Gay Bombay Yahoo Group: http://www.gaybombay.org/
Also see Prince Gohil interviewed on Oprah Winfrey TV show October 24, 2007: http://www2.oprah.com/world/politics/slide/20071024/politics_284_101.jhtml
Prince is out but not down In India, where being gay is a crime, a royal son was shunned when he told his secret. Now he fights to change the law and public mind-set.
by Henry Chu Times Staff Writer
Vadodara, India – As a maharajah’s son, Manvendra Singh Gohil grew up in a bubble of prestige and privilege, surrounded by hangers-on who treated him so reverentially that he was 15 before he crossed a street by himself. So the public snubs and rejection of the last nine months have been a new experience. Yet the mild-mannered Gohil couldn’t be more content. At last, he says, he is living an honest life — albeit one that has touched off a scandal in the royal house of Rajpipla, one of India’s former princely states. Last March, he revealed a lifelong secret to a local newspaper, which promptly splashed it on the front page. "The headline was: ‘The Prince of Rajpipla Declares That He’s a Homosexual,’ " Gohil said with a rueful chuckle. "The newspaper sold like hotcakes."
In the uproar that followed, disgusted residents in Gohil’s hometown flung his photograph onto a bonfire. His parents publicly disowned their only son, printing notices in the press that he was cut off as heir because of his involvement in "activities unacceptable to society." Gohil’s mother has threatened contempt proceedings against anyone who refers to him as her son. For scandal-mongers, the tale of India’s gay prince is an irresistibly juicy affair full of details worthy of a tabloid tell-all: his teenage affair with a servant boy, a sexless marriage to a minor princess, a nervous breakdown. For Gohil, his very public unmasking has brought him a bully pulpit from which to speak out against a law that makes him not just a pariah of noble birth but also a common criminal.
Here in the world’s largest democracy, home to 1.1 billion people, sex between two people of the same gender remains a punishable offense. Decades after India threw off the yoke of British rule, the country still clings to a Victorian-era statute established by its colonial masters nearly 150 years ago, which demands up to life in prison for anyone committing "carnal intercourse against the order of nature." In practice, few prosecutions are brought to court. But reports abound of police using the law to harass and blackmail gay men and lesbians.
Human rights advocates, lawyers groups and the government’s AIDS coordinator are lobbying for repeal or revision of the law. In September, dozens of Indian luminaries, including Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen and author Vikram Seth, added their voices to the campaign. Activists are guardedly hopeful about the chances of a legal challenge now pending before the Delhi High Court. A hearing is scheduled for this month. But even should they succeed, changing attitudes will prove a far harder task.
Despite India’s high-tech wizardry and its rising affluence, this remains a highly conservative and conformist society where most young people undergo arranged marriages, the pressure to produce children is enormous and no gay role models or TV shows like "Will & Grace" exist to offer a hint of an alternative. Those who feel different learn to keep it to themselves — and to feel guilt-stricken about it. "It’s not uncommon among the young people we work with to ask, ‘Is there a medicine that can make me stop feeling this way?’ " said Anjali Gopalan of the Naz Foundation, an AIDS organization that has taken a leading role in the fight to decriminalize homosexuality. "The law compounds all of this. It creates an environment for people to feel like this." The criminalization of homosexuality makes it difficult to set up social venues where gays can meet. Even in the nation’s capital, New Delhi, a thriving metropolis of 15 million people, there are only two bars that host furtive, word-of-mouth gay nights just once a week, usually under the protective guise of a "private party" for some fictitious person. Those nights are packed.
Gohil, 41, would seem an unlikely spokesman for bucking the system, one from which he has benefited handsomely. Although India’s royal families were stripped of formal political power after the nation’s independence in 1947, many retain enormous wealth and influence in their former fiefdoms, as smiling ribbon-cutters and patrons of the arts, education and charitable work. Gohil’s parents, the maharajah and maharani of Rajpipla, a predominantly agricultural town of about 70,000 people in the western state of Gujarat, are the community’s biggest landowners and have several palaces to their name, including a majestic, salmon-pink creation, complete with columns and balconies, that was Gohil’s home when he was a toddler. (It’s now a hotel owned by the family.)
He lived a cocooned existence there and at the family residence in Mumbai, spending his childhood absorbing the finer points of royal protocol and etiquette, attending the finest schools and being waited on hand and foot. "It was so luxurious that even a glass of water I didn’t have to go and get for myself," he said. By age 12, Gohil had already been invited to be guest of honor at a local school event. Around the same time, he began sensing that something besides his aristocratic background set him apart from his peers. "Somewhere inside me I felt I was different than others," he said in an interview at his office here in Vadodara, about 1 1/2 hours from Rajpipla. "When I came to the age where you develop sexual attraction to the opposite sex, I had the feeling that I’m not attracted to the opposite sex but the same sex." In India, talk of such intimate matters is taboo. At school, sex education for Gohil consisted of an embarrassed teacher telling her students about the sexual development of animals as a stand-in for human sexuality.
Gohil’s first clue to his own identity came from a classmate when he was 14. "A boy from my class, out of observation or what, one day came and asked me, ‘Are you a homo?’ I had not heard this word before. I said, ‘What? I don’t know,’ " Gohil recalled. "I went home and looked it up in the dictionary, and it wasn’t there." He didn’t have the words to describe his impulses, but as a young teen he found a way to act on them at home with a servant boy his own age, an orphan whom Gohil’s grandmother had taken under her wing. The two boys maintained a secret relationship until they were about 18, Gohil said.
After his graduation from university, the pressure on Gohil to marry mounted as his parents expected their only son to carry on the Rajpipla line and assume his duties as custodian of the family’s royal heritage, which stretches back 600 years. A suitable wife could manage the household, making sure that the heirlooms, the china and the sumptuous royal costumes were kept up to snuff. Gohil’s father, the maharajah, and his mother, from a royal family in Rajasthan, scouted out potential mates, settling on a princess from the state of Madhya Pradesh. Gohil, then 25, agreed to the match, which quickly turned out to be a disaster. He felt no physical attraction for his wife and could not consummate their marriage. Her efforts to seduce him ended in tears. She even dragged Gohil to a doctor, but after 15 humiliating months of their being together yet not together, divorce became the only way out.
