19 April 2005
Lesbian couple sparks debate in Uttar Pradesh state
by Vinay Krishna Rastogi in Lucknow
Two lesbians of Allahabad have decided to approach a court with the plea that they be declared a married couple. The girls, Shilpi Gupta and Usha Yadav, were arrested after they lived together for six months. They declared before the Dhoomanganj police in Allahabad that they would commit suicide, but would not leave each other. Discuss: India should legalise same-sex marriages Their love became public knowledge after Shilpa’s parents lodged a complaint against Usha, a computer teacher, for kidnapping their daughter. The two had been missing since the last week of January and had been living together.
The two girls left Allahabad after they were harassed by their parents and had gone to Setalwad district in Gujarat to live with a common friend. Both the young women were sent for medical examination. Even at the police station, the two demanded that they be allowed to live in the same cell. They will plead before the magistrate that if they are sent to jail, they should be allowed to live in the same cell.
But Circle Officer of Dhoomanganj, Arvind Misra, says there is no law that can allow marriage between two persons of the same sex. Legal experts say there is no law that prohibits two adult women from living together.
Shilpi’s father admitted that she had repeatedly turned down marriage proposals with men because of her lesbian relationship. Meanwhile several organisations have demanded that the Government amend the law to allow same-sex marriages. Legal experts say the government should consider the recent advice of the Supreme Court to re-examine the issue of same-sex marriages, permitted in many developed countries.
A section of legal fraternity feels it is the democratic right of people to choose their partners and the state should not interfere. But president of the Uttar Pradesh unit of Shiv Sena, Vijay Kumar Tewari, who is also a leading High Court advocate, says such permission should never be granted by law as it is against Indian cultural ethos. "We cannot convert our country into Lesbos, the ancient Greek village which was infamous for women having sex with women," he said.
April 21, 2005
HC hands over alleged lesbian couple to parents
The Allahabad High Court on Thursday handed over an alleged lesbian couple to their parents after they stated before the court that they wanted to go with them. Both Usha Yadav and Shilpi Gupta were produced before the court by the city police after a habeas corpus petition was filed by the former’s father.
The two girls gave statement before the court that they had gone to Gujarat together in search of employment and would like to go to their respective homes, after which Justice VK Chaturvedi dismissed the petition.
Rajendra kumar, father of Shilpi Gupta, had lodged an FIR that one Usha Yadav had "kidnapped" his daughter following which police recovered the two girls from Gujarat and produced them before a Judicial Magistrate in Allahabad.
Later, Harbans Singh, father of Usha Uadav, filed a habeas corpus petition before the High Court that Shilpi’s parents had kept his daughter confined, on which the court directed that they be produced before it. Earlier, the two girls had maintained before police that they wanted to live like husband and wife.
21 April 2005
Transvestites get ”married”
Full moon acting as witness, the sounds of music, laughter and tinkling anklet bells in Tamil Nadu heralded the marriage of thousands of transvestites from across India to normal men – only to be widowed the next day.
The annual four-day festival to Aravan, a deity locally known as Koothandavar, started Tuesday on the full moon night or Chitra Pournami in the Indian month Chitra. At a small Krishna temple in the Koovagam village in Villipuram district, the transvestites underwent the age-old ritual, replete with gaiety, pomp and splendour, inspired out of an excerpt from the Hindu epic Mahabharata.
The temple priest, K. Shanmugam, says he has lost count of the weddings he performed; at least 10,000, he estimates. According to mythology, Aravan was one of Arjuna’s many sons, sacrificed so that the Pandavas could win the battle of Mahabharata. As a last wish, he desired to get married, causing Lord Krishna to take the form of a beautiful woman so that Aravan could marry him. Aravan was then beheaded, and Krishna became a widow. Known as Aravanis, the worshippers that include transvestite community and many normal men, whose families have undertaken vows at the temple for some boon, undergo the complete ritual – from marrying to getting widowed.
Weddings are performed by tying the mangalsutra, or symbolic wedlock, under the full moon. The day after the weddings, the married men go through a consummation ritual, following which their "spouses" go through a ritual rubbing off their vermilion from their forehead, donning white garb like widows.
Since 2003, the rituals have been held in an organized manner with many NGOs partaking in the activities. A rights conference takes place every year to assure participation of Aravanis from different states. "We take our annual holiday this time and come home," said Meena, a transvestite, who is part of a filmmaking effort on their lives by the Don Bosco Institute of Communication Arts. According to state estimates, Tamil Nadu alone has 140,000 transvestites.
The South India Aravanigal Rights and Rehabilitation Centre, Tiruchirapally, is appealing to the government to legalise the "third gender" in all India’s forms and official documents so that they are not forced into the "male" or "female" categories. "If we don’t get jobs, we are forced into prostitution. Give us a livelihood opportunity," says Chandra, a transvestite activist working with the South India AIDS Action Programme. The organisation is also imparting vocational training to the Aravanis to wean them away from begging and prostitution. Special cultural events are organised by NGOs. Actors, who enact the Aravan story from the Mahabharata, also act out AIDS-care and awareness skits. Films related to gender issues are shown and a beauty pageant for "Miss Koovagam" is being held for the transvestite community since 2003.
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Bollywood and Bomgay (1 of 2 stories; see #5)
by Shashank Samant
Bombay is the city of dreams, goes the commonly tossed line that":" probably coined centuries ago by some ron/antic. The dreams in Bombay have only gotten bigger and more colorful. One of the world’s ever-evolving cities, often called the New York of the East, every face here has a different story to tell, and every mind weaves a vibrant dream in true Hindu psychedelic fashion.
In cosmopolitan Mumbai (what Bombay was renamed in 1996, though loyalists prefer the former name) the most elite of the elite and the poorest of the poor often cross paths. The dimmed lights in plush apartments of the Manhattanesque skyline overlook the simmering kitchen fires that provide the light by which children study in the slums. Different realities exist and coexist. Life is full of contrasts and contradictions, of extremes, and yet there’s a twinkle in every eye.
This city is a city of survivors; you can feel it and you can smell it. ~ As your flight hits the runway of Mumbai’s Sahar I’ International Airport the scent of life is unmistakable even in the wee hours of the morning. You are instantly thrust into the Mumbai trance during the arduous taxi ride from the airport to Colaba, the area of the city most popular with tourists. As your cab floats by the promenade on the seashore opposite the grandiose Taj Mahal Hotel, Y’ catches something peculiar: dozens and dozens of men returning your stare, a mischievous glint in their eyes.
You are passing by "the oldest gay cruising area in the city, where nocturnal creatures out with darkness on their side.
But now modern gay Mumbai is finally coming out of the shadows. The southernmost tip of the island of Bombay, Colaba hosts the two most famous landmarks of the city: the Gateway of India a grand Taj Mahal Hotel. Colaba causeway is the area most tourists call home. Whatever you want you can get it here and more. Leopold Cafe, the place where every Westerner goes for breakfast, is right in the center of this street. And right outside the cafe you are likely to encounter a friendly, middle-aged, unnamed woman. She’s been a permanent fixture here for years and offers foreigners small parts in Bollywood movies for about $44 a day. You may not come out a star, but scores flock to Mumbai just for the chance.
Modeled on big brother Hollywood Bollywood is the Indian film industry, the largest in the world (producing nearly 1,000 films a year), headquartered in Mumbai. Films aren’t just a part of life for people in India; they are a way of life. The over-the-top, surreal dance numbers in nearly every Bollywood film often make no sense in relation to the story, but no one seems to be complaining. A new wave of filmmakers is making hard-hitting films, sticking to the subject and without any songs, but those still constitute only l0% of films made today. When you’re living in abject poverty, who wants more harsh reality? The city needs its Technicolor dreams like a desert needs water, and those dreams get no larger-than-life than in Bollywood. Most of the studios are situated in suburban Mumbai, north of the old city. Filmcity is the studio that most tourists visit to get a glimpse of the separate reality of Bollywood. Spread out in a picturesque rain forest, it houses about 20 film sets and many natural locations. There are nearly a dozen studios besides Filmcity; two noteworthy ones are Filmistan and Filmalaya.
Bollywood’s pomp and campiness make Mumbai a natural draw for gays. But just how gay-friendly is India? In this era of ‘desis’ (Indian expatriates living overseas) and globalized out-sourcing, the subcontinent is more hip to homosexuality than it would seem at first glance. Local gay groups are fighting against part of the Indian penal code that makes any homosexual act illegal and punishable with life imprisonment. (Luckily it is rarely enforced, but police often threaten with it when looking for bribes).
Activists frequently circulate petitions and hold protest marches, while the Naz Foundation has filed a court case seeking repeal of the law. The case was dismissed by the Delhi high court in 2004, but the foundation has vowed to appeal. Previously rare TV debates about homosexuality are even occurring. The increasing number of gay parties in Mumbai is another indication of progress. Dressed in the latest fashions, the "kings and queens" strut out for the Gaybombay parties that have been going strong for over five years, held on two Saturdays a month.
