Gay India News & Reports 2010 Oct-Dec

1 The Queer Chronicle 10/10

2 HIV Rate High in MSM of Tamil Nadu, and Higher in Married MSM 10/10

3 Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women concludes 10/10

3b Changing attitudes to sex change 11/10

4 Delhi eunuchs to be given pensions 11/10

5 Mumbai multiplexes ban gay film 11/10

6 2,000 join Delhi Pride 11/10

7 Families come out in support of gay members 11/10

8 Photo Essay: Delhi Gay Pride 2010 11/10

9 Gay, colourful and proud on Delhi’s streets 11/10

10 ‘Will gay netas pleas stand up!’ 11/10

11 From individuals to complex systems… 12/10

12 Andhra Pradesh government gives in to sexuality bias 12/10

13 ‘Dunno Y…Na Jaane Kyun 12/10

14 10 gifts from Mumbai’s LGBT community 12/10

14a A room of one’s own 12/10

15 Gay Pride on the March in India 12/10

16 Freedom of the Press in India? 12/10

17 Gay pride only goes so far in India 12/10

October 2010 – The Queer Chronicle

The Queer Chronicle – October 2010

The Queer Chronicle’ is a monthly e-magazine published for and by the queer community in Pune. The Queer Chronicle (TQC) is the first city-focused e-magazine in India. With exhibitions, interviews, restaurants, holiday destinations, parties, businesses, health issues, investment advice (all of course, from an LGBT point of view), TQC is an information packed capsule and is a ‘must-have’ for every queer Puneiite and for queer visitors to Pune. TQC is a non-commercial publication, is not for sale and is exclusively for private distribution.

Full e-magazine available here

More info

08 October 2010 – International AIDS Society

HIV Rate High in MSM of Tamil Nadu, and Higher in Married MSM

Aby Mark Mascolini
HIV prevalence stood at 9% among men who have sex with men (MSM) in Tamil Nadu state in southern India. The HIV rate was even higher among MSM married to a woman.
MSM in India often hide their sexual identity, and many of them are married. To estimate rates of HIV infection and other sexually transmitted infections in Tamil Nadu, researchers used respondent-driven sampling in eight cities to recruit 721 MSM.

Median age of the study group was 28, 34% were married, and 40% identified themselves as homosexual. Over the past year, survey respondents reported a median of 15 male partners, and 45% reported unprotected anal intercourse. Prevalence rates for HIV, herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2), chronic hepatitis B virus infection, and syphilis were 9%, 26%, 2%, and 8%. Among married men, all those rates were higher: 14%, 32%, 3%, and 11% (P < 0.01 for HIV and HSV-2).

HIV prevalence was associated with less education, HSV-2 infection, more male partners, unprotected anal intercourse, and not having a main male partner. The researchers conclude that high rates of sexually transmitted infection and unprotected anal intercourse “may lead to a burgeoning HIV epidemic among MSM, reinforcing the need for focused preventive measures incorporating complex circumstances.”

Source: Sunil Suhas Solomon, Aylur K. Srikrishnan, Frangiscos Sifakis, Shruti H. Mehta, Canjeevaram K. Vasudevan, Pachamuthu Balakrishnan, Kenneth H. Mayer, Suniti Solomon David D. Celentano. The emerging HIV epidemic among men who have sex with men in Tamil Nadu, India: geographic diffusion and bisexual concurrency. AIDS and Behavior. 2010; 14: 1001-1010.

For the study abstract

(Downloading the complete article requires a subscription to AIDS and Behavior or an online payment; the abstract is free.)

22 October 2010 – United Nations OHCHR

Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women concludes forty-seventh session

Committee Adopts Conclusions on the Periodic Reports of Burkina Faso, Czech Republic, Malta, Tunisia and Uganda as well as on an Exceptional Report by India

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this morning concluded its forty-seventh session, adopting concluding observations and recommendations on the periodic reports of Burkina Faso, Czech Republic, Malta, Tunisia and Uganda, which it examined at this session, as well as concluding observations on an exceptional report submitted by India regarding the impact of the Gujarat massacres of 2002 on women. The Committee also adopted a general recommendation on the rights of older women and a general recommendation on Article 2 of the Convention.

The six countries whose reports were examined at the present session are among the 186 States parties to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. In ratifying the Convention, these States commit to submitting regular reports to the Committee on how they are implementing the Convention’s provisions. Following an examination of those reports, in the presence of delegations from the States parties, the Committee adopted, in private session, concluding observations and recommendations for each report, contained in the following documents: for Burkina Faso, CEDAW/C/BFA/CO/6; for the Czech Republic CEDAW/C/CZE/CO/5; for India CEDAW/C/IND/CO/SP.1; for Malta CEDAW/C/MLT/CO/4; for Tunisia CEDAW/C/TUN/CO/6; and for Uganda CEDAW/C/UGA/CO/7. These documents will be available on the Committee’s Web page here

In her closing statement, Zou Xiaoqiao, acting Chairperson of the Committee, said that during this session, the Committee had considered the reports of six States parties and had held informal meetings with entities of the United Nations System, national human rights institutions and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Committee members had also attended several lunchtime briefings organized by non-governmental organizations, and they were very pleased by the high level of attendance of NGOs, which once again made a significant contribution to the work of the Committee. The Committee was thankful to those entities which had provided it with detailed information and encouraged them to deepen their advocacy for the promotion and protection of women’s human rights and the implementation of the Convention.

