A magistrate denied the police custody of those arrested. Organisers of the party had placed an advertisement on the internet and also circulated an SMS, inviting guests to Sahil’s ‘birthday party’, said police officials. The ad said the registration fee would be Rs 450 and Rs 500 would be the additional entry fee. "About 82 persons had registered for the party. We had even planted one of our own men there," said Shinde.

Based on information from nearby residents, the police swung into action by inspecting vehicles at a checkpost on the road leading to Yeoor. A person transporting a music system to the venue was intercepted. Subsequently, he led them to the place where Sahil and four others were present. According to API Madhukar Kumbhar, Sahil claimed it was his birthday party and that he had invited his friends over. The bungalow had been hired for Rs 6,000. "We found that it was not his birthday and neither was he able to give a satisfactory explanation for organising the party," said Kumbhar. A search revealed that the group had stocked up on snacks, cold drinks and condoms; the liquor was found hidden outside the house in a nearby bush. All six persons, including a watchman, were taken into custody, but subsequently released. Police had sought to book and arrest the group for possession of liquor without a permit, but a magistrate denied them custody.

"There’s something objectionable in the way the police—instead of going after terrorists and thieves—are going after innocent people," said Ashok Row Kavi. "What’s the big deal? These boys were all adults and were taking a crate of beer to a party in a private place. It’s unfair that you barge in. Besides, carrying condoms isn’t a sin," he added.

There were complaints that the police action had caused much inconvenience to guests at hotels and clubs as all vehicles headed towards Yeoor were stopped and searched during the evening.

05 February 2008

Police raid private house party near Mumbai

by News Editor
Indian gay web sites and email groups are abuzz with chatter after Thane police raided a private party and arrested six men on Saturday night. While some are concerned that the raid might be part of a larger crackdown, a prominent member of a gay group has called on the community to calm down and not retreat into their closets. According to the Times of India, six people including the main organiser has been detained after the police planted an undercover police officer amongst party goers at a Yeoor Hills house located in Thane, a city in the northeastern outskirts of Mumbai.
The Times reported that police had seized liquor bottles and condoms from the bungalow which had been rented for the event. An entry of Rs 500 (US$12) was payable on top of a Rs 450 registration fee. Details of the party was allegedly advertised on a gay web site and circulated via SMS. The police told the media that about 82 people had registered for the party via the web site.

On the evening, the police set up a checkpoint to search vehicles heading towards Yeoor and intercepted a person transporting a music system to the venue. The six were taken into custody, but subsequently released after a magistrate denied the police custody as they sought to book and arrest the group for possession of liquor without a permit. The Times quoted activist Ashok Row Kavi of Humsafar Trust, a gay rights group, as condemning the police action – given that all the men detained were adults and were not found violating any law. "There’s something objectionable in the way the police—instead of going after terrorists and thieves—are going after innocent people," said Ashok Row Kavi. "What’s the big deal? These boys were all adults and were taking a crate of beer to a party in a private place. It’s unfair that you barge in. Besides, carrying condoms isn’t a sin," he added.

According to, one publication printed the names and faces of those arrested.

Vikram Doctor of Gay Bombay, a social group for gay men which communicates via a web site and egroup, posted a lengthy email to clarify the situation and urged members of the community to “calm down.” “There’s a nexus between the media and some policemen, and some papers and channels sensationalise the news,” Vikram was quoted as saying on He wrote in an email, “What is really disturbing is that some of the media people who were around then quite freely came into the police station and took their pictures and seemed to be all ready to make a big story out of it all.” Vikram, who is an openly gay journalist and food critic, noted that several TV channels including Sahara, IndiaLive and Aajtak aired news of the raid while NDTV did not air the footage although they had possession of it.

“We heard that at one point one of the TV channel reporters suggested stripping one of the guys so that it would make for a better TV shot,” he said in the email. He urged party organisers to get themselves a liquor permit as in a case like this one where the “police really could not find anything substantiable to charge these guys under, they resorted to the most basic one – charging them under the Prohibition act for not having a permit.”

While some members of the Mumbai (Bombay) gay community are said to be in a state of panic after news of the raid and arrests, Vikram’s advice is for the community to be vigilant but not retreat into the closet. “When we’re scared because of events like this, our automatic reaction is to go back into our closets and cut off all gay contacts because that seems the safe thing to do. And in the short run maybe it is, but in the long run it’s not. Because we still have to lead our lives, we still have to meet friends, have fun, just get on with things and going into the closet doesn’t help with any of that. So the question you should be asking is not whether you can risk going to parties again – but whether you can risk not going!”

Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code criminalises ‘sexual offences against the order of nature’ including sexual relations between men. If convicted, one may face up to ten years imprisonment and a fine.

Bollywood stars speak out against raid and Section 377

On Feb 5, the Mumbai Mid-Day newspaper online quoted 19 male and female Bollywood stars including Riya Sen, Aryan Vaid and Neetu Chandra who condemned the police action and expressed their support for gays to be treated equally. The scathing article strongly criticised the raid and arrests in a sarcastic tone: "Police detained six people on the shocking crime of having stocked snacks, drinks and condoms!" "In a time when rapes and murders are going unsolved, we hear of a team of police officers planting spies, intercepting traffic and blocking roads to stop a private party! Should laws pertaining to homosexuality be revised? Shocked Bollywood reacts." Aryan Vaid, an actor, model and writer said: "My closest friends are gay and I’m constantly socialising with them. Gay people are an integral part of our society. We need to accept that, and accommodate them. Sexual bias is as bad as any other bias that plagues our society. What happened on Saturday night is draconian and ugly. What right did the cops have to stop a private party?"

International Herald Tribune

February 15, 2008

First transsexual celebrity, Rose, makes a TV debut

by By Amelia Gentleman
India’s newest talk show host, billed as the local answer to Oprah Winfrey, hitched up her sari and looked for her stylist’s approval. "Very feminine. You look gorgeous, like a goddess," he said, smiling reassuringly, as he plaited a garland of fresh jasmine into her hair. "The sari is the most flattering garment. It disguises manly shoulders, takes attention away from a masculine neck," he added, as the final touches to makeup were made in the studio dressing room, minutes before cameras started rolling on the first session.

A complex procedure even for experienced hands, sari tying is a particularly fraught process for Rose, formerly Ramesh Venkatesan, whose mother never taught her the skill and refuses to see her wear one. The result was flawless. When it is broadcast to an audience of up to 64 million people in the southern state of Tamil Nadu this month, "Ippadikku Rose" (Yours, Rose) is expected to cause a sensation, introducing India’s first transsexual celebrity to television. The show’s director, Anthony Thirunelveli, said the half-hour show was conceived as family viewing but would discuss issues of sex and sexuality, confronting "hush-hush, under the carpet subjects."

The first nine episodes that finish recording this weekend will tackle, among other things, divorce, sex in India’s call centers and sexual harassment. The main attraction will be Rose herself, the supremely poised, 28-year-old, U.S.-educated, former Web site designer, with a masters in biomedical engineering, who started wearing women’s clothes full-time four years ago and who is still waiting for acceptance from her family and society at large.

If nothing else, the show will start to propel India’s downtrodden community of transsexuals, or hijras, into the mainstream. Known as the third sex, most are born male but see themselves as women. Hijras appear in positive roles in ancient Indian mythology, but modern society has tended to be less tolerant. The majority are shunned by their families, find it impossible to get conventional jobs, and turn instead to begging and sex work for a living.

"Transgenders in India are seen as immoral and evil. I will break that image by being articulate, intelligent and a bit like the girl next door," Rose, said, calmly leafing through the script of her first show – an interview with a prostitute about her recently published autobiography. "This is a radical development. There have been transsexuals in Indian movies, but always as the object of ridicule or as villains. This is the first time in the history of Indian television that a transgender person has been featured as a television anchor." Pradeep Milroy Peter, the head of programming at STAR Vijay television, a Tamil-language channel owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., acknowledged feeling nervous about how the show would be received.

"We don’t know how much acceptance there will be. We are crossing our fingers," he said, straining to make himself heard as builders, electricians and lighting technicians hurried to finish building the set (a white sofa on a female symbol lit up with green neon lights, set against the circular, arrowed male symbol, in pink neon). "The market has a craving for talk shows, but this one comes with a difference. It’s very experimental."

