July 1, 2008
Personal Testimony About the Three Gay Pride Marches in Delhi, Calcutta and Bangalore Last Week
Yes, History was written yesterday! "One small march for queens, one giant parade for gay-kind" (with apologies to Neil Armstrong). What has been the significant achievement in the march in three cities? Was it the fact that so many braved the heat outside their closets? Or was it the fact that many who donned masks initially, decided to take them off, both literally and figuratively? Or was it the fact that the general populace saw that the sum total of the sample called the "queer population" consists of "ordinary people" and not just those who dress up in garish costumes and make sexual statements publicly? Or was it the flicker of hope in the heart of the young-man sitting quietly in front of his TV on Sunday evening in the closeted comfort of his home? What has the march achieved?
Some of my straight "friends" have asked me the "purpose of making such a public display of our sexual preference". "After all", they argue, "keep buggering each other in your bedrooms! Who the fuck cares?"
Demonstrations and public display of raw emotion may be distasteful to many. After all it is easier to maintain status quo in this country.
Easier for all the guys in the office and picnics to giggle derisively at homo jokes. Easier for all the "family men" to turn their noses up in disgust when they see a miserable queer being bashed up by the police in some stinking public loo. Easier for the heterosexual married people to think of some murderous queers preying on little kids. After all, it is best if homos are thought of as pedophiles and locked up. Lock them up! Punish them! Who the fuck cares? Most of us are straight anyways!
Only right that ugly, dark-skinned brides with poor fathers should be doused with kerosene and set alight just after they are married and can’t afford the "required" dowry. Only right that little girl children should be butchered as soon as they turn 2 Â….. days old. Only right that women should not be allowed to go to school and vote. Only right that "lower cast" kids should be banished to some filthy municipal school. Who the fuck cares? After all, it’s "them". It’s not ME! I am safe!
That bride could be your sister. That girl- child could be yours. That woman could be your mother. That kid could be you. You will care then!
Your passions will overflow into "embarrassing public display of emotions" when your twin brother is being bashed up in that loo. Many years ago one thin gentleman had decided to make salt at a beach himself when it was more fashionable to get it from the British. That thin gentleman carrying a cane marched a long distance to show those Indians ensconced safely in their British houses that it is better to be unfettered. These few hundred people who marched in three cities on Sunday have also shown us, the gay and the straight, that it is better to be free. That it is better to care. They have lit a tiny spark. Just as that thin gentleman, carrying a cane, had done many years ago by picking up a handful of salt in the beach. The spark became a blazing inferno of independence. Aren’t we glad it happened?
What is the use of the ugly duckling? One Day It Will Become A Swan!
July 2, 2008
Reverse swing: It may be an open affair for gays, lesbians New Delhi
Posted by: "Vikram"
Was minister of state of labour and employment Oscar Fernandes influenced by India’s first national gay and lesbian pride celebrations which had taken place, just the day before, on Sunday (June 29)? Because on Monday, at a function to mark the release of a report on the impact of AIDS in Asia, produced for UNAIDS by an independent commission headed by C Rangarajan, ex-governor of RBI and current chairman of Economic Advisory Council to the PM, Mr Fernandes made the most categorical statement in favour of decriminalising homosexuality ever to come from a member of the Indian government (in the presence of the prime minister as well).
"Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (which criminalises homosexuality) needs to go," said Mr Fernandes. "It is time for India to move forward on this." Mr Fernandes perhaps felt emboldened to make this statement because he was sweeping after two speakers, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Mr Rangarajan, who in less dramatic and specific, but no less a firm way, had made the point that the legal restrictions that came in the way of combating HIV/AIDS, of which Section 377 is a prime example, need to go. "Laws and public policy should not stand in the way of efforts to provide prevention services and treatment where it is most needed," said Mr Rangarajan. And he was clear where this was. For the last year-and-a-half, Mr Rangarajan, who is more known in India for monetary rather than medical policy, has been immersing himself in the hard realities of how AIDS spreads in Asia and its current and potential impact.
From this, he learned that high-risk groups like commercial sex workers, injected drug users and men who have sex with men are the main vectors, but "it does not mean that it is contained with this group alone," he cautioned. What these high-risk groups represent are the opportunity to control the epidemic. If it was allowed to spill over into the wider population the costs were going to be high. "Unless we provide immediate and effective services, AIDS will remain the highest disease-related cause of death and workdays lost for adults below 45 years of age," said Dr Rangarajan. "Without concerted responses Asia can expect an annual economic loss of $2 billion by 2020."
The one good sign, he said, was that if the disease was immediately tackled there was a chance of stemming it. Comprehensive and coordinated HIV/AIDs policies were needed, to be undertaken by commissions chaired by heads of government (as is the case in India). At least 50 cents per capita per annum had to be invested to ensure that the majority of people receive services for prevention and treatment of the disease. And since the high-risk groups were key to the disease in Asia (as opposed to Africa, where it spreads through more general unsafe sexual practices), they must be engaged with and helped to control the disease, rather than criminalising them and driving them underground and dangerously out of reach. The prime minister’s views were, not surprisingly, the most restrained, but not without substance. He welcomed the report he said, not least because it validated much of the way in which the Indian government tackled the epidemic. Yet he said there were no grounds for complacency. The disease had to be combated on all fronts, including dealing with groups who have faced stigmatisation.
"The fact that many of the vulnerable social groups, be they sex workers or homosexuals or drug users, face great social prejudice has made the task of identifying AIDS victims and treating them very difficult," said Dr Singh "If we have to win this fight against HIV/AIDS we have to create a more tolerant social environment. " The prime minister noted that one did not have to condone a group’s practices in order to seek a tolerant solution to the problem of AIDS. Such epidemics affected society as a whole, and should be answered by society as a whole. This, Dr Singh said, was the essence of the ancient Indian principle of Vasudeva Kutumbakam, that we are all one family. As a recommendation for social change this sounded less dramatic than Mr Fernandes’ statement, but in its characteristically understated way, it was no less radical.
July 04, 2008
Capital witnesses Pride walk, but 68 Pages of anguish gets no hearing
New Delhi – Director Sridhar Rangayan’s award-winning movie on HIV-affected gays finds no hall for screening On June 29, as Delhi’s saw its first Rainbow Pride March, Sridhar Rangayan was busy trying to organise shows for his latest film, 68 Pages. Like his previous two films, 68 Pages deals with issues close to Rangayan’s heart — lives of MSMs (men who have sex with men) who have been infected with HIV. “But for all the hullabaloo about increased awareness about gays, educated urban heterosexuals are still scared to show empathy. There is no aggressive homophobia, but no support either,” shrugs the 45-year-old human rights activist.
Rangayan has reasons to believe so. His film, which won the Silver Remi at the Houston World Fest earlier this year, is yet to be released in India as no mainstream distributor has come forward to screen it. “When I made the film, I tried my best to stick to the narrative mode, so the audience could connect with it even if the subject was unfamiliar. But when I met the distributors, I realised it did not matter. They all refused to screen it on ground that a film on homosexuality which talks about AIDS, is not going to bring them any audience,” he says.
In Delhi alone, Rangayan had got in touch with all major multiplex owners, but the experience, he says, has left him rather sceptical.
“The PVR authorities did not respond for the longest time. Finally, when I sent them a rather curt mail, they replied that it did not quite fit even their corporate social responsibility profile.” 68 Pages deals with the lives of five HIV positive individuals — a trans-sexual bar dancer, a gay couple, a sex worker and a drug user — each grappling to come to terms with their own lives. The story is a narrative from the personal diary of a counsellor who worked with them. But instead of a bleak, oblique narrative, Rangayan has focussed on the idea of hope and redemption. He drew his inspiration from the first woman counsellor who worked at his NGO, Humsafar Trust, in Mumbai, one of India’s first organisations to work with sexual minorities. Humsafar Trust is also the co-producer of the film.
The IIT Mumbai alumnus, who has worked with directors like Kalpana Lajmi, Sai Paranjape among others, is now distributing the film via the NGO route. Humsafar Trust and their associates have come forward to hold a 12-city promotion tour, which includes Mumbai, Baroda, Nagpur, Indore, Chennai, Kolkata and Bangalore. “We are going to show at auditoriums and hold discussion sessions afterwards, so there is a dialogue. That’s the only way to clear misconceptions,” he says. In Delhi, Rangayan has found support in Gargi Sen’s Magic Lantern Foundation, an NGO which distributes non-commercial films. A screening will be held on July 10 at the India International Centre. Naz Foundation, an NGO as well as Kriti, a city-based film club, too are organising screening. Rangayan is also planning to bring out DVDs of the movie. All these, the director, says, are a small step towards their ultimate goal. “It’s not just Article 377 which needs amendment. There’s still a long way to go before people’s mindset about alternative sexuality changes,” he says.
July 1 , 2008
Interconnected stories of sexual minorities, born in a city that doesn’t have time to connect
by Jack Lamport (A writer and part-time actor based in London)
The usual romances of Bollywood were turned on their head at a screening in Calcutta on Saturday — thanks in part to British funding. A new film, backed by the British Department for International Development (DFID), uses all the usual tropes of the Bollywood blockbuster: song, dance and close-up-spangled drama. But this time it is not a boy-meets-girl scenario. Here the lovers are transsexuals, bar dancers, prostitutes and a gay couple — and their tragedies are based on the real-life stories of those facing HIV in Mumbai.
68 Pages is directed by Sridhar Rangayan — who, I should declare, directed me in another gay film with British funding, Yours Emotionally!. But while Yours Emotionally! was in English and aimed primarily at an international film festival audience, 68 Pages is in Hindi and sloshing with plenty of Bolly thrills and spills. Sridhar has a different audience in mind. “It is for a mainstream grassroots audience,” Sridhar tells me on the phone, after the Saturday screening. “We felt that we wanted to help change their way of looking at sexual minorities. DFID UK had a programme running in India which was doing advocacy work on HIV AIDS — and they wanted to do a film on the situation here.”
Looking at its assemblage of unusual characters — who are based on the stories of real-life friends of the Mumbai sexual health organisation, The Humsafar Trust — the film charts lives riddled with trauma, happiness and hope. It examines people who, stuck with HIV, are marginalised. “This is a Bombay that we didn’t know of,” says Sridhar. “It’s the one we never stopped to think about it. It’s about interconnected stories of people in a city who don’t have time to connect.” He talks about the Oscar-winning movie Crash — the one which pipped Brokeback Mountain to take Best Film in tinsel town last year — even calling his film a “queer Crash”. His reasoning: it deals with HIV and sexuality where Crash dealt with race, through the lens of a city. “It is a Mumbai version of LA — we do not connect with the people around us,” Sridhar explains.
