Gay India News & Reports 2000-01

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Film: ’68 Pages’
A searingly honest film (2007) about five lives marked by pain and bound by hope – in 68 Pages of a counselor’s diary. A transsexual bar dancer, a prostitute, a gay couple – characters often ignored by Indian cinema take center stage to tell their stories of pain and trauma, of happiness and hope, of stories never dealt with sensitively. Produced by The Humsafar Trust; Directed by Sridhar Rangayan

1 The Internet: India’s Different Gay Divide

2 Gay culture started in UP in ’98

3 NGO charged with running gay club

4 Respect rights of gays, lesbians: NGOs

5 Film on gay lovers set to create ripples

6 Lesbians cry for space but very few care

7 Pune’s lesbians come out of the closet, and into their own

8 Once Ostracized, India’s Secretive Eunuchs Get Enfranchised

Wired Magazine San Francisco, CA ( )

July 24, 2001

The Internet: India’s Different Gay Divide

by Swaroopa Iyengar
Bangalore, India – Gay men aren’t accepted in Indian society, and as a result they have been extremely closeted. But in the last five years, the Indian gay community has moved into and flourished on what has probably been the most accepting space they could have ever hoped to find — the Internet.

But in India, the Net is still an urban phenomenon, available only to those who can afford to be connected as well as communicate in English. Now, the more affluent meet people online and avoid the dangers associated with cruising the streets to look for partners. But the Net is also creating new class divisions within the gay community.

"Before the Net, everyone had to go to the common cruising areas within every city," said Elavarthi Manohar, who works with Sangama, a sexual rights organization based in Bangalore. "If you are gay or bisexual, you know about these places. They are usually public toilets, parks or secluded lanes, and when one goes looking for sexual partners there, one tends to meet people from different socioeconomic backgrounds. You would come across servants and businessmen, so at least some interaction across the class would happen."

But going to these "cruising areas" make gay men easy targets for police actions. "The police frequent these places and very commonly either rape the men they catch there or try and extort money from them, so I suppose from that point of view meeting people online provides more immediate safety," Manohar said.

While gay online dating does not work much differently than how it does for heterosexuals, the anonymity it provides is of great significance in a country where gay men usually give in to family pressures and get
married rather than choose to come out about their sexuality. "They will then spend the rest of their lives frequenting cruising areas for sexual partners," said Chandra Shekhar Balachandran, founder of the Dharani Trust in Bangalore. "What they do not understand is that they are under enormous threat of contracting STDs and AIDS, which they will probably go home and pass on to their wives.

Balachandran started KhushNet — one of the most popular Indian gay mailing lists while he was in the United States. "The Net does isolate groups as far as connectivity goes," Balachandran said. "But about the language barrier, I have noticed that just a basic familiarity with English is enough. People tend to create their own way of talking, by typing Hindi words using the English alphabet."

What Balachandran finds most interesting are the kinds of conversations that take place on popular chat rooms such as and "The discussions are quite elite due to the kind of medium it is," he said. "Indians have this thing for fair skin. So often I come across someone who says, ‘I am 24, a software engineer. But I am a little on the dark side. Is that OK?’ It is as though the whole concept of a fair girl in a heterosexual match has been lifted and placed right into the homosexual arena."

For those who can get access, the fact that they can communicate with organizations across the globe has played a vital role in helping them shape and manage fledgling nonprofits here in India. Vinay Chandran started Swabhava in 1999 to provide online, telephone and personal counseling to sexual minorities. He is slowly mobilizing resources and networking with similar organizations in India to repeal Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalizes sodomy.

"People like to believe that no one around here has sex, they just make babies. So, gays are not even given any sort of consideration," Chandran said. "But the Net has helped us bring about some sort of change. Like when I go to a debate about gay rights, there is so much more information available now that it gives us an idea of the bigger picture — about what groups in the West are lobbying for, and on what they are basing their arguments."

