9 January 2002
Two Gay Judges Urge Liberalisation of Gay Sex Laws In India
Two gay judges, from South Africa and Australia respectively, are lobbying the Indian government to liberalise the country’s laws on homosexuality, where gay sex is still a criminal offence. Justice Michael Kirby from Australia and Justice Edwin Cameron of the Supreme Court of Appeal of South Africa have been meeting with judges in India in a bid to get them to recognise that the laws need changing.
The Indian Lawyers’ Collective, a group of social activists in the legal profession, have already filed a petition to the Delhi high court, demanding that homosexuality be decriminalised as it violates the country’s consititution which is built on equality.
February 2, 2002
Glitter and Gumboots: Delhi University Wakes Up To Same Sex Love
Students of Delhi’s Lady Shri Ram College hosted a gay and lesbian festival in an attempt to ‘challenge gender stereotypes’ Madhavi Singh
New Delhi – Delhi’s Lady Shri Ram college has scored a first of sorts. With Glitter and Gumboots, it becomes the first DU college to host a gay and lesbian festival, featuring three Indian and three foreign films dealing with gender/sexuality issues. Especially since last year St Stephens had approached filmmaker Nishit Saran for his celluloid ‘outing’, Summer in My Veins, but backed out from showing it at the last minute. The film, instead, was shown this year at the LSR festival. It’s taken gay activists by pleasant surprise.
Says Salim Kidwai, author of Same Sex Love, ”I think it’s very good. I’m surprised it happened as I didn’t think DU was ready for it. But I’m glad as these are alternate channels for education.” LSR student Richa Burman, who heads the Womens Developement Cell, was responsible for putting together the festival. Already involved with issues of sexual violence and self defence she explains the motivation behind it, ”I think it’s an important issue which needs to be dealt with openly, with a little more sensitivity, and in a less homophobic fashion.”
How did she manage to get college authorities to agree, considering LSR is part of Delhi University, the epitome of stuffiness. ”My staff advisor, Prabha Rani and the principal didn’t have a problem at all,” she insists. So is this a sign that DU is finally willing to recognise these issues? Proctor DU, Prof S.B. Menon would rather not say.
”All details about what happens in individual colleges don’t come to us. It is not necessary for them to take permission for each and every function or event they have,” he says, adding however that as far as DU’s stand on these issues is concerned, Menon, ”is not at liberty to say.” Rani, staff advisor at LSR is careful to say, ” It didn’t start as a gay and lesbian film festival.
What we were trying to do was challenge gender stereotype.” She adds, ” It turned out that these were predominantly sexual stereotypes but it wasn’t intended that way.” In college hostels lesbians are still referred to as L’s or lesbos. Burman says she was attempting to create ”a forum for talking openly. To question gender roles with the focus on sexual minorities issues.” In a discussion moderated by members of Sangini, a helpline for lesbian and bisexual women that attempts to help women ”who are confused about their sexuality," reactions were varied. One student walked out of the screening of Butch Femme after a lovemaking scene between two women.
Another student courageously admitted that at 20 she was confused about her sexuality. But predominantly one got the impression that some of these young women were trying very hard not to appear homophobic, although they weren’t certain how they actually felt about the issue. Which just demonstrates that it’s about time educational institutions talked openly about sensitive issues instead of pretending they don’t exist.
April 23, 2002
Govt seeks time to reply on PIL making gay relations legal
New Delhi – Government on Tuesday sought more time in Delhi High Court to file reply on a petition seeking legislation of homosexuality between consenting adults and consequent amendment to Section 377 of Indian Penal Code (IPC), which makes such a relationship a criminal offence. " We (Centre) are not only examining the legal issue but also the social and ethical issues connected with it," Government counsel told a Bench comprising Justice Devinder Gupta and Justice S Mukherjee and sought six weeks time to file reply on the issue.
The Bench, however, dismissed a petition by a Kannur-based social organisation Joint Action Council (JAC), which has opposed the petition saying that the court was not the right forum to decide the issue. But the Court granted liberty to JAC to become intervener petitioner in the issue and fixed August 26 as next date of hearing. The Court which had taken cognizance of a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in December last had issued notice to the Union Government, the Ministry of Social Welfare, Delhi Government, Delhi Police Commissioner and National AIDS Council, asking them to file their replies.
The court during the last hearing in January had sought assistance of Attorney General on the issue stating that Constitutional validity of Section 377 of the IPC has been challenged by the petitioner. Additional Solicitor General Mukul Rohtagi appeared for the Centre and National AIDS council.