Did Calcutta connect? Speaking after the screening, perhaps unsurprisingly, Sridhar’s answer was yes. People had been crying and gasped through the film, he said. “Though the film is treated in a very melodramatic format, the characters are real. It could be about somebody right in the area you are living — a transsexual person that you never tried to understand.” The screening was part of Calcutta’s Rainbow Pride week, which culminated in a parade on Sunday. While some gay rights activists may be cursing Britain for having ever brought the infamous section 377 to India, Shah Rukh Khan had nothing but praise for London this week. Visiting the British capital for social engagements, he found time to tell London reporter Anil Sinanan: “I say it as a joke to everyone that when the English left India, we were not going to let them go! It [London] is the greatest city in the world. It feels like an extension of middle-class Mumbai.” Home from home then? Maybe it’s the red buses that do it.
July 04, 2008
Nothing unusual in holding a gay rally: HC
Gay activists, who recently marched in New Delhi, demanding decriminalisation of homosexual acts among consenting adults on Friday got a shot in the arm with the Delhi High Court finding nothing ‘unusual’ in holding such a rally. "Such marches are held all over the world. Recently in London more that five lakh people were on the streets for the cause. There is nothing unusual in holding such rallies," Justice A K Sikri said, dismissing objections raised by anti-gay rights activists, including RSS idealogue B P Singhal, over the June 29 rally. "If people think that they are doing something wrong then police is there to take action against them," the court said.
The bench was hearing a petition filed by NGO Naz Foundation seeking the court’s direction to declare Section 377 of IPC, which provides punishment up to life sentence for indulging in homosexual acts, as ‘unconstitutional’ as it violated a citizen’s fundamental right and promoted illegal sex. The anti-gay right activists are a party in the case as they have been opposing the Foundation’s plea in court. The petitioner pleaded that the matter be heard on a priority as it had been pending in the court for the last three years.
"People (homosexuals) are being increasingly victimised by the society. Time is a crucial factor in the case and we want this matter to be heard on day-to-day basis," advocate Anil Grover, appearing for the NGO, contended. Accepting the contention, the court agreed to hear the matter daily and listed the matter for hearing on July 21. The bench allowed the petitioner and the Centre to approach the Chief Justice before July 21 for any further clarification. The bench, in the last hearing, had sought the assistance of the Attorney General in dealing with the petition. The petitioner had contended that gays are facing problems as they were afraid of revealing their sexual orientation. "Section 377 demeans a gay man. It silences a gay man into accepting the discrimination against him. He will not come out to declare his orientation," the NGO had contended. "It can be criticised on the basis of moral ground but it is illegal to make homosexual acts between consenting adults an offence," the petitioner said.
The Centre in its reply had taken a contradictory stand with the Ministry of Home Affairs favouring the retention of penal provisions while the Health Ministry was against the enforcement of Section 377 in cases involving consenting adults. "Indian society strongly disapproves of homosexuality and disapproval is strong enough to justify it being treated as a criminal offence even where consenting adults indulge in it in private," the Home Ministry had said in its affidavit. Deletion of the Section can open the flood gates of delinquent behaviour and be misconstrued as providing unbridled licence for homosexual acts," it had said.
The Ministry of Health, on the other hand, has not favoured the enforcement of the penal provisions against consenting homosexual adults. "Enforcement of Section 377 can adversely contribute to pushing the persons suffering from HIV underground, which would make such risky sexual practises go unnoticed," said an affidavit filed by National Aids Control Organisation (NACO), which comes under the Ministry of Health.
Pointing to the vulnerability of homosexuals to HIV infection, the NACO had said that there were around 25 lakh male homosexuals and around eight per cent of them were infected with HIV while in normal people the infection was only one per cent. "Men Having Sex with Men (MSM) are mostly reluctant to reveal same sex behaviour due to fear of law enforcing agencies, pushing the infection underground and making it difficult to access them," the affidavit file by NACO had said, adding that around 69 per cent MSM know about preventing infection but only 36 per cent use condoms.
July 04, 2008
High Court dismisses case against "gay rally“
New Delhi – There is nothing unusual about such rallies. It is held all over the world.” This is how the Delhi High Court reacted to submissions on Friday against recent march in the capital by gay activists. The June 29 rally had demanded decriminalisation of homosexual acts among consenting adults. The court is at present hearing a petition filed by NGO Naz Foundation seeking the court’s direction to declare Section 377 of IPC, which provides punishment upto life sentence for indulging in homosexual acts, as “unconstitutional” as it violated a citizen’s fundamental right.
“Such marches are held all over the world. Recently in London more that five lakh people were on the streets for the cause,” Justice A.K. Sikri said, dismissing objections raised by anti-gay rights activists, including RSS idealogue B.P. Singhal, over the rally. The anti-gay right activists are a party in the case as they have been opposing the Foundation’s plea in court.
July 4th 2008
"People Just Use Us For Sex"
by Isabell Zipfel of the Guardian Weekly
In India, kothis are men who dress and live like women, who are not necessarily homosexual but often take partners who conform to a typically masculine gender role. Edged out by society they meet in the city’s dangerous ‘cruising areas’, where they are targeted by criminals and police alike; in a culture that outlaws same-sex practices they are easy prey for blackmailers who threaten to expose them as homosexuals.
Mintu says that he is fed up with seeing his friends come to harm Since childhood I have been putting on make-up and wearing saris. I used to play with dolls and I dressed up in drag. I didn’t know what kothis were. I thought I was the only person who was like this. I was sexually abused several times from the age of seven. I thought I had done something wrong and that it was a sort of punishment from God. So I stayed quiet, thinking I had to suffer all things.
The first incidence of sexual abuse happened in summer. It was by my mother’s servant, who was 16. I was already dressing in girls’ clothes by that point and playing with my dolls. He said: "I will make you into my doll." After that we played marriage. He said: "Now we play a real game. You have to sleep with me." He abused me, but as far as I knew I was just acting like a girl. I didn’t know what sex was. There were three more sexual abuses in my childhood since then. When I was around 10 years old people started to harass me. My neighbours and school friends would talk to me in a vulgar manner, saying: "You are girlish, you are not normal, your penis will not get an erection."
At that time I tried to commit suicide. There was no one to talk to. I was having very bad experiences at school as well. The teachers laughed at me. They would look at my studies and if there was something wrong in my work they would beat me. Eventually they threw me out of the class. The whole school was looking at me, saying: "He is a kothi. He behaves like a girl." Once, my friends tried to rape me. We were on holiday from school that day. They said: "Let’s have sex with him," and they tried to rape me in front of a crowd of people. Everybody was laughing.
A lot of kothis meet each other in the city’s cruising areas. Cops and criminals are there as well. Thieves will snatch any personal belongings – watches, clothes, money, mobile phones. They take everything you have.
A kothi once told me that he was in a cruising area one day when a man came up to him and asked him to have sex. He said that he didn’t want to have sex, but the man offered him two rupees. Because the kothi didn’t have any money he agreed and took the two rupees. The man said that he wanted to have sex naked so they both took off their clothes, and it wasn’t until afterwards that the kothi realised that his garments had been stolen, and he had to walk home half-naked.
Another situation a kothi was telling me about happened in another cruising area. The police came up to him and beat him; they snatched his mobile phone, golden chain, address book and money. Then they told him that if he wanted his address book and phone he would have to give them 5000 rupees or they would have it published in the newspaper that he was a homosexual and was caught having sex. He went home to get the money and gave it to the cops. He was beaten and blackmailed for being a kothi. He did get back his phone and address book.
Kothis tend not to take legal action against anyone because they are in same-sex relationships. [The Indian penal code criminalises homosexual practice.] If they go to the police they are asked: "Who was this person you were having contact with?" The cops will ask a lot of questions and will say: "It’s your fault since you are having anal sex." They have been known to beat kothis and sometimes strip them naked and parade them through the streets. Sometimes they put them in jail. In India, men who have sex with men prefer not to go to the doctor because they get harassed. The doctors say: "You are a man and you are having anal sex – don’t you feel ashamed?"
Many kothis think the pain will just go away; or they practise self-treatment, which can increase their problems. I have lost three friends to Aids. At first they were not admitted to hospital because they were kothis and were HIV-positive. Indian people think that if somebody has HIV he must have done something wrong. Doctors worry that the other patients will become infected by them. So my friends did not receive good healthcare. They were put in a room that was dirty and full of mosquitoes; their water supply was polluted and they were given garbage to eat. No one came in to change the bed sheets; none of the staff wanted to go near them.
Life is hard for us. I would like to be free, but I can never live freely. I would like to say to people that I have a boyfriend and show them who my boyfriend is. I would like to show them my identity. This is a part of my life and I want to show it. I want freedom for other kothis as well. Nobody takes care of them and nobody understands their feelings. Their families pressure them into false marriages because everybody thinks what they are doing is unnatural. Maybe after my death something will change.
Maybe. But I believe that until the end of my life there will not be any freedom for us. People just use kothis for sex, or to make money out of us; they use us to pass the time. And one day we will die because of the pressure from our families and the rest of society.
• Mintu, whose name has been changed, was speaking to Isabell Zipfel.
7 July 2008
Time to give ‘third sex’ its legal rights
by Dhananjay Mahapatra,TNN
Two years ago, a bearded Thomas Beatie and his wife Nancy — viewed by their neighbours as a happy couple deeply in love — explored the idea of becoming parents after a decade-long conjugal life. Thomas, a transgender, got pregnant and has just delivered a ‘beautiful baby girl’. Irrespective of whether the baby will call him ‘papa’ or ‘mama’, the event signals a revolution in social, political and legal thinking in countries where transgenders have significant population. Thomas is aware of this and admits that his pregnancy ‘‘sparks legal, political and social unknowns’’. It sure does, especially in India, which is home to nearly 10 lakh transgenders — known as ‘hijras’, ‘kothis’ and other local epithets — who live asymmetrically within society. They are accepted as part of society yet refused many a legal right. It is difficult to fathom public reaction to the audacious adventure of Thomas and Nancy in India, which recently saw a TV programme, Ipadikku Rose , hosted by a transgender — for, same-sex marriages, or those between transgenders, are still illegal.
Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code punishes those indulging in carnal intercourse ‘against the order of nature’ with a minimum imprisonment of 10 years that could be extended even to life term. The legal battle for deletion of this section, termed discriminatory by human right activists, is on in the Delhi high court, which recently trashed objections to a massive rally taken out by gay activists in Delhi as well as several other cities across India. Even if the HC rules in favour of transgenders and declares Section 377 of IPC unconstitutional, it would mean little if corresponding legal rights were not conferred on them through amendments to the Constitution, as well as personal laws, that require moving of appropriate bills in Parliament by the political class. The laws relating to marriage, inheritance and succession would need necessary changes to give transgenders the right to put a ‘T’ in place of the conventional ‘M’ (for male) and ‘F’ (for female) in the appropriate boxes of the numerous forms that one fills in his/her lifetime. The judiciary’s response to the transgenders’ right is a mixed one. On the positive side, the Delhi high court has agreed to adjudicate the legality of Section 377 on the request of the Supreme Court. However, the question — whether a transgender or a ‘hijra’ can contest from a seat reserved for women — is still pending decision before the Supreme Court for last five years.