In addition, the Committee adopted a general recommendation on the rights of older women, a comprehensive interpretation of human rights and States parties’ obligations as they apply in the context of aging. The Committee said it was concerned about the multiple forms of discrimination experienced by older women on the grounds of age and sex which was often a result of unfair resource allocation, maltreatment, neglect and limited access to basic services. The Committee recognized the need for statistical data disaggregated by age and sex as a way to better assess the situation of older women. The Committee also recognized that older women were not a homogeneous group. They had a great diversity of experience, knowledge, ability and skills. Their economic and social situation, however, was dependent on a range of demographic, political, environmental, cultural, employment, individual and family factors. The general recommendation on older women and the recognition of their rights explored the relationship between all the articles of the Convention and ageing. It identified the multiple forms of discrimination that women faced as they aged; outlined the content of the obligations assumed by States as parties to the Convention, from the perspectives of ageing with dignity and older women’s rights; and, included policy recommendations to mainstream the responses to the concerns of older women into national strategies, development initiatives and positive action so that older women could participate fully without discrimination and on the basis of equality with men in the political , social, economic, cultural, civil and any other field in their society.

Read Article

November 4, 2010 – Live Mint

Changing attitudes to sex change
– A change in public perception, especially in metros, has led to an increase in sex reassignment surgeries

by Akshai Jain
Heads turn when 22-year-old Anandi Mishra walks into a coffee shop. The tantalizing whiff of her perfume and an awareness of the shortness of her skirt precede her. She strides in, aware yet deliberately oblivious to the attention, her long hair ruffled by the gentle evening breeze.
The entry has had the desired effect. Everyone’s noticed the tall girl who’s just walked in. Mishra settles down at a table and runs her hand coquettishly through her hair. The scene makes for a pretty picture, but a persistent doubt gnaws at Mishra. She isn’t sure whether people are noticing her because she’s a pretty girl, or whether they see in her a man, which is what she officially was till a couple of months ago, before she had a sex-change surgery.

The journey from man to woman has been long and difficult, but Mishra says she is “happy to finally be myself and rid of that appendage that was not mine”. Sex reassignment surgeries (SRS) are not new to India; they’ve been around for more than a decade, but what has changed in the last few years is the awareness of the surgery, consequently the numbers and demographic profiles of people who are undergoing it. According to S.V. Kotwal of the Sitaram Bhartia Institute of Science and Research (SBISR), one of the few medical institutions in the country that offers an integrated SRS programme that includes consultations with urologists, psychiatrists and endocrinologists, the numbers have been increasing since 2005, when the first surgery was done at the hospital. There are, he says, currently “nearly 70 patients with the psychiatric team”, the first point of call for anyone interested in SRS.

Once confined to urban activists, fashionistas and television personalities like southern talk show anchor Rose Venkatesan, a person undergoing the surgery today would in all likelihood be middle class, working and from a small town. “What surprised me the most when I started working with SRS patients,” says Shailaja Pokhriyal, consultant clinical psychologist at SBISR, “was that despite SRS being expensive (around `2 lakh), a large number of them came from lower socio-economic backgrounds, from towns in Haryana and Himachal.”

Concurrently, public perceptions of SRS, at least in cities such as Delhi and Mumbai, where the bulk of the surgeries are done, seem to be changing. “In Rourkela, where I come from,” says Mishra, “eight out of 10 people would gawk at me; in Delhi it might be two.” The reasons, she believes, are more than just the anonymity that a large city offers.

It’s now possible for someone who’s undergone SRS to hold down a day job, rent a house and despite Mishra’s doubts, sit in a coffee shop without being stared at or harassed. The impetus for these changes has come from television, the Internet and, indirectly, from the spread of call centres, which provide people who want to undergo SRS two crucial things, anonymity and money for the surgery. Mishra had spent the first many years of his (male at that point) life “caged, never attracted to girls and a misfit in class”. He wasn’t quite sure what afflicted him; and neither was his mother in whom he had confided. Then in class IX, he chanced across Sylvie, the Delhi-based cross dressing hair stylist, on a television talk show. Sylvie was talking about SRS, and the penny dropped. Mishra could finally put a name to his condition—it was called gender identity disorder (GID).