His anxieties are understandable. In a country where the boundaries of sexual tolerance are shifting daily, there is still much uncertainty and unpredictability about the position of the line between acceptability and offense. Fashion television was briefly banned for showing too much flesh, a film star’s career lay in ruins after comments that appeared to condone pre-marital sex, and fringe political groups like nothing better than to whip up moral outrage. The channel was not searching for controversy, but executives were so impressed by Rose’s immense screen presence and confidence, and her determination to fight prejudice, that they agreed instantly to allow her to be host of her own show, despite her lack of experience.

"People here will not openly let transsexuals into their homes," Rose, who now goes by only one name, said, revealing that she had deliberately isolated herself from college friends and neighbors to avoid rejection. Her middle-class parents threw her out when she announced to a group of 40 family members, gathered to agree on a suitable bride for her, that she was not interested in women. "I’d already grown my hair long and had laser treatment for my facial hair, but they were still hoping I’d act like a boy. There was utter silence when I told them," she said. For a while she supported herself, working as an American-accent trainer in a call center, but her contract was not renewed when she started dressing as a woman. In the hustling streets of Chennai she is always stared at, sometimes abused.

Recently she has returned to live with her parents, but the pressure to conform remains strong. "They are like, ‘O.K., you are a transsexual, but don’t dress like that at home and please get married.’ " There is quiet hostility to the chat show project from her mother, who still hides Rose’s dresses and jewelry whenever she gets a chance. Only her grandmother gave her blessings on the morning shooting started. Rose was careful to point out that attitudes were no less hostile in the United States where she spent three years studying at Louisiana Tech University. "There, people were aggressively homophobic. America is very hypocritical when it comes to its stand on sexual minorities," she said. "Historically India was very progressive about this until the British came and imposed a Victorian sense of morality, which still remains."

Editing the program will be a delicate, tip-toed dance around invisible frontiers. "The show will be ground-breaking, but we have to think about our audience. South Indians are very reserved, very conservative," said Peter, the STAR Vijay executive. Sex before marriage might be discussed, but only in the context of college graduates, not anyone younger. Gay rights would be tackled in the abstract, but not gay relationships. Rose said she had no desire to shock, but just hoped she would be watched. "As a person, I am very open, but this is a big television channel which goes out to millions of people. We don’t want any bad reaction," she said.

She felt it would be fine to talk about hormone therapy, and her upcoming sex change operation, but criticizing marriage, for example, was still too big a taboo to contemplate. "If you were to ask me, I would say that marriage is unnatural and causes most of the problems in married people’s lives," Rose said. "But marriage is such an established concept in Indian life, I won’t be able to question it. I don’t want to frighten people away, I want to reach out to them."

Daily News and Analysis

February 17, 2008

Foreign gay couples seek surrogate moms in India

by Siddhartha D Kashyap/Abhishek Kumar Chand
In-vitro fertilisation experts say they’re getting many more enquiries, both from India and abroad

Pune: “Hello! We’d like to find out if we could get a surrogate to bear a child for us in India. We’re a male same-sex couple who’ve been together for 9 years. We are not rich, but we lead a comfortable and happy life. At present, we both work, but once the baby comes, one of us will stay home to watch the children.” An in-vitro fertilisation expert in the city had no idea how to respond to this inquiry. Pune doctors say there has been an increasing number of inquiries from gay couples, from India as well as abroad, wanting to know if they can hire a womb. According to Dr Shehbaaz Daruwala, director of a Pune fertility centre, it’s not only career-conscious women, but gay couples have started scouting for surrogate mothers too. “Of late, I have been receiving a number of inquiries same sex couples,” he says.

Another IVF expert says she got an email from a gay couple in Europe, wanting to know if both partners could give their sperm to the same egg donor. “We want our children to have a genetic link through the donor,” Brett, one of the partners, wrote. “Ideally we would like for the egg donor to be willing to meet the children at some stage so they can meet the lady whose uterus they came from. We think this may also be good for the children’s mental well-being,” they wrote, explaining that there were many children with gay parents in the area where they live, “so these children fit in well with kids here. We have the support of our families, so our children would be surrounded by lots of love.”

IVF consultant Sunita Tandulwadkar says even single men and women, some of whom are foreigners, have made inquiries with doctors in Pune, exploring the possibility of surrogacy. “Earlier, we usually had cases of women who could not have children due to medical reasons, or career-conscious women; but now the trend seems to have changed,” she says. She points out that such inquiries are not entertained. “I refuse any such request because I personally believe in ethical medical procedures, taking into account the overall growth and development of the child. Unfortunately, same-sex couple adoption may not provide enough for the maturity of the infant,” she says. Daruwala, however, has a different take on the issue, “Though most enquiries are made on the phone or over email, because of the social stigma attached to same-sex surrogacy, it is commendable that these couples are coming forward. This proves that society is changing and there is greater awareness among them,” he says. “Personally, I don’t see the need for the government to take any concrete steps until the relationship between these couples is recognised.”

One reason for the increasing number of inquiries from abroad, doctors feel, is that Pune is known for its medical infrastructure. “The city has been doing quite well in terms of medical tourism, and we have had quite a few cases of surrogacy in the past,” says Daruwala. Medical experts, however, say they are hesitant about social implications related to bringing up children once the couples return to their countries. “There are some grey areas and the law still seems unclear,” said an IVF expert, referring to an email request where the couple wanted to know whether “the genetic father’s name would be penned on the birth certificate of the child if the baby were born in India?”

February 19, 2008

Gay and accepted in Bangalore

by Vicky Nanjappa in Bangalore
Ten years back, it would have been hell if ever you happened to mention the word ‘gay’ in Bangalore. However, now things are different and the trend is changing. Chandan (name changed) says that he can today walk freely in Bangalore with his boyfriend. Eyebrows are raised, but the shock is less compared to what it used to be 10 years back, when he first came to the city in search of a job from Mumbai, he says. From a solitary group known as ‘As Good As You’ for the gay community, the city has grown leaps and bounds in this department.
As of today there are at least 11 communities for homosexuals in Bangalore. Initially, there were just around 10 members in this community who used to meet every fortnight secretly.

Today there are several voluntary organisations such as Swabhava and Sangama working with the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender community. These organisations claim that their membership has gone up at least five times in the past couple of years These organisations organise rallies, dharnas and film festivals regularly in which awareness is created. Such events help people who are confused come out in the open and share their feelings more openly says one of the workers at this NGO. Sahaya, a helpline for the sexual minority, says that it receives at least 15 calls everyday. Says a worker at Sahaya, "The helpline aims at helping people who are confused about their sexuality. At Sahaya guidance is given to such people and help is offered to speak more openly about it.

Reasons: What exactly has changed in Bangalore? This used to be a city where boys never walked openly with their girlfriends fearing that they may get caught by their parents or relatives. There has been a constant change in the social fibre of the city, which has prompted people to come out more openly about their feelings. People are talking more openly about their sexual preferences and also meeting in the open.

"It is not a sin and we have been made to realise this through all the NGOs working for the betterment of our community. I do agree that Bangalore is opening up more compared to what it was 10 years back. The culture is more Western now and most of the people we find on the roads of Bangalore today are wearing an entirely new culture," says Raghu. Raghu says their community must thank the modernisation of Bangalore due to the advent of the IT industry and the BPO culture. These guys work in a very westernised set up and have a broader way of thinking. Constantly interacting with customers overseas have made them change their approach. They have started realising that the gay community does not comprise sinners. It is a way of life for some, they have also realised.

Sudhir (name changed) says that he was working at New Delhi three years back before he moved in Bangalore. He says Bangalore is more open about homosexuality aspect and also adds that in New Delhi it still continues to be frowned upon. He feels that Bangalore is a more tolerant city and nobody is going to punish you if you are gay. He also adds that a city which is tolerant towards women automatically is more tolerant towards the gay community. He also says that it was pretty touching to know that Bangalore has hosted Hijra Habbas (Hijra festivals). Such events help us come out in the open and discuss with other members regarding the kind the problems we face and how to cope with life, says Sudhir.

The Law: There is a growing misconception among the people that indulging in homosexuality is an offence. Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code deals with punishment for unnatural sex. The law clearly states that the section would be applicable only if unnatural sex is forced upon someone. However, it would not be an offence if two consenting adults indulge in it.

The worry: Even as Bangalore comes to terms with its rising gay population there is now a growing concern of HIV among this community. The HIV sentinel surveillance country report by National Aids Control Organisation and National Institute of Health and Family Welfare states that 19.2 per cent of the gay population in Bangalore is infected with HIV. The figure in Pune is? 23.6 per cent while in Mumbai and Chennai it is 7 and 4 per cent respectively. There is a growing concern regarding this problem and if not taken care of immediately the only chance is that the numbers will grow in the coming years. The NGOs say that awareness is being spread among the people, especially the illiterate class regarding the problem and they are hopeful that they would be able to get rid of this problem.