June 20-26, 2002
‘Muggy Night’ Raises the Curtain on South Asian Gay Issues
by Avy Mallik, Special to AsianWeek
As the lights come up, the audience slowly discerns the outline of a couple lying in bed. As intimate and melodious sounds of Chopin slowly envelope the senses, there is the import witnessing (or perhaps intruding into) a tender moment between two people in love. The man, however, blocks the view of his partner. But as he lifts himself from the bed, the audience realizes that his partner is not what it might expect – viewers come face-to-face with a middle-aged, overweight, balding male.
It soon becomes apparent that this Indian man – an affluent member of Bombay’s haute couture – is paying a lowly security guard for sex. This shocking start sets the tone for ‘On a Muggy Night in Mumbai’, a highly unorthodox and startling play written by Mahesh Dattani, one of India’s foremost playwrights.
On a Muggy Night played two sold-out performances in San Francisco at the Jon Sims Center for the Performing Arts on June 14 and 15. Dattani has a strong message that he wishes to convey to his audience. But instead of falling into the trap of having someone in the play preach this message, the playwright creates a believable set of characters going through real-life problems.
Dattani hopes that his plea for acceptance and understanding of India’s "queer culture" is made clear with the characters’ stories. This is certainly the case. The story unfolds primarily in one place: the living room of Kamlesh, an affluent fashion designer living in Mumbai.
One night, Kamlesh invites his friends over to his house and asks them for help. He confesses to still be in love with Prakash, one of his old flames. Prakash, however, has denounced their relationship as the work of the devil and moved on to become a straight man. Kamlesh’s friends, who are all gay, represent the many facets of homosexual culture.
There is Sharad, the flamboyant one with no worries about how the world views him; Bunny, the closet homosexual who plays a happily married father on a television sitcom; and Dipali, the levelheaded lesbian, whose common sense implies, even in gay culture, that it is the woman who is sensible. Kamlesh and his friends have complex personalities and deep bonds with each other.
For example, the kinship between Dipali and Kamlesh simply cannot be overlooked. At one point, Dipali says to her best friend, "If you were a woman, we would be in love." Kamlesh answers contritely, "If you were a man, we would be in love." After a short pause, Dipali retorts good-naturedly, "If we were heterosexual, we would be married . Eeeek!" Dattani, who is the only English-writing playwright to be awarded the Sahitya Akademi, India’s most prestigious award for literature, adds some interesting twists toward the end of the first act.
When Kiran, Kamlesh’s sister, comes to visit him, a shocking revelation unfolds: She is about to wed Prakash, Kamlesh’s former lover. From then on, Dattani’s characters face even more issues. Should Kamlesh tell his sister about Prakash’s sexuality, something that could end Kiran’s short-lived happiness? Is it possible for gays and lesbians to change their sexuality? And finally, is homosexuality an unnatural aberration of human society? While On a Muggy Night in Mumbai doesn’t profess to have all the answers, it at least poses the questions.
The San Francisco production of ‘On A Muggy Night in Mumba’i did not come easily. It was largely the brainchild of Ed Groff, the assistant director of the Jon Sims Center, and Vidhu Singh, the director of On a Muggy Night in Mumbai. Singh was approached by Groff and asked if she would organize the play and have it performed for the National Queer Arts Festival. "We had no funding, very little resources and a nonprofessional cast," Singh said. "But we had a lot of fun. We did this play for the love of theater. Hopefully, we can find a producer and have a proper run."
Singh believes that On a Muggy Night in Mumbai is evidence of a greater awakening of different cultures and lifestyles throughout the world. "The play was a huge commercial success in Mumbai. It raised serious issues about society in general. The primary audience was comprised of both gay and straight people; most were from the middle class." Singh had other reasons for wanting to do the play in the United States: "It was important to do a play about contemporary Indian culture. Not only was this a celebration of gay life, but it also had desi themes of family values and friendship." Singh is not alone in thinking that a proper run of On a Muggy Night in Mumbai would be a hit in the United States.
In a panel discussion about the play, several scholars and South Asian community members gave insight on how the United States is reacting to alternate cultures. Gayatri Gopinath, a professor of women and gender studies at UC Davis, said, "South Asian culture has a new visibility in the West. With movies such as Lagaan and Monsoon Wedding, India is becoming part of Western society. This is also coinciding with a new interest in gay life.