Last year’s Gaybombay (or "GB") Valentine’s Day party on the barge off the Gateway of India hosted nearly 500. Happening Mumbai nightspots like Mikanos, Razzberry Rhinoceros, and Copacabana have offered their space for GB parties too.
Gaybombay also organizes support meetings and gay film festivals. Says Vikram Doctor, an active member of the group: "A lot of people find it difficult coming into a gay space for the first time. We try and facilitate that." The results are showing: The four-year-old GB film festival is an ongoing monthly event of private screenings, with desis flying in from different continents bringing DVDs of gay films for private screenings to packed houses.
Equally popular was Larzish, India’s first public gay and lesbian film festival, held in 2003, complete with panel discussions, organized by the lesbian group Humjinsi and the Indian Centre for Human Rights and Law. But like many developing countries, India is far from securing any form of gay rights, legally or socially. Although you may see men walking down the streets holding hands, as in many countries such a display does not indicate homosexuality. Hindu scriptures term homosexuality an act against the religion, and families routinely kick out their gay and lesbian offspring.
Even for all the openness of the GB parties, rainbow flags are no longer hoisted because of potential police trouble. Even if reality is not perfectly rosy, there are always the dreamy visions of Bollywood. The Indian film industry has traditionally turned a blind eye to gay issues (even heterosexual kissing is a rarity on the screen). In 1996 Deepa Mehta’s film about lesbianism, Fire, opened to vandalized cinemas, and the trashy 2004 film Gir!friend caused protests by conservative and lesbian groups alike.
But recently a number of big, well-received film projects had either a prominent gay character or a queer subplot. 2002’s Mango Souffle by filmmaker Mahesh Dattani dealt with a gay man’s struggle to come to terms with his sexuality and included Indian cinema’s first gay male kissing scene, albeit underwater.
And one film that made Bollywood sit up and take notice was blockbuster Kal Ho Naa Ho, in which metrosexual superstar Shahrukh Khan and his partner in crime, leading actor Saif Ali Khan, unabashedly played characters with strong homosexual undercurrents. The population’s mind-set is slowly evolving as Mumbai edges into modem global culture. A freer, more open "Bomgay" may not be a distant dream after all.
Bollywood and Bomgay (2 of 2 stories; see #4)
by Chandler Burr
No one ever accused filmmaker Riyad Wadia of not taking life on his own terms. In a society of crushing tradition he was an openly gay Indian man who dressed in skintight sparkling Lycra and went to bed at dawn, like a star in the Bollywood musicals he loved.
He was a Wadia, one of the wealthiest and most powerful families in India (though he was not personally wealthy), and he knew everyone in the Bollywood movie magazines. He moved effortlessly through Mumbai (where he was born in 1967), from the mansions on Malabar Hill to the gutters of Colaba. His films were shown at Cannes, Sundance, and Tokyo. None of it ever fazed him; he figured, "Well, of course." In 1996 Bollywood director Kaizad Gustad introduced Riyad to gay novelist and poet R. Raj Rao, whose work is suffused with Mumbai’s heated, lush ethos.
The film Riyad wound up making from Rao’s stories was the groundbreaking Bomgay; the city was his set. The film was shot in the majestic restrooms of Victoria Terminal, where gay Indian men cruise. They shot the squatters who defecate on the railway tracks up to Andheri.
Few in this city of sparkling musicals had dared to film this kind of reality or film anything with a queer bent. Bomgay rocked India. The film’s words shocked people:"ln the old days! The touch of some men polluted! Today is it yours! Viruses and all;’ as did the images of a brutal gay bashing in a train station restroom and a fantasy orgy in a library.
Says journalist Vikram Doctor: "Everything Riyad did was done with style and splash, and that is exactly what the gay movement in India needed. Thanks to him, gay issues took their place on those society-people page 3s of newspapers."
Riyad was eager to spread the gospel of Bollywood around the world. In September 2003, when I was staying at his family apartment on Worli Sea Face, looking out over the Indian Ocean, he showed me a large photo spread he had organized for Conde Nost Traveler with pictures of all his star friends-Vivek Oberoi, Shilpa Shetty. I had no idea he was sick (his family, seeking privacy, has not disclosed the cause of his death, which came on November 30, 2003).They held a big memorial, and all the page 3 people came to honor him. He would have loved it. At the time of his death Riyad was finalizing a script for a Bollywood musical. I had no doubt it would have been as splashy and over-the-top as his vibrant life.
May 13, 2005
AIDS Rises in India—Gay sex accused
by Gus Cairns,
India has reached the "point of no return," as 1 percent of its citizens have HIV. The crisis is exacerbated by the country’s refusal to acknowledge sex between men, researchers warned last week. Michael Weinstein, the head of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, warned that if a country’s HIV prevalence rises beyond this "tipping point," it is on its way to an African-style pandemic. " India will be South Africa. India will be Botswana. There’s no question whatsoever," Weinstein said. One percent in India represents 7 million adults, because of the country’s large population.
Richard Feachem, the director of the Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria, said last month that this meant it has already far outstripped South Africa as the country with the largest number of HIV-positive people in the world. " The epidemic is growing very rapidly. It is out of control. There is nothing happening in India today that is big or serious enough to prevent it," he warned.
Exactly why this is happening is partly caused by the amount of unprotected sex going on between men, according to a recently published study. Researcher Lalit Dandona conducted a huge study of 6,661 gay men who met in cruising areas — parks, cinemas and roadside food stalls — in cities and rural areas in Andhra Pradesh state, in the southeast of the country. His findings were originally presented to the World AIDS Conference in Bangkok last year.
Dandona already knew there were high levels of sex between men throughout India — one study found that nearly one in 10 single men and one in 30 married men had had anal sex with another man in the previous year. His study, which was coordinated by the U.K.-based International HIV/AIDS Alliance, found that the vast majority of gay sex was anal sex — 85 percent of men, compared with 15 percent who had oral sex. Half the men didn’t use a condom during their last encounter, one in three never used a condom and more than one in five claimed never to have even heard of condoms. Furthermore, two-thirds of the men also had sex with a woman. Forty-two percent of the men were married. In comparison only 9 percent were in a long-term gay relationship.
Fear and loathing in gay India–a look at gay life in India
May 17, 2005
Throughout South Asia, homosexuality has been a taboo subject. There are signs in some areas that gay people are now becoming more open in their behaviour. In the first of a series of articles from the region, the BBC’s Soutik Biswas looks at gay life in India. She is a qualified computer professional and works in a government job, but has been forced to live a double life for many years now. At work, she uses her true name. Outside, she uses a nom de guerre, heading a support group for lesbians, bisexuals and transgender communities.
She lives with her partner – who lives a similar double life – in an apartment in the eastern city of Calcutta they bought together with a bank loan after fighting for one for six years. "When we went to the bank for the first time to get a loan, I was told I could not put down my partner as a co-applicant. It had to be a spouse. Finally, last year, the bank relented. I put down my partner as a friend," says Malobika, 41.
It has been a long, strange trip towards coming out of the closet for lesbians like Malobika in conservative India, where same-sex relationships are illegal and almost blasphemous. The 145-year-old colonial Indian Penal Code clearly describes a same sex relationship as an "unnatural offence". These days, there is a greater openness about the gay community in the big cities. But homophobia is still pretty rampant Rafiquel Haque, gay activist
In a largely patriarchal society, lesbians bear the brunt of social ostracisation and the law more than gay men. In many states, lesbians have taken their lives after facing harassment at home and outside. Malobika and her friends have been luckier – "We are educated and have a class advantage," as one of them says. Born to a mechanical engineer father and a homemaker mother, Malobika discovered her sexuality when she was 17. Some 18 years later, when her parents were frantically looking around for a suitable groom, she finally told them the truth.
"My mother said she did not understand what I was saying. It took some time for the whole thing to sink in," she said, sitting in a smoky teashop in downtown Calcutta. Five years ago, Malobika along with five other lesbians started up a support group called Sappho named after the Greek lyric poet. They run a helpline, publish a magazine and take up cases of human rights abuses.
The helpline has become their window to the dark world of Indian lesbians. Most of the women who call in say they have been forcibly married off by their parents. When they tell the truth, they are thrown out of their homes by their spouses, parents and relatives. Most of these hapless women suffer from extremely low esteem and say that something is gravely wrong with them. Am I normal? Am I like other women? Tell me please," asks an anguished caller on the Sappho helpline. A panicky man asks, "My wife says she is a lesbian. Can you please cure her?" Sappho has a psychiatrist on the line, who counsels these panicky women – and men.