India’s social and political circles have accepted transgenders. Kamala Jaan became the first eunuch to be elected mayor of an Indian city, Katni in Madhya Pradesh, in January 2000. A month later, Shabnam Mausi, another transgender, created history by getting elected to the Madhya Pradesh assembly from Sohagpur constituency. However, in February 2003, the MP high court struck down Kamala Jaan’s election upholding a trial court’s verdict that eunuchs were male and, hence, could not seek election to offices reserved for women. Kamala’s appeal, though admitted by the apex court, is still pending. If Kamala’s plea gets accepted by the apex court, whenever it decides to hear her/his petition, it would definitely mark an advancement in the legal thinking for transgenders. But apart from the legal rights, the social problems are plenty, as is summed up by Thomas Beatie. Despite being in the US, where personal liberties figure right at the top of the social priorities’ menu, Thomas, while being pregnant, had summed up his experience:‘‘We have only begun experiencing opposition from people who are upset by our situation. Doctors have discriminated against us, turning us away due to their religious beliefs. Health care professionals have refused to call me by a male pronoun or recognize Nancy as my wife. Receptionists have laughed at us.’’
It is no laughing matter that a bearded Thomas gave birth to a baby girl. It would not be a laughing matter when the legal pundits sit down to have a relook at the law, which till date dealt with the ‘M’s and ‘F’s, and try introducing the ‘T’s.
July 12, 2008
Some really good news
Finally the Matunga gang has been cracked. Their activities have traumatised so many gay men, whose stories we’ve often heard on this list, so its really good to hear this. I would like to pay special tribute to the unnamed gay man who had the guts to file a case with the crime branch (if anyone knows who it is, I’d really like to know). Over the years, after hearing so many stories of guys being blackmailed, we’ve tried to persuade them to file a case and no one has agreed. I guess I can’t blame them, since who wants to revisit the trauma or risk being humiliated by the police, but it has been frustrating to see the gang get away with it again and again. But now someone has filed a case and kudos to him. We do need to see though that this cop does not get bail easily. If anyone can identify this guy, or his associates, and is willing to testify could you get in
touch with me?
From Mumbai Mirror: Cop held in gay extortion case –He was part of gang that lured their victims and then entrapped them by Danish Khan A sub-inspector of Matunga police station who was arrested on Tuesday for extorting money from a homosexual was apparently also involved in extorting money from college kids who had MMS clips on their mobile phones. Sub-inspector Ashok Temkar was arrested by the Thane crime branch on Tuesday, along with Salim Sayyad, Mohsin Shaikh, Sajid Khan and Azhar Siddiqui, for extorting money from a homosexual. Subsequent investigations revealed that Salim used to get porn MMS clips from college students and distribute it among his other friends. Later, Salim used to call the boys and demand money saying he was caught by the police and he had revealed the names of people from whom he had bought the MMS clips.
In some cases, he used to call them to a police chowky manned by Temkar and say that the police were demanding money to close the case. The frightened kids would end up paying Salim to avoid any `police trouble’. "Salim Sayyad is the main accused. He used to take Temkar’s name to instil fear among his victims. This group has been involved in other cases of extortion too," says Sanjay Shintre, deputy commissioner of police, Thane crime branch. Salim was Temkar’s informer and had given him several tips about sex rackets and other crimes. "Subsequently, Salim and some accomplices started an extortion racket with the knowledge of Temkar," says Shintre.
The Thane police arrested Temkar and the others based on a complaint by a homosexual, who is a resident of Thane. The victim come across a person on the Internet who called him to Dadar from where they went to Five Gardens. Later, two of Salim’s accomplices appeared on the scene. Claiming to be crime branch officers, they brought the duo to the police chowky where Temkar used to sit. "While the victim waited outside, his `partner’ came out saying that they could be arrested if they do not pay money as homosexuality is against the law (Section 377). The victim paid Rs 19,000 and later Rs 1.5 lakh," says Shintre.
The victim subsequently complained to the Thane police after which the accused were arrested. All of them are in police custody. Section 377 of the IPC Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) criminalises `carnal intercourse against the order of nature’. A person convicted under this rule can be imprisoned from up to ten years to life. Though there have been very few convictions, activists have voiced concerns over the misuse of the law.
July 29, 2008
India’s "unnatural sex" law should be revised says High Court judge
by Phoebe Ferris-Rotman
The Bombay High Court said last week that the controversial Section 377 of Indian Penal Code that deals with unnatural sex needs revision. The remarks came in a judgement delivered by Justice Bilal Nazki and Justice Sharad Bobde in the infamous Anchorage paedophilia case last Wednesday. "There are lots of changes taking place in the social milieu and many people have different sexual preferences, which are even not considered to be unnatural,’’ said the judgement by Justice Nazki. "Therefore it is high time that the provisions of law which was made more than a century ago, is looked at again.’’ The judge’s remarks are not binding, but the city’s lesbian and gay community welcomed the progressive views of the judge as they are the first time any court in the country has spoken about changing the law.
"It is a significant and forward looking view,’’ said Lesley Esteves, a Delhi-based activist, told The Times of India. "Across the world countries have decriminalised homosexuality, but the law continues to exist on our statutes.’’
Section 377 was enacted in 1860 under the British Raj in line with the anti-sodomy laws in England at the time. The law punishes anyone who "voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal" by imprisonment. Two former Royal British Naval officers, Allan Waters (64) and Duncan Grant (60), who had been convicted on charges of unnatural sex in 2003, were acquitted by the High Court in the paedophilia case along with their Indian manager William D’Souza, saying they were not guilty of sexually abusing boys at the Anchorage shelter home in Colaba. The men were originally sentenced to six years in jail and fined £20,000. The High Court agreed with judgements that said that the only ingredients required to prove guilt in such cases is "if it is against the order of nature."
This criminalises a whole range of sexual acts from mutual masturbation, to fellatio and anal sex.
August 8, 2008
India’s health minister calls for decriminalisation of homosexuality
by Tony Grew
A leading Cabinet minister in India has said that laws that criminalise gay sex should be overturned. Anbumani Ramadoss made his remarks at the 17th International Conference on AIDS in Mexico City. India has the greatest number of HIV/AIDS patients in the world, an estimated 2.5 million. "Structural discrimination against those who are vulnerable to HIV such as sex workers and MSM (men who have sex with men) must be removed if our prevention, care and treatment programmes are to succeed," he said, according to the Times of India. Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalises men who have sex with men, must go."
Mr Ramadoss is the country’s health minister. The 39-year-old Tamil doctor is the youngest member of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Cabinet and is tipped as a future leader. He told the conference that "we are seeing the beginning of the stabilisation of the HIV epidemic in India." Last month the High Court in Bombay said that the controversial Section 377 needs revision. The law punishes anyone who "voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal" by imprisonment and criminalises a whole range of sexual acts from mutual masturbation, to fellatio and anal sex. "There are lots of changes taking place in the social milieu and many people have different sexual preferences, which are even not considered to be unnatural,” said Justice Nazki. "Therefore it is high time that the provisions of law which was made more than a century ago, is looked at again.’’
The judge’s remarks are not binding, but the city’s lesbian and gay community welcomed the progressive views of the judge as they are the first time any court in the country has spoken about changing the law. Section 377 was enacted in 1860 under the British Raj in line with the anti-sodomy laws in England at the time. In June more than a thousand people took to the streets of three major Indian cities to celebrate Pride.
The largest turnout was in Bangalore, where 600 people marched. An estimated 300 LGBT people took part in New Delhi’s first ever Pride parade, while 400 marched in Kolkata. Fears that the events would be targeted by religious groups proved to be unfounded. Some participants wore masks to protect their identities.
The expanding economy of India has created the climate for a growing and visible community of homosexuals and transgender people. The gay scene in larger cities such as Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai is increasingly vibrant. Time Out Delhi was launched last year with a homosexual section and listings featuring gay nights and social gatherings. In India there are huge social and legal pressures to live a heterosexual lifestyle but in recent years, the campaign to decriminalise homosexuality has strengthened.
August 16, 2008
Gays, lesbians to march in pride today
by Pratik Ghosh, Hindustan Times
Mumbai – It’s a march to freedom for the sexually oppressed and marginalised. At least 500 people of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) communities, along with their families, friends and colleagues, will take to the streets on Saturday to make their demands heard. The Queer Azadi March will start at August Kranti Maidan at 2.30 pm and proceed to Nana Chowk, take SV Patel Road till Sukh Sagar to end at Chowpatty. Actress Celina Jaitley and sociologist Nandini Sardesai have agreed to be a part of the march organised by 14 groups, including Humsafar Trust, Aanchal Trust, GayBombay, Salvation Star, Astitva, Dai Welfare Society and Humsaaya. “For the first time so many groups have come together with a common agenda,” says Nitin Karani of Humsafar Trust. “We would want the regressive Section 377 of the IPC, which penalises homosexuality to be read down. It is used as a tool to harass gays, lesbians and transgenders.”
The march also calls for an end to forced marriages of LGBT people and discrimination on the grounds of sexuality or gender. “We want an end to homophobia and transphobia — an end to violence and hate within families, in educational institutions, at workplaces and public spaces,” Karani added. “It’s far from being a silent march as activists and supporters will shout slogans demanding their rights and wave flags on their way to Chowpatty,” said Geeta Kumana of Aanchal Trust and Integrated network for sexual minority.
This event follows the pride marches in Kolkata, Delhi and Banglaore simultaneously on June 29. Delhi is currently hosting the Nigah Queer Fest, which will end on Sunday. It took Mumbai a long time to organise an event of this magnitude. Kolkata organised the first-ever Queer March in 1999. “It isn’t that the marginal communities of the city have not been doing their bit. The Humsafar Trust has been organising a march on World AIDS day and on August 16 for two years,” said Karani.
“In 2005, some six groups assembled at Flora Fountain to voice their demands. After three years, many more groups joined hands to give momentum to the movement,” said Shalini of Lesbian and Bisexuals in Action.
August 18, 2008
Indian gays demand British apology for sex law
by Jamie Skey
Thousands of gay activists gathered in a park in Mumbai on Saturday to call on the British Government to apologise for introducing anti-sodomy laws that still make homosexuality illegal in India today. The protests came from the same park where Mahatma Gandhi ordered the British to leave India sixty-six years ago. The call was during the first gay pride march in Mumbai for three years and is part of a wider campaign to abolish Section 377 of the Indian penal code which outlaws "unnatural sexual offences" and theoretically punishes anal or oral sex with up to 10 years in prison. In practice no one has been prosecuted under the law in the past two decades, but it has been used by officials to counter the work of HIV activists in some Indian states.