South Asian queer culture is slowly coming out of the closet." Gopinath believes that this recent surge of interest in gay and South Asian culture is a mixed blessing. "What is India striving for? Will we have our own Will & Grace or Ellen? And if we do, is that it? Is that the measure of success for the gay community?" . Contact Avy Mallik at email@example.com.
International Judges Preach Gay Rights in India
Two gay judges are advising sexual minorities in India, where homosexuality is considered a crime. Justice Michael Kirby, from Australia, and Justice Edwin Cameron, of South Africa, are in Mumbai to raise awareness about homosexuality. They suggested to a public conference that an Indian soap opera should include a gay couple to further the community’s cause.
The Times of India reports gay and lesbian activists have been protesting against the misuse of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. The section refers to "carnal acts against the order of nature." Justice Kirby said, "Australia had similar rules to the ones in India. When I was a boy, the fact that I was gay was to be kept a deep, dark secret." The judges talked about "coming out" and the threat of HIV and AIDS. Justice Cameron has publicly disclosed that he is HIV-positive.
25 June 2002
India Looks At Abolishing Anti-Gay Laws
The Indian government has confirmed that it is looking at the legal, social and ethical aspects of decriminalising homosexual acts among consenting adults. Under Indian law homosexual acts are punishable by prison terms up to ten years. The laws are being challenged by Naz Foundation, a gays rights group which was charged with prostitution offences after handing out safe-sex brochures in Northern India last year. Lawyers said the antiquated laws violate the right to liberty in the country’s constitution.
The government made the statement during Naz Foundation’s court challenge to the laws. Solicitor-General Mukul Rohtagi, said he will have a decision in six weeks. The court adjourned the case pending the government’s decision on repealing the anti-gay laws which date back to colonial times.
October 29, 2002
Smashing India’s sexual taboos
Bhupen Khakhar is one of India’s most famous contemporary painters but he is little known outside the subcontinent. As his first European retrospective opened at Salford’s Lowry Centre, he explained to the BBC World Service’s Arts In Action programme, why he has struggled to gain a wider reputation. "My interest is something which is around me, something which is part of my life, the things that I see," he explained. "Most artists don’t do these subjects as they are taboo, and I think, let me do it."
Bhupen Khakhar has always tackled difficult and taboo subjects in his work, whether the Hindu/ Muslim conflict within India or his own homosexuality. Over a decade ago he started to produce works based on his experiences of being a gay man in India. "I did not announce it verbally, but there were paintings that related to gay subjects," he explained. "At first the galleries didn’t like them. Some removed my work from their walls saying that young people would see and they would get bad ideas about sex." Refusing to allow them to display the rest of the show unless they included all of his work, Khakhar fought for the paintings to be seen. Looking back he recalled how it was a difficult time for a gay man in India. "Now I feel amused, but at that time I felt very pressurised because in India there are hardly any painters doing gay subjects," he said. "I felt ostracised and even my friends advised me to see a doctor."
In 1962, Bhupen Khakhar abandoned a career in chartered accountancy and enrolled in art school in the state of Gujarat. Drawing on the Indian popular culture that surrounded him, his early work was inspired by cinema posters and street kitsch. In his 40s and following the death of his mother, Khakhar travelled to London. Here, not limited to Indian scenes, he began to reflect on his new surroundings. British writer Tariq Ali is the owner of Man In A Pub, one of Khakhar’s paintings from this period. "It is very much an Indian painter’s view of an English pub," Ali explained. "Khakhar told me that what used to shock him, what was so unlike India, was that you could go into a pub in England and there was someone sitting at the bar alone, drinking the whole evening, without saying a word and then leaving." The Bhupen Khakhar retrospective takes place at the Lowry Centre in Salford, Greater Manchester, until 5 January.
17 October, 2002
Our Bombay friend Indian journalist Ashok Row Kavi caused a furore by coming out in a country which believes "gay" is a western aberration.
He says India is a country where gay sex is described as "mischief": something that takes place along with marriage, but never in the place of it. The Western gay ideal of two men going off together to make a life for themselves doesn’t exist in India, says Ashok Row Kavi, or indeed in any other eastern country with an orthodox culture. On the other hand, he says, sexuality is integrated into life in eastern cultures far more than it is in western countries with a Christian ethos. And he says that western gays need to liberate themselves from the life-defying ethos of modern Christianity, as personified by the Pope pontificating on life from Rome.