Chandran works within tight parameters. The Indian police recently arrested two men in a "cruising area" in the northern city of Lucknow, and Chandran is concerned that cops in other cities might begin to bear down upon gay organizations. "They might just come in here and shut me down for what they consider possession of pornographic material — though it might just be some gay literature," he said. "And once people hear that our offices were raided, even if we do clear stuff up, they will always be hesitant in approaching us for any sort of counseling. Just to be safe, I have boxed up all my copies of Bombay-Dost (India’s first magazine for the gay community)." For us in India, it is just the beginning. And it has been such a tough journey," said Chandran.

The Times of India ( )

10 July 2001

Gay culture started in UP in ’98

Lucknow – The Intelligence Bureau (IB) had, in its report, tipped-off the Government of India way back in 1998 about the gay culture spreading its roots in parts of Uttar Pradesh. Apart from seven cities identified by the intelligence agencies where an organised gay movement had been noticed, the report had even hinted of similar trends in the lesbian community.

Well placed sources said that funding of non government organisations (NGOs) working for AIDS and HIV awareness programmes by international agencies through Reserve Bank of India, caught the attention of the Intelligence agencies several years ago. As a majority of the parent organisations funding these NGOs were based in Canada and Europe, which also has a chunk of Pakistani nationals residing there, the IB was pressed into service to monitor the inflow of funds and their mode of expenditure in India.

The Intelligence agencies in UP did prepare a report on the funding of Naz Foundation International and its offshoots: Bharosa — The Trust and Friends India, apart from other NGOs working on similar lines and collecting foreign aides. As the chief of Naz Foundation International, DGM Khan is presently based in Canada, the NGO caught the special attention of the intelligence sleuths.

When the report was being prepared, the Intelligence agencies could not gather evidence which could corroborate that the three NGOs were actually gay clubs. The report, however, categorically mentioned that the NGOs were, in a subtle way, propagating gay culture as they were only concentrating on homosexuals.

Some pamphlets of the NGOs were also sent to the Intelligence headquarters along with comprehensive details on the manner in which the foreign aides were being utilised by these social groups. The first report in this regard was drafted by the Intelligence agencies in 1998 and several other details about the NGOs have been sent to Delhi from time to time on regular basis, sources confirm. The reports also carry names of ex-officio members of these organisations and their role in the programmes of the NGOs.

Little wonder then, a battery of sleuths from the IB and the state intelligence agencies grilled the three office-bearers of Bharosa and Naz at the Hazratganj police station for hours at a stretch before they were produced before the court and sent to jail on Sunday. The fresh report being prepared by the IB has reference to its earlier reports. Sources said that a fresh report was being drafted on the activities of the NGOs under the light of the facts brought to the fore and it is likely to be dispatched by next week.

The Times of India ( )

July 8, 2001

NGO charged with running gay club

Lucknow – A non-government organisation (NGO) Naaz Foundation International and its of-shoot Bharosa, being aided by the UP government and international agencies, were charged of running a gay club in Lucknow under the garb of imparting HIV and AIDS awareness programmes. The director and programme director of Naaz were arrested on charges of propogating and indulging in unnatural sex.

Police sezied objectionable literature, sex toys, ointments, video cassettes and photograhps from the office of Naaz, the parent unit of Bharosa, situated in Gulzar colony on Rana Pratap Marg. The offices of the two NGOs were sealed by the police. The arrests were following the detention of one Shahid, a resident of Dalibagh from a den running a ‘call-boy’ racket at stand number 4 of Charbagh Railway Station on Friday night.

Shahid revealed that he was working for an NGO called Bharosa which has its office situated at Pirpura House near Ganna Sansathan. Searching the details of the NGO on the internet as revealed by Shahid, SP (East) Rajesh Pandey discovered that the webpage carried an open message asking men seeking men (MSM) to get in touch with Bharosa. The webpage also carried the statement that the organisation was working for AIDS and HIV awareness programmes. Police raided the office of Bharosa and were escorted to the office of the parent organisation Naaz situated at Gulzar colony.