Read Article

November 12, 2010 – PinkNews

Delhi eunuchs to be given pensions

by Staff Writer,
All adult eunuchs in Delhi, India, will be given pensions of 1000 rupees (£14) per month in recognition of their low status, the local government has announced. The Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) already pays a pension to people such as senior citizens, widows and the mentally or physically disabled. To be eligible for the pension, eunuchs must show that they do not have male genitalia and that they are unmarried and over the age of 18.

India is thought to have around 1.5 million eunuchs or hijiras, as they are also known. Although they were traditionally surrounded by superstition and myth from their role of guarding the emperor’s wives, modern society has been less tolerant of them. Many are shunned by their families and struggle to obtain conventional jobs, instead turning to begging and prostitution to earn a living. Some earn money by dancing at weddings and performing blessings.

Local councillor Jagdish Mamgain told the Hindustan Times: “Eunuchs belong to the deprived section of society. They hardly have any employment opportunity, and when they get older, there is no way to make ends meet. Since the government does not have any machinery to provide employment and assistance to them, MCD is now going to do their bit by providing pension to eunuchs residing in Delhi.”

The community has won new rights in the last few years. They may now select ‘E’ for eunuch on passports and some government forms and last November, the Electoral Commission of India allowed them to choose ‘O’ for other on voting forms.

November 15, 2010 – PinkNews

Mumbai multiplexes ban gay film

by Staff Writer,
India’s answer to Brokeback Mountain has reportedly been banned by some of Mumbai’s multiplexes for its gay content.
Dunno Y… Na Jaane Kyun, a gay romance, was released last Friday after getting past the country’s film censors. According to the Times of India, one of the film’s actors says the Cinemax and Fun Cinemas multiplexes do not want to screen it.

Kapil Sharma, who plays a married bisexual man in the film, said: “They told our distributors that ours is a gay film and their theatres are meant for family audiences. They don’t want to entertain a film with gay content.

“Some of the so-called enlightened sections of Mumbai feel the problems of the gay community are now solved, just because nowadays weekend gay parties happen at shady joints. I wish these misguided liberals would look around to see how difficult life is for the gay community.”

An official from Cinemax told IANS that the film was “quite explicit for its family audiences”.

29 November 2010 – PinkNews

2,000 join Delhi Pride

by Staff Writer
The festival saw an estimated 2,000 marchersThe festival saw an estimated 2,000 marchers Around 2,000 people joined a Pride festival in Delhi, India, this weekend. The event is the first gay festival since homosexuality was decriminalised last year.
The previous two Pride marches saw activists take to the streets to demand more rights, but this year’s event was more of a celebration of sexuality.

Participants followed a route from Barakhamba Road to Jantar Mantar in central Delhi One marcher, 18-year-old Pooja, told India Today: “I do not know or care about how social acceptance has changed after the high court verdict. But yes, I have changed. I feel more confident and I know that I am not doing anything wrong since the law of the land does not have a problem with it.”

November 29, 2010 – The Hindu

Families come out in support of gay members

by Urvashi Sarkar
New Delhi – A riot of colours descended on Janpath in the heart of the Capital on Sunday as hundreds of colourfully attired revellers waving brightly shaded flags marched to Jantar Mantar marking the third annual Delhi Queer Pride parade.
A spirit of celebration and ebullience prevailed as the enthusiastic marchers irrespective of sexual orientation triumphantly danced to the intoxicating beat of drums. Barriers of class and caste melted away as strangers matched dance steps united by a pervasive sense of elation. There were very few posters and hoardings that the marchers carried, but these did not appear to be missed as the sheer range of colours representing sexual diversity said it all. Policemen lined the route of the march.

The heartening aspect of the parade was the number of individuals who had come out in support of their family members. “Fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters are all here to extend their support. Compared to last year, fewer people are seen wearing masks. It’s a positive sign,” said a marcher who participated in the 2009 parade as well.

But the literal “star of the show” was an elderly grandmother who came out in support bearing a placard stating that she was proud to have a gay grandson. “My children must have the right to lead their lives the way they want. Their happiness is the most important thing which no law should be able to dictate,” she proudly said, addressing the cheering crowds. Many came to the Capital for the specific purpose of participating in the parade. Mumbai-based Alka Sinha said: “I came here just to witness and also take part in the march. There is no need to hide any more and we can walk with our heads held high.”

Twenty-five-year-old Mathew from the United States, who has been working in the Capital since the last two years said: “This march is really symbolic. There used to be a sense of direct and subtle marginalisation which the gay community would experience besides the attempt by society to make us invisible. However, the march has given us the space to be exactly who we are.” For most, the march was an occasion to celebrate the decriminalisation of sexuality after the Delhi High Court judgment last year. “We are out in the open now as Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code has been struck down by the High Court,” said a 19-year-old lifting her mask, her smile speaking volumes.