As she left, his ex-wife gave Gohil one piece of advice: Never do this to another woman. But it took years for Gohil to summon the nerve to contact a well-known gay activist in Mumbai, formerly Bombay. Slowly, the young royal began tiptoeing out of the closet, deepening his involvement in the gay community and becoming an HIV counselor to other homosexual men. "My parents thought I was in yoga school, but I would be out distributing condoms," he said.
Nonetheless, the increasing strain of pretending took its toll. His parents were on the hunt for a second wife, and residents in Rajpipla constantly asked Gohil whether he came bearing "good news" whenever he visited from Mumbai, unaware of the activities and friendships he was pursuing. In 2002, Gohil suffered a nervous breakdown, spending 15 days in the hospital. At the end of it, his sympathetic psychiatrist arranged for his parents, his sister and her husband to come for a family meeting during which, at Gohil’s request, the doctor informed the family of his sexual orientation.
"It was very, very emotional, very disturbing," he said. "They were all crying. They were still not willing to believe that this thing was true." Since then, Gohil has thrown himself into HIV/AIDS work through the Lakshya Trust, an organization he founded in 2000. It was partly to raise the profile of the group that Gohil decided to come out publicly. His straight friends were shocked to find out he was gay. His gay friends were shocked to find out he’d been married. For his parents, it was the last straw. He is no longer on speaking terms with his mother. His father, despite disinheriting him, has softened slightly, declaring in a newspaper interview that he had felt pressured by friends and relatives into taking such a drastic step and describing Gohil as "a gifted individual" and "a good son." The two men still speak occasionally, but their conversations are awkward. Gohil believes that his parents cannot legally prevent ancestral possessions from passing into his hands. Geeta Luthra, a leading civil lawyer in New Delhi, agrees.
"If it’s ancestral property, then in India … nobody can disinherit you," she said. "Custom is a part of the law in India, and the custom among princely families is the principle of primogeniture. So you can’t deprive him" of his inheritance. Despite the controversy surrounding his coming-out, Gohil has continued to receive invitations to attend functions in his royal capacity. During the recent interview, Gohil happily showed off a photo of himself in traditional regalia: an elegant ivory suit on his slender frame, a large red turban complete with ostrich feather on his head, a double strand of pearls around his neck and a broad smile on his face, though whether it was out of the general Indian love of pageantry or a personal sense of fabulousness is hard to tell.
An introvert by nature, Gohil enjoys nothing more than quiet time on his farm on the outskirts of Rajpipla, where he cultivates a passion for organic farming — his primary source of income — and practices the harmonium. He says he has "no regrets at all" over his decisions or the very public consequences that followed. Rather, he has finally been able to put on a little weight, offers for dates have started coming in and the Lakshya Trust just won an award from the United Nations. Representatives of the media keep calling, and a cheerful, newly liberated Gohil appears to enjoy telling his story.
To those in Rajpipla who might still harbor reservations about their patron-in-waiting, he waves an indifferent hand. "They cannot get a prince on hire. I am the prince, and whether I am gay or not gay is hardly the issue," Gohil said. "I’m the only son — there are no cousins or brothers they can go to. They have to come back to me."
January 2, 2007
Review of ’07 New Years Party at Karma Club Hurraaaaaaaaaayy GB’s New Year Party – Was A Big Celebration!!!!!!!!!
New Year, my favorite holiday, is one of the most celebrated days in the world. The day is shaped by different customs and traditions. Each culture celebrates this holiday in its own unique way and so does my GB group. Since last few weeks I was eagerly waiting for this event, and GB Team made it happen just for people like me….3 weeks ago I went hunting for good clothes, perfumes n accessories…just to turn out to be more flamboyant and flare the entire crowd with my Karisma in my own small n sexy way ;-)))))….
I had made couple of friends during the GB’s Lonavala picnic who were also eager to join me for the GB’s new year bash….they were eager to attend this event not because they had experienced it during previous years but simply because I had made a hype of this event amongst my friends and I was nervous from within as I was hoping that COPs might spoilt the event but at the same time I was confident that GB would not let me down. We 3 started from home in my Zoomie (my car) and slowly and steadily we started getting into the party mood with loud music played throughout the journey from home to town…
We reached KARMA at around 10 and we were Greeted by our lovely n lively mates Umang, Dee, and Y at the entrance….The moment we stepped in the corridor we could feel the rhythm and the entire floor was shaking….I immediately tucked my belly in 😉 and started leaving my footprints on the dance floor…. Everywhere I could see bright colors…smell nice perfumes…see young n charming lads…and the dance floor filled with wine bottles as well as sun glasses….. Woffffffffff never felt so great …thrilled n excited!!!!
I met all my friends…and did UMWAHHHHH UMWAHHHHH to everyone I knew and also to those whom I didnt 😉 With great music…perfumed air…and chilled drinks in hand the entire Gay community had thrown itself to the madness of the night…. I could see guys n gals getting emotional…naughty….nasty and wild…..The DJ was great and the waiters had maintained a sweet smile on their faces throughout the night..so I had to give one of them my UMWAHHH..He deserved one from me.
I was worried if party was stopped in between and COPs asked all of us to vacate…but by the Grace of God..all COPs tuned into human beings and did not trouble us at all and let all of us enjoy …jump and pump throughout the night….
Then came the dinner….my favorite activity! There were lots of dishes n I was really confused which one to stuff in first…I tried the rice and Manchurian balls…with salad …ALLAH the food was really mouth watering…so I gulped few more manchurian balls…..then I landed near the sweets corner..where Ice ream n cakes and chocklet fudge was ready to be stolen….I tried the white cake and the ice cream….and did not realize how many extra grams I added to my belly…ha ha..It was FUNDOO!!!!!!