The up-to-date office had a library, bedroom, dressing room, bathroom along with a small basement attached to it. The accomodation was found equipped with the most mordern luxuries including air conditioners, television sets and refridgerators. Bundles of imported condoms, ointments, video casettes and pornographic literature was also seized. Documents relating to memberships of another gay club called Friends being reportedly run by a retired army officer in Indiranagar were also sezied.

Talking to The Times of India the director of the regional liason office of Naaz, Arif Jafar refuted charges of running a guy club. He said that the literature seized was being used to educate the illiterate about AIDS and its prevention and propogate use of condoms. The programme director of Naaz, Parmeshwar Nayar was also arrested. He revealed the executive director of Naaz, D G Khan, was presently based in London and was expected to return in July 25.

SSP B B Bakshi said that the two organisations, Naaz and Bharosa, were running gay clubs in contrast to the Indian culture and ethics under the garb of educating the masses about AIDS and HIV. He said that it was a well organised racket which was collecting lakhs of rupees in aid from Indian and international agencies but involved in spreading gay culture in the city. The accused were charged under section 377 of the IPC (indulging in unnatural sex).

The Times of Indi, Mumbai (Bombay) ( )

July 2001

Respect rights of gays, lesbians: NGOs

Pune – Amnesty International’s drive to uphold the rights of gays and lesbians was effectively introduced to a rural audience here on Monday on the eve of the "international day in support of victims of torture". The fact that this emotionally-charged meet urging for tolerance and non-violence was held near the samadhi of Kasturba Gandhi in the Aga Khan Palace premises added a special significance to the meet.

The gathering lit candles and observed a minute’s silence to solemnly remember those unfortunate souls who suffered torture of various kinds. While June 26 is observed by Amnesty International as the "international day in support of victims of torture," this year the focus is on the torture of gays, lesbians and transgender persons.

Organised on the eve of the international occasion by Masum (Mahila Sarvangeen Utkarsh Mandal), Olava (Organised Lesbian Alliance for Visibility and Acceptance) and Pune-based Friends of Victims of Torture, the meet comprised of a day-long workshop on identifying signs of torture, a poster exhibition and a function to release Amnesty International’s book, "Crimes of hate, conspiracy of silence, torture and ill-treatment based on sexual identity."

The harassment and ill-treatment of women through gender bias, domestic violence and the right to dignity of homosexuals and transgender persons were discussed at the meet. Noted legal luminary Prof. Satyaranjan Sathe, well-known political scientist and human rights advocate Prof Ram Bapat, Masum co-convener Manisha Gupte and Chatura of Olava were among those who spoke at the function. The speakers who were addressing grassroots rural workers belonging to Masum and other non-governmental organisations explained the differences in sexual orientation and the right of homosexuals and transgender persons to human dignity.

"Being gay was earlier considered to be a disease, a mental aberration or a form of sexual perversity. It has, however, been conclusively proved that there is nothing unnatural about people with different sexual orientations. They have as much a right to human dignity as any one else," Masum co-convener Manisha Gupte said. Prof. Bapat who released the book "Crimes of hate, conspiracy of silence, torture and ill-treatment based on sexual identity," called for the adoption of Amnesty International’s 12-point program to bring an end to the inhuman practice of torture. The program urges governments to repeal laws criminalising homosexuality, condemn torture irrespective of the victim, provide safeguards in custody, prohibit forced medical treatment, protect gays, lesbians and others against violence in the community and protect refugees fleeing torture based on sexual identity. Amnesty International has also urged governments to support gay and lesbian human rights defendents, strengthen their international protection and combat discrimination.

Indian Express ( )

May 12, 2001

Film on gay lovers set to create ripples

Mumbai/Bombay – A newcomer director plans to challenge the audience with a film on homosexuality — a taboo subject in the tradition-bound country. Mumbai-based Shamin Desai’s debut feature film "Auroville 316" follows two gay lovers on a long car journey after a woman hitch-hiker forces one of them to rethink his sexual orientation.