Homophobia, say support groups, is acute in India. Malobika says when parents find out – or the girl tells them – the truth, they run to the doctor. "The doctor typically tells the girl to swim, cook and knit. ‘That way she will become a girl again,’ they say. "The parents then usually take the girl home and shut her up, cutting her off from the outside world." Many girls from the villages escape to the big city after being thrown out of their homes.
Malobika remembers one 28-year-old girl who ran away to Calcutta to be with her partner and take up a job in a beauty parlour. Four years later, her estranged parents came to visit her – and since then have accepted the relationship.(5)Pavan Dhal is worried about "risky sexual behaviour"
In big cities like Calcutta, there is slightly more acceptance of same sex relationships these days. As in other parts of the world, India has seen a growing gay and lesbian movement. "These days, there is a greater openness about the gay community in the big cities. But homophobia is still pretty rampant," says Rafiquel Haque, 31, a theatre actor and gay rights activist.
This means that when bright, young men like Rafiquel decide to come out of the closet and begin talking to the media, they lose some friends. One reason is that gay behaviour is also regarded as sexually predatory. Rafiquel says he was friends with a "liberal" artist couple and their only son – till they saw him on a television show on gay issues. "The moment they came to know I was gay they stopped talking. They stopped their son from meeting me. His mother told me, ‘If my son becomes like you, I will commit suicide’." Coming out of the closet, however, is easier now: the eastern West Bengal state alone has some nine gay and lesbian support groups.
Rafiquel, who was instrumental in setting up one in 1993, says they reached out to 5,000 gay men in the state within three years.
Two years ago, he organised a same sex mardi gras in Calcutta. Since then it has become a regular yearly event. Plays on gay issues are staged, members debate community issues, and books and journals are sold at this merry fortnight-long carnival. It climaxes with a colourful march through the streets of Calcutta – last year as many 300 gays, lesbians and transgender people participated in the march.
But life is still not easy even for a gay man in India – he usually faces derision at work, and struggles to find a partner. Most gay men usually cruise darkly lit streets and unkempt parks and often get picked up by police looking for bribes. "It’s not easy to meet a partner. I still don’t have a lasting partner. It can be very lonely sometimes," says Pavan Dhal, 36, who heads a support group. "There’s also a lot of risky sexual behaviour. Its not a very happy situation that way". (End of story)
Comments from readers:
The real issue in India when it comes to religion, caste, sexuality etc is the battle between the older guardians and the new generation. For society to progress as a whole, grassroots mobilisation on each front can help raise awareness amongst the people. However, many activists become victims to violence and cannot fall back on the law for protection. It seems like a vicious cycle.
Layla Rao, USA
As a gay man living (and also having been born and raised) in California, I recognize the huge gift I’ve been granted by having myself, my life and my style for the most part accepted by the American community at large. Do not get me wrong, there are struggles the gay community here in the USA still face, particularly since the fundamentalist right-wing found their voice and vehicle for articulation in George W. Bush. However, recognition of and a keen interest in the struggle of all gay peoples across the globe needs to take place. Perhaps one day Calcutta and Mumbai will mean to South Asia what San Francisco and New York mean for North America.
Elliott, California, United States
I think its great that things are getting better for homosexuals in India. But like every other thing that is ‘taboo’ in India, there is hardly any discussion about it. Until people start to talk about it more, change will be slow. In a country that can’t even deal with the Aids issue as it should and dispense sex education as it should, homosexuals have a long, long way to go. Also, Dr Subramaniam, hiding behind the wall of ‘we need to sort out other issues’ will not work.
It’s unfortunate that the opposition to giving rights to homosexuals in countries all over the world is so rooted in culture. Homosexual rights are an incredibly pressing humanitarian concern and it is rather disappointing that we cannot grant these rights due to people’s deeply held cultural beliefs. It is not right to interfere with someone’s culture, yet it is also not right to allow such rampant homophobia to exist. Which do you choose?
Emily Rutherford, USA
It is evident from the Kamasutra and the sculptures at Kajuraho that ancient Hindu India recognized and probably accepted homosexual practices. It was only the advent of the intolerant puritanical Islamic and Christian conquerors of India that has brought Indians to their present despicable state of intolerance of homosexuality and for that matter anything that is not orthodox. Hinduism is a tolerant religion but Indians are not a tolerant people.
My heart goes out to every young Indian, male or female who is not permitted the full expression of individual sexuality and personal rights in general. The erotic nature of Hindu stories and depictions has left me quite confused as to the prudishness about sex in general among Indian Hindus. Is it just Victorian nonsense or something deeper? There is no contradiction between a desire for an end to social inequality, especially uprooting the stubborn caste system, and acceptance of homosexual civil rights, which essentially lay out the right to be left alone and protected from the worst forms of repression. A tolerant society is more in keeping with India’s establishment as pluralistic state.
Steven Dornbusch, Los Angeles, California, USA
I am happy to see Indian gays fighting for their rights. I am gay and live in France. Being gay is not very easy here, either, but compared to India or other countries like that, we live a very enjoyable life.
It’s a pity that the Indian so called society rules so much on personal lives. As a matter of fact a straight man cannot have a straight girl of choice, the system decides. Its the pseudo-prudish hypocritical society and the rules which are not totally based on history should be changed. A man has his own right to live, act and perform in his life, and no other man, in any utopian situation has a right to comment or criticise his behaviour.
Living as a child in Madras (Chennai) in the 1980’s I remember being surprised at all the men holding hands. I had never seen anything like this in the US and wondered why there were so many gay men. In fact, I saw many more men holding each other’s hands than women with men. Eventually I guessed that men were holding hands as a substitute for the affection and touching that did not exist, at least publicly, between men and women. I still find it ironic that while both man – woman public affection and homosexuality are practically disallowed, man-to-man public affection is accepted.
John Miller, USA
I think that India should try to deal with its ethnic and caste problems first, before dealing with a unnecessary and unimportant issue of gay rights! With language and caste discrimination at its height the punitive issue of gay rights is a waste of time.
Dr Karthigeyan Subramaniam, USA
I live in Spain and my government will legalise same-sex marriage very soon. Homosexuality is in the centre of the political agenda right now but the most important thing is that all parties agree gay people should have the same rights that heterosexual people have. A few years ago, the situation in Spain was absolutely different. When I read about what is happening in India, I want to encourage Indian gay people to fight because change is possible and it is possible very soon.
All the comments here make everyone believe that this issue is only in India and not in the Western world. Western countries are still caught up with the same sex issue and finding it difficult to find direction to move forward. There is greater understanding in the Western world compared to countries such as India. We need to understand that India has a centuries old culture and tradition. It is not easy to change the situation quickly. I believe more education is very important at this point.
Yogi Selliah, Canada
It is difficult being gay in India. The pressure to get married comes from everyone around you – starting with your parents right to even work colleagues. Indian society dictates that getting married is the ideal way of life, so being gay is an uphill struggle. It can be also a mental torment trying to fit into everyone’s way of thinking. I was brought up in Bombay but have managed to be myself as a gay in the UK, and 20 years later my folks are still trying to find a wife for me. It never stops and I wonder how long it will be before the thinking changes. From my last visit to Bombay, there seems to be vast changes on an economic level but attitudes towards gays still have a long way to go for even being accepted.
Homosexuality has been richly portrayed in ancient Hindu texts and temple drawings, it is even visible in the Bhagavad Gita and the like. Successive colonisations led to the Victorian morality which gave way to the subject being taboo. Also, the comparison between England and India on this level of openness makes no sense because cultural paradigms are poles apart in the two countries. Yet, I think we are making great progress compared to other developing countries in tackling extremely sensitive issues. We are building a open and absolutely free democracy albeit slowly.
Monika Kochhar, India
I welcome your coverage of this issue and encourage you to continue and expand its scope. Like many others, I am happy to read of India’s emergence as a world economic power after its recent history. I applaud it as the world’s largest democracy. In that context it is duty bound to acknowledge the rights of its sexual minorities and give them the full protection of the law, nothing less.
William Roche, France
If India wants to take strides with the rest of the developing countries, it will need a broader acceptance for different kinds of people. This means gays, lesbians, minorities of all kind, races, languages and philosophies. That’s the way cookie crumbles in developed, educated democracies like the US and UK. My take is that 5-10 years down the line when India achieves 100% literacy, things will get better for all of who are being oppressed, unheard or misunderstood. br /> CJ Vasani, New York, USA
I went to India and was shocked at how gay people were seen and treated. I thought that we had a problem in the UK with anti-gay feelings, but it appears that we are light years ahead of our friends in India.
Frank Hindle, Manchester, UK
Richard Jones of Sweden may not be a ‘homophobic threat’, but his view that there is something ‘unnatural’ about homosexuality is indeed homophobic, on two levels. First, homosexual behaviour is frequently observed among animals as diverse as ducks and monkeys. Secondly, human beings engage in unnatural behaviour every day. What could be more unnatural than taking aspirin, flying in a aeroplane, or using a computer to read the news? Homosexual behaviour cannot sensibly be regarded as unnatural, and nor can ‘unnatural’ behaviour be necessarily classified as wrong.