Gay-rights campaigners also argue that because Section 377 enshrines homophobia in India’s legal systems it also legitimises the continued repression of gay men and women in wider Indian society. A draft copy of the statement seen by The Independent accuses Britain of exporting homophobia during the 19th century when colonial administrators began enforcing Victorian laws and morals on their Indian subjects. It reads: "We call on the British Government to apologise for the immense suffering that has resulted from their imposition of Section 377. And we call on the Indian government to abandon this abhorrent alien legacy of the Raj that should have left our shores when the British did."
Gay-rights activists argue that Hindu, Buddhist and early Muslim cultures on the subcontinent had a long history of tolerance towards same-sex relationships.
24 August 2008
Straight but not narrow
The 83-year-old Parsi lady was an unlikely presence at Mumbai’s August Kranti Maidan on August 16 where gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender activists had gathered at the start of the most visible queer rights march ever held in Mumbai. As far as the organisers knew, she had no personal reason for being there, but had insisted on coming (even persuading her driver and secretary to join in) and now sat in the muggy heat of a monsoon afternoon enjoying the dancing of transgender activists. When asked why she had come, she said crisply: "I think it’s absolutely uncivilised that 61 years after Independence we still treat homosexuals as criminals."
I remembered her remark on hearing the news that Leo Abse had died on August 20. Abse was the straight British Labour MP who steered through the reform of the law criminalising homosexuality in the UK, and while debating the motion in the House of Commons on July 4, 1967, he had made a similar argument. The Times parliamentary report said: ‘Mr Leo Abse said the Bill would make the country a little more civilised and bring into the community a group which had for so long been alienated.’ Opponents were vitriolic, but Abse had been careful about building support, and after eight hours of debate the measure passed, 99 to 14. The Times of India duly carried the wire service news on July 5, 1967, reporting without comment that "the public galleries were full throughout the session".
I don’t know if that Parsi lady had a moment when she realised how uncivilised Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, the law that criminalises homosexuals, really is. Abse’s realisation of the problems caused by a similar law (since the British exported criminalisation of homosexuality around the world, unlike more tolerant systems like the French Code Napoleon) came as a young lawyer when he noticed that many of the cheques he got for defending different criminals were coming from one source: a gay clergyman who his clients were blackmailing into paying their legal fees. (This could take place in Mumbai today; there are many blackmail rackets that specifically target gay men). Abse told his clients that if he got another cheque from this man, he would turn them over to the police; he then became a convert to the cause of decriminalising homosexuality.
It was a long battle. In 1957 the Wolfenden Report recommended decriminalising consensual sex between homosexuals in private, but it still took 10 years before Abse got the support to get his Bill through. It finally came through a combination of those with personal knowledge of the problems faced by homosexuals (the peer who steered the Bill through the House of Lords had inherited his title when his gay elder brother committed suicide), those with a commitment to human rights (notably from the Anglican church-something its homophobic counterparts in India should remember) and those from who Abse could simply call political favours. The last category is yet to materialise in India, unless health minister Dr Ambumani Ramadoss decides to put some action behind his statements that the law needs to change. But the first two categories were well in evidence at the Queer Azadi March last Saturday. It was not the first protest by sexual minorities in Mumbai, but it was certainly the most visible, with at least 500 people marching, dancing, shouting slogans in one long rainbow-coloured band from August Kranti Maidan to Girgaum Chowpatty.
But what was also notable, if less visible, in this march was the number of straight supporters who joined in. Some were family members like the niece who came with her hunky gay uncle, or sister who marched with her gay designer brother, or the gay guy who came with mother and aunt, a feisty lady who told off an officious policeman-he was ready to bully gay men, but faced with a strong Punjabi aunty, he fled! Others were friends like the couple I know who brought along their six-year-old daughter, after doing a crash course with her the night before on gays and lesbians. "She was fine with the guys, but was a little surprised to know that girls could be couples too!" her mother told me.
Human rights activists like Flavia Agnes and Anand Patwardhan were also out in force, as well as a contingent from that liberal bastion, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, who got permission from their faculty to march as an official group. Professor Nandini Sardesai told me how happily surprised she was to meet so many ex-students from her famously progressive classes at St Xaviers. "It’s a sign you’ve been able to make some impact over the years," she said. It is easy to extrapolate too much from the euphoria that follows such an event. But with such large participation from queer people in the city, and such broad-based participation from straight supporters, it’s easy to imagine that we might soon get to the tipping point that Abse reached in 1967.
August 28, 2008
Gays have no legal rights: ministry
by Nagendar Sharma , Hindustan Times
New Delhi – Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss’s demand to legalise homosexuality in the country will remain a pipedream. The Law Ministry is opposed to his demand of scrapping section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which prescribes a sentence of up to life imprisonment for those indulging in "unnatural sex". "This is a section not merely confined to gay rights, it acts as an effective deterrent against paedophiles and those with sick minds," a senior Law Ministry official said. He said Law Minister H. R. Bhardwaj would convey the ministry’s stand to the cabinet that "tampering with the well laid out provisions of the IPC could unsettle the legal framework in the country".
The cabinet would have to decide its final stand before September 18, the scheduled date on which it has to state its collective stand before the Delhi High Court, and not the views of individual ministries. The court is hearing a petition filed by Naz Foundation, a voluntary organisation seeking decriminalisation of homosexuality in India. The stand taken by the Law Ministry has brought to the fore the serious contradictions within the government on this issue. Its view is similar to that of the Home Ministry, which is responsible for the implementation of the IPC in the country, but the stand of these two ministries is completely opposite to that of the Health Ministry. Ramadoss has been consistently demanding that "Section 377 which criminalises men who have sex with men must go, in order to remove structural discrimination against those vulnerable to HIV".
The Home Ministry has opposed the argument in court. In its reply to the court, the ministry said: "Removal of section 377 will open floodgates of delinquent behaviour". Following opposing stands of Home and Health ministries, the court had asked the government to file an affidavit stating the collective view of the cabinet
28 August 2008
Gays and Democracy
by Jug Suraiya
Even that darkest of dark clouds — the AIDS pandemic looming over India — could have a silver lining: identifying male same-sex relationships as a signi-ficant factor in the spread of the disease, health minister Anbumani Ramadoss has proposed that homosexuality be legalised. The health minister’s initiative — a welcome respite from his obsession with the evils of smoking — ought to be widely welcomed, and not just by the gay community. The statute of the Indian Penal Code which makes homosexuality a crime is a fossilised relic of Victorian Britain.
Indeed, same-sex relationships have long been not just decriminalised but de-stigmatised in Britain and other societies which deem themselves to be liberal democracies. Far from being freak shows, gay marriages and gay rights parades have become a commonplace in several parts of the world. Homophobia has been relegated to the same jurassic park of prejudice as has racism. In India, the law in this, as in so many other matters, lags woefully behind the reality of changing social mores. Same-sex relationships have been reflected with sensitivity by Indian film-makers and Mumbai has long had an openly published, and widely circulated, magazine specifically aimed at the gay community.
Welcome as it is, health minister Ramadoss’s intervention on behalf of gays is a case of too little, too late. The health minister seems to be concerned largely with male-with-male sex as a potential spreader of the HIV virus; his remarks, as reported, do not take into account lesbian relationships. Moreover, as health minister, he has addressed only the epidemiological aspect of a complex issue which goes far beyond the purely physical or pathological realm. Homosexuals are indeed a high-risk AIDS group. This is partly, if not largely, owing to a hostile legal and policing apparatus which turns same-sex relationships into dangerous liaisons, furtively brief encounters, often commercial and often precluding precautionary health safeguards.
Homosexuality — for both genders — does need to be sanitised. Not just physically but equally, if not more importantly, it needs to be sanitised of the legal and social taints that have been inflicted on it. The removal of legal and social sanctions against homosexuality has positive ramifications that go beyond concerns of public health and which strengthen the foundations of a democratic polity. Gays — like anti-globalisation activists, vegans, poets, and others who belong to often misunderstood and misrepresented minorities — are good for democracy. Perhaps it’s not just a coincidence that the universal symbol for gayness is a rainbow. Which is also a metaphor frequently used to describe a multi-hued, pluralistic society founded on the conviction that freedom of choice is the cornerstone of democracy.
In a truly democratic dispensation, sexual preference should be treated as an elective option as valid and legitimate as the choice of one’s political affiliations, dietary habits and religious beliefs (or lack of them). Homosexuality seen not as a health hazard, or a genetically transmitted disease, or a hormonal or behavioural aberration but as nothing more, or less, than a lifestyle choice. Ramadoss has, laudably, taken the first step in what we can only hope will turn out to be a journey of emancipation, of coming out of the closet.
For gays, of course. But, equally, also for the so-called ‘straight’ majority who would be enabled to free itself from the confines of ingrained sexual prejudice and enter into a space of social discourse and interaction made larger, and more colourful, with the inclusion of the gay rainbow. So hug a gay today. Because you believe in gay rights. Or because you believe in democracy. Or, best of all, if you believe that the two should be part and parcel of each other.
September 5, 2008
Salman Rushdie investigates India’s transsexual underworld
In his contribution to Aids Sutra, a collection of essays about the HIV/Aids problem in India, Salman Rushdie reports on the culture of the hijra Laxminarayan Tripathi, poses in front of the offices of the Dai Welfare Society in Bombay. According to Greek mythology, Hermaphroditus, the child of Hermes and Aphrodite, fell so passionately in love with a nymph named Salmacis that they beseeched Zeus to unite them for all time, and were joined in a single body in which both sexes remained manifest.
The Hindu tradition contains, if anything, a more powerful version of this story, elevated to the very summit of the Hindu pantheon, and glorifying not merely the beauty of the physical union of the sexes but the union of the male and female principles in the Universe, a metaphor reaching far beyond biology. In a cave on Elephanta Island in Bombay harbour is a sculpture of the deity named Ardhanari or Ardhanarishvara, a name composed of three elements: ardha – half, nari – woman, ishvara – god; thus Ardhanarishvara, the half-woman god.
One side of the Elephanta carving is male, the other female, and it represents the coming together of Shiva and Shakti, the forces of Being and Doing, the fire and the heat, in the body of a third, double-gendered deity. A cultural history so rich in the mighty possibilities of sexual admixture ought by rights to find it easy to understand and accept not only biological hermaphrodites but also such contemporary gender-benders as the hijra community. Yet hijras have always been, and still are, treated with a mixture of fascination, revulsion, and fear.