Activist Lesley Esteves said: “While decriminalisation is a step in the right direction, there is a need for the government to introduce anti-discrimination legislation to ensure that people are not harassed on the basis of their sexual orientation in public or private spaces. The queer community has to put up with many difficulties including ostracisation by families, violence and police harassment. Many have not been able to come out still. This march is not only to celebrate but also to protest against the indignities that have been meted out to members of the queer community.” “This is the third pride parade and over 3,000 people have come out to march which is more than the expected number. This march is a community movement. Organised by the Delhi Queer Pride Committee, this movement does not consist of organisations. Rather it is an initiative of individuals and the community,” she added.

November 29, 2010 – The Wall Street Journal

Photo Essay: Delhi Gay Pride 2010

Click Here

November 2010 – rediff news

Gay, colourful and proud on Delhi’s streets

by Aseem Chhabra – New Delhi
Under Delhi’s beautiful November afternoon sun, nearly two thousand young men and women marched on Sunday to mark the city’s third Queer Pride parade.

This year’s colourful and celebratory parade — starting at the end of Barakhamba Road near Connaught Place and ending next to Jantar Mantar — was the first march after last year’s Delhi high court verdict that struck down the antiquated Article 377 of Indian Penal Code.

Read article

2010 November 29 – MidDay

‘Will gay netas pleas stand up!’

by Rocky Thongam
News Delhi, LGBT parade, homosexual Nepalese, MP, sexual orientation Participating in Delhi’s LGBT parade on sunday, homosexual Nepalese MP dares his Indian counterparts to come out of the closet Sunil Babu Pant believes in setting the record straight. While participating in the Third Delhi Queer Pride Parade held yesterday, the Nepalese Member of Parliament, who is openly gay, said he wants Indian MPs to be candid about their sexual orientation.

One of the more prominent faces fighting for LGBT rights, Pant was in the country on an official visit. "But I couldn’t keep away from the parade because it is a cause I totally believe in," said the first openly gay MP of an Asian country.

Know gays aloud
The computer engineer turned politician has been fighting for LGBT rights for over a decade which finally led to Nepal becoming the first country in the world to officially recognise the third gender. "But compared to Nepal, India is still intolerant when it comes to such issues," he said, "Not only people from normal walks of life but some religious fundamentalists here are roadblocks when it comes to LGBT rights," he added.

VHP Leader, Vinod Bansal said: "Individual’s liberty is not beyond the cultural values of the country. These people who are saying that they are proud to be gay, should be asked whether they would allow the same in their families as well. Those who are violating the set principles of our predecessors would face the consequences."

Equal rights
The politician discussed issues like border security and trade with his Indian counterparts. But Pant didn’t stop at that. "I discussed LGBT issues also with Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar," he informed. "Though she didn’t give concrete comments, her listening to such issues shows silent support," he added. Pant also says that he spoke to Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Dr Montek Singh Ahluwalia on issues like setting a budget to support ‘queer’ people who are economically downtrodden. "Civil rights of property, adoption or insurance benefits are areas which are totally neglected," said Pant.

‘Just do it’
So, where does the problem lie and what is the way out? "The solution is support from society. The Nepalese media is very supportive but certain sections of Indian media are still not comfortable with the subject. And, yes politicians play a big role. It’s time gay politicos in the country came out of the closet. And they will get more votes if they do so," Pant said.

And the founder of The Blue Diamond Society, Nepal’s first LGBT rights organisation, who later joined politics, believes that more and more people who are gay should join politics. "Things are changing but a lot needs to done. I informed the Indian Ministry of External Affairs that I was going to the parade lest they should have some objection but they were cool about it. So you see perspectives are changing but like I said a lot still needs to be done," he signed off.

2010 December – PubMed.Gov

From individuals to complex systems: exploring the sexual networks of men who have sex with men in three cities of Karnataka, India.

by Lorway R, Shaw SY, Hwang SD, Reza-Paul S, Pasha A, Wylie JL, Moses S, Blanchard JF. Department of Community Health Sciences, University of Manitoba, R070 Med Rehab Building, 771 McDermot Avenue, Winnipeg, R3E 0T6, Canada.

Introduction: Research on the HIV vulnerability of men who have sex with men (MSM) in India has tended to focus on aggregates of individual risk behaviours. However, such an approach often overlooks the complexities in the sexual networks that ultimately underpin patterns of spread. This paper analyses a set of sexual contact network (SCN) snapshots in relation to ethnographic findings to reorientate individual-level explanations of risk behaviour in terms of more complex systems.

Methods: Fifteen community researchers conducted a 2-month ethnographic study in three cities in Karnataka to generate descriptions of the risk environments inhabited by MSM. SCNs were reconstructed by two methods. First, initial participants, defined as nodes of various sexual networks, were purposively sampled. In each site, six nodes brought in three sexual partners separately as participants. In all sites, 72 participants completed 431 surveys for their 7-day sexual partners. Second, each site determined four groups representing various sexual networks, each group containing four individuals. In all sites, 48 participants completed 334 surveys for their regular sexual partner.