Again I reached the dance floor and started showing my talents 😉 to the spectators who eagerly waiting to see my belly dance again :-)) At all times my energy levels were soaring high to keep up with the high spirit from the crowd ..and the DJ played excellent music to keep all of us busy in shaking…twisting…traking and breaking ….
There was some mishap with our foreign guests (the ladies) but then the ladies were brave enough to fight it out themselves and did not require my support to sort out the issue 😉 (just kidding) …but such things happen everywhere and we must learn from such events and be more careful… when the clock reached 3:30 or almost 4.. I don’t remember exactly …again I indulged in the UMWAHHHHH UMWAHHHHH activity and drove back home in my Zoomie with two lovebrirds sitting on the back seat planning their future in the new year…. I loved watching them making love!
Overall it was a mind blowing event…and I really thank God for making me the resident of Mumbai City and allow me to enjoy such events with the beautiful crowd!!! Hats of to you GB….Especially to Dee…You are a Gem! With heart full of thanks I wish the entire GB community a Very Happy, Healthy, Peaceful and Wealthy New Year…
May Happiness Say Hi To You and Sorrows Say Good Bye!
May You Achieve All Your Goals and Your Thoughts Touch the Sky!
January 9, 2007
Hello GayBombay members.
I have come to Goa and I found some info.
1. Eden bar closed during the past monsoon.
2. They are not reopening due to landlord being a "jerk".
3. Mark and Simon opened up another place in a hotel resort called Paradise Village.
4. Paradise Village is not too far from old Eden. From the Calangute circle, take the road exactly opposite to the Baga road. Half a mile to the right you will see Paradise Village.
5. Inside the resort, near the gate there is Paradise lounge. The bar is on the first floor.
6. It is a nice place. Not like Eden but sufficient.
It was fun on Saturday. Do visit and support this place.
January 12, 2007
Actor Richard Gere champions AIDS awareness
by Ramola Talwar Badam, AP
In India Richard Gere urged thousands of sex workers in India on Wednesday to insist their clients use condoms to help prevent the spread of HIV. ”No condoms, no sex,” the 57-year-old actor shouted at an AIDS awareness event in Mumbai, the country’s financial and entertainment hub. Gere urged the crowd of more than 15,000 sex workers from Mumbai and the neighboring Thane district to repeat the chant after him.
Gere and Bollywood actress Bipasha Basu presented awards to those spearheading HIV prevention campaigns. The crowd’s loudest cheers were reserved for Basu, who performed a song-and-dance number, ”Atmavishwas (Faith Within).” Earlier, Gere met sex workers who explained how they use pictures and books to persuade fellow prostitutes to insist on safer sex. But they said it is difficult getting regular customers to use condoms. Gere, a vocal fighter against HIV and AIDS, launched the Heroes Project four years ago to spread the message of prevention to the average Indian.
India, with 5.7 million HIV-positive people, has the world’s largest population living with HIV and AIDS. Campaigns aimed at prostitutes and truck drivers, both high-risk groups, have helped increase knowledge about the disease. ”Before, there was a total lack of knowledge among sex workers about HIV and even about their own bodies,” Gere told the Associated Press. ”Now there is a radical change.
When sex workers speak of condoms as a norm, it is a powerful statement; it empowers them.” Aid workers estimate Mumbai has 10,000 sex workers. Ashok Alexander, director of Avahan, an initiative of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said it is vital to make the workers the focus of awareness campaigns. ”Our strategy is prevention in the most vulnerable groups,” he said. ”Their involvement is key, since they are the architects of HIV prevention.”
16 January 2007
Police refuse to arrange gay wedding
Two tribal girls in Chhattisgarh have started living together after the police turned down their request to arrange their wedding saying the society and parents objected to their lesbian relationship. Meena, 21, and Bundkunwar, 22, from the Gond community of Kotal village in Surajpur district had appealed to local police last week, claiming that they had been in a relationship for a year and wanted to get married.
The girls said their parents had been putting pressure on them to marry boys and asked the police to immediately arrange their wedding or allow them to end their lives. ‘We told girls last week that police need some time to know the legal aspect of gay marriages and they were sent back to their homes. Now we have told them it is not the job of the police department,’ Superintendent of Police R.S. Nayak told IANS. He said village elders were thinking of ways of separating them.
Ashok Row Kavi Consultant on gay and MSM/TG issues
UNAIDS MSM/TG issues desk
New Delhi, India
I am calling out to all of you as the first openly Indian gay man now in charge of the UNAIDS desk on issues concerning gay men and men-having-sex- with-men (MSM). This temporary assigmnent hopes to collect the main priority issues which today place gay men/MSM/TGs at risk and make them vulnerable to health issues that impinge on public health.
So this is what I request you to do:
If you were sitting in my place,
– What would you take up as a priority to see that you don’t fall sick and make decisions that place you at risk to STI (sexually transmitted infections) and HIV/AIDS?
– What printed material/informatio n would you like the government to print and place in all hospitals?
– What would you specifically like as top priority in your neighbourhood hospitals/doctor’ s clinic.
– How would you like your local gay NGO, community based group to help you?
– What legal services should be in place to ensure legal support and reduce harassment of community
– What are the counseling needs of the community and how should they be addressed?
– How to reach out to hard to access populations and provide services ( married and bisexual MSM, internet accessing MSM, friendly and mobile networks of community )
– What are needs of HIV positive MSM and provide services such as counseling, treatment of Opportunistic Infections (OIs) enrollment under the government of India’s free Anti retroviral treatment program,
– What are the research needs of the community?
– What kind of advocacy needs to be done to ensure mainstreaming issues of homosexuality and get wider acceptance (legal as well as acceptance from immediate family, friends and larger society)
– How would you and your circle of friends contribute towards creating safe spaces for MSM in the city
– Do you think you and your friends like to start off a small support group? Come on, take a lead. We will provide support and technical assistance.