I remember feeling both fascination and fear when, as a young boy in Bombay long ago, I watched the tall, garish figure of a hijra mendicant, dressed like a queen of the sea and carrying a long, silver trident, striding proudly through the traffic on Marine Drive. And like everyone else I saw hijras performing their celebratory blessings at weddings, only half-tolerated by the hosts and guests. They seemed then like visitors from a louder, harsher, brighter, more dangerous world. They seemed alien. A part of the problem is, of course, the operation, the reality of which, with its curved knife and long, painful aftermath, is hard to stomach. In John Irving’s 1994 novel A Son of the Circus, there is a graphic description of what happens.
“A hijra’s operation – they use the English word – is performed by other hijras. The patient stares at a portrait of the Mother Goddess Bahuchara Mata; he is advised to bite his own hair, for there’s no anaesthetic, although the patient is sedated with alcohol or opium. The surgeon (who is not a surgeon) ties a string around the penis and the testicles in order to get a clean cut – for it is with one cut that both the testicles and the penis are removed. The patient is allowed to bleed freely; it’s believed that maleness is a kind of poison, purged by bleeding. No stitches are made; the large, raw area is cauterised with hot oil. As the wound begins to heal, the urethra is kept open by repeated probing. The resultant puckered scar resembles a vagina.”
Irving also says, “Whatever one thought or said about hijras, they were a third gender – they were simply (or not so simply) another sex. What was also true was that, in Bombay, fewer and fewer hijras were able to support themselves by conferring blessings or by begging; more and more of them were becoming prostitutes.” Fourteen years later, these words are still accurate. And consequently the world of the hijras, already beset by the larger world’s distrust, dislike, and distaste, is now also threatened by the increasing danger of HIV infection, and so of Aids.
These are the three traditional forms of hijra work: manti (or basti), that is to say, begging; badai, the marriage celebration; and pun, the selling of sex. In today’s Bombay, with its high rises, its guards at the gate, its loss of interest in hijra badai, its police force that is prepared to arrest beggars and implement the laws against manti, which impose a fine of 1,200 rupees (about £15) for the offence, only pun now offers the chance of earning enough to survive. There is a law against begging, but there are looser laws against sex work. Yet there are other, greater risks, the risks of infection, and death.
Hijras exaggerate their numbers, claiming that there are 100,000 of them in Bombay alone. The real figure is probably nearer 5,000 for Bombay, with 100,000 being closer to the total figure for hijras in the whole of India. They travel a great deal, moving from event to event around the country – one hijra told me she had been in Ghaziabad, Haryana, Nepal, Ajmer and Gujarat in the previous two months – and, it seems, few hijras settle in their places of origin. Only one of the hijras I met in Bombay was from Bombay, and this is not atypical. Family rejection and disapproval probably accounts for the uprooting. Having recreated themselves as beings whom their original families often reject, hijras will usually take those new identities to new places, where new families form around them and take them in.
Malwani in Malad is a rough part of town, a dumping ground for convicts half a century ago, a slum zone in which many Bombay hijras now live. Proper housing is a problem. “In Andhra the Chief Minister gave housing to hijras, but not here.” Ration cards are a problem, and, if you can get hold of one, a treasure. And without a ration card, or an income tax card, or a voter identity card, or a bank account, you don’t exist, and the State can ignore you. Not surprising, then, that hijras feel vulnerable, that they fear not only policemen, but hospitals too. Doctors are often rude and unhelpful, although, I was told, there are signs of improvement, even among policemen. “Now they call us Madam, and don’t only abuse us.”
A gut is a self-help group set up to combat the various risks to hijras, health risks above all. The Aastha gut in Malwani is one such group. “It has been very successful. When 15 people go to the police station because one person has been arrested then the police behave better.” With the help of a gut, a group of hijras can become “peer educators” and spread the word through the community. Today there are perhaps 7,000 such peer educators, each of whom “tracks” 50 community members, and as a result more and more hijras are being made aware of, and persuaded regularly to visit, health clinics around the city, to be blood-tested. Although there remains much work to be done. Condom use by hijras’ clients is still low, perhaps only at 50 per cent, and even though the fall in gonorrhoea and chlamydia infections to below 5 per cent shows that the use of condoms is improving matters, the risks remain.
The Aastha gut makes and disseminates paan-flavoured condoms, and hijras are trained (with the help of attractive wooden penises) to hold the popularly flavoured condoms in their mouths, and then apply them quickly to the client’s member. (I was given a couple of impressively swift and skilful demonstrations of the technique, on, I hasten to add, the wooden members only.) The hijras I met mostly “became aware” around puberty; some discovered their nature a couple of years later. “As a child I followed girlish ways and was laughed at and scolded for my girlishness.” “I often thought I should live like a boy and I tried hard but I couldn’t do it.” “It’s in the genes.”
Rejection and fear followed. “My family always knew but are still in denial.” “Because of family izzat [honour] they cast me out.” “My father beat me when I was at college, I said, ‘Hit me, what can you do?’” “I wouldn’t have stayed alive if not for the community. At home I was shouted at, sworn at, everything.” But there are rare exceptions. “I only go at night to visit my family, but I do go.” And there are the beginnings of political consciousness. “Women’s rights have advocates, but we have no advocates, not even as ‘second-grade women’.” “We also are part of creation.”
Thane, the so-called City of the Lakes, is an altogether more attractive setting than the slums of Malwani, or the red light district of Kamathipura, where there is a special hijra alley. (It is said that the hijras once owned the whole of the red-light district but had to sell it off, alley by alley, as the gharanas [clans] grew poorer.) I went to Thane to meet an exceptional hijra named Laxmi, a hijra of extreme articulacy and force of character. By the Talao Pali Lake in Thane, Laxmi, a local star of sorts, did her “ramp walk” every evening in the old days when she started out. Laxmi is a rarity among hijras; she lives at home, and, to avoid upsetting her parents, dresses as a man when she is with them. They call her by her male name, Laxmikant, or by her family nickname, Raju, and, as a man, she works at home as a bharatnatyam [a dance style] teacher.
But when she leaves home, she is Laxmi, and everyone in Thane knows her. She is a voluptuous person with purple-black lips; hard to miss. Her beginnings are not unusual. “At 9 or 10, I told people I’m gay. I was called names. ‘Gur.’ ‘Meetha.’ One day, in the Maheshwari Gardens, I met Ashok. ‘Something is wrong with me, what should I do,’ I said. ‘The world is abnormal,’ he told me. ‘You are normal.’” While she was still at school, she went to gay pubs and started to dance for money. “Then 15 years ago I became First Drag Queen of Bombay.” Soon after that she met a woman, Gloria, who opened the door into the hijra world. “My brother is like you,” Gloria said. Laxmi met Gloria’s brother, the hijra Shabina, at a phone booth in Victoria Terminus in Bombay. “Normally she wore saris but that day in VT she was wearing jeans.”
Laxmi took Shabina to the Café Montecarlo. Shabina didn’t want to go in. “I took her by the hand. You are yourself and should enjoy yourself, I said. But in the café I told Sha-bina I used to hate hijras. Why do you clap and beg, I asked her. You should do proper work. Then Sha- bina explained about the structure, the gharanas. This was attractive to me. This was more than just sex talk.”
Shabina took her to meet other hijras, notably Manjula Amma, aka Fat Manjula, of the Lashkar gharana, of which Lata Naik was the head. Laxmi joined the family. “In Byculla I entered the hijra world. Lata Naik was also there. I was sweating. An old man told me where to go. I saw Lata Naik. She was 55 but looked 45. There were six frightening hijras around her. They reminded me of Ravana. I said, ‘I want admission. How much fees? Donations?’ Lata Naik laughed. She accepted me, for no money, orally. At that time nothing was written. Lata Naik was the one who later began the process of keeping records. She had beautiful writing; I have seen it in the hijrotic books which she now maintains.”
Laxmi’s father is a “UP [Uttar Prudesh] Brahmin military type”. He found her transformation very hard to accept, especially as Laxmi was from the beginning a very forward sort of hijra, giving interviews to Zee News, and so on. After the Zee TV interview, her father wanted to marry her off. She fought against the marriage and in the end her father wept and gave in. “My father, the pillar of my house. He wept.” Her mother’s love was never in doubt. “For me, my world is my mother.” Now her parents have accepted her, even to the point of being curious about her breast implants. Once at home she sat bare-chested, having forgotten to put on a T-shirt. Her father scolded her. “If you have made it,” he said, “then learn to respect it.” “Now,” Laxmi says, “my father is my best friend.”
Laxmi is vocal, confident, self- assured. She wants to be a voice in the HIV/Aids campaign, and to help to save what she, too, calls “the third gender of India”. “Hijras have become more vocal,” she says, “but the problem is that activists are trying to put us inside the MSM culture.” (MSM are Men who have Sex with Men, and they are of three kinds: Panthis, who go on top, Kothis, who go on the bottom, and Double Deckers, who need no explanation.)
“The MSM sector is getting so strong,” Laxmi says. “But we are not simply MSMs. We are not even simply TGs [transgendered persons]. We are … hijras. I am carrying a whole culture with me. It’s that collective aspect, the hijra culture, that is important. We cannot sacrifice it. We are different.” The hijras of Bombay and the rest of India are held to be the community most at risk of HIV infection. There have been improvements in organisation, outreach, education and self-help, but for many hijras, their lives continue to be characterised by mockery, humiliation, stigmatisation, fear and danger. Laxmi of Thane and the “peer educators” of Malwani may be success stories, hijras who have taken charge of their destinies and are trying to help their fellows, but many hijras are mired in poverty and sickness.
According to the poet saints of Shaivism, Shiva is Ammai – Appar, mother and father combined. It is said of Brahma that he created humankind by converting himself into two persons: the first male, Manu Svayambhuva, and the first female, Satarupa. India has always understood andro-gyny, the man in the woman’s body, the woman in the man’s. Yet the walking Ardhanaris among us, the third gender of India, still need our understanding, and our hell.
September 20, 2008
ICMR Rules to Allow Gays to Become Parents
by Daily Queer News, The Times of India
Chennai – Homosexuality in India is still in legal limbo, but the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) appears ready to champion the rights of gays and lesbians keen on becoming parents. Guidelines formulated by ICMR to regulate infertility clinics in the country propose to allow both single women and men to beget babies through in-vitro fertilization and surrogate mothers.
The final draft on the National Guidelines for Accreditation, Supervision & Regulation of ART (assisted reproductive technology) Clinics in India contains provisions which would enable “the individual/couple/surrogate mother” to use the facility and beget a child. Read along with sections dealing with the rights of single women and men to raise a family, the provisions serve to vest all legal rights and responsibilities on children born to such parents. An expert on the team which drafted the document, said homosexual relationships were “a reality” which Indian society would have to cope with.