Results: Considerable differences were observed between sites for practically all included behavioural variables. On their own, these characteristics yielded contradictory interpretations with respect to understanding contrasts in HIV prevalence at each site. However, viewing these variables in relation to SCNs and ethnographic data produced non-linear interpretations of HIV vulnerability which suggested importance to local interventions.

Conclusion: SCN data may be used with existing data on risk behaviour and the structural determinants of vulnerability to re-tailor more tightly focused interventions.

December 09, 2010 – NDTV

Andhra Pradesh government gives in to sexuality bias

by NDTV Correspondent
Hyderabad: The joy of getting recognised under the Minorities Welfare Department, after years of struggle, has proved short lived for the transgender community in Andhra Pradesh. Angry protests by religious minority groups forced the Andhra Pradesh government to go back on its decision to include sexual minorities, technically called MSM, or men who have sex with men, in the Minorities Welfare Department.
"Clubbing them along with the religious minorities of Andhra Pradesh is meaningless. It is a senseless thing the government has done,” said Aijaz Farruq a community leader in Hyderabad.

Due to the tremendous pressure from all corners, mainly the vote banks in the state, the government too gave in without any attempts to reconcile the protesting groups. "Minority welfare is a religious department. Everyone protested. I told the Chief Minister. He said we will change it, we made a mistake. So it is being done,” said Ahamadullah, the state Minorities Welfare Minister.

And with decision an estimated 1.2 lakh gays and transgenders in Andhra Pradesh, who had got official recognition for the first time after a Government Order just last month, are back to where they started from. "Definitely we will come in the Minority Welfare Department. So we have to take services from government through that only. Someone has suggested that we should be thrown in Women Welfare Department. That is not correct. They have to accept that we are minorities,” said Krishna, the President of Suraksha, Community Organisation.

Even though neighbouring state Tamil Nadu has a separate Welfare Board for the minorities, clearly a reflection of societal bias and confusion exists in Andhra Pradesh that has forced the government to reverse its decision at a juncture where it could set a good example.

November 12, 2010 – The Huffington Post

‘Dunno Y…Na Jaane Kyun,’ Bollywood Gay Romance, Hits Indian Theaters Amidst Controversy

by Curtis M. Wong – The Huffington Post
It’s been hailed by some critics as India’s answer to "Brokeback Mountain," but not everyone is thrilled about "Dunno Y…Na Jaane Kyun," the first Bollywood film ever to explicitly portray a gay relationship. According to the BBC, the movie focuses on a forbidden affair between two middle-class men in Mumbai. Shots of the two male actors in bed and passionately kissing, as well as shaving together in a bathroom, are among the more provocative segments.

Though homosexuality was de-criminalized in India last year, "Dunno Y…Na Jaane Kyun" was held up in the editing room since principal shooting completed seven months ago. Many insisted the more explicit scenes be cut, while star Kapil Sharma says he received threatening letters in the mail in the weeks leading up to its release.

And the movie, which hits Indian cinemas today, continues to divide potential audiences. "Practically the entire religious spectrum in India is united in its opposition to the celebration of homosexuality," John Dayal of the All India Christian Council told the BBC. "Not one of them says it’s a good thing, a natural thing." The nation’s legion of gay activists felt differently. "I definitely feel this film is going to encourage filmmakers to make more realistic films … and bring about better understanding in the minds of the Indian audience," said activist Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil.

12 November, 2010 – CNN

10 gifts from Mumbai’s LGBT community
– Bazaars and blogs, parties and parades, people and support groups. All you need to know about Mumbai’s coolest queers

by Rayna Jhaveri
Last year’s reading down of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code effectively decriminalized homosexuality in India — a momentous reversal of 149-year-old British colonial legislation.

A veritable explosion of more visible queer expression followed, with Mumbai quickly emerging as the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) capital of India. Shops, books, talks, films, blogs and personalities together created an exciting network of news. Now that we’re cruising the last leg of 2010 here’s a list of 10 important voices coming out of Mumbai’s LGBT community, the majority of them in very recent years.

Read Article

December 9, 2010 – The Hindu

A room of one’s own

Fashion choreographer Sunil Menon talks to Shonali Muthalaly on founding Sahodaran and working for the rights of gays and transgenders Sunil Menon enters with a phone ringing in each hand. Popular fashion choreographer, founder of Sahodaran (an organisation working for the rights of men seeking men) and gay activist, Sunil’s life is a whirlwind of projects and causes. “Have you seen our 2011 calendar?” he says, triumphantly pulling it out of a brown paper packet. Featuring men flaunting six packs and traditional jewellery, it’s Sahodaran’s latest fund-raiser. He pauses at a picture of a bare-chested man wearing the distinctive Kerala white and gold fabric like a loin cloth. “This is my mom’s kasava mundu. She will have a fit if she knows what I did to it,” Sunil laughs.