– How would you like to help the community get on its feet?
– What is your contribution? it doesn’t have to be in cash. It can be three hours a week going round hospitals or helping clean up a community centre.
– What do you expect the National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) take up as a priority in your area?
If you’re reading this remember you’re a privileged member of our society. Only one in a 1,000 Indians have access to a computer. Stand up and be
counted. Stand up and move it. India is on the move and so should you be.
Ashok Row Kavi Consultant on gay and MSM/TG issues
UNAIDS MSM/TG issues desk
A2/35 Safdarjung Enclave
New Delhi 110,029
January 22, 2007
GayBombay Yahoo Group Posting
I am Ketki Ranade, a psychiatric social worker, currently working with an NGO (Bapu Trust), Pune. Over the last three years of my work as a mental health professional in Pune, I have done some therapy work with LGB clients here as well as other voluntary work with Samapathik Trust, an NGO working with gay men in Pune. I have also carried out a research on mental health concerns of lesbian and gay individuals between 2001 and 2003 in Bangalore. Taking this work forward, I am now working on a project studying the health and mental health issues of gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals. The study is being carried out in the cities of Pune and Mumbai.
I am looking for LGB individuals, who would like to share their life stories with me for this study. I will be conducting interviews in both Mumbai and Pune and will do so at a venue of the participant’s convenience. The interview duration would be approximately an hour and a half. The information that you share with me will be strictly confidential and will be used primarily to build a much-needed knowledge base on concerns of LGB individuals.
This project is funded as an independent fellowship by the Population Council, India.
If you are interested in sharing your story with me, kindly email or call on any of the following contacts:
Phone number-(020) 26837644/47 (Office; 9:30-5:30 p.m.)
Email address – Ketki Ranade – rketki@yahoo. co.in
Sutapa Majumdar – majumdar.sutapa@ gmail.com
Yogita Hastak – yogita10@hotmail. com
Looking forward to your kind participation.
January 30, 2007
Wanted: Interviews of gay/bisexual men who have been blackmailed!
I am a researcher/lawyer currently working on a human rights report documenting stories of blackmail/extortion faced by gay and bisexual men, mainly in Mumbai and also other cities in India. The GayBombay group has been documenting stories (on their website www.gaybombay. org) of blackmail where gay men have been entrapped by the Police over the internet, their credit/debit cards stolen and their savings withdrawn under the threat of Police arrest or disclosure to families.
On the other hand there are more common stories where gaymen in cruising areas have met some guy who takes them to a hotel, a quiet street corner, or home and robs them of all their belongings. All these instances of blackmail/extortion are criminal offences, but rarely has a gay person filed a police complaint against such blackmail. Most of us fear being arrested by the police due to the continued presence of s.377 (the anti sodomy law).
Also, none of these stories have ever been documented and put together in a report, both so that we can use that as a tool against the police/goverment and judiciary and also educate members of the community to be more careful in the future. This report is an attempt to fill that gap. So if anyone of you has ever been blackmailed by being placed under a threat of arrest or
disclosure of sexual orientation to your family and do not mind talking about it – then please write to me on galok2005@gmail. com.
I am looking to conduct interviews, which will be anonymous, no names or photographs will be taken. The report will be published under the aegis of the Public Interest Legal Support and Research Centre (www.pilsarc. org).
Thanks a lot,
23 March 2007
Interview: Gay Indian seeks refuge at Cambridge
by Celine Casey
Homosexuality in conservative Indian society is forced into hiding by not only the government, but also family, neighbours and the police. The battle between older guardians and the younger generation in India continues its vicious circle where gay and lesbians are forced into marriage by their parents. Some are thrown out of their homes; most lead a double life while others suffer in silence. Balaji Ravichandran, a young medical student has talked to PinkNews.co.uk about his own experiences of being gay. Having studied medicine in India, Balaji moved to the United Kingdom about a year ago. The British Medical Journal provided him with a two-month scholarship to study medical journalism and subsequently appointed him as the editor of studentBMJ.
"I got to love the freedom homosexuals enjoy in this country, and decided to be open and complete about my own sexuality," explains Balaji. This talented scientist has an unconditional offer to study at one of the most prestigious colleges in Cambridge – if he can find the £22,000 needed to fund his course. He has only recently declared his homosexuality to his mother, but his father remains unaware.
According to Balaji, one can be jailed in India for life for been gay. He states that according to Indian law, ‘unnatural acts’ are forbidden and punishable by an unlimited fine including life imprisonment. As a result of anti-gay and lesbian legislation and their rejection by the Indian community at large, gay and lesbian people are keeping their status and activities secretive. He mentions a few examples of the realities of gay existence in India, like the 40-year-old married male with two children diagnosed with HIV who in his secret life solicits younger men for sex via the Internet. The Gully (an online magazine) reported in 2004 that a young man, Raju Sharma, had been hung by his ankles with a rope from the first floor balcony of his parents’ flat by his father, who threatened to kill any neighbour attempting to rescue him. His father had found out the son was gay. It also reports of a young man being assaulted by local police and forced to give oral sex. When attempting to file a complaint, the policemen’s superiors threatened him with prosecution under Indian law for carrying out ‘unnatural acts.’ But despite Indian law and its society there has being an increase in pro-gay movement. According to Shaleen Rakesh, Director of the gay outreach group, Naz Foundation, there has been a remarkable change:
"Ten years ago the only option a gay person had was to go to cruising areas- to parks and public toilets for random, discreet sex. Now there are so many venues, so many private parties, gay night clubs." Kim Mulji, executive director of charity Naz Foundation, told PinkNews.co.uk: "Most men who have sex with men in India do not identify as gay, and we find men with differing sexuality and gender identities and no identities." For Balaji, life in India as a gay man remains a frightening thought. Having lost two of his gay friends to suicide, he suffered depression himself in the aftermath of the Asian tsunami which affected his hometown.