"It is not just about gays, but gays as a metaphor for outsiders … people not accepted by society," said Desai, who sees himself as an outsider in Bollywood (Bombay/Hollywood). Desai’s film — shot in just 22 days in the harsh, barren landscape of Gujarat — is a bold cinematic experiment, coming two years after some Hindutva activists forced a film on lesbianism off theatres across the country.

The Hindutva activists felt the now famous film, Fire, violated the country’s traditional Hindu culture. Homosexuality is frowned upon in Indian society and punishable under the Indian Penal Code. There are a few voluntary organisations in the country which provide a platform for gay men and women to interact in relative safety, but very few are open about their sexual preference.

Desai’s film, made with a budget of $80,000, stars Bhutanese-English model Kelly Dorji, theatre actor Faredoon Bhujwala and Meghna Reddy. It will be screened at international festivals from next month and will be released in select Indian theatres in September. The writer-director-producer said he has entered his production in several international film festivals like the New York, Sundance (in Utah) and Palm Spring festivals. The Indian movie industry is usually a steady fare of light musicals, where the good guys wear white and beat off the baddies to get the girl. – (Reuters)

Indian Express ( )

January 5, 2001

Lesbians cry for space but very few care

by Saikat Datta
Panchgani, India – She is also a woman. A factor that complicates and adds to the denial of rights to a woman who just happens to love other women. It is an eclectic group of women at the National Conference on Human Rights. Some young and some old, here to ask for a right to live within a space they can rightfully call their own. In a society where homosexuality is discussed only in whispers, this is a confused group which fights loneliness in a confused world. "All my life I am told that I have to grow up, marry a nice looking man and then have kids. But the fact is I don’t love men,” says Depika from Sangini, a group that supports lesbian women.

For long a sexual minority, they are looking for an identity and space. A simple fact that is denied every day in their secret lives. "There is no legal standing, no counselling and no understanding. Instead we have to face ostracisation and prosecution from parents and peers,” says Depika. The first step is in recognising this as discrimination. From self to the community, both have to come to terms with the fact that this is a denial of human rights. And being a woman doesn’t make it any easier. With a subjugated history in society, getting to express their sexual freedom becomes a dream.

In India there is some succour from the fact that there is no organised hatred towards gays and lesbians. "Unlike the West we don’t have any case of organised hate movements against this community,” points out Arvind Narayan of the Alternative Law Forum. His Bangalore-based group has been fighting for the rights of sexual minorities among other issues for the past few years. But there have been cases of individual harassment and humiliation. "Many cases of police extorting money or subjecting gays to illegal detention simply because they were with other men come in,” he says. And these, though less in number, speak of attitudes that need to change.

"There’s always this sense of loss when you discover who you are,” says Aaron. An American presently settled in Delhi, she is also with Sangini. "Why am I not like the others you keep asking yourself, and this question of identity becomes a constant search.” Many a time telling their parents is the biggest block. Where do you begin to tell them how you feel, they ask. And the reactions are in a set pattern. From denial to anger to rejection in most cases and acceptance for a lucky few. The rest just confine themselves to a conventional marriage and live lives that have no meaning. "It leads to cases of depression but we can’t even highlight that because then it would be construed that since we are lesbian, we are susceptible to depression. No one really bothers about the fact that we are human and women,” says Depika.

Fighting a law like Section 377 under the Indian Penal Code still brands them as deviants. In search for an identity, they gather at various psychiatry conferences to be heard. Heard in the hope that they too have an identity in a world that thrives in the conventional norm.

Express India (

November 22, 2000

Pune’s lesbians come out of the closet, and into their own

by Arindam Ghatak
Pune – Most birthdays are special, and this one was especially so. The Organised Lesbian Alliance for Visibility and Acceptance (OLAVA), the first and only group for lesbian, bisexual and transgendered women in Pune, celebrated its first birthday on November 21. For members and guests at the function, the party line was simple and direct: "Come out, wherever you are.”