Lee Jones, Oxford, UK
As a gay boy myself in a Chinese university, I don’t feel much social pressure imposed on me, because there are also some other guys who are homosexual on my campus. Some of us know each other well and develop some very normal friendships. We exchange views on life and help each other solve some of the psychological problems. We don’t try to expect social acceptance for us, but try to establish a soothing environment among ourselves.
Having just returned from five weeks in India, my view is that the problem is far worse than described here and suppression of relationships is not restricted to gays. In Mumbai at least moral policing means that displays of affection, even simple holding hands is rarely seen. A kiss in public will cause widespread disbelief. This has led to abuse, with tales of couples being harassed by police for bribes and recently a young girl of 14 being raped by a policeman after being pulled up for supposedly behaving indecently with a boy, this was in broad daylight. For gay groups to make real and lasting progress, I feel that need to broaden their agenda and make the message to India’s non-gay youth that they too are also being heavily suppressed.
Barry B, UK
So disheartening to hear people say things like "choose to be gay". Are you kidding? Would we risk losing jobs, family, friends and security and, often, face violence, death and imprisonment for a lifestyle choice? Please accept that being gay is an identity. It varies in nature and expression but it is fixed and real. We’ve moved on from thinking that black people have smaller brains; that women are incapable of logical thought. One day this planet will be enlightened enough to realise that love is all that truly matters and that gay people are real, valid and deserving of their fellows humans’ respect.
Danilo, London, UK
It’s a good thing to show these type of things on the net, it creates awareness in people, especially people living in rural areas in India.
Amrinder Singh, Ireland/India
More and more articles like these should be published so that common people become aware of the situation, which would eventually help society to accept these people.
People in all over world need to understand that being gay or lesbian is not a prank! I am not gay, but I think we need to mull over the issue and understand things from others point of view, rather than our old traditions.
Harpreet Singh, London, UK
Being an Indian I understand the culture and the various restrictions there are. I face up to a lot in my life with my parents and relationships outside. In my opinion people should do what they feel is right for themselves. However this causes so many problems with families who end up breaking apart. People should accept each other for who they are which shows development in understanding. I don’t exactly agree with gay relationships but I wouldn’t judge anyone because every one is different and the sooner that every one accepts this the happier people will be. Places like Indian are too culture bound and I feel they need to expand their horizons and not be afraid of true reality.
Why is it in all of the discussions about gay people those who don’t quite have the same point of view as the gay groups are called homophobic or "aren’t enlightened or educated"? I have nothing against people who choose to live as gay and I have worked for many years amongst people who are gay, but this intolerant attitude towards people who think that it is not natural to be gay is another form of "viewpoint fascism" and here in Sweden it is getting so bad that it is even damaging the chances of people accepting gay people into everyday life. I can accept and associate with people who are gay but its my personal opinion that homosexuality is not in agreement with natures order, but this does not make me a homophobic threat.
Richard Jones, Sweden
Having spent some time in Calcutta last year, I experienced many encounters with other gay men. Although I was not looking for a partner at the time I was approached quite openly and propositioned in the street. My status as a Westerner no doubt contributed to this, but even clubbing with Calcuttan friends I was treated just the same as my straight friends, if with a little more interest. I think there is no doubt that homosexuality is a huge issue in India, but it’s a Western desire to assert one’s identity as one thing or another that is upsetting the balance. There is no gujurati word for ‘gay’, for instance, and I had a relationship with a man in Delhi who though dismissed by his colleagues as ‘not normal’ was nonetheless accepted, along with his open sexuality.
This is very disheartening. People should be allowed to have their own private matters since it is not something illegal.
K Hong, Singapore
I am a gay man of 20, I have not yet been able to tell my family in India of my sexuality due to the immense misunderstanding they have of homosexuality. in England it is better, but still there is prejudice to overcome, especially from members of the Indian community.
M Brahmbatt, UK/India
June 6, 2005
Social taboos pressure lesbian love
Throughout South Asia, homosexuality has been a taboo subject. There are signs in some areas that gay people are now becoming more open – but that is not always the case. In the latest in a series of articles from the region, Sutapa Mukerjee looks at a problematic lesbian relationship in Allahabad, India." It has been more than two weeks since we spoke and I haven’t seen my partner for almost a month. Life is not the same for me anymore," says Usha Yadav.
Hailing from a middle class family in Allahabad, a town in India’s northern Uttar Pradesh state, Usha first met her girlfriend Shilpi Gupta through a common friend a year back. Since that first meeting there was not a single day when they did not meet or talk to each other. But now the two lesbian lovers are not allowed to meet.
‘Same way of thinking’
Shilpi’s parents are keeping her under virtual house arrest and she is even barred from using the telephone. I am convinced about carrying on with our relationship… until society is compelled to accept us.
Usha Yadav Usha is 20, a graduate and up until recently had been working as a computer instructor. Shilpi is 22. Usha does not shy away from stating that "it was love at first sight". She says it started when they began chatting and discovered they have the same way of thinking. " Shilpi understood my problems and was very supportive. I started loving her. She wanted me to write to her and would often send back the letters after leaving lipstick marks on them as a token of love."
Before long, the two could not stay away from each other even for a day. Usha believes there is no reason why she should feel guilty or ashamed of loving another of the same sex.
" I guess I am made differently. I have never felt any affinity for the opposite sex. " As a teenager I loved another girl from my class in school but we too were separated as her parents were transferred to a far-off town." Usha became angry when Shilpi was engaged to be married in mid-January. " I hated the idea of her living with another. Shilpi too hated every bit of it, as she had no interest in the guy." Shilpi’s father says that she repeatedly turned down marriage proposals with men because of her "lesbian relationship with Usha Yadav". This social pressure directed against the pair made them defiant.
" We decided to live together," confesses Usha.
But their elopement in January 2005 to a remote town in Gujarat proved to be short-lived. Shilpi’s parents lodged a complaint against Usha for "kidnapping" their daughter. They were produced before a magistrate in Allahabad who ordered both to return to their parents. The police official dealing with the case, Sarvesh Kumar Mishra, said that the pair demanded the same cell and "shared a deep love".
Today Usha can come and go but Shilpi is restrained at home. "She is not allowed to interact with any outsider," says Usha.
" Every time I call her, I am told she is not in. I can’t concentrate on anything and have been spending sleepless night without her. I am sure she, too, is suffering." But Shilpi’s mother, Madhu Gupta, takes a different view. " It was Usha who misguided my daughter. I had never imagined that the two would elope. It is God’s grace that we got back our daughter.
" There can be no doubt of that Usha has a perverted mind."
None of the family members at Usha’s house have brought up the subject of her love affair since she returned home. Despite this Usha is not comfortable. "Every time I step out people in the neighbourhood make catcalls. ‘Where is your husband, Shilpi?’ they ask me." As Usha and Shilpi struggled with their relationship, a second incident occurred in Kanpur, 150km (100 miles) east of Allahabad, where a lesbian couple tried to commit suicide. They said they were in despair because their parents had made them marry men.
Several organisations have now demanded that the law be amended to allow same-sex marriages. Legal experts say the government should consider the recent advice of the Supreme Court to re-examine the issue of same-sex marriages. They argue that it is the democratic right of people to choose their partners and the state should not interfere. When Usha heard of the suicide attempt she said the two girls were cowards. " Shilpi and I are much stronger. Even if she is obligated to marry another I am convinced of carrying on our relationship outside her marriage until society is compelled to accept us." (End of report)
Comments from readers:
=Homosexuality in India has been a fact for centuries. Why shy away from it now? And if we are truly democratic, then why deny homosexuals their birth rights?
Kapil Komireddi, London, UK (Originally from India)
=The government of India should amend the marriage laws and allow same-sex marriages to take place. Let people choose what they want.
Pritpal Singh, UK
=You can’t help who you fall for, it’s as simple as that. Any good parent would want their child to be happy with their partner. I wish Usha and Shilpi the best of luck and the courage to take on the establishment.
=Being a Muslim, I would strongly condemn this growing trend of homosexuality. The media is very much responsible for creating confusion in the minds of young and vulnerable girls and boys. Even if there is a tendency of being attracted to the same sex, it should not be popularized and encouraged, as its ultimate consequences are a chaotic and messed up new generation who don’t know where to direct their energies, and hence indulge in such acts.
Asima Iqbal, Pakistan
=This is typical of Indian society, unfortunately. Parents are more concerned about society’s opinions than the happiness of their kids. There is no doubt that homosexual relationships can be extremely difficult for parents in such a conservative society to accept and understand, but that does not justify the sort of pressure that these two women have been exposed to. Moreover, both of them are legal adults and can live their lives as they choose to do. I’d be interested in knowing on what grounds the magistrate ordered them to "return to their parents" and on what basis one of them is being held under house arrest by her parents. If they really are determined to live together, they should just leave their parental homes and deal with the inevitable hassles that will come their way.