He finds himself, "in a quandary that could mean his future life or death." Balaji believes that the current legal and social barriers for gay and lesbian goes further by deterring the prevention and treatment of HIV. According to figures published by Naz, South Asia represents some 20% of the world’s population and includes the countries of Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka with a combined population of over 1.5 billon people. This region is at the forefront of the AIDS pandemic, where in India, the numbers living with HIV has been estimated to be more than four million within highly localised epidemics.
According to Naz, in such heavily populated region, males who have sex with males have been significantly ignored in regard to ensuring that appropriate and accessible HIV/AIDS services are available. The majority of those services that do exist have been primarily developed through technical assistance and support from Naz. Until there is significant progress shown in the attitudes of both the legislator and minds of Indian society, Balaji is keen to stay in the UK.
"I have an unconditional offer from King’s College, Cambridge to study Natural Sciences. But without funding, I cannot take this course up, and coming from poor background, I have no funds to cover my course. "The course, because I’m not from the EU, costs more than £22,000 a year. There are no full scholarships anywhere for undergraduate studies, and all my efforts to secure funding have been in vain, including charities like Wellcome Trust. "My passion in life has been, and will always be, to ‘do science’, as opposed to being a scientist. "And there is no better place in the world to nurture scientific ambitions than Cambridge University. What’s even better, I need not live a lie, and can be honest about my sexuality. After all, despite all the adversities I have faced, my homosexuality has been the greatest source of my strength. Now, having come this far, I hope I will not have to give up on my dreams just because I was born poor – something over which I have no control over."
British transsexual leaves Indian eunuchs out of pocket
11 April 2007
by Jerome Taylor
When is a eunuch not a eunuch? Perhaps when she is a British eunuch. For centuries India’s eunuchs have travelled to religious ceremonies bestowing luck and good fortune upon those willing to pay for it. But now a British transsexual has caused upset at an Indian temple popular with eunuchs because her ability to attract large donations from devotees has left a number of her fellow transsexuals feeling shortchanged.
If reports in the Indian press are to be believed, a British transsexual called Pamela has become extremely popular with devotees at a temple in the Indian state of Gujarat who come for blessings from the temple’s eunuchs, known as hijras. Dressed in a silk saffron sari, her forehead marked with a red tikka mark, Pamela looks like other hijras as she blesses pilgrims at the Bahucharaji temple, a place popular with childless women looking to become pregnant.
Hijras will normally give blessings to pilgrims if they donate a small sum of money, which is usually one or two rupees – less than a penny. But according to some reports Pamela, whose name has been Indianised by devotees to "Prema", has regularly attracted donations of more than 500 rupees, more than a day’s wages for many of India’s poorest. Some of the temple’s older hijras were reportedly so upset by her ability to attract devotees that they even hatched a plan to find out whether she was a real transsexual or not. "We were alarmed by the incident and soon provided her an accommodation in the temple guesthouse," an unnamed temple official told the IANS news agency, after finding out about the plan.
Details of who exactly Pamela is are hard to come by, largely because she has been reluctant to talk to the press. Journalists reported that her birth name was Stephen Louis, and that she comes from London.
"Some Gujaratis in London, noticing Stephen’s eunuch-like body language and behaviour, helpfully told him about the Bahucharaji temple," said Gunavant Joshi, a resident of the town where the temple is based. "Stephen then made a search on the internet on Goddess Bahucharaji, considered the goddess of eunuchs. He found all necessary information on the Net. "He even got a printout of the picture of the goddess and showed [it] to a tattoo artist and got a similar image tattooed on his left arm," Mr Joshi said.
"Pamela gets up early in the morning," said the unnamed temple official. "She attends all [ceremonies] in the temple. Also, she has become a pure vegetarian. She eats Gujarati food in the temple dinning hall."
The Indian Express newspaper reported that Pamela went to the temple after becoming fed up with the insults thrown at her for being a transsexual. Her presence at the temple has divided the local hijras. The younger hijras have befriended her but the older generations have repeatedly questioned her transsexual status. Traditionally, hijras have had their male genitalia removed through a process known as nirvan (literally, "rebirth"), but many of India’s more than one million eunuchs are not transsexual because they cannot afford the operation.
In India eunuchs are considered by many to bring good luck, but they are also heavily distrusted and live on the margins of society making a living by begging, performing ceremonies and often through prostitution. According to the Indian Express, Pamela is not completely isolated from home. "I do miss my boyfriend," she said. "I am in touch with him through SMS. But on the whole I was never happier in my life."
April 21, 2007
Scripts story: "not ready to deal with your answers"
Posted by Vikram
The LABIA (Lesbians And Bisexuals In Action) group has brought out the 10th issue of their ‘zine Scripts with a theme mothers and motherhood. Its one of their best issues yet, with lots of interesting and moving stories. You can get it by mailing them at labialist@yahoo. com or streesangam@ gmail.com One small anecdote in particular really moved me. Its from Shruti, who’s out to her mother, but as it shows her mother still needs time to deal with it. She wrote: "On this lovely, long car drive one afternoon, my mon asked my brother if he was seeing anyone. And she teased him about a couple of women. This was followed by a 5 minute silence and I was slowly beginning to fume when she suddenly turned to me and said, "I know I should be asking you the same question. But I am sorry. I am not ready to deal with your answers but I hope that one day I will be able to share your life as easily." Frankly, for me that was enough. My mom had acknowledged my queerness, admitted she fell short and attempted to understand my life some more. That to me was an acceptance of sorts and my day was made! "
We often hear the excuse "my parents aren’t ready to deal with it" as an excuse for not coming out to them, and perhaps that’s true and there are real reasons not to tell them. But sometimes it can be just convenient on our part, because we don’t want to deal with the embarassment and problems of coming out to them. And I don’t want to take fixed positions on coming out, but I have to say that I find it hard to understand how, if you are close to your parents and they really love you, you cannot want them to know about something so personal and important to you. I’m not making this as a political statement, but a personal one – these aren’t just random people, they’re your parents.