March 1, 2008

Employability of Eunuchs

by Ms. G. Barani , Lecturer (SS)
Department of Management Studies
Kongu Arts and Science College
Erode-638 107

Reservation: The most powerful word in the political agenda.

Today everyone is talking about 33% reservation for women and need for reservation for the scheduled castes, tribes and other minority communities. Silently, a strange group of people are fading away from the society’s view.

Are we aware of it? Who are they?

The Eunuchs- the Trans genders- the third sex- the kothis- the Hirja’s.

Whatever be the name, they are one species of the HUMAN race who are born with a male physique and grow with a female psyche.

So, is this their problem?

Of course not! It is the game played by nature during the maturity stage of the male sex. Purely the male sex. This is the stage when they enter into the stage of severe conflict about their own identity and carried away by an urge for a new identity, yet denied any kind of social support. This so happens in their adolescence that they are so cruelly treated by their own parents, teachers and friends thus making them run away from their abodes.

Then another pain starts when they start seeking for a group of their own identity. When they join the group of eunuchs for social support, they need to take up a gender transformation surgery (process of removing the male genital organs). Since this kind of surgery is still not legally recognized, they are done in the most haphazard manner i.e., other eunuchs (Guru amma) performing it in the most unhygienic conditions. No anesthetics- no theaters. The surgery is over. One can here realize the pain a eunuch is undergoing during and after the process of this surgery. If at all some private hospitals do such a surgery, they charge a handsome amount as it is against the law.

When people long for recognition, they are the ones who do not want to be or dwell in the fear of being identified. It is because of the wrong projection of these transgenders by the media. How do we come to know about them?

* Clapping their hands
* Asking for money
* Making odd movements
* Unusual dressing

Are they just this? How do they live? What kind of security does this society or Government offers them? This is a question left unanswered so long. Because they are totally ignored by the society, these eunuchs are pushed into a state of taking up sex work or begging as their means for livelihood that too under severe harassment of the Gundas and the police.

When they are out of their homes, if at all they have any,

* How do they travel?
* Do they get a seat?
* Which toilet will they use?
* Whom will they marry?
* Who will protect them in their final days?

These are some issues that pester the ultimate existence of the transgenders. Should they go through such a pain for the biological craziness? Why do we- educated, supposed to be rational human beings- absolutely ignore the existence of the third sex? When we know that there is a third sex, why don’t the columns in application forms carry an extra word in the column of sex? Just because of this issue these people are devoid of

* Their citizenship rights
* Property rights
* Human rights
* Right to vote
* Eligibility for passport
* Obtaining driving license
* Ration card
* Opening a bank account
* Enjoying any Government scheme

Since this exploitation starts at the schools itself, they fear to face such an environment, thus discontinuing their studies. So no education- no job- no earning – no savings. How do we expect them to live? Because they are eunuchs, they need to pay more house rentals and face many such problems.

Today, there is a positive trend in the functioning of the eunuchs. Irrespective of the physical, mental and financial problems, they have started organizing themselves into associations to fight for their rights. Gone are the days, when eunuchs wanted to hide their identity. Now, they are bold enough to organize themselves into open social groups. They are involved in spreading HIV awareness, female infanticide and such other socially sensitive issues.

Many NGO’s have come to their rescue and one can find a eunuch owning a grocery or a garment shop, running a dance troop or having a tiny KVIC unit. But this is happening only in few areas of this vast country. An attempt to quantify the problems and possibilities for improvement through structured questionnaire adopted in a usual academic style had a slapping effect. Such an attempt clearly explained their difficulties in answering, what we think are basic demographic questions. E.g.: what is your occupation?

So a need for a more sensitive approach in exploring these issues is required. The Government, NGO’s and academicians should start focusing their attention on addressing the needs of the third sex. Otherwise, this will lead to every ones unconscious participation in a great social injustice. Let it be domestic work or business, the eunuchs have great potentials that is waiting to be exploited. As academicians, we should strive to work for the advancement of this gender through:

1. Right projection to the students
2. Exploring opportunities and suggesting possibilities to the policy makers.

Academic research and Government actions have always gone hand in hand.

Let us be good HR’s in the real sense.

6th March 2008

Call for action against bogus AIDS cures

by staff writer
A leading human rights group has called on the United Nations to act against the proliferation of unproven treatments for AIDS. An article published in the peer-reviewed journal Globalisation and Health, Human Rights Watch cited examples of the promotion of these remedies in countries as diverse as Zambia, Mexico, South Africa, Thailand, India, and Zimbabwe.

Human Rights Watch says the UN and its member states are failing to address serious threats to life and health posed by the promotion of unproven AIDS ‘cures’ and by counterfeit antiretroviral drugs. "Fake cures have been promoted since AIDS was first identified," said Joseph Amon, HIV/AIDS programme director at Human Rights Watch and author of the article. "In the era of expanded antiretroviral treatment programmes, the failure of governments to monitor these false claims and ensure accurate information about life-saving antiretroviral drugs undermines global efforts to fight AIDS."

In Gambia in February 2007 President Yahya Jammeh claimed to have developed a herbal cure for AIDS that was effective in three days if people taking the treatment discontinued taking antiretroviral drugs and refrained from alcohol, caffeine, and sex. Following the announcement, Gambian journalists who criticised the so-called cure were fired, and the UN resident coordinator in Gambia, Fadzai Gwaradzimba, was permanently expelled for asking for scientific proof of the treatment’s effectiveness. Last week the Gambian government announced with much fanfare that Jammeh had been awarded an honorary degree in Herbal and Homeopathic medicine by the Brussels-based Jean Monnet European University. In accepting the degree, Jammeh announced that he had discovered cures for obesity and impotence, adding to his previously declared ‘cures’ for infertility, diabetes, and asthma.

Also in 2007, the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, announced the discovery of IMOD (an abbreviation for immuno-modulator drug), a herbal AIDS treatment made from seven local Iranian herbs. The government has promoted the drug as a "therapeutic vaccine" and as the "first choice" for treatment in resource-constrained developing countries. The President’s Office for Technology Cooperation has also promoted the remedy and sought partners for joint marketing, clinical trials, and manufacturing.

According to news reports in November 2007, the Iranian Minister of Health and Medical Education stated that all patients with
advanced HIV disease – more than 1,500 overall – would be treated with IMOD.

"Countries are gambling with the lives of people living with HIV by promoting unproven AIDS remedies,” said Mr Amon. "The UN should condemn this practice and work with governments and civil society groups to ensure that effective AIDS treatment and information about it are provided.

7th March 2008

India gets first trans TV host

by Lucy Durnin
A transgender person is to host a controversial new talk show in India.
Ippadikku Rose is anchored by 28-year old Rose from Madras (Chennai). The first episode aired on Thursday and tackled the issue of sexual harassment against women.Later shows plan to deal with other topics that are socially taboo in India such as gay rights, sexual abuse and prostitution.

In an interview with the BBC World Service’s Outlook programme Rose said: "I expect a lot of positive reaction to the choosing of me as an anchor. The early response to the show has been good."Rose, who studied for a master’s degree in biomedical engineering in the US, previously worked as a web site designer and did not start dressing as a woman until her early 20s, despite feeling uncomfortable as a boy since the age of five. Even though she is now set for TV stardom, her life has been difficult since she transitioned, particularly as some of her family are still not willing to support her decision.

"Not all of them have welcomed me with open hands. My mum was shattered, my dad burst out into tears and was full of sorrow." When she returned to India after studying in the US, her family looked at marriage as a "possible solution" to try and change her. Transsexuals are known as ‘hijras’ in India and although they were traditionally surrounded by superstition and myth, modern society has been less tolerant of them. Many are shunned by their families are struggle to obtain conventional jobs, instead turning to begging and prostitution to earn a living.

Rose has also suffered public ridicule and physical abuse, but remains optimistic that her show will change society’s attitudes towards transgender people and portray them in a more positive light. Her story is similar to that of Ali Saleem, the drag performer who hosts The Late Show With Begum Nawazish Ali in Pakistan. Saleem, a 28-year-old actor who portrays the Begum, has broken nearly all the taboos in the largely conservative landscape of Pakistani television. He modelled the character on an aristocratic widow of an army colonel, and the middle-aged glamorous hostess now presides over a top-rated programme on the fledgling channel, Aaj.