Rustam Roy, London, UK
=If this relationship is natural then society cannot do anything. In a country like India where friendship between a boy and girl is not easy and two girls can easily have contact can also be the reason for a gay relationship.
Harish Dixit, Germany
=How long did it take for the West to accept gay/lesbians? That is, if they have. America is still divided along the middle over gay rights and same-sex marriages, and gay phobia is not unheard of. Compare that to a society where sex has always been considered a social taboo, and things are being dealt in the typical Indian way – barricading the revolting children to their home, with the subject-in-question never being mentioned at home, and the society hurtling catcalls at every opportunity. Still, it is has to be accepted it is hard work for these couples. And in a society like India, any couple, even straight, if they want to marry against their parents’ wishes. So best luck to them!
Manav Gupta, UK
=To suggest legitimacy for gay relationships is to sanctify the culture of our times that breeds deviates, be it Elton John or Shilpi. The issue here seems to be a destruction of the family and of the community, which has let lose a vicious chain of individual idiosyncrasies, where you are not guilty until you are caught, and sex of any kind is not taboo, as long as you don’t get Aids.
Jasabanta, Kolkata, India
=I read your article about a lesbian couple in India and I am ashamed to say that even though I live in India which regards itself as the world’s biggest democracy, it’s only on paper. Your choices are made by other people. They tell you what to do and what you can’t. The society I live in dates back to the Stone Age. We follow rules which are antique and very colonial British rules which are 145 years old. Holding hands and walking on the road, public display of affection are frowned upon here. Talk of sex and people will stare at you. You can’t roam around at night for fear of being harassed by the very people who are assigned to protect us – the police. Talk about homosexuality and they will mock you. The city I live in Chennai has its own share of gays, lesbians and transsexuals but society treats them like beggars. They resort to harassment sometimes. This is pathetic. Right from your childhood your choice is made by other people. This has got to stop. Indian society is deep rooted in religion. I come from an orthodox community and when I question religion my parents object. But come what may, I have the freedom to make a choice. The world is moving towards the 22nd century but we are stuck in the 18th. It is time people of different sexual orientations are given their due. They have the right to make choices. This is their life. Nobody controls it.
=Of late I have been seeing a lot of articles on same-sex couples from the South Asian region. While it might be an issue of national importance in some of the western countries (it was one of the major issues on which recent presidential elections in US were fought on), it is far from being even a gossip issue in South Asia. The story in South Asia according to me is that of hunger, survival and a new found zest for growth, development and a determination to become economically independent. Golf and gay marriages are issues understood and discussed by the elite classes where as an average person is struggling to make his ends meet. Such frequent reports and square feet of print space devoted to these topics relating South Asia is extremely disturbing as it appears to be trying to tell the rest of the world that gay marriage/relationships are major issues in South Asia at the cost of drawing the attention of the world to the real issues and great success stories. This also suggests at an intellectual sloth of the personnel covering South Asia who are happy projecting the western issues as the issues of the world. They are too lazy to get down from the ivory towers and dirty their hands in the real issues.
=Even though same sex relationship is up to the individual, legalizing same sex marriage tantamount to protecting and encouraging it. The question is, is it necessary? In my experience same sex relationship does not come from the heart as these news reports make out (which they do to sensationalize news). In India particularly sex education is limited and many people who are adventuring in their age fall at the hands of unscrupulous elements and are exploited. They may want to come out of it but are either black-mailed or have no other choice, hence they bear with it. Except juicy news reporters no body else can find truly loving same sex couples.
R Balajee, India
=I am very much amazed reading this article, I myself a Muslim cannot imagine having a relationship like this in my religion and as far as I know the same is the case with Hinduism. On the other hand I don’t think that Indian society will ever accept this kind of relationship so making amendments in the law would be out of question. These things are seen in the West and we can’t bring them here because we have our own social values no matter if you are a Pakistani or Indian. As far as democratic rights are concerned then there are other rights that need to be fulfilled and should be taken care of first.
Bilal Qureshi, Pakistan
=It is a shame that even in a democracy like India people are not free. I am also bewildered by the fact that both the girls are adults and how can a court intervene in their personal lives when both are consenting. Every human being living in a free country has the right to express his/her freedom in any which way keeping in mind that they do not expunge on the freedom of others or break the law. The above girls are doing neither; if they are breaking the law of same sex marriage then it is an artefact of the old constitution of India which needs to be changed. This is a refreshing step in that direction to alter things (rather than commit suicide or back out).
Mayank Jaiswal, India
=Lesbians in Asia is becoming too rampant. The government should enact a law that will bind all these girls from such a frivolous act.
June 22, 2004
Pakistani Sex Workers Visit India to Discuss Safe Sex Practices and Combating AIDS
A group of Pakistani sex workers have visited the red light district in the Indian city of Calcutta to discuss safe sex practices and combating Aids. It is the first ever visit by Pakistani sex workers to any red light district in India. The BBC’s Subir Bhaumik in Calcutta says over the last decade, sex workers there have formed a powerful organisation to protect their rights. The have successfully improved their health standards. They have also organised campaigns to raise awareness on preventing HIV/Aids.
The group of sex workers from the Pakistani city of Hyderabad visited Sonagachi – a sprawling red light district in north Calcutta. "They have come to the right place because we are the most organised group of sex workers anywhere in Asia," Swapna Gayen, who heads the Calcutta sex workers’ association, told the BBC.
They were briefed by local sex workers on how they have managed to combat sexually transmitted diseases and HIV. "It was unbelievable to the delegation that Sonagachi’s sex workers refuse sex without a condom even in the face of physical torture," Majid Rani, who led the Pakistani team, is quoted as saying by AFP. She said this was unthinkable in Pakistan and sex workers there would often be forced to have sex without condoms. The visiting Pakistani women also visited a creche for the children of sex workers and a consumer cooperative. But Ms Gayen said they were particularly interested in brothel management and anti-Aids programmes. Pakistan has 2,300 HIV-positive people, according to official figures. But the World Health Organisation estimates that the figure could be closer to 80,000.
June 28, 2005
India’s deadly secret: HIV/AIDS explosion: Virus has begun long-feared breakout; Spreading uncontrolled among 1 billion
Prostitutes line Falkland Rd. in Mumbai, India. Their customers are rapidly spreading HIV/AIDS from the red-light districts of India’s big cities to the hinterland.
Photo: Robert Holmes/Corbis
by Martin Regg Cohn Asia Bureau, Mumbai/Bombay
Setting off on her daily rounds, Alka Gaikwad heads through the city’s labyrinth of slums to an unmarked home. Inside the gloom, Bharti Dhamankar hunches over a makeshift shrine of fresh garlands draped over a faded portrait of a ruggedly handsome young man.
For five years, the man in the photograph lived with HIV/AIDS. Two weeks ago, he died of it. Along the way, the former truck driver infected his wife. Now, his 31-year-old widow can think only of the medical death sentence facing her — and the destiny of her two young children who will become orphans. Choking on grief, she is unable to speak. And so Gaikwad, in a bright floral print sari, steps into the silence. The volunteer counsellor goes on house calls well prepared, for she, too, is an HIV-positive widow — infected by her late husband a decade ago.
Gaikwad, 33, witnessed her daughter’s death from the virus a few years later. But the survival of her teenage son has inspired her to keep living, and counselling. " I want my son to grow up and stand on his own feet," she says. "Until then, I won’t die."
Recruited by the foreign development charity World Vision, she comes face to face every day with what most Indians never see — and the world barely acknowledges: The uncontrolled spread of HIV/AIDS in a country of 1 billion people.
Since its arrival among prostitutes in the southeastern port city of Chennai nearly two decades ago, the virus has begun its long feared "breakout" — spreading from high-risk groups to the general population. Legions of truckers and millions of migrant workers are spreading HIV/AIDS from the red-light districts of India’s big cities to women in the hinterlands. More than 5 million Indians are infected with AIDS or HIV (the virus which causes AIDS) according to rough government estimates. Officially, the United Nations ranks India as the second-biggest hotspot on Earth, slightly behind South Africa’s 5.3 million infected people.
But while the world’s attention remains focused on Africa, many analysts and health workers think India is incubating a greater AIDS disaster of global proportions. The 5 million figure is too conservative, they say. " The official statistics are wrong — India is in first place," warns Richard Feachem, respected executive director of the Paris-based Global Fund to Fight AIDS, set up in 2001 by the G-8 group of industrialized countries. India "is or is becoming the global epicentre for the pandemic."