Having come out to them though, we can fall into another trap, of expecting to entirely understand and be supportive overnight. Many parents are like that, and its great, but one also has to appreciate that not everyone can do it that easily. Parents are people in their own right – something kids very easily forget – with their own feelings and prejudices and contexts and these cannot suddenly disappear just because of you. If that were the case it would seem to make your parents less real as people, just warm emotion dispensing machines.
So its really a question of giving time and space, and no, this is not the same as conniving at a prejudice. I think Shruti’s small anecdote catches this beautifully – the parent’s honest acknowledgement of her (the parent’s) problem, and the plea for time to deal with it:
May 6, 2007
Delhi in same-sex diplomat dilemma : A 145-year-old law that bans sex “against the order of nature” has landed the foreign ministry in a quandary.
by Charu Sudan Kasturi
New Delhi – The Canadian high commission has requested Delhi to clear diplomatic spouse privileges for two officials, a man and a woman, each married to a partner of the same sex. Gay marriages, allowed in Canada, are not legally valid in India. Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which came into effect in 1862, bars sexual intercourse between two men and provides for a life sentence for violation. Lawyers and activists have filed a petition in Delhi High Court demanding its revocation. Foreign ministry sources said that as Indian law does not recognise same-sex marriages, the Canadian requests cannot be granted. A spokesperson for the Canadian high commission said the mission would rather not comment on the matter.
Indian police routinely arrest and punish gay men and lesbians although the law, many argue, only bars sexual intercourse. “This is unfortunate,” senior IPS officer Kiran Bedi said. Anand Grover, head of the Lawyer’s Collective, which is fighting a legal battle to revoke Section 377, called the law an “archaic remnant of 17th-century British sensibilities.” Many countries are doing away with such laws. A country cannot join the European Commission, for instance, without first revoking any anti-sodomy law,” he said.
Denmark, South Africa, Belgium and the US state of Massachusetts allow same-sex marriages. Many of the rights that marriage brings are available through same-sex civil union laws in most European Union countries, including Britain. An official at the Canadian mission said the requests for spouse privileges were made with the understanding that under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 1963, diplomats and their families would be immune from Indian laws. Foreign ministry officials, however, said the Vienna conventions bring immunity only from criminal procedure, not from the law of the land in which the diplomat is based.
15 May 2007
Students suspended for gay film
by Amy Bourke
Four students have been suspended from their college in India for making a short film on homosexuality. The director, producer and actors in the five minute film have all been suspended from St Joseph’s College of Communication in the state of Kerala. The students claim that this disciplinary action is an infringement of their rights of free expression. However, the college authorities say the issue involved gross breach of discipline as the film was shot on the university campus without prior permission. The controversy comes in the middle of an Indian debate on moral policing within the arts.
Fr Sebastian Punnassery, director of the college told PTI: "We have nothing more to say now as the matter is before the Mahatma Gandhi University to which the college is affiliated." But in a memo to students, the college authorities said that the film had obscene scenes which were capable of misleading young minds. Jeo Baby, a final year student of MA Cinema and Television, said that his film "Secret Minds" wanted only to portray the reality that gay people exist in Indian society.
He told PTI that the film "is a serious movie on gay subject with only music and no dialogue. The college authorities came to know about it when the film was submitted for a campus film festival, and conducted by a leading film society." Jeo has previously won campus prizes for making films about begging. Mahatma Ghandi University sources said the appeal of the students would be considered by the Vice-Chancellor later this month. Homosexuality is illegal in India and can carry prison terms of up to ten years. It was made illegal during British colonial rule in 1861. But there is an underground gay community in India, and under 50 people are believed to have ever been convicted of the crime. This is mainly because judges tend to be lenient.
May 7, 2007
Attack and Murder of ‘Effeminate’ Guys in Kolkata (Calcutta)
Posted by kinsuk
Today’s Ananda Bazar Patrika (07/05/07) reported the attack and murder of apparently ‘effeminate’ men, in Kolkata. The report says that, the spree started around 12th March and till then almost 10 men have been attacked and one has been murdered. The reason being or the link that could be found amongst these killings is that they all were so called ‘effeminate’ men. However, the report also said, that most of them were NGO workers who were working on various sensitive issues.
These people are not just people. They are activists. They are trying to change attitude as well as trying to bring positive behaviour within a community that has been marred by various stagnated views. The people who attacked them, if not same person or similar groups, do not know these facts. They only see them by their exterior. The exterior that been labelled as ‘effeminate’ by the society. If we try to fathom this stigmatisation, the notion of hatred, we would need much bigger space and thats not the intention either. However i am trying to raise the question that why the exterior would be determining factor for a person’s existence? How the exterior can give anybody any rights to abuse them?
this is a tough time. kolkata had various good and bad reputations. however, except scattered incidents spreading around many years, we never heard of such thing when attack to the gay people are happening, in such a violent manner. most of the cases, the attackers taunted the victim, then hit them, punch them, then tried to rape or molest them sexually. that only shows the inner violence of a male dominated society when penis becomes a weapon and the attackers are not shy of using it against women or gays alike. The people that been attacked they didn’t get any chance to defend themselves and in one case even the railway police who suppose to protect the victim, actually joined the attackers. The stance of morality, that gives anybody and everybody, the right to do anything, which could be absolutely wrong/ violent/ against the society or the people residing in it, must be stopped.
May 18, 2007
Gay Nehru–new biography outrages intelligensia in India
Posted by Deepak
Everybody knows Jawaharlal Nehru,India’ s first prime minister but few know that he had a homosexual relationship during his yourh.Before his enrollment in the Harrow School in 1905 the young Nehru had a relationship with Ferdinand Brooks , his Theosophist French teacher. The suggestion that Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru may have had homosexual experiences was made after extensive research and conversations with those who knew him, according to Prof Stanley Wolpert, author of Nehru: A Tryst With Destiny, a new biography which has outraged sections of the Indian intelligentsia.