September 29, 2008
India ‘s Leading Gay Rights Advocate Reflects on Recent Defeat to Overturn anti-Gay Law (Section 377)
Dear LGBT citizens,
Firstly, let’s stop this breast beating. One of the greatest fall- outs of the battle against Section 377 is the incredible process by which various communities and groups came together to develop a consensus and also get educated in the process.
This kind of mobilization is the best way forward. At least I learnt a great deal from interaction with various groups, especially feminist and lesbian/bisexual women’s groups. I remember when we men were talking about the violence on railway stations platforms, near public toilets and such places by the police against kothis, one woman asked me quite innocently: "What are you guys doing on railway platforms and near toilets at 11 O’ clock at night?".
It’s then I realized that most Indian women have no mobility due to the unsafe conditions in which women find themselves in. Similarly when we talked about the "right to privacy", many women did not appreciate that as domestic violence takes place very much in private spaces and if these are unsafe for women, how can we demand government not intrude into "our privacy". So it led to much discussion. This learning process between men and women led to a great deal of interaction which is a progressive education in each others’ problems and issues around sexuality. At UNAIDS, this process was carried forward as a logical support to civil society by UN organizations across the board.
Obviously, much consultation had taken for taking the fight against anti-sodomy laws forward. Both Lawyers Collective and the India Centre for Human Rights were supported vigorously over the last two years and since these two were the only ones who came forward to ask for UNAIDS support, they got whole-hearted backing from the top echelons of the UN.
According to the plan by the Joint UN Team on HIV/AIDS (JUNTA), UNAIDS was to give full support to mobilize civil society against the anti-sodomy laws in India. Immense efforts have gone into sensitizing the Police Commission. top police officials, various State Home Ministers, bureaucrats, judges, magistrates and judicial clerks and officers, even jail superintendents on implications of Section 377 and its effects on all aspects of health, including mental stigmas leading from societal pressures against sexual minorities.
I personally either conducted or organized meetings with High Court judges, metropolitan magistrates and Ministers in various States to sensitize them not only regarding the anti-sodomy laws but also the various recommendations for the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act (IPTA) being proposed by ideologically backed segments.
The plan at Mexico was to force the Minister of Health and Family Welfare to openly come out against Section 377 and back the NACO affidavit that supported the petition being heard in the Delhi High Court. That was majorly achieved! We thought we had done major advocacy with the Home Ministry without realizing how difficult it was to breakthrough the bureaucratese there.
Towards that end, as the date for the hearing was coming nearer, a two-pager was prepared after an urgent request at 11 p.m. one night in the third week of August, for an impending Union Cabinet discussion on the subject. The two-pager is available for anybody who wishes it sent back-channel. Please ask for it by sending me an email to my personal address. By all accounts, it got a favorable response from every point of view, especially from the view of public health.
Strangely, it is the bureaucrats who insisted that there were "no homosexuals in India". The logic being:"If there is a law against it, how can they exist", which quid bono quo is a logical argument. I was sent by Dr.Smarajit Jana of the Durbar Mahila Samayanya Samiti (DMSS) to show my face to many of these senior bureaucrats and do an educational module on the number of homosexuals and that they may exist.(obviously everywhere in India).
As I was part of the NACP III Technical Resource Group, mostly of epidemiologists, demographers and economists to determine how many "Men-Having- Sex-With- Men and Transgenders" were urgently in need of health services, we came up with 2.35 million through library searches and grossestimates (gross estimates), itself a dicey way to determine a hidden population.
The methodology of calculating this figure from census data was explained by me to community peers called in Bangalore two years ago. Previous estimates were all sending bureaucrats in the Health Ministry into ballistic denials ("what nonsense", was the common reaction when I gave an estimate of between 25 to 30 million self- identified homosexuals to one). The category called "homosexual" is not acceptable to a lot of Indians though "Men–Having-Sex- With-Men" is clearly understood.
So we may need more visibility in the social landscape through advocacy. Meanwhile, Anand Grover, and Indira Jaisingani, of Layers Collective along with Tripti Tandon did hone the arguments and answers to common questions that seem to be coming up in the minds of the judiciary. The argument of "perceived wrongs" (as given in the affidavit of Gautam Bhan, for example, may not bear scrutiny) as what is "perceived" may not be an "actuated and committed" transgression "of a Constitutional Human Right as a citizen of India. Eg: I may perceive I have been wronged because I am not made the Chief Minister of a State but how is that to be proved as a transgressed human right?
More along this line of argument but what may hold is the actual transgression of the right of an entitlement (being beaten up for being a homosexual, not getting a ration catd as a hijra, being violated for being a homo/hijra etc).may hold more in support of the Petition than a "perceived" wrong done to a person.
In any case, from what is observed and reported during the hearings is that the judges have been particularly careful and attentive to all the sides of the arguments and the Additional-Solicitor-General is making a fool of himself with his arguments. Maybe that is also government strategy (weaken your own stand in such a manner as to lose the thread and interest of the judges in taking you seriously).
The fight is still not over and the battles go on. Meanwhile, let’s keep the powder dry. I shall post more on my discussions with the panel of law professors from the Government Law College in Mumbai later.
The health argument may now go both ways. But the NACO affidavit may save us in the Court.
I shall explain that later.
Ashok Row Kavi
October 1, 2008
Health minister asks Indian PM to intervene over decriminalisation
by Staff Writer, PinkNews.co.uk
An Indian Cabinet minister has said that he will ask the country’s Prime Minister to intervene in the row over the decriminalisation of homosexual acts.
Health minister Anbumani Ramadoss told the Times of India: "At present, we don’t know exactly how many gays live in India because everybody is afraid to come out in the open. We know the HIV infection status of only 50% of these men. Around 86% of HIV infection is through unprotected sex. I will ask for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s intervention once he returns to India. World over, people are accepting homosexuality. The home minister should be a lot more sensitive. How can we control physiological feelings of people?"
The Delhi High Court is considering a petition filed by gay rights activists asking for a colonial era law on "unnatural sex" to be overturned. The home department has argued that Section 377 should be retained, and last week the law ministry agreed, brushing aside the health department’s assertion that repeal would help the fight against HIV infection. India has the greatest number of HIV/AIDS patients in the world, an estimated 2.5 million.
Section 377 is "not merely confined to gay rights, it acts as a deterrent against those with sick minds too," the law ministry said. 39-year-old Mr Ramadoss, a Tamil doctor, is the youngest member of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Cabinet and is tipped as a future leader. Section 377 was enacted in 1860 under the British Raj in line with the anti-sodomy laws in England at the time.
Being gay in traditional Indian society
by Shai Venkatraman
Mumbai – The homosexual community may be increasingly gaining acceptance in many circles in India today but the government’s argument is that homosexuality cannot be decriminalised. As both sides fight it out in court, hundreds are struggling to come to terms with their sexuality. According to a study, conducted for the period from 2001 to 2006, an estimated 45 gay couples killed themselves across India; among them is the suicide by a gay teenager in Mumbai recently. Memories come flooding back for 29-year-old Harish Iyer, as he reads an Internet report of a gay teenager who committed suicide.
Around 12 years ago, Harish tried to kill himself three times after a slander campaign in his college. Harish’s friend spread rumours that he was gay. "There was graffiti in my college washroom saying, "for sex call Harish". It was worse at that time because I didn’t know I was gay. There was graffiti all over college walls and when I would enter the class all my friends would stand up and laugh," said Harish Iyer, event manager. Today, Harish is openly gay. But what he went through over 10 years ago, is still a reality for the gay community.
They remain largely invisible and marginalised. For a young gay teenager, the isolation can be even more acute. All he sees around him are traditional male-female relationships. "The main problem is social bias. Most people just cannot accept that some people can be wired differently. They think it is a disease," said Antonio Rodericks, Samaritans Helpline.
Attitudes that activists say will change only if the law accepts homosexuality as a valid way of life. Currently under section 377, homosexuality is a criminal offence, which means the gay community remains vulnerable to harassment. "The law is a big threat. We feel scared we will be punished, jailed just for being gay," Nitin Karani, Trustee, Humsafar. Social acceptance of homosexuality may still take a while. A change in law could be a step in that direction.
October 11, 2008
Where have Kerala’s Hijras gone?
by K.P.M. Basheer
Kochi – After a quarter century of tortured life as a woman trapped in a man’s body in a Kerala village, Geeta had fled to Chennai 16 years ago. There, a small group of Hijras took her in. They sheltered her, burned her shirt and trousers, dressed her up in a sari and blouse and gave her the present name. Eventually, they nudged her into prostitution, at that time the easiest job available to a Hijra. She hated it initially, but found comfort in the identity as a Hijra (pronounced Hijda, meaning a transsexual person) and felt secure in sari-blouse and in the company of people of her own gender.
“Life in my village, near Thiruvananthapuram, was horrible,” Geeta recalls. “I was taunted, insulted and physically harassed at school, home and on the street, just because I talked and behaved like a woman.” Raised as a male and given a male name and male clothes, she yearned to be a woman though. She was more comfortable with cooking and housework at home than going out and doing the guy things. “People in Kerala only accept males and females and not us, the trans-gendered people who are humans too,” she says in her Tamil-blended Malayalam. “It was my own family that insulted and harassed me the most, as they considered me as a curse.” Finally, when the family found a bride for her and the wedding date was fixed, Geeta tried to commit suicide, but ended up in hospital. One night, she left home and took a train to Chennai. Sixteen years on, Geeta is now an activist of a Chennai-based NGO that works for the welfare of trans-gendered people.
Speaking to The Hindu, Geeta, who was in Kerala recently, says: “My family never allowed me to visit them for fear of damage to the family honour. They did not even inform me of my father’s death.” Geeta’s experience is typical of most transsexual people born in Kerala. (A transsexual person, according to Wikipedia, “identifies as, or desire to live and be accepted as, a member of the sex opposite to that assigned at birth.”) Because of the socio-cultural taboos, they migrate to Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad or up north where, in spite of a rough life, they are allowed an existence as transsexuals. “A number of `M2F’s (male-to-female transsexuals, or Hijras) living in the ‘Hamams’ in Bangalore and other parts of Karnataka are Malayalis who had fled from social persecution,” an activist of Sangama, a Bangalore-based NGO for minority sexual groups, says.
Worse in the State
Though transsexual people face harassment and ridicule everywhere in the country, in Kerala it is worse. Because of the stigmatisation, there are no Hijra communities in Kerala as in other States. “Most Keralites do not even recognise that there could be transsexual people in Kerala’s population like in any human population in any part of the world,” says Sunil Menon, founder of the Chennai-based NGO, Sahodaran. “The State has a stiff upper lip when it comes to sexual minorities and it is a really stifling place for transsexuals.” As a result, he points out, transsexual people either migrated to other States where there are social spaces for them, or lived anonymously and invisibly in their personal hells in Kerala.