By 2000, an estimated 2.8 million Indians had died of AIDS, and the U.N. projects another 12.3 million deaths by 2015. The U.S. National Intelligence Council has warned that 25 million Indians could be HIV-positive by 2010. Yet, when the G-8 leaders grapple with Africa’s AIDS crisis at their annual summit next week, India’s hidden epidemic won’t be high on the agenda. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is attending the summit in recognition of his country’s emergence as a diplomatic power — but the talk will be of economic growth, not India’s AIDS earthquake.
In fact, India’s outbreak is at a critical stage, offering a historic window of opportunity to control the spread of the virus. If AIDS makes further inroads here, the consequences for the world will be enormous — with India ultimately overtaking all of Africa in the number of HIV-positive people.
Government data suggest an infection rate of 0.9 per cent — far less than the 21.5 per cent prevalence of South Africa, to be sure. But the nationwide figures mask a series of alarming regional epidemics of up to 5 per cent in some of India’s southern states, where testing facilities and hospitals are more reliable. " The more relevant figure is the trajectory of the epidemic, and we see a very steep trajectory," says Ashok Alexander, head of Avahan, the anti-AIDS group established in India by the Gates Foundation. "It’s different from the African epidemic — we’re going to see big explosions in clusters."
The result could be social and economic upheaval, yet "India is not even on the radar screen of the international community as far as HIV/AIDS, and that’s a tragedy as far as I’m concerned," Ashok argues. "I think it will get worse before it gets better." If the numbers are indeed understated in the rest of India, an AIDS disaster is in the making not only here but, eventually, everywhere. Every 1 percentage point increase translates to another 5 million infected people. " We think it’s much higher, obviously, than what the government is saying," says Anjali Gopalan, head of the non-profit Naz Foundation, which runs a home for AIDS orphans and HIV-positive mothers in New Delhi. "We have lost that window of opportunity."
As India braces for battle against AIDS, it is beset by familiar handicaps: endemic poverty, cash-starved health care, deep-rooted public prejudice and official neglect.
HIV-positive people are India’s new untouchables. Against that backdrop, India has one clear indigenous advantage: a world-class pharmaceuticals industry that produces high-quality anti-AIDS drugs known as anti-retroviral therapy (ARV). But that head start has been squandered. Due to remarkable government foot-dragging, Indian-manufactured drugs are more widely available overseas than on the streets of Mumbai.
Of the 5 million Indians officially estimated to be HIV-positive, a mere 7,500 — including Gaikwad — are getting free ARV medicine, and another 23,000 are estimated to be obtaining it privately. That’s less than 1 per cent of those in need. In Gaikwad’s case, the discovery that her daughter was HIV-positive brought discrimination and humiliation. A hospital doctor refused to treat the girl — an all too frequent reaction that sets a negative example for the general public. " The medical profession in India has been at the root of much stigmatization and discrimination," says Alexander.
Fear of catching AIDS turns even family members against one another in a manner reminiscent of historical caste prejudices.
" Within my own family, we are treated as untouchables," says Chaya Jamadade, 30, another widow seeking help from Gaikwad. "We cannot touch the food, dinner plates or soap."
After she was widowed and found to be HIV-positive, family members ordered Jamadade’s children to keep away and tried starving her to death. They withheld food for nine days, she says, until police intervened. " They thought I would just die off or go live elsewhere. They kicked me out. They used to beat me until I couldn’t bear it any more." Gaikwad stepped in to help, bringing only an infectious smile into the household. " I visited the house, talked to the family and neighbours about how HIV doesn’t spread so easily," she recalls. But the AIDS scare dies hard. A report by New York-based Human Rights Watch last year documented widespread discrimination against infected children and orphans in the classroom, hospitals and their own homes. " You see people kicked out of their homes, and this I have not seen even in Africa," says Dr. Denis Broun, who heads the U.N.’s AIDS operations in India. "This is something that AIDS has done to India."
Irrational fears of AIDS transmission and taboos about sex have set back India’s efforts to raise public awareness and detection. People who suspect they might be HIV-positive go underground, refusing even to be tested for the virus. That reticence has lethal consequences for HIV-positive people. Without testing, people don’t seek treatment; without widely available treatment, people have little incentive to be tested — they consider a positive result a death sentence. " India is very much behind in terms of access to treatment," says Broun of UNAIDS. " At least 500,000 people should be getting it." The fact that ARV drugs are manufactured cheaply in India yet remain inaccessible to so many Indians exasperates Yusuf Hamied. As head of Cipla Ltd., which makes low-cost generic drugs, he has spent years trying to shame the Indian government into distributing medicines that could prolong lives.
At first, he encountered bureaucratic indifference — a feeling that India had to marshal its scarce resources for cost-effective prevention rather than costly treatment. He countered by slashing prices and offering free pills, but officials stubbornly refused to lower tariff barriers on his imported ingredients. Belatedly, the government is funding a program to place 100,000 people on ARV by 2007, yet only a fraction of that target has been reached. Now that the government has mustered the political will, finding a practical way is proving difficult.
Across town from Cipla’s sleek offices and modern production facilities, Mumbai’s seedy brothels do a booming business. Women in heavy makeup line Falkland Rd. day and night, tempting new customers.With her faded red nail polish, nose stud and long black hair, Shila Ramagauda pays close attention to her appearance — and her health. To maintain her earning power — about 100 rupees, or $3 a client — she starts her workday by packing both cosmetics and condoms. " I know how to protect myself, but I’m still a little bit scared," says Ramagauda, 25.
With a 5-year-old daughter to support, she can’t afford to die on the job. She counts on condoms for survival, gently persuading customers to co-operate. " We are very clear about it. We tell them: `You have a family; this is not only for you, but also you have to protect your loved ones.’ So this helps us deal with their anger." What if customers claim to be unmarried? " We tell them, `You may be young, but you will want to start a family one day, and you’ll put them at risk without a condom.’" If a client still refuses a condom, she puts one on herself — resorting to the alternative female condoms sold at subsidized prices by aid groups such as Population Services International. The female condom has more lubrication than standard male condoms, so in the darkness of brothels and the haze of alcohol, customers are often oblivious to their use.
After a slow start, there is optimism that a change in government last year has brought a shift in India’s approach to AIDS. The previous Hindu fundamentalist government nixed condom ads on TV, but Singh’s new Congress-led government is not so squeamish.
The prime minister has given his blessing to a more provocative — and effective — marketing strategy led by the National AIDS Control Organization and promised to double its budget. Now, NACO director S.Y. Quraishi is trying to kick-start the mammoth Indian bureaucracy. Quraishi is determined to change the way Indians think about safe sex. His model is the multinational soft-drink giants that persuaded villagers to start drinking bottles of sugared, carbonated water. " If everyone can be tempted to drink Pepsi, why not condoms, surely?" he asks, pointing to prophylactic condom packets and posters distributed by his office. " Information is the only vaccine we have, so we have to catch young people before AIDS catches them."
July 1, 2005
Broken bones and a broken heart
Throughout South Asia, homosexuality has been a taboo subject. There are signs in some areas that gay people are now becoming more open – but that is not always the case. In the latest in a series of articles about gay people from the region, Firdaus Kanga reflects on his life. Born into a Parsi family in Mumbai (Bombay), Kanga now lives in London where he works as a writer and actor. As a child he was diagnosed with a rare bone disease. "There were many things I could not do as a boy – the most absurd of these was not being able to break a biscuit. There was something about the sound, the snap that always reminded me of those moments when I would crack a rib or break a hip, which happened almost as often as the festivals that sprinkled the Indian calendar.
We were the Parsis of Bombay which meant we could celebrate Eid and Diwali and Christmas with as much pleasure as our own Navroz (New Year) we had brought with us from Persia so many centuries ago. That first relationship ended in the kind of pain that I had never known And I really did suffer frequent fractures. I was born with brittle bones, could never walk or go to school with sturdy little boys who might break my tiny body with a friendly slap on the back. I stopped growing at about four feet.
I first knew that ordinary friendship was not what I had in mind when I saw an attractive man and something inside me flew with a freedom and delight that I had never known. Homosexuality was the different part of me that gave me pleasure, allowed me to hug my body – if rather gingerly – rather than fear it, fear the pain it brought me, an unwelcome present I could not refuse. For many years I could only see and smile at and touch my lover in an imagination that had brought him alive as God was supposed to have made Adam.
No gay men
After all, this was Bombay in the early 1980s.
There was one very special love that I was to find with someone disabled by that still unexplained condition, Tourette’s Syndrome
In all the time I was growing up I had never heard anybody talk about homosexuality. I certainly knew no gay men, except in the sublime stories I found and read – those by James Baldwin, E M Forster and Iris Murdoch. Perhaps in some strange sense I was fortunate – my idea of gay love slept in relationships rather than in frenetic and furtive encounters in the dark. It was not until I was in my twenties and I had written a novel that was being published in London where I came to live that I met someone who could amuse and annoy me and drive me fast and furious around the hairpin bends of passion. Coming out was easy for me as I had been stared at all my life – now I turned heads for happier reasons. My mother, I think, was secretly relieved – she would never have to suffer "the other woman", the dreaded daughter-in-law who stole so many Indian sons from their mothers.