The organisation’s name, explained Chatura, who hosted the party, translates into moist in Marathi. "Olava suggests the warmth and tenderness two women are capable of sharing in a relationship. We opted for Marathi since we want our group to reach out to every section of society and not just the urban elite middle class.”

Over 100 women and some men from all over the country congregated in Pune at the party, also attended by around 20 women’s organisations. Clearly, it was a joyous moment for all: a colourful OLAVA banner fluttered high, personal experiences were shared as were tears. Solidarity messages were emblazoned across the walls, among them a quote by American blues singer Janis Joplin: "Don’t compromise yourself. You are all you’ve got.”

Oorja (name changed), said, "We were baptised into existence by Deepa Mehta’s film Fire. We realised that there were no organised groups in Pune, unlike other cities, who could protest against the vandalism that followed the film’s release. That, apart from the need to create space and support networks for lesbian and bisexual women, spurred us on.”

When it was formed, OLAVA had only four members. Today, its membership has inched up to 15. It has helped two women who were on the verge of running away from home because their families and friends rejected them.

Chatura narrated her coming-out experience: "In 1994, at a workshop in Pune, Manisha Gupte, the co-founder of the women’s organisation MASUM, spoke about the pain and pleasure of alternate sexuality. I had never heard such a positive validation of ourselves. That was the first time I had the courage to tell myself that I was happy being a woman who loves other women.

"I called up Manisha that night. She told me, ‘Be happy you have found yourself’. Since then, it’s been a journey of reclaiming the dignity of that moment.” Chatura’s parents, who were present in the room, gave her the thumbs up sign after her little speech. "Looking around the room, I can see several potential friends, new friends, straight people, gays, lesbians, feminists, happily married men and women with their children, and of course people from various religions. This amalgamation is a pointer towards a beautiful picture of a cosmos condensed into this small room. If only the world would take some tips from us,” remarked Manisha Gupte.

Adding that it is a myth that homosexuality was an urban phenomenon, Gupte continued, "I have been working with rural women for years. I have women rejoicing in their love for other women in villages and small towns, and not all of it is platonic. Invisibility and a quest for identity hampers them as much as it hampers us, and any one deviating from the norm is punished. The very fact that we can stand here and express ourselves today confirms that we have come a long way. But it is only the beginning.”

The participants also resolved to fight homophobia and the archaic Article 377 of the IPC, which states: Of Unnatural Offence: Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal shall be punished with imprisonment for life or imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend for ten years and shall be liable to fine. And, perhaps, start helplines in the future.

Another guest, Gomti, perhaps spoke for all the participants when she said, "We have a lot of fun too. I am sick of the media projecting us as distressed and neurotic minorities. Can we do away with this viewpoint once and for all?” On that note, the celebrations continued into the night.

July 2000

Once Ostracized, India’s Secretive Eunuchs Get Enfranchised

by Leela Jacinto
At 23, Pummy Sharma deserted his young wife, parents and siblings and ran away from his New Delhi home to a life of ill-repute. Sharma was tired of leading a double life – working in his brother’s garment factory by day and performing female roles in traditional mythological plays at night. "I couldn’t take it anymore," he told in a telephone interview from New Delhi. "I wanted to be a part of the hijra family. I had an attraction to men. I wanted to celebrate my sexuality."

But the life he ran to, was far from celebratory. Re-christened "Pooja," Sharma joined a "house" of hijras, a group India’s English language press calls eunuchs but which includes males born with deformed genitalia, hermaphrodites, eunuchs and homosexual cross-dressers. A highly secretive sub-culture, hijras have existed on the fringes of Indian society since ancient times, but there are varying estimates of the number of hijras in India. Unofficial figures range from 500,000 to 2 million.