Asserting one’s sexual identity could be quite traumatic in Kerala. For instance, Nandini (name changed) of Alappuzha, who underwent an SRS (sex reassignment surgery) at a Kochi hospital 10 years ago, said she was thrown out of home after the surgery. “My family threatened to kill me if I ever dared to return home,” she says. However, following a media exposure of her woes, the panchayat recently assigned her three cents of land. Fearing social ostracism, Saleem (name changed) has always tried to hide his (he wears shirt and trousers in public, though he considers himself a woman) M2F character in his village in Kozhikode district, though his parents are aware of it. Previously, he used to visit Kozhikode city in the evenings by putting on a ‘nightie’ bangles and anklets. “When I get off the bus at Kozhikode bus stand, I would transform into a woman,” he says. Back in his village, he would return to his male role. Despite his protests, his parents forced him into marriage a few years back and his wife has now learned to live with his M2F character. Saleem says he has a ‘husband’ in Kozhikode with whom he is deeply in love.
M. Shilujas of Kozhikode, a former anti-HIV campaigner, says since there was no space for M2Fs in Kerala, they are forced to migrate, mainly to Bangalore, where many of them got SRS done. Sunil Menon says the anti-AIDS campaign over the past 15 years had a positive impact on the lives of Hijras—it focussed public attention on their woes and led to the launch of several welfare measures for them. There were also more career options for them now. In Tamil Nadu, the government issued ration cards to transsexuals, mentioning their gender, and there was even a housing scheme for them. “But in Kerala, society does not even recognise transsexuals’ existence,” he says.
Small wonder then, transsexuals are not visible in Kerala.
October 12, 2008
India a Hot Spot for Gay Couples Keen on Babies
Mumbai – They don’t make a traditional family portrait, but there is steady stream of gay couples coming to the city for infertility treatment to have babies. The ongoing debate in court on Article 377 notwithstanding, India is being seen as an affordable haven for gay couples, whether married or not, who want to be parents.
In fact, in the last week of September, city’s infertility specialist Dr Gautam Allahabadia spoke at the fourth world congress of the World Association of Reproductive Medicine in Mexico about his Bandra clinic’s experience with 12 gay couples. “From 2005 to 2007, 12 same-sex gay couples were treated with a total of 16 oocyte retrieval cycles,” he told the audience, which included the creator of Dolly, the cloned sheep, Dr K H S Campbell.
The 16 cycles were done using surrogate mothers. All the gay couples hailed from foreign countries, including France, Spain, Sweden and Israel. Six couples got pregnant, with four surrogate mothers having already delivered. “The first couple got a boy and girl, the second and third got a boy each,” said the doctor. While the fourth couple’s surrogate delivered prematurely and the twins died, the fifth and sixth couples are awaiting delivery next month.
October 15, 2008
Delhi High Court demands scientific evidence for ban on gay sex
by Rachel Charman
The Delhi High Court has criticised the Indian central government (the "centre") for using inadequate evidence in its case to retain Section 377. Section 377 was enacted in 1860 under the British Raj in line with the anti-sodomy laws in England at the time. The Delhi High Court is considering a petition filed by gay rights activists asking for a colonial era law on "unnatural sex" to be overturned. The centre is fighting to retain Section 377. Solicitor General PP Malhotra cited an article using pieces of a religious texts as part of the argument to keep the law.
The bench and Justice S Muralidhar asked for more scientific proof to back up the centre’s claim that gay sex was harmful to health and to society. Chief Justice AP Shah, who heads a division bench in the case, said: "This is just one-sided version of a religious body which cannot be relied upon. This is part of religious doctrine. Show us some scientific report which says that gay sex should be criminalised."
The centre has previously argued during the case that repealing Section 377 would allow HIV/AIDS to spread, and that homosexuality is a reflection of a "perverse mind."
October 16, 2008
Gay debate: Prime Minister steps in
by Anchal Vohra
New Delhi – Prime minister Manmohan Singh has asked two of his ministers, Home Minister Shivraj Patil and Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss, to sort out their differences on the issue of legalising homosexuality, which has caused an embarrassing divide within the government. The Cabinet on Thursday deferred a decision on the issue, which is now being heard before the Delhi High Court. (Watch)
"I came to India because there it wasn’t accepted and I’m really hopeful about India. The country has educated people and things look very positive. Being a homosexual is also a part of me and I want to respect myself for that, and I do," said Zayed, gay rights activist. Now Zayed, who left Saudi Arabia to come to India, has some hope. On Thursday at the Cabinet, the Prime Minister was clear that it is time to sort out the gay rights issue.
"The Prime Minister has directed the two ministers to sit together and discuss the matter and sort out differences. The government will accept whatever the court says," said Union Science and Technology Minister Kapil Sibal. The gay rights activist say that though it looks good, but how much longer will it take for them to lead a normal life. Calling it criminal denies them the basic right to health care.
"Because of the stigma, people hide their sickness, and in today’s time, you don’t have to die of it. They hide it and then spread it," said Sunil, another gay right activists. Perhaps, it is time to not just legalise alternate sexual identities, but also give them the social acceptance they deserve.
October 18, 2008
Indian Traditions Of Love
We have been so distanced from our traditions that we just know the abbreviated and tailored stories, and have become so convinced that homosexuality is a ‘western’ idea. Ruth Vanita & Saleem Kidwai – Today, we have two choices: the way of democracy or that of theocracies and dictatorships. All democracies worth the name, including South Africa and Nepal and even our previous colonial masters, who gave us laws like 377, have accepted homosexuality, and those who target same-sex love most virulently are theocracies and dictatorships.
However, our traditions have always allowed for fluidity between close friendship and committed, life-long, marriage-like friendship. The 11th-century Kathasaritsagar tells of two men, swayamvara sakha (‘chosen friends’). One is married, the other isn’t. When the married friend dies, both his wife and friend kill themselves with him. The Kamasutra, as much a sacred text as it is erotic, states clearly that two male friends, if they are close and joined by trust and goodwill, may embrace and unite. A series of 14th-century Bengali narratives tells of two women who have a loving sexual relationship, following which one gets pregnant. The Bhakti poet Rasakhan is said to have loved a beautiful boy until he was told that if he would only love Krishna with the same fervour, he would gain liberation. So he shifted his love from boy to god – but his earlier, homoerotic love was never condemned.
Rasakhan’s example is very much in keeping with the Sufi traditions where the attraction to a young male’s beauty led to discovery of divine love, a position that few had problems with as is obvious from the veneration in which Sufi saints, including those with male companions, continue to be held. The 16th-century Madho Lal Hussain, who added his Hindu lover’s name to his own identity, was questioned by Akbar about drinking wine but not about his attraction towards males. Madho Lal was buried next to Shah Hussain in Lahore, as in Delhi was Kamali, the companion of the 16th century Sufi-poet Jamali. There is the true story of an 18-century poet, Maulvi Mukarram Baksh, after whose death his male friend, Mukarram, observed the mourning period, or iddat, usually performed by a widow.
Many Delhi poets of the 17-18 centuries, foremost among them being Abru, were well known for their attraction towards men. Biographical commentaries record that he was attached to another poet called Mir Makkhan. These tazkirahs indicate the sexual preference of other contemporary poets with the casual comment that they were ‘friends of Abru,’ or describe them with non-pejorative epithets such as ‘of colourful temperament,’ (rangeen mizaaj) or as being ‘worshippers of beauty’ (husn parast).
We have managed to preserve this ‘pre-modern’ kind of love. In the West, the male-female relationship has gradually become the dominant ideal but, in India, a relationship with a friend, sibling, parent may still be more integral to a person than that with a lover or spouse, and be acknowledged as such.
But colonialism brought us a deep-seated homophobia, of which Section 377 is the symbol: critics deemed ‘boy-love’ in Urdu poetry a ‘blot,’ and some even asked for the purging of Ghalib’s works. Firaq Gorakhpuri, the well-known poet, had to write a long essay defending the ghazal when the worth of the ghazal as a genre was questioned because of the frequent references to males being attracted to other males. The fate of Rekhti was worse, for it was suppressed not just because in this genre men wrote in the voice of women but also because it contained some sexually explicit poems (chapti namahs) dealing with lesbian love-making. The collected works of major Rekhti works have for long not been published in India. In the case of other texts, editors, some of them renowned scholars exercised blatant censorship by omitting entirely, introducing ellipses or by suggesting that moths ate away all the uncomfortable portions
We have been so distanced from our traditions that we just know the abbreviated and tailored stories, and have become so convinced that homosexuality is a ‘western’ idea, that we are risking losing the freedom to love that our traditions have given us.
October 18, 2008
Happy Together : While a colonial clause is being argued in court, Nithin Manayath traces the upbeat and varied journey of India’s gay community in the last decade
by Nithin Manayath, Lecturer
I am 30 years old, a queer man who teaches in a women’s college in Bangalore. With the Union Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss and NACO both arguing that Section 377, the law that criminalises homosexuality, should be done away with, it seems like we ought to be looking at the present as a historic moment in the lives of gay and lesbian people in India. The euphoria in the sexuality movement and the day-to-day wartime reporting of proceedings in the Delhi High Court certainly lends itself to momentous events. But I am also uncomfortably aware that in the decade since I first met another gay man, a more complicated and colourful revolution has been underway without courtroom drama.
I was already wading through a series of sexual and romantic relationships before I read anew, at age 14, the word ‘homosexual’. I felt a ripple of identification. In the stodgy marriage manual that I read it in, it only meant a sexual act. It was later, in the mid-1990s, that the word ‘gay’ would suddenly illuminate for me why my schoolboy relationships never transformed into the forever of romantic love: because the other in each instance was never really gay. (I would have to wait till 2001, when an encounter with one of the most enduring figures of the sexuality movement in India would challenge this assumption.)
There was a random trickle of information that I look back at and think of as imperceptibly forming my own ideas of who I am and could be. The news reports of Leela and Urmila, two policewomen in Bhopal who got married in 1987. A photograph of 26-year-old Ashwini Sukthankar (the editor of Facing the Mirror — Lesbian Writing from India) holding a poster that read “Lesbian and Indian” with ‘lesbian’ written in saffron and ‘Indian’ in green exemplified for me the moment of a particular political visibility generated in response to Shiv Sena attacks on cinema halls screening Deepa Mehta’s Fire, in 1996.
The first sense of gay politics being somewhere closer home than the magazines I read at the British Council Library came in 1997, when the National Seminar on Gay Rights was organised by students of the National Law School, Bangalore. It received much media coverage. More importantly, I knew one of the participants was Ashok Row Kavi, an openly gay man giving a face to abstractions.