My beloved aunt, in an original version of what, I was only later to discover was an old Jewish joke, asked me to promise her just one thing – that I would settle down with a good Parsi boy. That first relationship ended in the kind of pain that I had never known. At least this time I did not need an X-ray to confirm that something had broken very badly inside me. To my surprise, other relationships were to come.
I do not intend this to be a potted history of my love life. Nevertheless, there was one very special love that I was to find with someone disabled by that still unexplained condition, Tourette’s Syndrome. ‘I had never heard anybody talk about homosexuality’
No, he did not, as some most people think, swear compulsively. But there were many other things, all benign, that he felt compelled to do. Sometimes just being able to sit down took him the best part of an hour. Somehow we found the comedy between that and the fact that I could never stand up. We also found a tenderness that I have not known before or since – tenderness and desire fulfilled. Even there, there was to be no happy ending – perhaps it is all my fault – or my excuse. I don’t write happy endings – I find them too contrived, even boring. And they do not grant us the liberty to look at life and weep.
Juyl 16, 2005
Indian Cinema Examines Lesbian, Gay Themes
by Ranjita Biswas
Calcutta – India A city known for film literacy and great directors like Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak and Mrinal Sen this eastern metropolis witnessed something unique recently – a film award instituted on the theme of gay rights. The recently concluded annual Siddhartha Gautam film Festival (20-26 June) part of the ‘Rainbow Pride Week’ commemorating the Gay Rights movement, in the city gave the award to Onir, the director of the hit Hindi language film My Brother Nikhil and the best actor award to Purab Kohli , who plays supportive partner to protagonist Nikhil, who dies of AIDS.
Incidentally, Siddhartha Gautam was from Kolkatta and was one of the first activists to fight for gay rights to be recognised as a part of human rights in India. British colonial laws, still in operation, deem homosexuality a punishable offence. The Siddhartha Gautam Film Festival, organised by Friends of Siddhartha, has been an annual event in New Delhi since 1993 but in Kolkatta it has a special place as capital of communist-ruled West Bengal state, known for its liberal views. When movie theatres elsewhere, including in the country’s film capital of Mumbai (formerly Bombay) were vandalised halls for showing films on lesbian themes like Deepa Mehta’s ‘Fire’ , this city showed the film to packed houses.
By instituting the best film award on the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) theme, the festival also brought into focus a growing number of films, features and documentaries, which explore a section of the society about which people in general are not comfortable with. But awareness is growing. My Brother Nikhil has, in fact, done to Bollywood what Philadelphia did for Hollywood in 1993 where the HIV- positive character played by Tom Hanks generated understanding of the gay community’s place in society.
What has endeared the audience to ‘My Brother Nikhil’ is the way a sister stands by her champion swimmer brother as he goes through the experience of being rejected not only by his friends but also by his own parents once his HIV status is revealed. The matter-of-fact way in which the subject is dealt with, including Nikhil’s relationship with his partner, and later his parents’ remorse and acceptance shows a lot of understanding by the director. ” I cried buckets as the story unfolded but it also made me understand the nuances of a relationship we try to shut our minds off,” admitted Anuradha Baruah, a homemaker.
And that’s important, says Pawan Dhall from the voluntary group SAATHI (Solidarity and action Against The HIV Infection in India), one of the co-organisers of the festival. ”People empathise more with a problem like this, a problem for the heterogeneous mindset, of course, if presented in a format like films. Human stories always appeal.” Visual projection of serious societal issues is natural in a country like India which churns out the largest number of film titles in the world each year, most of them from the western city of Mumbai also know as ‘Bollywood’ for its prodigious film industry. Last year, a film on AIDS awareness ‘Phir Milenge’ (We’ll meet again) directed by actress Revathy Menon elicited comments from Peter Piot, chief of the United Nations joint-programmed against AIDS who had said, "When Bollywood, one of the world’s largest film industries with massive audiences, produces a film about AIDS, everyone has to sit up and take notice.”
Piot thought it was ”extremely significant that Bollywood is joining the struggle against the epidemic and helping to break the silence that surrounds HIV and AIDS." The film revolves round an advertising executive who is fired when her employer discovers that she is HIV-positive. She eventually wins a discrimination lawsuit against her employer allowing the examination of stigma, discrimination and ignorance associated with HIV/AIDS in the workplace. Earlier, some films from Bollywood mainstream did try to weave male homosexual characters into the plot. ‘Tamanna’ (Desire) examines the mental dilemma of a girl adopted by a eunuch who eventually discovers her well-to-do biological parents. The idea of an alternative family to the conventional heterosexual patriarchal family of the Indian cinema was bold but films were produced which tackled the subject.
Even real-life stories, not fiction, are emerging on the issue. The simple docu-feature in Bengali Piku Bhalo Aachhey (Piku is fine) directed by Tirthankar Guha Thakurta, a medical college student, is a ‘coming out’ film. Technically it would not measure up but then the director used a handy-cam with help from friends during a semester break, ”But it was important for me to make it. I know what it feels to ‘different’ in our conservative society and the pain thereof. It also helped me to accept my own position in society. I’m at peace,” said Guha Thakurta.
The US-based filmmaker Sonali who was in Kolkatta for the festival and is busy making a documentary on the parents of LGBT aid, ”Many parents feel isolated in such cases and think that they are the only ones who have this problem.” ”Basically, it’s about understanding and acceptance on both sides,” said Sonali who feels that a film on the issue will also dispel the myth that LGBT is prevalent in the West and ”not with us while so many people in the country are LGBT.” Sonali admits that having parents talk on camera is a problem though they are willing to talk about the subject. Initially she is focusing on India but subsequently she wants to cover South Asia and has chalked out plans to interview parents in Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
Music video is taking the gay community to middle class homes through the small screen
by Sujoy Dhar, Indo-Asian News Service, Kolkata,
Bollywood’s "My Brother Nikhil" did it on the big screen. And now a music video by well-known Bangla band Cactus is taking the issue of acceptance of the gay community to middle class homes through the small screen. The music video, in Bengali, is the first such attempt in India and will soon be aired by some Bengali channels. With the movement by supporters and members of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual) sweeping Kolkata through the gay pride march, a film festival and growing participation in the AIDS prevention movement, the soon-to-be aired Cactus music video comes as a reinforcement. " The proposal came from an NGO called Saathi (Solidarity and Action against the HIV Infection in India) for its opening video of a gay film festival," Cactus band member and drummer Baji told IANS.
" Saathi is also supported by the Elton John AIDS Foundation."
" We too have been involved in AIDS awareness campaigns for long and through this video we could fulfil our social commitment. Whether or not there is support for the LGBT community, AIDS is a common cause after all and the video serves twin purposes," Baji said. " We have shot outdoors and we begin with the line: Human beings are human beings, nothing else matters," he said. " This video is important because in the world of LGBT things are always happening underground. We want to connect with the new generation though music on such issues," Baji said.
According to Cactus lead singer Siddhartha, the message in the video, called "Pegasus", is loud and clear and shows the protagonist breaking free of his inhibitions. " Gay people like Elton John and late Freddie Mercury are referred to in the video. Blue apples also keep recurring as a symbol of same-sex love," said Siddhartha. " The visual had to be strong since the lyrics are bold," he said. " We are happy that ours is the first such attempt in India," said Siddhartha. According to Cactus, it has been 30 years that homosexuality has been medically accepted as normal and the society should also accept it. Saathi director and gay rights activist, Pawan Dhall, said the video is a small but significant step in integrating the sexual minorities into the mainstream since music videos make a lasting impression. " There would be raised eyebrows, but people would react," said Baji whose band last year pasted condoms on the tickets of their concert on the World AIDS Day to send a strong message.
July 30, 2005
Indian Lesbian Couple Weds
by 365Gay.com Newscenter Staff
New Delhi – Two teenage women have married in a traditional Hindu ceremony in India’s West Singhbhum district – despite laws which forbid same-sex marriage. The women, identified in the local media as Nitima Biruwa and Laxmi Bari, were married in the village of Bharbaria with the blessings of their families. Press reports from the region say that the wedding was arranged by family members.
The reports quote the father of one of the women as saying that he had tried for months to break up the couple to no avail. He then decided that the best thing would be to allow them to marry. The women are still in school and say they intend to finish their studies.
Last December the families of another lesbian couple who married illegally in a Hindu ceremony went to police in Amritsar to try to have the couple arrested under the country’s sodomy law. (story) A judge ruled the women could not be charged because lesbian sex was not mentioned in the sodomy provisions.
In March 2004, two gay men were attacked by their own relatives after they came out and exchanged vows. LGBT rights groups in India are trying to get the sodomy law overturned but concede it is likely to be a long time before India permits same-sex marriage.