Speaking to The Indian Express from the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) where he teaches Indian history, Prof Wolpert said his conclusions were based on "interviews with a lot of people and my own discussions with Nehru". But the controversy, he added, was being blown out of proportion because the references to Nehru’s gay tendencies "constituted only a small section of the book." The ‘revelation’ though is mentioned on the book jacket. Prof Wolpert said he did not broach the subject during his three meetings with Nehru in 1957-58, when he spoke with the Indian leader for his doctoral dissertation on the Indian freedom movement. But his own interaction with Nehru during the meetings also helped him to the conclusion, he added.
"My own aim as a scholar is to get as close to the truth as possible… I believe in the Indian motto of Satyameva Jayate…. if I was not convinced enough I would not have written it … those who say 1 have overstated it should counter it with evidence, "the historian said, while himself not proffering any "evidence." In the book which has just hit the stands in the United States, and is due for release in India shortly, Wolpert implies that Nehru had several homosexual encounters during his early years in Allahabad, and later at Harrow and Cambridge. He also describes instances when Nehru dressed in drag "Wearing his wig, made up with lipstick, powder and eye shadow, his body draped in silks and satins, Jawahar most willingly offered himself up night after night to those endless rehearsals for the Gaekwar’s At Home as a beautiful young girl, holding out her jug of wine and loaf seductively to her poet lover, Omar," he writes in one passage.
The book has received favourable reviews in the American press Publishers Weekly describing it as a "warts-and-all portrait of India’s brilliant and charismatic first prime minister" in which Wolpert "convincingly goes beneath Nehru’s exalted image to reveal some pesky demons." The New York Times Book Review described the book as being "respectful of its subject but free of the hagiography that has often diminished academic writing on Nehru." Neither review touched on Nehru’s supposed homosexual liaisons.
Asked why none of the previous biographies, including the more recent one by M J Akbar, did not allude to this aspect of Nehru’s fife, Wolpert said "I have no idea." In the book, Wolpert says Nehru’s first attachment was with a young man called Ferdinand Brooks who was his French teacher. Brooks was a theosophist but Wolpert says before coming to India the "handsome’ man was a disciple and lover of Charles Webster Leadbeater, a renegade Anglican curate who was accused of child molestation and pederasty on several continents. Leadbeater openly advocated mutual masturbation among young boys. Wolpert also suggests Nehru may have had a gay relationship in Harrow and makes much of Panditji’s admiration for Oscar Wilde.
May 20, 2007
We invite you to join hands with AIDS Activists across the world to observe Global AIDS Week of Action
20-26 May, 2007 demanding stronger response, greater accountability and more resources and demanding the state to ensure the right to life and dignity of all people living with and affected by HIV-AIDS
20 MAY 2007, 4PM – 7PM
Near Bandstand, Cubbon Park, Behind Vishweshwaraiah Museum Candle Light Memorial – remembering all people who lost their lives to AIDS.
Includes a cultural program by ‘Gana Vinodini’
21 MAY 2007
Urban Health Reserach and Training Institute, Malleswaram, Opp. Chowdaiah Memoral Hall Convention on Food Security and HIV-AIDS
24 MAY 2007
Public Rally at 10 AM from Makkala Koota, Chamarajpet Public Meeting at 12 noon , Bannappa Park, Corporation Circle
Bangalore HIV & AIDS Forum
Promoting Greater Involvement of People Living with HIV-AIDS
May 23, 2007
Arrested ‘same-sex’ couple seek Musharraf’s intervention
From our ANI Correspondent
Lahore – A same-sex couple in Pakistan, who were arrested for marrying each other, have sought the help of ‘broadminded’ President General Pervez Musharraf. The couple– Shumail Raj and Shahzina Tariq –termed their arrest as unjust and said Musharraf should help them, as he believed in a liberalising society.
Raj and Tariq also said that they would also seek help from the international community, who would support their decision and let them live their lives in peace, reports the Daily Times. Stating that physical boundaries were not strong enough to break their emotional bond, the couple vowed to carry on their relationship, come what may. They were arrested on Sunday for going through with a same-sex marriage, which is against Islam. The arrest came after a Pakistani court ruled that the husband was actually a woman and had a sex change operation, which was not done properly.
May 26, 2007
Pink & Prejudice: Gays and lesbians are coming out of the corporate closet
Is India Inc ready for this diversity challenge?
Vikram Doctor Anand never intended to come out about being gay at his job in a large multinational bank, but by chance it happened. Since then he’s had to hear crude jokes being cracked behind his back (but deliberately loud enough for him to hear) and his boss walks out of the washroom as soon as he enters. Gender sensitivity training is mandatory at his company but it has made no difference. Anand doesn’t want to quit the company, but sees no chance for growth in his current situation. "It’s a dead-end for me in this department," he says bitterly.
When Dinesh joined a large multinational software company in Bangalore, he was intrigued to find it had an international gay and lesbian support group. He registered on it, the only member from India, and immediately got a lot of support from group members in other parts of the world. That emboldened him to start `coming out’ (a term derived from `coming out of the closet’ or declaring your alternate sexuality) to his colleagues. His company’s HR department soon heard about it — and promptly arranged to send him to New York to take part in the company’s Global GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transsexual) Leadership Conference.
"I am very happy I don’t have to hide something that is natural to me," says Dinesh contentedly. Anita is a senior executive at a large media company. She moved back to India after five years with a similar company in the UK where she was quite open about being a lesbian. There she was part of the company’s GLBT community and faced no problems. But in India she isn’t risking it, even though she feels that her workplace is essentially indifferent to the issue. "It is not discriminatory, but neither is it welcoming," she says. She’s less concerned about a few potentially bigoted people as with being the subject matter for widespread gossip. So she keeps her private life to herself and answers questions about her partner in carefully gender neutral terms. It hasn’t affected her work.