“Earlier men wore lots of ornamentation. It’s only now that it’s seen as a very feminine thing… We’ve used these hunky, brawny, muscular men as models, and they carry off the heavy ornate pieces beautifully.” He adds with a chuckle, “As a friend said to me, if we’d worn them we would have looked like total queens!”

“Our previous calendar was even more risqué. More skin. Men in thongs, which were made by kids from Sahodaran.” Kids? “Oh. They’re in their 20s. It’s just that to me they’re all my kids. So I don’t need to have kids anymore.”

Sunil says he knew he was different by the time he was 12 years old. This was in the late 1970s, when homosexuality was still the love that dare not speak its name. “Middle-class morality,” he sniffs, rolling his eyes. “Fortunately, I was at Shishya, which was co-ed. We all grew up together, so it was easy. I wasn’t bullied or picked on.” What was difficult though was the absence of a support system. “I remember growing up — trying to find myself and feeling completely depressed. After studying Anthropology at Madras University, he went on to do a Ph.D. “On primate behaviour! These were the days of Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey… Gorillas in the Mist.”

However, instead of taking off for an exotic job in the jungles, he ended up helping the WHO (World Health Organisation) do an HIV project on Chennai. The aim was to collect information on men having sex with men. For three months in 1992, he travelled incessantly talking to transgenders and gays. “They were all underground. I found a lot of high-risk behaviour. All the information available was targeted at female sex workers and the community didn’t realise we were at risk too.” In 1994, Sunil began working in fashion. “I learnt on the job. Putting it all together, styling, choreography. Those days, shows were very dance-y. I was clear: I’m here to sell clothes.”
Creating safe spaces

Although he didn’t hide his sexuality, he didn’t talk about it either. “Those who knew me knew — that was it. There was vulnerability. Fear of blackmail…” Then, Berlin-based donor Sivananda Khan offered to fund him and Sunil started a support group for a community that desperately needed an anchor. This was the beginning of Sahodaran. “That was in 1998. The support group was for poor kids. We created a safe space in our centre where they could giggle, dance, just do silly things. We worked half-days on Saturdays. After that we let the boys who wanted to cross-dress come in. They’d enter as men, then get into dresses and wigs. It was quite funny, seeing men prancing about in lipstick and moustaches. Many were married and nobody was ‘out’.”

He reckons about three thousand people were reached out to in the process, which brought together gays and transgenders. “Everyday people would walk in for help. Everyone we hired was from the community — right from me to the office boy and the accountant. So they felt safe.” This was a startling new world. “I had lived a very sheltered life till then. I didn’t know what it was like to be exposed to harassment on a day-to-day basis. I hadn’t seen what poverty could do to a human being. To be forced to sell your body to put food on the table and what that does to your psyche.” He adds, “There’s so much to battle… there are days I just sit and cry for no reason. I get too involved, very emotional. That’s why I love depressing movies. They’re a great excuse to cry.”

Yet, he adds, “I am who I am because of Sahodaran… It helped me come to terms with my sexuality.” His family is a silent source of support. “My sister explained everything to my parents. They never really talk about it — but a few months ago, my father turned to me and said, ‘I haven’t told you this, but I appreciate the work you do.’”

20 December 2010 – Splendid Cities

Gay Pride on the March in India

Across most of the world, gay pride events are held during the summer. Here in Delhi, the third annual parade took place on 28 November. Apparently people fainted from the heat when it was held in June last year. It’s not just the date that’s different in India. The progress of gay rights is moving at a dizzying speed since a Delhi High Court decision in July 2009 overturned the quaintly worded law banning "crimes against the order of nature." In just over a year, being gay has gone from a criminal act to something that can at least be discussed in the context of other rights guaranteed to Indian citizens. But like so many other things in this deeply contradictory country, there is no easy correspondence between gay identity here and in the West.

Photos and video here.

Sexual orientation takes two very different forms in India. There is both a traditional "love that dare not speak its name" and a brash, demanding "we’re here and we’re queer" rhetoric. The former has been around since the dawn of time and tends to avoid labels, rather like being on the "Down Low" in America. It is about attraction and action rather than identity. The latter, demanding attention, is a phenomenon of the last decade or so, and involves taking on a label (queer, gay, lesbian, etc) and using it to defend one’s rights in society. I am including the political mobilization of the transgender people called hijras as part of this new identity movement. Hijras have actually been a highly visible group for centuries and are so much a part of the culture that they are considered auspicious at weddings. They are, however, generally pushed far off into society’s margins.