July 31, 2005
Queer no more–new book shows, ‘coming out’ has never been easier for homosexuals in India
by Anirban Das Mahapatra
Out of the closet: No, I will not marry a woman because I am gay and in love with a man and, no, I will not shut up, because I have a voice. Whip out the leather, the necklaces, the pink glossy lipstick, then, and take that man’s hand and walk down Camac Street, and if you die in the process, it’s better being dead than actually living a compromised life.”
Sometimes, a little bit of noise helps work wonders. And ever since the Deepa Mehta film Fire — starring Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das as lesbian lovers — hit Indian theatres to extreme reactions in the mid-Nineties, stray voices demanding the legitimisation of same-sex love in India were often heard, though few of them registered in the public consciousness.
Of late, however, the winds of change seem to have started blowing. And the noise has begun to gain in decibels, moving out of the closet and on to the streets. Being gay, it appears, is no longer what it used to be, and many are proud to say that for themselves.
Consider the opening lines, an extract from an essay in a book titled Because I Have a Voice: Queer Politics in India released in Delhi last week. Editors Arvind Narrain and Gautam Bhan call the book with 27 articles the first organised literary effort on the part of the gay community to assert itself in a world which still sees same-sex love as ‘queer’.
“ It’s a collective voice that demands change, starting from within one’s own family and extending to a greater social circle,” says Bhan. “It’s also a statement on behalf of those who still don’t have a voice of their own, owing to social, cultural or linguistic barriers.”
The contributors to the anthology come from within the gay community, and hail from distant corners of the country. There’s even an essay by Sandip Roy, a gay-rights activist based in the US, which compares the way alternative sexuality is perceived in India and the US. Treading their respective walks of life, most of them are intensely involved in the gay-rights movement — while Chayanika Shah is an active member of organisations such as Lesbians and Bisexuals in Action and Forum Against Oppression of Women, Revathi is currently documenting the lives of eunuchs in the country.
However, the joint literary effort by Narrain and Bhan is definitely not the first of its kind when it comes to exploring issues related to same-sex love. Over the past few years, books relating to ‘queer’ politics in the country have routinely made appearances in the Indian literary sphere. Same-sex Love in India: Readings from Literature and History (2000), edited by Saleem Kidwai and Ruth Vanita, Man Who Was a Woman and Other Queer Tales in Hindu Lore (2001) by doctor and mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik (who has also contributed an essay to Because I Have a Voice) and Queering India: Same-sex Love and Eroticism in Indian Culture and Society (2002) by Ruth Vanita happen to be some of the better-known texts to this effect. Clearly, the stage had been set for a collective effort, that Bhan and Narrain eventually managed to pull off.
Kidwai, a historian and an advocate of gay rights in India, thinks these are indications of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community making its presence felt in India. “Even five years ago, it was virtually unimaginable to launch a book that dealt with same-sex relations in the heart of the city with such fanfare,” he says of the glitzy release of Because I Have a Voice at a Delhi bookstore. “Also, identifying oneself as gay and then writing on behalf the community was not something many dared to do. But now that things have been set in motion, it will only encourage more and more people to come out of the closet and assert their rights in society.”
The motion that Kidwai speaks of is evident not only in literature but in other media as well. While Bangla rock band Cactus belted out their track Pegasus in support of the gay community a few months ago, the 2005 Bollywood production My Brother Nikhil dealt rather poignantly with a script that had as its protagonist an ace swimmer, who happened to be gay and was HIV positive.
Such developments, say activists, are complemented by the fact that ‘coming out’ for members of the gay community has never been easier. And a major boost to this effect, feels Calcutta-based activist Pawan Dhall, is the fact that social acceptance levels are gradually on the rise. “Middle-class India is slowly coming to terms with alternative sexuality,” he says. To illustrate his point, Dhall cites an example from his own life. After participating in a gay-rights rally in Calcutta last year, Dhall says he was approached by a neighbourhood storekeeper, who had seen him grow up in the vicinity but had never conversed with him over anything more than routine buy-and-sell over the counter. “He came up to me and said he had seen me on TV,” says Dhall. “He then congratulated me and told me to keep up the good work,” Dhall says.
With the arts having shown the way, it may not be long before the law of the land follows suit. “The Supreme Court has upheld our appeal to review Article 377 of the Indian Penal Code [that penalises same-sex relations], and we are hoping that the outcome would be positive,” says Anjali Gopa-lan, director of Naz Foundation, an organisation long- devoted to gay rights in India. If and when that happens, it would perhaps be the day when the noise, in Dhall’s words, would lead to a profound silence of understanding. And that, as he says, would definitely be more welcome than the silence of ignorance.
Gay activists protest in Mumbai
by Anupama Ramachandran
Mumbai – It was a novel protest to voice their dissent against what the law calls unnatural behaviour. Over a 100 supporters of the gay rights movement came out into the Mumbai streets on Tuesday evening. " A large number of countries have repealed this law. In fact it’s a condition for entry into the European union. India being a democratic will repeal such an anti-constitutional law," says Anand Grover, lawyer.
Under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, homosexuality is an unnatural act and is punishable with a fine and/or a prison term of 10 years or even life imprisonment. The section implies that people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender are criminals, something activists say is unacceptable. " I want to ask what is natural and what is unnatural. I am gay and have had feelings for boys all my life. I have never been attracted to girls. Then why can’t we live our lives? We are what we are naturally. Why should we hide it?," says Geeta, Gay Rights Activist. Ironically, this law, first introduced by the British in 1860 and eventually discarded in 1967, continues to find a place in the Indian legal system. And 58 years after India’s independence, it’s people like these who are still looking for their place in society, a place that has been denied to them by laws like article 377 of the Indian Penal Code.
‘Mumbai will lead country in gay marriages’
December 11, 2005 00:18 I
Pop legend Elton John is finally getting hitched. The day the UK government gave nod to the Civil Partnership Act — which gives gays and lesbians the go-ahead to marry under a new legislation and also have the same rights as heterosexual marriages — Sir Elton announced his forthcoming, and now legal, nuptials with longtime partner David Furnish. Friend George Michael followed suit, declaring he would tie the knot with boyfriend Kenneth Goss.
About 1,000 other same-sex couples rushed to officially register themselves so that they could have a formal wedding, too. The UK joins just a handful of countries — the Netherlands, Spain, South Africa, Canada and some states in the US — in allowing gay marriages.
Could India be among the pioneers? “There’s one fundamental obstacle – Article 377,” says Arvind Narrain, author of Because I have a Voice: Queer Politics in India, an anthology on gay and lesbian issues. “Till this law is done away with and homosexuality de-criminalised, it’s premature to talk about civil rights and gay marriage.”
If Mumbai’s swish set is anything to go by, the city certainly seems ready for it. It doesn’t bat an eyelid when designer Wendell Rodricks and his partner Jerome Marel are openly counted among Goa’s hippest couples; when actor Bobby Darling details his sex change plans for the media or even when the media goes to town about Ajay Mafatlal and his past as a woman.
“ Mumbai is pretty blasé about matters sexual,” says media expert Pritish Nandy, who doubts there would’ve been so much hoopla about Mafatlal’s sex change if it wasn’t also about inheritance. Actor Khushboo’s recent declarations about pre-marital sex would not have fazed Mumbaikars, he added. Gay marriages represent one’s right to exercise one’s sexual preference, and to deny this right would amount to “hypocrisy and humbug”. But, adds Nandy, if it were to happen at all in India, Mumbai would certainly lead the pack. “ It has been the first to shed hypocrisy because of its liberal and free-thinking citizens,” he says.
But they comprise only the top 10 per cent, and are not representative of society in general, cautions Onir, director of the sensitively handled movie My Brother Nikhil, a film about an AIDS victim. “ If there is permissiveness, it’s only among the upper classes,” he says. “ They can do whatever they want and get away with it. It’s even fashionable to be bisexual among this crowd.” Perhaps that’s better than censuring someone for being different.
Same-sex love in classical Indian literature
by Sheo S Rai
It is often said by ignorant and/or homophobic people that same-sex relationship and love is a Western import. The term “Western” itself is an anomaly as it assumes that the West is a monolithic entity; but that’s another issue. In this essay, I will reveal that same-sex relationship and love is not an alien import but rather has existed in Indian society throughout the ages . That ironically, it was homophobia that was an import from the ‘West’ rather than homosexuality. Same-sex love has existed in Indian society and culture and this can be seen if one were to do a literature survey.
This essay will have three parts, each touching on the literature of era, each giving a sampling of the works of the particular era. You will notice that a lot of religious texts will be quoted as well as religious icons will be mentioned. The reason for this is that when one talks about Indian culture and literature, one cannot get away from the spiritual aspect. Indian society is deeply intertwined with it, be it with Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism or Sikhism.