And as Begum (‘Madam’ in Urdu) Nawazish Ali, she is famed for her risque monologues and combative interviews with famous Pakistani politicians and celebrities. Her sly digs at Pakistani politics are also frequent topics of conversations amongst the urban elite, whilst her sharp dress sense such as sequined blouses has made her a style icon amongst women.

March, 2008

The matter of identity Does identity matter?

Few debates are as weighted down with jargon and insider terminology as those involving sexuality. But how is this affecting those at the centre of these dialogues?

by Cath Sluggett
The discussion of sexual desire as sexual ‘identity’ in LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) intellectual and activist circles is something that is argued with rather than argued about. For example, the neo-colonial implications of imposing Western terminology (gay, lesbian, etc) have long been discussed in multiple forums. The same is true for the tension created by articulating purportedly historical Hindu versions of same-sex identities. But in the midst of all of this, to what extent has there been any true engagement with the broader question of whether sexual identity, per se, is socially understandable in Southasia? Is the wider population really thinking about sexual identities, its own or that of others? If not, this would inevitably have far-reaching implications for advancing rights for same-sex relationships within a framework of ‘identity’. This line of questioning is well worth pursuing in the current context, when even the act of men and women dancing together can be perceived all over the region as ‘breaking down’ the moral fabric of society.

For the unassuming woman or man attracted to her or his own sex, to come suddenly into contact with ‘the community’ and the obtuse pantheon that makes up ‘LGBT speak’, albeit in English, is rather like learning a new alphabet. Abruptly and unquestioningly, the old human emotion of desire is being discussed as ‘types’ of people. Sexual behaviours are being elevated to ‘lifestyles’, and phrases such as ‘coming out’, ‘in the closet’ and ‘queer visibility’ begin to leap out from all directions. What do ‘same-sex-desiring’ people make of these concepts buzzing around them? More to the point, as these concepts slowly percolate into familiar parlance, what purpose does this terminology serve? Last year, this writer began to think over some of these questions with the aim of discussing them with a group of same-sex-desiring women in Bangalore and Delhi. The aim of this study was to understand how this cross-section of women relates to the idea of a ‘lesbian identity’. During initial discussions, I was met with a series of blank looks. A gay activist friend told me that unless the LGBT community talks about sexual desire among people of the same sex, there would be no end to the injustices felt by people with same-sex desire. Naming of same-sex desire is the first step towards making things better for lesbians and gays in India, he said. ‘Visibility’, he emphasised, is needed in order for rights to be attained – at least, this is the claim. Indeed, visibility and rights seem to be the overarching framework for LGBT debates (see accompanying story, “Visibility versus privacy”).

I had always assumed the language of rights to be a powerful one, on which we could always hang our sorrows. But in the current context, this tool also began to seem as perhaps the least useful for dealing with what seemed to be the primary concern of women in same-sex relationships: how to minimise hurt to their families when confronted with “different” daughters. The rhetoric of rights is clearly a convenient and acceptable language, one that serves an important purpose for activists engaging with the state. Issues of lifestyle and ‘personhood’ are significantly more acceptable than are matters of sexual activity. But by what mandate do activists speak on behalf of a population of women who desire women, and who has consented to this? Perhaps the reality of the situation could be that women do not really feel marginalised, or at least to the extent that the activists are suggesting; perhaps, in fact, they prefer to be identified by something other than with respect to those with whom they have sex.

A survey of conference papers, support-group reports, scholarly papers and the like overwhelmingly demonstrates a view, almost completely taken for granted, that same-sex desire is certainly experienced as identity. Indeed, in the rhetoric of NGOs, the boundaries of an identity discourse are created in such a way that only certain things can ever be said. For example, it is legitimate to reiterate that silence and ‘invisibility’ – two terms widely bandied about in this context – are harmful to a woman’s self and the development of her relationships. Yet, these are clearly not black-and-white issues. Further, any notion that either of these elements could in some way enable women is readily dismissed, largely because it does not mesh with what is generally understood to be the central point: the empowerment of women. One way or another, however, these diverse viewpoints have indeed been submitted by such notable scholars and feminist activists as Abha Bhaiya, Kanchana Natarajan and Maya Sharma. These activists emphasise experience over rhetoric, and are rich in explanation for the complex ways in which women move through their daily lives in relation to their sexuality, as well as with regards to the many layers of social space with which they deal.

Call yourself a lesbian?
Seeking to explore these questions, the sample for this study (the full version of which is available with the author) included individual interviews with 15 women in Bangalore and Delhi between the ages of 20 and 53, whose incomes ranged from INR 3000 to INR 100,000 per month. Some of the women had been part of sexuality-based support groups in the past, but the critical factor here was their same-sex desire. The sample further included a focus group with 15 additional women who are current members of a lesbian and bisexual women’s support group, as well as three key interviewees chosen for their connections with sexuality groups in the selected cities.
One significant finding had to do with the relationship, or lack thereof, between the individuals in this group and the term lesbian. Despite being familiar with the word, and despite the fact that most had been part of formal or informal support groups at some point, none of the women stated that a lesbian ‘identity’ was an intrinsic part of their selves. Nor did they use the word as a self-reference that formed part of what they considered their ‘meaning’ as a person.

According to one viewpoint (including this writer’s), identity is constructed rather than a given. For some in this group, the refusal of a lesbian identity had to do with the connotation of the word itself. Echoing the popular notion in India of a lesbian as a hyper-sexualised woman – one who sleeps around, rather than one who sleeps with women – the word was associated with the classical ‘characterless’ woman, a construct of female sexuality as ‘dirty’ and ‘immoral’. It also seemed to suggest segregation from the mainstream, or being treated as a person with a problem. In this regard, lesbian even turned out to be a word that made one woman feel “invisible”, in that its connotations inherently put up a wall between a woman and what was considered ‘normal’. For others, the negation of a lesbian identity was not in the word, but rather in questioning that the sexual should constitute a large part of any identity in the first place. The expectations of an unchanging sexual identity were considered confining. The perspective that sex and sexuality are supposed to be relatively private issues only further solidified the argument in these women’s minds. Labelling oneself by sexual identity, it was felt, is an inherently public act. On the other hand, a few women (who were English-speaking) said that they were “more comfortable” with being called gay, as it sounded more “friendly”. Again, however, this was not articulated as an integral identity. (With the exception of one interviewee, an activist, the identity of ‘queer’ held no particular meaning.)

In contrast to subjective identity, women saw lesbian as a ‘deployable’ term, something that could be ‘put on’ for specific gains. In various places, the term could be used to gain entry; to receive group acceptance; to gain employment in sexuality-based organisations; or as a ‘handy’ term to facilitate meeting other women, for instance on the Internet. Some women said they called themselves lesbians to emphasise the issue in a political sense, but also noted that they did so only in ‘safe’ zones, not in situations where they might be harshly judged or risk losing emotional support, popularity or job security. The veracity of this mindset played out right in the midst of our discussions. Those working in sexuality-based organisations appeared, on face value, to embrace a lesbian identity during our talks. As the session progressed, however, it became evident that this woman’s ‘performance’ of a lesbian identity was in confluence with the foregrounding of this identity by the NGO. Identifying as a lesbian was expected to introduce one’s sexual identity to the group or to outsiders, whereas outside of the organisation this ‘identity’ was perceived as dangerous.

Knowing silences
The ‘NGO-ised’ portrayal of silence and invisibility has been remarkably unwavering in projecting these phenomena exclusively as denial, as refusal, as ignoring something important – and, ultimately, amounting to violence. These accounts of invisibility give the impression that lesbian women are oppressed by the social contexts in which they live, and try to legitimise the claim that little more than ‘visibility’ is necessary to redress the oppression. But not only does this perspective obscure actual needs, it prevents an understanding of what women actually do with silence and invisibility in their everyday lives – and how they often benefit from these elements.
An important finding of this study was that many women reported being happy with the silence and invisibility of their sexual relationships. Rather than silence being thought of as purely obstructive, women often described ‘knowing’ silences – for instance, the many occasions on which family members or friends indicate a tacit knowledge of their sexual relationships, without it being explicitly discussed. Through such knowing silences, a same-sex relationship can be quietly supported, and a greater understanding can potentially be achieved – a partner’s health can be enquired about, for instance. Gestures of affection can also be made, such as including a partner in family gatherings, or making her favourite food. As one woman noted about her extended family, “Love and friendship … for my partner is very clearly recognised. What is not recognised is the ‘bonking’ [sex]. So I don’t think it matters”.