I am, of course, sketching the contours roughly, but the contrasts are borne out by experience and social science. These identities break along India’s class divides and the huge rural/urban divide, but they are increasingly coming into contact. Those trying to make the gay cause more visible in India want to give a name to same-sex attraction that many people feel. (Remember that in the United States, this kind of conversation has been going on for around fifty years—and the long road still ahead for full acceptance of gay people there shows just how quickly things are moving in India.) It is a question of getting society’s sense of itself to be more reflective of the reality of different sexualities. Just as when President Ahmadinejad declared at a speech at Columbia University that "we have no homosexuals in Iran," the denial didn’t actually make it so. For people who are struggling with their sexuality, it can be tremendously empowering to realize that they are not alone. Hence the need for events like gay pride marches.

During the Pride march, which is of course the ultimate expression of gay visibility, the Indian terminology for gay identities was largely in English. The name’s official event, "Delhi Queer Pride" had been translated into Hindi as "dilli kwiyar garv" ("garv" is the Hindi word for "pride"). The handout from the event is bilingual but the list of words for gay identities is the same in English and Hindi, meaning that a few indigenous Hindi terms like "Hijra" make it into English while quite a few English terms appear in Hindi. (I never cease to be amused by transliterated English words, like "daik" for "dyke." Once I saw "Pawar Brek" (in Hindi letters) painted on the back of a truck and wondered what part of India such a strange name came from. Then I realized that it was "power brake.") Even people in India who can’t speak fluent English use English words all the time, but in this context anti-gay campaigners claim that the English words prove that homosexuality is a Western import.* (Incidentally, The Economist has a great debate feature right now that debunks the idea that "if the language doesn’t have a word for it, people can’t think it.")

The struggle for gay rights here has the remarkable—and perhaps unique quality—of causing virtually all of India’s religious leaders to agree on something. When the Delhi High Court struck down Section 377 of the colonial-era Indian Penal Code (which outlaws homosexuality with the flowery Victorian phrase “crimes against the order of nature”), their condemnation of the decision was nearly unanimous. And for them, of course, gay Indians only exist because of the evil, decadent West (and its Indian enablers). Let’s be honest about how stupid an argument this is. Same-gender attraction exists in every society so get over it.

Since I used to write about gay issues for the South Asian Journalists Association, I was carefully following the media coverage of the parade. It was of course a day for the newspapers to compete for the worst punning headline. The Times of India managed both “Celebrating Life With Gay Abandon” and “Gay To Be Alive.”A few narratives crystalized around the event. Firstly, fewer members of the crowd of more than 2,000 people wore masks this year because technically they were no longer criminals. Secondly, the photogenic sixty-five year-old grandmother Rani Sharma was emblematic of Indian families’ increasing acceptance of gay relatives (here and here). Thirdly, foreigners were prominent. There seemed to be an editorial rule that every photograph that ran had to have at least one white face in it (there were a few exceptions). The copy, such as The Hindustan Times’s wire piece from the Indo-Asian News Service, also reflected this. The article’s tone is neutral and professional, but ends incongruously with “A large number of foreigners also took part in the parade.” Did they have two more lines of column space to fill or was there a need to subtly cast aspersions on the event as being "foreign"?

As I watched from the sidelines, I noticed the lack of facemasks compared to photographs of previous years, and Mrs Sharma was hard to miss. She was near the back of the marchers, smiling but a little diffident after being surrounded by reporters making her the media darling of the event. But the foreigners thing is interesting. It’s true that there were more white people than you would see on an average street even in a touristy area like Paharganj or Connaught Place. But I managed to snap lots of pictures of Indians enjoying themselves with nary a foreigner in sight. The gay pride parade was not about some Europeans showing up for a good time but for Indian gays to prove that they in fact exist. For touchy issues, like gay rights, perceived foreign influence is the kiss of death in a postcolonial society.

There is unfortunately still a fascination with foreigners and their mores that can be very off-putting. I find that Indians, who are generally very proud of India, still pay an inordinate amount of attention to non-Indians. For example, a few years ago, I was pacing through an exhibition at the Victoria Memorial in Calcutta after a long day. I had come for the historical displays but had wandered into a special exhibition of hundreds of paper fans from around the world. A camera crew ambushed me and asked me for my thoughts. I couldn’t resist the possibility of being on television, but at the same time, I knew it wouldn’t go well. "I didn’t know that there were so many kinds of… fans," I stammered, and it only got worse from there. I didn’t watch the news that night to see if my segment made the cut. (Just to be clear, India is not the only place where foreigners are regarded as an object of wonder: When I was living in Germany in 2005, I saw a group of old German ladies at a bus stop literally point and laugh at an African family dressed in their flowing, bright traditional clothes.)