Ashok edits the Bombay Dost (‘Bombay Friend’), India’s only gay magazine. He is also an activist in the Indian AIDS struggle and established India’s only drop-in centre for gay men in Bombay. In a recent interview, he told Perry Brass (author of ‘How to Survive Your Own Gay Life’) that there was no official construction of gay identity in India. "Most people simply deny that gay men and lesbians exist. Homosexuality is illegal, a holdover from the British raj days; it is forbidden by Section 377 of the Indian penal code which condemns ‘sex against the Order of Nature’. However, this section, as a Brit holdover, is generally laughed at, and the usual fine for homosexual behaviour, such as in a public park, is 15 rupees – roughly 50 cents." In fact, says Ashok, India does not take gay sexuality very seriously at all.
" The Indian term for gay sex is ‘musti’ or mischief. Our term for elephants in heat is ‘must’, and young Indian boys who engage in gay sex are often joked about as being ‘elephants’, that is, playful. Musti is considered something that takes place along with marriage, but never in the place of it. It is never serious – and the deeper, romantic feelings that western gay men often have about their relationships are alien to Indian culture." Ashok was training to be a monk when he realised he was gay. He says his counsellor, Swami Harshananda, gave him sensible counselling: "Accept it as natural. Whatever occurs in nature is natural, though it may not be common." For all the drawbacks of being gay in an eastern country, he says there are also advantages. Ashok says India’s culture exhibits a clear "gay" and "queer" slant.
The film magazines are full of the homosexual adventures of the male stars; an openly lesbian film star flaunts her dykish secretary at parties; another openly lesbian editor runs a vicious newspaper supplement more poisonous than a dozen cobras put together." And he describes Christianity as the "cult of corpse worshippers", with lust an obstacle to be overcome on the path to purity, and Christ’s message of love forgotten. "To see sex as a barrier from God, as Christianity does, is a deviation from the human enterprise. I consider Christianity’s central meaning and the communion ritual the most homophobic and cancerous rite to the soul itself. "When you worship ‘death’ you detest sex, the creative force. If homosexuals in the western wilderness, inhabited by the white and black tribes, are to become free they MUST liberate themselves from present-day Christianity." He says attitudes are different in Hinduism and other Indic religious. "In Hinduism, Buddhism, our spiritual enterprise is to see and study how our gods lived, not died. "When the golden deer comes to tempt Rama in the jungle during his exile, his brother Lakshmana remarks: "Not possible, Rama, a Golden Deer is just not possible". At this, Rama snaps back: "So you claim to understand nature? Everything that is possible exists in nature."
" What a wonderful possibility for us gay, bisexual and transgendered people!" SIDE BAR: Human Rights Ashok Row Kavi will be the keynote speaker at this month’s Amnesty International’s global human rights conference, being run in conjunction with the 2002 Gay Games. The focus of the conference is sexuality rights, with special reference to the Asia Pacific region. For most westerners, there has never been a safer time in history to be gay, but there are still many countries where gays and lesbians risk imprisonment, torture and murder.
The conference aims to bring individuals and groups together to raise public awareness of human rights violations of GLIBT people, and to mobilise support for them at a local and international level. Other international speakers include, Julian Jayaseela, a Malaysian film producer, and Ashamu Mayowa Fatal, president of the Student Counsellors Association of Nigeria. Local speakers include Justice Michael Kirby, Australian Medical Association president Dr Kerryn Phelps, and Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby president Rodney Croome. . Amnesty International’s Global Human Rights Conference, Sydney October 30 – November 1. For more information or to register, telephone: + 61-2-9217-7670. E-mail: mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
October 11, 2002
International Lesbian & Gay conference in Mumbai
The first International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) Asia Regional Conference will be held here from October 11. The three-day conference titled ”A to Z – The Other Asia” aims to enhance visibility and ”empower the groups and organise them into a meaningful social force that remains rooted in the local culture and traditions,” said a joint statement from Hamsafar Trust and Aanchal. Various issues concerning the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people will be discussed in the conference, the statement said.
The conference would also explore various aspects of Asian LGBT life and highlight the areas that affect them the most in their daily lives. Some of the Asian issues in the conference are – heritage and culture of sexualities in Asia, religious oppression of sexuality and gender, women’s sexual health and patriarchal culture, laws and policies of sexuality, AIDS, male sexual strength and its impact on women. More than 80 participants would attend the conference, the press release stated adding that financial support for the meet comes from IGLA World, HIVOS, UNAIDS, UNIFEM, UNDP, International AIDS Vaccine Initiative and the MacAurther Foundation.