I was actually 20 when I met my first gay man. Until then I, the son of two government- employed accountants, had assumed I was the only self-confessed gay in the village. My relationships continued to resemble the hide-and-seek routines with boys in the Public Library that I had had in Class X — sometimes romantic, sometimes erotic and sometimes plain silly. Abhishek was around my age. Outside of work, Abhishek’s entire social circle was gay. He already had the lifestyle that is much easier for young gay men in Indian metros to have now. V, for instance, a 19-year-old I know, probably has conversations with straight people only when he steps out to buy groceries. Perhaps. At work, as a stylist, he can assume that everyone he meets is queer.
But the evening that Abhishek took me to Good As You, a tea party that masquerades as a support group, I felt another ripple of identification. There were around 20 men in that neat, small room. Artists, activists, IT sector men — many, like me, slightly effeminate. One boy, a medical student, dressed punk. The meeting went on, minutes were taken. What was more important for me came afterwards, when we all trotted to a couple’s home. To me, and to others in the group, their existence, as a couple who kept house together and went on to do so for eight years, was important. Their house was a place to go to and a place where many parties took place.
Obviously, parties were more important spaces for homosexual and bisexual men (and women to a lesser extent) than the well-intentioned support group meetings that mushroomed across India in the 1990s.
These communities grew to tackle, in myriad ways, hitherto condoned persecution of same-sex love and sexual acts. Having regular support group meetings and counseling help-lines, building libraries, bringing out newsletters were some of the primary activities of such groups. If they were lucky, these were also places to hook-up and have sex. One of the earliest politically identified groups was the Delhi Group, a group of lesbian feminists. (Lesbian groups in India have always been more radical and political, coming as they did from the women’s movement. Today, lesbian groups continue to actively organise interventions to deal with shame, immediate family crises, and create shelters for lesbians. Instead of pride marches once a year, Kolkata’s Sappho continuously engages with the public year-round. It was through the lesbian and women’s groups that the gay movement joined the larger network of social movements.)
But parties organised, both at homes and at select discos, built for us a sense of being a significant population. This was where you went to meet new gay men and women; where I went to dance; where you watched fascinated as someone dancing lifted that eyebrow to practiced perfection at that precise point in Kajra Re; where I learnt to deal with bad body image; where sometimes body image didn’t matter when you were held like you would never be left alone. Parties are where I always have a niggling suspicion that gay identities are built on sexual gossip and not sexual orientation.
With A deep sense of being born at the wrong place at the wrong time, I love to listen to stories from older homosexuals who, with a nostalgic glaze and a playful lilt, speak of parties in the 1980s and early 1990s as allowing for a lot more sexual expression than the more regulated parties held in metros today. The strict ‘No Drag, No Sex’ policies of some of these parties, which also include self-policing of all toilets, seems like a clean-up act in preparation for the imminent entry into legal acceptance with the reading down of 377. It is where I am also increasingly convinced that the reading down will only provide an increased sense of security to the urban gay man, certainly not to the hijra who has always been, in that sense, ‘out’.
The post-internet generation of urban men and women who quote from Will&Grace, download and share episodes of Queer as Folk, Six Feet Under or The L Word, and read any number of news articles speculating on the sexual positions of Shah Rukh Khan, Karan Johar or, more recently, Arjun Rampal, are surer than before of how to negotiate, or even ignore, the straight world out there. The tragic gay who identified with the exiled-from-love figures of Meena Kumari and Rekha is well on his way out and occupies a retro-voguish status at best. (It is mildly entertaining to be the only person who remembers Anil Kapoor, at the height of his fame, having to fight off accusations in Stardust about his sexual orientation).
Simultaneously, straight people find it easier to deal with us. Not that Will&Grace was the primer that gave them the clues to spot us. They always had the clues, but now they can assume that talking about them to us is not going to shame or anger us. Just a decade ago, it was great fun to watch students trying to deal with Hoshang Merchant. I was at Hyderabad Central University, where Hoshang teaches English. He was 50-odd years old, had edited Yaarana, an anthology of gay writing, and was highly camp. To many straight students, it was like being flung into a dark swimming pool and told to swim. Later, I would associate him with Quentin Crisp’s line about being not just a self-confessed homosexual but also a self-evident homosexual. I identified with his tragic queen figure, his love for Anaïs Nin and HD. It made it easier for me to be a queer man on campus.
After University, I joined Sangama, a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) support group that had become an NGO. I travelled to other cities and went to conferences. I met Famila, a striking young hijra sex-worker, at a conference in Ooty organised in 2001 by the Churches of South India. I believe it was one of the first such efforts to integrate LGBT issues into liberation theology. Famila died in 2004 and everyone would remember their first meeting with her; everyone would recall that she transformed their ideas of sexual politics. That first time, I remember her as sexy and quiet. Over the years, in conversation with her, I realised the gay / straight framework was just one way of organising our sexcapades, romantic or otherwise.
The various ways in which we fashioned ourselves constantly as gay or straight, but spoke about it as if it was innate became suddenly more visible from this perspective. Generous and articulate, she was the first person to raise hijra ideas of sex, desire and community to the level of knowledge, not dismiss it as experience. Through this perspective, the annual Koovagam festival in Tamil Nadu took on a different meaning.
These conversations make it difficult for me to be reconciled to the gay identities being forged in India today, patterned after a Western trajectory. Among the dozens of LGBT groups and NGOs in the country in the late 1990s, there was once conflict about identity. Some wanted traditional identities such as khoti and panthi to be subsumed under the ‘gay’ umbrella and others argued exclusively for traditional identities. Traditional identities have won out because that is where the funding is. Almost nobody will consider the idea that, even a decade ago, a non-English speaking khoti would think of what he did as only the way in which he loved. Not something innate. But now, with the all-organising HIV-AIDS discourse and the reformist agenda of the urban English-speaking queer person, it is almost impossible to find a khoti who does not know that it is unsophisticated to not identify yourself. To not sit in support group meetings, pass the Marie biscuits and name yourself, “Gay, khoti, panthi.”
It Is easy to slip into the familiar narratives of gay people as invisible, those with a voice, those without. You find yourself organising experiences into these narratives. I could tell you that I once found it easy to go to Cubbon Park and meet crowds of gay people just behind High Court. You chose to join groups, to pick up or be picked up. Over the last decade, arrests have happened in Cubbon Park with greater and lesser frequency. And now the entire stretch is marked by floodlights so you must run where it’s dark, hoping not to bump into cops. But I could also choose to remember that my friends, who say they miss cruising and rue online cruising, will not go out with people who have not uploaded photos.
I could choose to remember a young Catholic lesbian couple in Bangalore who thought it important to talk to their youth group and their priests in the same week they told their parents that they were in love and, over a year, found at least partial acceptance. Another lesbian couple in Kerala moved court and got legal sanction to live as a couple. People like them force us to notice what is culturally sanctioned.
I agree with the people who argue that our movement should perhaps not have focussed on 377 (given Indians’ complicated relationship with the law). We should have focussed on marriage instead. Rather than assume that acceptance of gay marriage will come later, faithfully following the Western trajectory, we could see what is around us. In the 1970s, Shankuntala Devi (yes, the mathematical genius) wrote a treatise on homosexuality in which she interviewed a priest who spoke of Hindu marriage being between two souls, not two bodies. In 1987, when Leela and Urmila were married, their priest used the same words as justification.
Though Most of us were happy to read about Wendell Rodericks’ wedding, one wished people knew that gay and lesbian marriages, with some ritual, happen around us all the time. Nandu’s and Sheela’s, in Kerala, for instance, was one of the more public ones, in 2004. Why aren’t we organising mass marriages as the Self-Respect movement once organised inter-caste marriages in Tamil Nadu’s cinema halls? The social hostility attendant would be only the same hostility that any inter-caste, inter-race or intergenerational marriage faces in India or the West. As would any union that privileges erotic love over social suitability.
My friend remarked that a young gay couple whom we think of as the most devoted in existence, are living a double life, as neither are out to their parents. I would argue that the phrase double life is not particularly useful because the hostility the young gay couple face is hardly different from that faced by heterosexual couples arrested in parks in Bihar.
If I were much ruder, I would quote Akshay Khanna. Not the actor, Akshay is an important and serious activist, someone just as capable of kissing a woman while wearing a skirt, as kissing a man in a public meeting. To annoying people who ask him whether he is out to his parents, he would respond, “I wish heterosexuals in India would come out to their parents.”
October 19, 2008
Out with the past
by Leher Kala, Author of Memories of a Gay Life, Sunil Gupta, revisits Jamali Kamali, a tomb he calls significant for the Indian gay community It’s a breezy morning at the imposing monument Jamali Kamali, nestled deep inside Mehrauli. Strolling past the mosque, photographer Sunil Gupta, 55, points out verses inscribed on the walls, composed by Jamal Khan, the Sufi saint whom the tomb is named after. Kamali’s identity remains a mystery. “This tomb is significant for the Indian gay community,” says Gupta. “We regard it as India’s only gay monument.”
Gupta has used one symbolic image of Jamali Kamali for his book Memories of a Gay Life, a deeply personal visual account tracing his own journey on coming out as a gay Indian. In a career spanning over 25 years, most of Gupta’s work in photography revolves around issues of identity and the ongoing debate on homosexuality. He currently has an exhibit ‘Street Portraits’, shot in Delhi on display at the Tate Museum in London and most of his work is priced upwards of 7000 pounds. After living in Montreal and London where he studied photography, Gupta moved to Delhi in 2004 stating wryly, that he moved for a man. “Unfortunately, that didn’t work out. But I was pleasantly surprised to see a big change among gay people here. In the ’70s there was so much hypocrisy. Now at least there is a small bunch of us who are out,” says Gupta.
Memories of a Gay Life is mostly autobiographical and shows Gupta in moments with friends, lovers and colleagues from around the globe. Gupta gently provokes with some brutally honest images of himself when he discovered he was HIV+ in 1995. A thread of quiet angst runs through the visuals, fiercely original and brave in their candour. Gupta says the human situation and his own emotional life are the endearing themes in his work. In one exhibit shown abroad, ‘Love and Light’, Gupta describes shooting his then companion in Ladakh, nude, with the Himalayas as the backdrop. “There are few personal stories emerging from India in photography,” says Gupta, currently documenting his own love life after HIV for a New York museum. A keen observer of India’s gay movement, Gupta is confident there will be dramatic changes in Article 377 that currently criminalizes homosexuality. “Everywhere the attitude to homosexuality is changing. It will percolate here too,” says Gupta, though he is sceptical of the idea of gay marriage. “It’s an institution that’s barely surviving in the heterosexual world,” he says. Gupta has another show coming up at the Vadehra Art Gallery next September, again on gay love. As we stroll into the small chamber of the twin tombs at Jamali Kamali, where the ceiling is decorated with coloured, intricate frescoes, Gupta says with a twinkle, “There’s hope yet.”
Memories of a Gay Life is published by Yoda Press. Price: Rs 99