Considering themselves neither men nor women, members of this so-called "third sex" generally adopt feminine names and dress and are traditionally referred to as "she." Faced with lives of isolation, poverty and public ridicule, hijras often resort to prostitution for economic survival. But this week, history was made when the people of Gorakhpur, a town in northern India, elected a hijra to the post of mayor of the town. Asha Devi, an independent candidate, won the election by a decisive majority – she polled 1,09,849 out of a total 2,31,240 votes – a blow to the major parties.

Devi’s election victory is not the first in the hijra community. Earlier this year, another independent candidate Shabnam Mausi – or "aunt" Shabnam – was elected to the legislative assembly in a neighboring state. Many observers believe the new trend of electing civic-minded hijras into public office is the beginning of a new chapter of enfranchisement in the history of India’s eunuchs. Exalted Past, Seedy Present It wasn’t always this way. Hijra traditions, including highly secretive initiation rites, are ancient, but hardly exalted. Early Hindu texts, including the Kama Sutra, contain references to the third sex and bear descriptions of impotent men who danced and cast spells.

In the past, hijras earned their keep in the royal courts, guarding harems and entertaining patrons. But with the dying of the old traditions, hijras have increasingly had to resort to petty extortion and the sex trade to make ends meet. A common means of money-making these days is gate-crashing wedding and birth ceremonies and threatening not to leave until they are paid off.

With their garish jewelry, heavy makeup, gaudy sarees and a raucous penchant for raunchy songs, hijras are invariably, but reluctantly, paid off. A common myth that a hijra’s curse can render you impotent only adds to society’s fear and revulsion. Allegations of adolescent boys being forcibly sexually mutilated by hijras – a charge hijras and social workers working with them vehemently deny – adds nothing to their social standing.

While they enjoy a ceremonial status in Indian society, often the most basic amenities such as access to health care, education, jobs and housing are denied them. A Brighter Future? But the recent elections of hijras to public office offers hope for many. Devi’s success did not come without a fight. Even the basics of bureaucracy posed challenges. One of the first stumbling blocks was election ballot which offers two gender options.

Devi, born as a male named Amarnath Yadav, listed herself as a she. Devi’s election victory came from a campaign promise that was simple and effective: she promised to eradicate corruption from civic offices and provide good roads, drainage and clean drinking water. In the rough-and-tumble of India’s increasingly corrupt political life, it was a promise that proved popular with the citizens of Gorakhpur. Observers said her victory was an indication of the electorate’s growing disenchantment with political parties.

Local media reports noted with a hint of humor that given the impotence of most politicians, electors decided they may as well vote eunuchs into power. But it’s an opinion that incenses Anjali Gopalan, executive director of the Naz Foundation India Trust, a New Delhi-based non-profit organization working on HIV and sexual health. "That’s just the sort of thing society would say," she told

"The fact is, this is a phenomenal happening. It’s a case of pulling people up and once that happens, they only get stronger. What’s more, hijras elected into office serve as a role model for the community." The Outsiders In an odd twist, hijras, for long ostracized as freaks, are now being courted by mainstream local and national parties But most hijras are unwilling to give up their outsider status – for political ends.

"A lot of hijras run on the platform that they are neither men nor women and that as outsiders, they will not get wrapped up in the sort of internal politics that leads to corruption," said Kira Hall, a professor of anthropology at Stanford University.

However, some experts say the voting of hijras into power was a sort of protest vote and are skeptical on how effective they will be in politics. Hall, who followed Shabnam Mausi for a brief period after she was elected, does not share this skepticism. "People do respond to her differently, a lot of times with amusement, but she is surprisingly well respected in her constituency and in the legislative assembly," said Hall. "It’s a significant step towards their enfranchisement. When any marginal group enters the legislative system, governmental power will necessarily lead to more recognition for the community." Sharma endorses this view. "If you compare our lot now with what we had 10, five years ago, we have so much more support now. We now have access to educational facilities, health facilities, it’s much better now, much better," he said.

Reuters contributed to this report – ABCNEWS