The ILGA founded in 1978, is an international federation of local groups dedicated to achieving equal rights for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people worldwide and it has now more than 350 member organisations from 80 countries. The last world summit of the organisation had decided to emphasise on developing Asian region and assisting communities.
From Lonely Planet Thorn Tree–India Branch ( http://thorntree.lonelyplanet.com/categories.cfm?catid=35)
Advice to Gay Travellers
Homosexuality is not generally open or accepted in India, and "carnal intercourse against the order of nature"(anal intercourse) is an offence under article 377 of the penal code, while laws against "obscene behaviour" are used to arrest gay men for cruising or liaising anywhere that could be considered a public place. The same law could in theory be used against lesbians, but that is unlikely as lesbian liaisons are much more clandestine. Physical contact between members of the same sex, such as holding hands, is commonplace in India and should not necessarily be taken as sexual. On the other hand, as in many countries where heterosexual contact outside of marriage is difficult, homosexual behaviour is frequent among people who do not consider themselves gay, and a surprising number of Indian men are bisexual.
For this reason, however, one-offs are much more likely than long-term relationships. For lesbians, making contacts will be rather difficult: the Sakhi resource centre in Delhi (details below) is the only public face of a very hidden scene. For gay men, a network exists in most big cities, especially Bombay, where gay parties are a regular event.
Contact the Khush Club, PO Box 573551, Bombay 400058 – which does not have fixed premises – for details of forthcoming social activities in the city. Cruising areas are strictly defined by time and place, with police harassment frequent and sometimes brutal. Male prostitution also exists, but robberies are common. Some Indian gay male couples make their relationship acceptable by one of them becoming a eunuch (eunuchs are semi-accepted as a kind of "third sex"), but such a step would probably be a little drastic for most Western visitors.
Gay Westerners contemplating a relationship should be aware that they will not be able to bring their lovers home with them.
Contacts (write in advance for information – most addresses are PO boxes):
-Bombay Dost, 105A Veena-Beena Shopping Centre, Bandra Station Rd, Bandra (West), Bombay 400050. Publish a newsletter and have contacts nationwide.
-Shakhi, PO Box 3526, Lajpat Nagar, New Delhi 110065. Lesbian guest house and resource centre.
-Arambh, c/o Aalok, PO Box 9522, New Delhi 110095.
-The Counsel Club, PO Bag 10237, Calcutta 700016.
-Pravartak, PO Box 10237, Calcutta 700 019. Publish a newsletter.
-Friends of India, PO Box 59, Mahanagar, Lucknow 226006, 0522/247009.
-Sneha Sangama, PO Box 3250, Bangalore 560032. Gay men’s group. Gay Info Centre, c/o Owais, PO Box 1662, Secunderabad HPO 500003, Andhra Pradesh.
-Good As You (GAY), 201 Samraksha, 2nd Floor Royal Corner, 1+2 Lalbang Rd, Bangalore. Gay support group. email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org
-Saathi, PO Box 571, Putlibowli PO, Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh. Udaan, `Box Holder’ (do not address to Udaan), PO Box 6793 -Sion, Bombay. Working class gay support group.
-Men India Movement, PO Box 885, Kochi 682005, Kerala
November 6, 2002
Transsexuals In India Strip In Train Protest
Transsexuals in India have stripped in protest at not being allowed to travel in the women’s compartments on trains. They sat on the Calcutta-New Delhi railway line and stripped off their saris to prove they do not have male sexual organs. They were quickly dispersed by police. A spokesperson for the railway told Khabar Akhon TV news the ban on transsexuals had been placed after complaints from women. In India transsexuals tend to live on the fringes of society, making a living from singing and dancing.
December 31, 2002
India’s First Gay Civil Union
The first gay civil union ceremony in India has been held under a glare of media attention. Indian fashion designer Wendel Rodricks and his partner, identified in Indian press only as Jerome, a French citizen exchanged vows their villa in Goa. Gay unions are not only illegal in India, but gay sex is punishable by imprisonment.
The ceremony was conducted by a senior consular official from the French government. Gay civil unions are legal in France, and since Jerome is French, the union is considered legal. The couple signed an official French partnership register flown in for the occasion. Some of the biggest names in the Indian entertainment industry were on hand for the ceremony. The couple, who have been together for more than 20 years, spend their time between Paris and Goa. But, while the union is recognized in France, it is not in it is not in India. Government officials refused comment, but the public act and the publicity that accompanied it puts increased pressure on the government to strike down the anti-gay laws which date back to the days of the British Empire.