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December 21, 2010 – Gay Rights

Freedom of the Press in India? Not When It Comes to LGBT Print Media

by Michael A. Jones
Here’s a new tag line that India might want to try out: We’re the world’s largest democracy, but don’t even think about having the right to a free press if you’re gay. That’s essentially the message the country is saying this week, given that the Registrar of Newspapers in India has turned down an application by Pink Pages to publish a print LGBT newsmagazine.

Pink Pages is already a fairly successful e-publication, claiming to be the most widely-read LGBT online publication in the country. They wanted to translate some of that online success into the print world, by becoming a legitimate, authorized publication. But their application, which followed strict protocol and went through the proper channels, was turned down by government authorities in the country. Why? Well, the government is staying mum. "The worst part is that no reason was given for rejecting the application. The least we deserved was an explanation. We have been following up with the authorities for months now," said Harish Iyer, a Mumbai-based columnist for the magazine, according to But the editor-in-chief, Udayan Dhar, has a sneaking suspicion. "We were clear that we are a magazine for the lesbian and gay community," Dhar said.

So how about it, Registrar of Newspapers? Are you telling LGBT print publications that they can’t exist in your country? Support for Pink Pages from the community has been fast and furious. Dhar said that he has a team of lawyers working for the publication, and that they are confident they have the law on their side. And activists from around the country have said that no publication should be censored or barred because they cover LGBT themes. "I feel it is their right to publish their magazine’s print version. If magazines promoting Maoist ideologies and communalism can get permissions, then why not a harmless pro-LGBT community magazine?" said Ashok Row Kavi, who was a founding member of the publication Bombay Dost.

That’s a question Indian authorities should be forced to answer. Three months without giving Pink Pages an answer is unacceptable, and only fuels speculation that homophobia and transphobia lies at the heart of the Registrar’s decision. Send the India Registrar of Newspapers a message that LGBT publications are perfectly acceptable, and should be given the green light.

30 December 2010 – The Guardian

Gay pride only goes so far in India
– ‘Queer’ activists out and proud in Delhi and Mumbai have little connection with those forced to live in small-town secrecy

by Parvez Sharma –
I grew up in Saharanpur, a "small town" of 1 million people in India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh. Saharanpur is very like the hundreds of other towns littering the vast plains of the region, and not notable for much except its mangoes and woodcarving industry.
In the early 90s I was at a Catholic-run school in the town and had my first sexual experiences with another boy near the railway tracks. That’s what my brother was alluding to when he phoned me a couple of nights ago with what he called "breaking news from our childhood".

Under a headline saying "Gay party has been exposed", the local Hindi-language newspaper, Amar Ujala, had published a photograph of some 20 frightened-looking men sitting on the floor, many trying to conceal their faces with shawls and scarves. A series of bullet points beneath the photograph highlighted what the editors presumably thought were the most shocking aspects of the story: a doctor, MBA students and teachers were present; this "indecent" party was organised under the guise of a birthday party at a dharamshala (spiritual dwelling or sanctuary); and alcohol was served.

The news item went on to name some of the men who were arrested; thankfully, all have fairly common first names, and their last names were not provided. However, the organiser of the party was identified as Bunty and the piece informed us that he runs a "beauty parlour" named after him. So, for anyone interested in following up the story with a spot of gay-bashing, the aforementioned Bunty should be easy enough to find. The English-language Times of India went further with its irresponsible reporting of the same story, mentioning the jobs and neighbourhoods of some of the men.

The paper also chose to identify the host Bunty with his last name and gave the exact location of his beauty parlour. I read the rest of the piece in horror. The names of those arrested include both Hindus and Muslims (both religions have sizeable numbers in Saharanpur). The location of the dharamshala is just two miles from my old school, where I was mercilessly bullied for being too effeminate when I was a boy. There are quotes from the police officer who organised the raid, in which he talks about finding "used condoms" and guests in a "compromising position". Saharanpur is described as an "ultra-conservative" town and a college teacher called Ayub Qureshi is quoted expressing his indignation: "This is certainly unheard of in Saharanpur. I don’t know where are we heading to."

Thirteen men were arrested, though according to police the party was attended by more than 100. The arrests should be condemned. These "gay" men probably have nowhere else to meet and many perhaps still live with their families, where discussing their sexuality would not be an option. As I looked at the English-language news item, I noticed that one of the first comments comes from someone in the state of Haryana: "Dear sir, all these westurn gay thing is now allowed in our culture. v must stop these gay people from having sex because then they increase in population and soon our bautiful culture country will be full of them. police have done good job. kudos to them"

The notion of homosexual activity being considered foreign – and often as specifically a western perversion – is an idea I came across before, when making my film, A Jihad for Love. Last month, out and proud gay men and women marched in Delhi’s annual gay pride march. Many posed happily for the news cameras. Rainbow flags were in abundance, as was western terminology such as "gay", "queer" (even transcribed into Hindi on some signs) and "LGBTQ".

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