Ultimately, women can capitalise upon knowing silences, thus enabling them access to privacy for intimacy even within their parents’ home. In our discussions, several women spoke of how partners could stay at home with them, and family members could develop fondness for their partners. Thus, it appears that the thoroughly conventional space of the family, so often thought of as a ‘danger zone’ in such situations, can actually allow women to draw support from it, and some women are able to act upon their sexual desire within this conventional situation. Likewise, invisibility – or not being ‘seen’ as a lesbian – has long been considered a double predicament for lesbian women. According to this line of reasoning, invisibility compounds the notion that family and society conspire to negate lesbian relationships, and does not allow a public space for them. However, in this study the women talked about how elements of invisibility are significantly more complex. They articulated how, with family, neighbours and landlords, and in public situations, others perceive their relationships in the context of friendship, acknowledging that this offers considerable opportunity for relationships to flourish. As one woman in the support group said, a desexualised understanding of her relationship “is a nice thing because you have enough space to let this relationship grow stronger; whereas if there was a boy, [friends and family] would always be keeping an eye on you.”

In such a situation, the experience of invisibility is far from the ‘violence’ it is often purported to be. Rather, it is something to be welcomed, in certain situations at least, in the way that it works in tandem with the social constructs of sexuality. Unmarried women are problematic for a family, but in fact this ‘honour’ rests merely on the risk of bearing illegitimate children. As such, this social reality works to create favourable conditions for women to associate with other women more freely. For this reason, every one of the women in our discussions expressed delight in the desexualised understanding referred to above, one that offers a cover under which to express physical affection with their partners in public, without encountering any untoward reaction. Given a societal preoccupation with heterosexual marriage in a culture that strictly regulates and monitors women’s sexuality, invisibility often enables women to live together unfettered, unlike heterosexual couples who are not married. Nonetheless, there does remain in place the longstanding contention that silence and invisibility constitute a type of violence, an idea that has inevitably led to the discussion of lesbians as victims. Indeed, in our group there were several women who readily placed themselves into this recognisable and familiar position. Thus, individual victim accounts are transformed into a notion of ‘truth’ by the LGBT movement, something that becomes emblematic of the status of things within the movement in general. These accounts have the effect of stereotyping lesbian women, ultimately leaving them with little or no room for emancipatory politics.

De-linking ‘identity’
Given its small size, the intent of the study was not to generalise, but rather to emphasise the existence of multiple perspectives. Given that women themselves articulate coexisting – and at times directly competing – viewpoints, multiple perspectives become crucial in developing a greater understanding of inherently subjective topics such as sexuality and identity. First and foremost, the discussions that we held point to the absence of the ‘lesbian identity’ – not just among the women with whom we talked, but also with regards to the idea of sexual identity itself in the larger social imagination. In the end, it appears that it is the LGBT discourse, rather than society at large, that is responsible for bringing the ‘lesbian subject’ into being.

The lack of enthusiasm among the women in the study in embracing a lesbian identity has serious potential implications, for the LGBT movement and for women in general. For the latter, the politics of identity and visibility signify a closure of the current places in which women’s relationships have the opportunity to flourish. On the other hand, in order for LGBT activism to grow into a broad-based movement, rather than one that remains confined to conference halls and workshops, it will be necessary that a synergetic relationship be forged between the ‘movement’ and the women that supposedly make it up. At the moment, after all, not being recognisably ‘lesbian’ means having to put up with less violence in the workplace, on the street, by landlords and neighbours (though this is not, of course, to say that violence cannot happen). Despite the many women in this study who said that they felt no perceived need for special rights, it is likely that this is simply because their sexuality has never led to their being forced to deal with anything untoward. In the end, perhaps these women would indeed express a need for rights, should harm of some sort be done. Currently, without the right to marry, there is no legal remedy available to a same-sex-loving woman whose partner is violent, or who denies her right to joint property in the event of a break-up. Clearly there is a place for rights-based work in this regard. The point to remember, however, is that it is unacceptable to uncritically accept the idea – currently widely disseminated – that visibility is the only route to rights, or that rights necessarily lead to happiness. One way or another, the results of this study show that the latter claim is clearly dubious.

With regards to the former, the following question needs to be asked: Why is visibility of the individual’s desire so crucial for accessing rights? While it is important for the issue to be named and visible, perhaps it is not necessary to link rights directly to identity in the first place. When issues are looked at under the rubric of non-discrimination, they become a responsibility of concerned members of society, rather than the mere agenda of a special-interest group. In the end, perhaps it is possible to map out a strategy for rights without necessarily making the body visible. This could certainly begin with the creation of more flexible spaces, in which to fully examine this idea of a ‘sexuality’ that places the concept of sexual identity above all else.

March, 2008

Visibility versus privacy

These two bedrock strategies of the queer-rights movement make sense separately, but are problematic when pursued simultaneously.

by Oishik Sircar
There are two specific strategies at work in India’s queer-rights movement. On the one hand is an attempt to create and increase the social and cultural visibility of queer people; on the other is the legal challenge to the Indian Penal Code’s archaic Section 377, which criminalises all forms of non-procreative sex. This latter campaign is being promoted on the grounds of the right to privacy. While these two strategies have closely interconnected objectives, each has also been fraught with tension.
The need for creating visibility for queer people arises from an ‘invisibility’ that has been imposed on these communities by the larger society, which contributes to their exclusion from a whole range of human-rights guarantees. The demand for privacy, in turn, is meant to emphasise that what people do in private spaces – for instance, with whom they have sex – is not the business of the state, and cannot be the basis of discrimination. As such, it cannot be grounds for criminalising either the private acts or the persons engaging in them. It was on the basis of the right to privacy that the United Nations Human Rights Committee, in the historic 1994 case of Toonen v Australia, declared that anti-sodomy laws infringe upon human rights. Privacy was also the basis for challenging the controversial 1993 ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy utilised by the armed forces in the United States, as well as for demanding the repeal of Sec 377 in the Indian courts.

At the heart of the visibility-privacy strategies is the understanding of how the law and conservative sexual morality create a distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ sex. Good sex – heterosexual, monogamous and marital – is located in private realms (of family and marriage), and thus is seen to deserve state protection. Bad sex – all forms of non-heterosexual sex – is perforce made public through the operation of criminal law. Sec 377 criminalises all forms of sex that are not specifically for the purpose of making a baby; although this theoretically includes certain forms of heterosexual sex, the law only ever gets used in the case of homosexuals. It is the rigid boundary between the public and the private that the visibility-privacy strategy attempts to challenge. While on the one hand visibility can be looked at as having the potential to bust the legally enforced public-private divide, it is not necessarily the all-encompassing solution that it is often purported to be. The first task is to weigh the potential political ability of visibility to confront the accepted norm of heterosexuality. The second is to measure the costs of this visibility, and in so doing, ask a series of questions: Who is benefiting from this process of increased visibility, and who is losing out? What price does visibility incur? Perhaps most importantly, does visibility really enhance the potential of gaining equality? Furthermore, we need to question whether the claims for visibility and privacy could ultimately work to counter each other, in effect derailing the very objective of rights and recognition for queer people.

The perils of visibility
The emergence of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in India, during the late 1980s, was initially seen as something of a blessing in disguise for the country’s sexually marginalised. Thus far, these communities had been seen by the general public as ‘deviants’ and ‘perverts’, and had been criminalised by the law. Suddenly, however, they had to be viewed through the lens of public health, as well. While on the one hand this was an opportunity to talk publicly about alternative sexualities, it also created a situation of double jeopardy for the sexually marginalised: they were now being looked at as ‘vectors’ of the disease, and being further stigmatised. Previously, they had existed within a culture of secrecy and silence about their identities; now they were being specifically marked as ‘targets’ of HIV/AIDS interventions.
But Indian laws have not guaranteed access to knowledge about safe and responsible sexual practices, nor have they led to discrimination-free HIV/AIDS testing. Instead, criminal law has been used to specifically target gay-rights groups involved in disseminating HIV/AIDS-related information, under the pretext that they are involved in running ‘underground sex rackets’ or ‘gay clubs’, and even contaminating ‘Indian’ culture (see accompanying article, “The revolution will not be funded”). Only recently, in February 2008, the police in Bombay raided a private party and arrested six men. The police crackdown was possible because details of the party are said to have been publicly advertised on a gay website. As such, all of those who were arrested (in this and similar incidents) were paying a price for making themselves visible, in order to make a political statement.

What do such incidents tell us? Clearly, one of the major perils of visibility is the resulting infringement of the right to free speech and action. Interestingly, it is not information about HIV/AIDS or safe sex that has necessarily come under the scanner, but rather information that ‘promotes’ (read: makes public) homosexuality – where, suddenly, their ‘high risk’ health status is transformed into ‘high risk’ criminality. Also, the issue of queer visibility is not merely one that follows the public-private trope; the fact that private gay parties in people’s homes get busted, after all, suggests that, in the eyes of the law, these are public incidents on which the authorities have to clamp down. Thus, both visibility and privacy can be used as justification to criminalise queer association and expression.

The privilege of privacy
There are two ways to read this type of incident. First, we can consider the repercussions of this newfound visibility as a price worth paying. Or, second, we can ask whether the political attempt to gain recognition through visibility has in fact gone awry, perhaps because it has become inextricably linked to issues of health, hygiene, morality and respectability – links that have also been reinforced by the queer movement. One could say that an almost singular engagement with the repeal of Sec 377 by the movement, and accompanying claims around the right to privacy, has led to privacy and visibility working against one another. This has led to an overshadowing of the in-built processes of exclusion within the queer movement.
In 2001, a Delhi-based NGO, the Naz Foundation, filed a petition, still pending in the Delhi High Court, asking for Sec 377 to be ‘read down’, a process that would de-criminalise consensual, adult, private sex. But though ostensibly representative of the entire community of sexually marginalised, the petition in effect restricts legitimacy to sexual acts done in private. The issue here is not whether the petition should have included demands regarding ‘sex in public’, but simply that it is not adequately attentive to the slippery slope of the privacy claim. The fact is that access to private spaces is a matter of privilege, and the result is that the needs of certain groups, such as hijras, are not being included in campaigns by the queer community itself. The claim for decriminalising private sex would respond to the needs of those queer people who can afford a private space. The idea, then, is not to do away with demands for the right to privacy, but to be cautious of whether such claims are based in part on the queer movement’s own in-built hierarchies.

In this way it becomes clear that neither ‘visibility’ nor ‘privacy’ can be thought of as having an unqualified emancipatory potential for all queer people. Instead, there is a need to attend more closely to the differences of caste and class along the queer spectrum. While the law already operates on the basis of a public-private divide, the response of the activist community should be to challenge that imagined divide, rather than reinforce it. That does not mean, however, that there should be no distinction between the public and the private, but rather that the queer movement’s divide should not hinge on class, caste and respectability.

7th March 2008

Trans Indians mark International Women’s Day

by staff writer
A transgender shelter and crisis intervention centre in Kolkata, India is celebrating International Women’s Day tomorrow by launching an awareness campaign.
The home, "Prothama," operates in association with People Like Us (PLUS) Kolkata and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to reach out to young transgender individuals from socially and economically disadvantaged sections of society. The ‘All Equal All Different’campaign hopes to encourage young transgender people to "take control and make decisions" and will be officially launched by the lighting of a candle.

As well as a film screening, there will be an open discussion forum held at the shelter with women from different backgrounds including film makers, social activists, sex trade workers and local female politicians. International Women’s Day has been observed since the early 1900s when 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter working hours, better pay and voting rights. Since then it has been celebrated throughout the world and is even an official holiday in countries such as Armenia, Russia, Bulgaria and Kazakhstan. The tradition sees men honouring the women in their lives with flowers and small gifts and has the equivalent status of Mother’s Day in some parts of the world.

GayBombay Yahoo Group

April 12, 2008

The Queer Media Collective Awards 2008

The Queer Media Collective (QMC) is a group of professional journalists who have come together to use our influence within the industry to lobby aim for a more balanced treatment of gay, lesbian and other queer issues in Indian media and entertainment. This is a recent initiative. We had our first meeting in Mumbai late last year, but everyone was pleasantly surprised how many people came together and how much interest there was in doing something like this. We now have a list with members in Delhi and Bangalore as well, and a wiki which should be up in the next couple of days. If any professional media people would like to be part of this initiative please let me know. The group is discussing several media related initiatives, but we’ve decided to go public with a big one! We felt that as part of this endeavour we should acknowledge the support of those who have helped achieve fair portrayals of queer issues in media and entertainment. And with that in mind we are launching the QMC Awards, in association with the Gaybombay group and the Humsafar Trust.

The QMC members have voted and the winners will be presented the Awards on April 19th in Mumbai at the QMC Awards Function which we’re having in conjunction with the GB party at Liquid Lounge. Wendell Rodricks has very kindly agreed to give out the awards and all the winners have told us that they are honoured to accept them and will do their best to be there!

More details later! Here’s the list of winners for the QMC Awards 2008:

1) Best Newspaper for Queer Coverage and Representation – The Hindustan Times

This was the most strongly contested award, a welcome sign of the generally improved coverage that queer issues is receiving. The final winner was The Hindustan Times. HT has consistently reported well on queer issues, done original, in-depth stories on the queer community and has highlighted these stories on its front page. The one negative which we felt had to be pointed out was the occasional lack of balance in HT’s Cafe supplement. We hope this award will inspire HT Cafe to come up to the high standards set by the main paper.

2) Best Magazine for Queer Coverage and Representation – TimeOut

TimeOut has taken the lead covering the queer community as just a regular part of Indian life. TimeOut Mumbai has had a queer column from the start and TimeOut Delhi has a full queer page. Apart from this it has covered queer artists and performers, done articles on queer events and highlighted queer performances. As TimeOut rolls out across the country, with Bangalore next, we look forward to them taking this enlightened spirit with them.

3) Best TV Channel (News) for Queer Coverage and Representation – NDTV

NDTV has gone out of its way to cover the queer community consistently and with sensitivity. It has done in-depth features and talk shows that brought in a wide range of perspectives with almost none of the stereotypes or sensationalising done by most other channels. The coverage of incidents like the Thane raid have shown us how shameless even well known channels can get in their hunt for ratings. And it makes NDTVs balanced professionalism and sense of responsibility stand out all the more.

4) Best TV Channel (Entertainment) for Queer Coverage and Representation РZee Caf̩

The media does not only consist of news. Entertainment programming is as important, perhaps even more in shaping attitudes. But entertainment channels are often too conservative, too concerned with not rocking cultural boats. So for Zee Café to run with queer themed shows like Will & Grace or those with queer storylines like Six Feet Under and OZ, and not censor these in deference to some imagined `local culture’ is truly admirable and takes us a small, but important step towards changing attitudes.

5) Best Advice Columnist for Queer Coverage and Representation – Dr.Mahinder Watsa in Mumbai Mirror.

Advice columnists offer some of the most direct and widely read discussions on issues of sex and health that are very important for the queer community. Unfortunately our experience with advice columnists has not always been good, but in Dr.Watsa we have acolumnist who is willing to listen and to give sane, non-judgmental advice in his characteristic no-nonsense style. Queries on sexuality are met with the answer that there is nothing wrong in homosexuality, and for further information people are referred to more specialised counsellors such as those at Humsafar. This is probably the best short term advice and we are grateful to Dr.Watsa for giving it.

6) Best Print Journalist for Queer Coverage and Representation – Bachi Karkaria

Bachi Karkaria has been writing on queer issues long before they became fashionable. She has used her very widely read Sunday column to talk about gay friends and the folly of antigay laws. She has also been a pioneer in writing on HIV/AIDS and has been a strong voice against stigmatisation based on HIV status.

7) Best TV Journalist for Queer Coverage and Representation – Barkha Dutt

Barkha Dutt has lead NDTV’s coverage of queer issues with reporting and talk shows on the subject. Just presenting the subject on such a widely viewed platform is important enough, but Dutt has also made it quite clear that she believes the restrictions are absurd and should go soon.

8) Best Treatment of Queer Issues in a Popular Film – Reema Kagti, for Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd.

Bollywood is perhaps the most powerful medium for communication in India, and too many films have used it to put out harmful or mocking views of the queer community. The few films that avoid doing this really stand out and last year no film stood out more than Reema Kagti’s Honeymoon Travels. The film included not one, but two gay plots, both of them handled sensitively and realistically, and with no indulgence in caricatures.

9) Best Documentary/ Film with a Social Message on Queer Issues – The Alternate Sexuality, CNNibn

If its rare for TV to do sensitive, in-depth and balanced shows on queer issues, its unheard of for it do a multiple part series on the subject. But that’s just what CNNibn did in this show. Our thanks are due to Sagarika CNNibn for greenlighting it and for the Special Features team for producing it in such an exemplary way.

10) Queer Newsperson of the Year – Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil, the Rajkumar of Rajpipla.

This award is given for a person who has done a lot to raise queer issues in the media in a personal capacity and also as a commentator. Prince Manvendra has done this despite the considerable personal cost of going public with his story. Most important of all he did so in the vernacular media which is where exposure on queer issues is most needed. In the huge media attention that followed Prince Manvendra handled himself with dignity, conviction and honesty, proving a role model for other queer people. The episode brought him international attention, which put a spotlight on the wider issue of queer rights in India. The fact of Prince Manvendra appearing on famous shows like Oprah in the US lead to further positive media exposure in India. As a result Prince Manvendra is now a spokesperson on queer stories of any kind in the media, a duty he performs with patience and intelligence.


April 18, 2008

Ashok Row Kavi

by TREAT Asia/amFAR
Now 61, Ashok Row Kavi is the first person (and for a long time the only person) to come out as a gay man more than two decades ago and talk about gay rights in India.
The following interview is republished with permission from TREAT Asia/amFAR.

Ashok Row Kavi is the founder of the Humsafar Trust. Based in Mumbai, India, Humsafar is one of the first organizations in India to advocate for the rights of men who have sex with men (MSM) and one of the first and most successful gay and transgender sexual health outreach programs in the country. Under Row Kavi’s direction, Humsafar has taken the lead in developing community-based programs to reduce the vulnerability of MSM to HIV infection and to support its members already living with the virus. Formerly a journalist, the 61-year-old pioneer gay activist now works as a consultant for UNAIDS MSM/TG in New Delhi.

TREAT Asia Report: What is the attitude in India towards homosexuality?

Ashok Row Kavi: In ancient India, transgendered people were recognized by nuns and Buddhists in the monastery as a sacred sexual minority. Throughout the Vedas and in Middle Eastern literature, many texts talk about feminine males. India drifted from its acceptance of homosexuality because of the influence of colonial British education. Accepting homosexuality isn’t something new for India—but we have to recover that tradition. Homosexuality is being normalized in Western societies but not without a bitter fight. It’s going to be a bitter fight here, too, because modern India is a product of many other cultures. Today, the attitude in India toward MSM is conflicted. On the whole, nobody cares about your sexual identity, but they certainly care about your gender identity! Having a feminine gender identity drops a man down the power scale, but this is mostly mitigated if a man adheres to traditional social obligations like getting married and looking after his parents. However, transgendered males can be in serious trouble if they cross dress. Then, one is usually asked to leave his parents’ home and join outside cults such as the hijras, which is the traditional group of transgendered people in India. At least 80 percent of gay men in India are married. If you look at Humsafar, you’ll find more than 40 percent of men who are having sex with other men do not identify as gay. And they’re not always just sleeping with men—those who do not strictly identify as gay have an average of two female partners a month.

TA Report: You are often described as one of the first gay men to come out of the closet in India. What was that experience like?

Kavi: I may be homosexual in a Western sense, but I don’t come from that tradition. I’m trained as a Hindu monk in the Rama Krishna order, and I was in this training when I first came out as a gay man. My counselor in the monastery, who was an older monk himself, said it was my mission to go out into the secular world and organize and work with my people. The monastery and the ashram are not places for you to hide—you need to go and sort it out. So that’s what I’m doing. When you come out in India, gay identity becomes your primary identity. If you come out as an openly homosexual man and refuse to get married to a woman, then your homosexual identity becomes a form of rebellion and attracts a great deal of attention. All the other identities—being a good journalist, for instance—become back-ups. When I came out in 1984, I didn’t realize it would create such a ruckus, but I nearly lost my job. My boss stood by me, though. Fortunately, I had come out to him before I had accepted the job. There were problems among my brothers and their wives, but not my mother—she’s incredible. When I was being attacked by a politician, for instance, she told him to lay off. I’ve had a lot of support as a gay man in India, but going public did affect my job and career prospects.

TA Report: How did you start Humsafar?

Kavi: When I returned to India from Montreal in the late 1980s, I was very worried because gay men were fighting for their very lives in ACT UP. Eighty percent of HIV infections were among gay men at that time—but hardly eight percent of government funding was going to gay organizations! I thought, what would happen in Asia where there were no gay communities, only large networks of men having sex with men? So some of us got together for informal workshops and meetings. We finally decided to form a support system for gay men—that is, gay in the Western sense meaning men who identify themselves primarily as homosexual. (Humsafar has a policy that it will not accept board members who are married because that could divide us politically. So the board consists of unmarried gay men.) Humsafar eventually became the only gay organization in Bombay to be given space by the city government. When we first got started, poorer men from Bombay started coming. Sometimes they had alternative gender or behavioral identities but many were just men having sex with other men. And it grew from there. Last year we provided health services to over 60,000 men. Humsafar has approximately 185 full-time staff, and we reach way across the spectrum of men who have sex with men: gay-identified men, MSM, hijras[transgendered men known as "the third sex"], male prostitutes, and transgendered sex workers. Services start with a drop-in center and offices. We offer counseling over the phone or by appointment. We have a clinic with regular doctors checking for sexually transmitted infections or other illnesses. We have referral services to the public hospitals, Friday meetings, a small library, and a confidential HIV testing and counseling center with same-day results. We also have a massive outreach program that covers more than 150 sites in Bombay, its outskirts, and neighboring towns.

TA Report: What sort of HIV/AIDS treatment services are available to MSM in India?

Kavi: Some doctors will test for sexually transmitted infections, but they are very inquisitive about sexual behavior and suspicious of MSM. The women and children get the HIV drugs first; gay men and hijras don’t get treatment. India is the only country where transgendered men can get a passport under a third sex and yet they can’t even get past the gate of the hospitals. It’s taken nearly five years fighting with the HIV/AIDS centers to get treatment for MSM. Humsafar’s services are a drop in the ocean for men who need access to treatment.

TA Report: Are government programs for MSM successful?

Kavi: HIV among MSM is out of control, and only now does the government realize it needs to turn its attention to working with gay men, MSM, and transgendered people. They are scaling up national programs and want to conduct 200 targeted interventions, each of which reaches 1,000 men. That figure is very low, but it’s better than nothing. It’s good news that the government wants to establish programs for MSM. The bad news is that the NGOs they entrust don’t all know how to go about it. They have to be run by gay men and they have to be community-based. That is the plan I have suggested to the government of India. Where there are transgendered people, you send in transgendered workers. When you need to reach kothis—queens, in the West—you don’t send a macho man because he’ll intimidate them; you send one of their own!

TA Report: Are you optimistic that progress is being made?

Kavi: There is no other option but to make progress. Otherwise, we will see large numbers of my community die. If HIV prevalence is at 10 or 25 percent, can you imagine the time it takes to get treatment to everyone? Many of these men are very poor! Forget about knowing about their sexuality—they are going to die unknown and unsung deaths.

TREAT Asia (Therapeutics Research, Education, and AIDS Training in Asia) is a network of clinics, hospitals, and research institutions working with civil society to ensure the safe and effective delivery of HIV/AIDS treatments throughout Asia and the Pacific.

The Times of India

22 Apr 2008

Tamil Nadu to create transgender database

by T K Rohit,TNN
Chennai: For the first time in the country, a special database of transgenders would be created by the Tamil Nadu government to help deal with their problems and demands.
In a policy note on social welfare tabled in the Assembly on Monday, social welfare minister Dr Poongothai said the database would have comprehensive details on transgenders. It would be created with the help of
a non-governmental organisation, Dr Poongathai said.

"We are starting the work with an NGO in this regard. We should hopefully have it ready in a couple of months. It is a unique initiative and is being done for the first time in the county," the minister said. "Once we have the data, we shall look into the issues that transgenders face and try our best to resolve them," she told The Times of India.

The database would look into details, demands, population of transsexuals, facilities required by them such as ration cards, voter identity cards and health facilities, and look at ways of providing them with the same. Tamil Nadu became the first state in the country to recognise transgenders as a separate gender and issue ration cards to them, passports are likely to follow. Meanwhile, the government also proposes to constitute a board for transgenders to rehabilitate them and ensure equality and security for them in the society. The board will look into the various problems, difficulties and inconveniences faced by them and based on these formulate and execute welfare schemes for their betterment.

Medical News Today

23 April 2008

Indian Police Force Launches HIV/AIDS Awareness Program Aimed At Officers, Soldiers

India’s Central Reserve Police Force on Saturday launched an HIV/AIDS awareness campaign aimed at officers and soldiers in an effort to reduce the spread of the disease, ANI/Thaindian News reports. Under the program, CRPF will provide personnel with education about the disease and information about prevention methods. The police force also will establish condom vending machines. "Since people are often awkward and shy while buying condoms, we have taken care to maintain privacy while placing the machines," M.V. Rao, chief medical officer for CRPF, said. In addition, CRPF plans to establish a voluntary confidential counseling testing center, ANI/News reports.

According to ANI/News, India’s Ministry of Home Affairs in 2007 informed the country’s Parliament that 1,363 officers and soldiers were living with HIV/AIDS. Of these, 521 were from CRPF, ANI/News reports. In addition to the reported cases of HIV/AIDS among CRPF personnel, 458 cases have been recorded among the Assam Rifles, 239 among the Border Security Force, 105 in the Central Industrial Security Force, 25 in the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, nine in the Sashastra Seema Bal and six among the National Security Guard, ANI/News reports (ANI/Thaindian News, 4/19).

Reprinted with kind permission from You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, or sign up for email delivery at The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation© 2005 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

The Times of India

24 April 2008

UN body slams India on rights of gays

by Dhananjay Mahapatra,TNN
New Delhi – India faced intense questioning from the international community on homosexuality and the widening gap between rich and poor at a recent meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
It termed the provision in Indian Penal Code making "unnatural sex" an offence as a legacy of the British and countered the allegation of widening rich-poor gap by citing the Centre’s decision to waive farm loans to the tune of Rs 60,000 crore — an example of many efforts to make growth inclusive. The Swedish delegation questioned India on homosexuality and was concerned that it was still considered an offence in the country.

Replying to the query, solicitor general of India G E Vahanvati went back in history and said, "In the early 19th century, the English frowned on homosexuality. There are historical reports that various people came to India to take advantage of its more liberal atomosphere with regard to different kinds of sexual conduct. Some of them, in fact, joined the Army and as Army officers they were more privileged than ordinary people." To stop this, the British inserted Section 377 in Indian Penal Code — the concept of sexual offences against the order of nature, essentially a western concept, which has remained in the penal laws for years. "Homosexuality, as such, is not defined in Indian Penal Code. But, it will be a matter of great argument whether it is against the order of nature," Vahanvati said. He also underlined the efforts of an NGO — Naz Foundation — to challenge the constitutional validity of Section 377 of IPC and told the conference how the Supreme Court saw merit in the PIL and has asked the Delhi High Court to adjudicate the matter.

However, he did not forget to mention the report of the Law Commission of India on homosexuality. The commission had stated that Indian society did not consider homosexuality an acceptable form of behaviour, Vahanvati said and requested the international community to await the outcome of the judicial scrutiny. Delegations from Brazil, Algeria and Nigeria referred to India’s phenomenal growth but raised questions whether this was inclusive growth and expressed concern over reports about widening gulf between the rich and poor.

Vahanvati agreed that widening rich-poor gap was one of the greatest concerns of the government in India. "This is not going to disappear overnight but it requires sustained will and coordinated programmes which we have already put in action," he said, citing the Rs 60,000 crore farm loan waiver. He said farmers in India, being dependant on rain, faced serious problems in paying back debt in case the monsoon failed. "The decision to waive off $15 billion in farm loans is one of the largest schemes undertaken by any government to promote the welfare of its agriculturists… This is one example of what we are trying to do," he said.

April 27, 2008

Gay Sikhs: ‘You’re not alone’

by Paula Carlson – Surrey North Delta Leader
Amar Sangha was a 14-year-old Frank Hurt honour roll student with a dilemma. He was attracted to men, but he wanted to like women. Putting aside his adolescent crushes on Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth and actor Michael J. Fox, he began seeing a psychiatrist with the hope of becoming “straight.” It didn’t work. After three years, the counselling sessions came to an end, and Sangha began to accept who he was: a homosexual.

Twenty years later, in a home in North Delta, Sangha sits next to his mother Jaspal, who is wearing a sunny yellow sari in honour of recent Vaisakhi celebrations. The brightly coloured material matches the matriarch’s opinion of her son – the middle one of three. Calling Amar “a precious gift from God,” Jaspal accepts her boy as he is. In keeping with her religion – Sikhism – Jaspal believes all human beings are created equal and no one should harbour animosity against another. She acknowledges not everyone thinks the same way.

“Ninety-nine-point-nine per cent in my community believe (homosexuality) is a choice,” she says, including Amar’s father. Some have stronger words than that. Late last year, Balwant Singh Gill, president of the Guru Nanak Sikh Temple in Surrey, condemned gay relationships as “unnatural,” saying, “I hate homosexuality.” He later apologized for the comment. As for Jaspal, she knew her son Amar was different from the beginning. As a young child, he loved to hang out with the female members of the family, enjoyed playing with a doll house and took an unusual interest in saris. But instead of being shunned by his mother and extended family members – including a grandfather who pointed out his grandson’s “uniqueness” early on – Amar was encouraged to be himself.

Still, by his early teens, perhaps sensing the socially difficult road ahead, Amar tried to deny his sexuality. Although he confided in his mother, Amar didn’t officially “come out” until college, where he learned about the many homosexuals in history – among them Michelangelo and Alexander the Great. “I learned about famous people who were gay… I met other gay people who were happy,” Amar says of his turning point. Now stable in his own life, Amar is focusing his attention on others. A social worker who has advocated for several gay pride organizations, Amar, 36, has started Sher Vancouver – a support and social networking organization specifically for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and intersex (GLBTI) Sikhs and their families. He believes it is the first of its kind in the Lower Mainland.

Two other gay groups offer support for members – Trikone Vancouver (for South Asians) and Salaam Vancouver (for Muslims) – but not family members. Amar says Sher Vancouver takes its name from the Persian word for “lion,” a common word in the Punjab. Male orthodox Sikhs adopt the name Singh, and female Sikhs take on the name Kaur, which mean lion and lionness, respectively, in Sanskrit. Since launching the group April 6, Amar has signed up 33 members – mostly men, but a few women as well. He says the quick response is proof of the need. Citing the “one in 10 rule,” in which some researchers estimate that 10 per cent of the general population is homosexual, Amar believes there are thousands of gay Sikhs in the Surrey-North Delta area.

He knows of some who have been forced into marriages and lead a secret double life – dancing in gay clubs at night, and sadly, sometimes bringing sexually-transmitted diseases home. “This should not be happening,” he says. Amar’s other motivation for starting Sher is youth. He does not want them to feel as alone as he did in high school, when he didn’t know another gay soul – let alone a gay South Asian soul.

Twenty-one-year-old Surrey resident Ash, (who asked that his last name not be used), admits his younger years as a gay teen were pretty “miserable.” He never felt accepted at Sikh temples, where others would whisper about him and stare. Ash doesn’t blame his religion; Sikhism teaches tolerance and equality, and the Guru Granth Sahib (Sikh holy book) does not mention homosexuality. “I guess I blame the culture,” he says. Sikh families have high expectations for traditional marriages and children.

Not Jaspal, who says she is proud of Amar for trying to make a difference, adding she has supported him from the beginning, long before she fully understood what his sexual orientation really meant. Laughing, she says: “I once thought gay was happy.” Judging from the smile on her son’s face, it still is.

To get involved with Sher Vancouver, email Amar Sangha at Ash is hoping to have the first gay Sikh float in Vancouver’s Pride Parade in August – complete with bhangra dancers. If you can offer sponsorship or other support, email Sangha.

Press Trust of India

April 29, 2008

Indian men may claim to have a healthy sex-life, but a new international survey claims that orgasm often eludes them

New Delhi – Only 46 per cent of Indians manage to achieve orgasm almost every time they have sex but their counterparts in Italy, Mexico, Spain and South Africa are the most likely to climax, with 66 per cent of them managing to hit it right almost every time, claims the latest ‘Durex Sexual Wellbeing Global Survey’.

However, the Indian men can find solace in the fact that their Asian counterparts from China and Hong Kong (both 24 percent) are the least
likely to achieve orgasm every time, who are closely followed by Japanese (27 per cent). The survey further points out that the more orgasms one has, the better he feels in general. Fifty eight per cent of those who usually achieve orgasm were content with the emotional aspects of their sex life compared with the 29 per cent of those who rarely climax, the survey conducted among 26,000 people in 26 countries said. Indian men too seem to second the global trend with 84 per cent of them who frequently achieve orgasm, feeling at ease sexually and 72 per
cent of men being happy with their psychological health.

Though men around the globe might not enjoy very high orgasm, the survey points out that women get a worse deal when it comes to getting climax during sex, with only 26 per cent feeling so.