"On the contrary I’ve benefited as being unmarried I’m perceived as someone more `committed’ to my workplace," she says. Mahesh knows that perception, but is ambivalent about it. "Being presumed to be a bachelor leads to assumptions of much greater flexibility, leading to shortnotice assignments, weekend work and so on," he says. "It takes a lot of effort to resist that." He’s been discreetly out at the large Indian software company he works for and hasn’t faced any direct problem. But indirectly it does affect his career. "Networking between couples and families socially leaves me out, and that’s a pain."
His attempts to deflect marriage questions without revealing his private life have left others feeling that he’s cold and unresponsive. And bosses have told him that being single won’t help in his career. Mahesh has tried getting the company to implement a policy on sexuality — "I keep harping about it in every employee satisfaction study" — but they haven’t done anything. It came up in once in a question on how the company, which has operations abroad, would deal with benefits for same sex partners where such partnerships are legal. "The management said it will do whatever it has to comply with the laws of the land."
This sounds admirable until one notes the twist the policy has at home. Since Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code is interpreted to mean that being gay and lesbian is illegal in India, the company can do nothing for its gay and lesbian employees. Really sorry, but their hands are tied. Welcome to the confusing world of being gay or lesbian in corporate India. It’s a world where some of the seniormost corporate leaders are known to be discreetly gay or lesbian and where its not been a hindrance in the career for many professionals. They can even be relatively open about it within their companies — as long as it’s clear that they can’t expect the companies to address the issue officially. Which was fine as long as most gays and lesbians were happy just to be able to have careers at all. But now with foreign companies eager to hire talented Indian professionals, many gay and lesbian Indian professionals are asking themselves why they need bother sticking on in a country or in companies where they have to keep hiding something so essential about themselves. And as we know, few things makes companies wake up to issues faster than the prospect of a brain drain.
With Indian companies increasingly going global, both indirectly, by adopting global business practices, and directly, by setting up shop abroad or now buying firms abroad, they’re having to grapple with global standards of operation. And dealing with diversity issues, including those of sexuality, has been one less expected aspect of this. When UB’s Vijay Mallya expressed his distaste of homosexuality on a prime time TV show in India, he may not have expected any protest.
But when gay rights activists and the media pointed out that, whatever his personal views, his remarks cast his company in a bad light — particularly at a time when it was negotiating to buy a British company — Mallya grudgingly apologised. Indian companies are having to deal with gay and lesbian employees abroad. They’re having to deal with gays and lesbians posted from abroad to their Indian operations. And then they’re having to deal with Indian gay and lesbian employees asking why there are double standards for international and local operations. Most Indian companies are ill-equipped to deal with such complexities.
A report by the International Labour Organisation, recently released by Union labour minister Oscar Fernandes, has signalled that Indian companies have got to start taking newer forms of workplace discrimination like age, lifestyle and sexual orientation, seriously: "employees may suffer from discrimination if they are known or believed to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, " it states. Over the last year Corporate Dossier tried getting CEOs and HR executives to tell us how they are dealing with this subject. The responses ranged from a flat refusal to discuss the issue, blank incomprehension, embarrassed apologies and a few honest attempts at doing something that were qualified by entreaties not to reveal the company’s name.
Corporate India, on the whole, isn’t opposed to doing something for its gay and lesbian employees — it just doesn’t want to be seen as doing so. Infosys chairman N R Narayana Murthy was one of the few willing to speak on record. Sexuality was not an issue in the workplace, he says firmly: "It is an individual preference and acceptable so long as nobody imposes their views on others or does not infringe on the personal space of others." He says Infosys’s appraisal system is independent of individual preferences and everyone has to subscribe to a code of conduct that should be able to deal with most workplace issues. On sexuality-supportiv e policies though —marriage benefits, for example — he says that would depend on the legal requirements for each country. "Our policies would be global unless the laws are different," he says. IBM India is one company willing to admit to a more proactive approach.
"In India the GLBT focus is on educating our managers as part and parcel of being inclusive leaders," says Anita Guha, diversity leader, IBM India. "In the Indian environment, GLBT people don’t come out but we are a global company and our employees have to deal with a global workforce. So it is definitively reinforced in our programs as part of being an inclusive leader." Anita Gopalan, who heads the Naaz India Foundation, which has taken a lead in challenging Sec. 377 in the Indian courts, is not surprised that companies are so reluctant or secretive about implementing sexuality supportive policies. "Indian companies don’t have gay- friendly policies because it is illegal in India, so it’s a big stumbling block for them," she says. But she thinks it would be great if some did go out on a limb and institute such policies. "It would destigmatise the whole issue to a large extent," she says. The time might seem ripe for this with gay and lesbian issues being increasingly openly discussed in the media, and with a gay reference almost obligatory in the new wave of Bollywood films. It helps that many companies’ instincts may already lie in that direction.
Sunit Mehra, CEO of Hunt Partners, a corporate recruitment firm, gives the example of one of his clients, a large Indian manufacturing company with an international tie-up. The company had asked its international partner for a senior executive in a particular area, and it got back a shortlist of candidates. One of them, the international company indicated, was particularly suitable for the position, but he was gay and the Indian company would need to take a call on how to deal with that. In this the company may have been following a trend started by foreign diplomatic missions, many of who are finding it convenient to hire gays and lesbians partly because they are less likely to have families with children, making them easier to settle abroad. At the same time there are countries, such as those in the Islamic world where this would not be possible, but India is seen as a relatively tolerant place where it might be accepted. This proved to be the case with the Indian firm.
"They had absolutely no problem and in fact he was the candidate selected," says Mehra. "I believe India is a much more tolerant place culturally than the West, where they are much more biased and rigid. So they tend to need more rules in the West to curb the intolerant culture." Vikram Joshi, a Bangalorebased advertising executive, who was one of the few executives who agreed to speak openly with us, agrees with Mehra’s observation. As long as people are good at their job, he doesn’t see sexuality coming into it much here. He’s worked in the US and says at times it was harder being out there. "Inspite of antidiscrimination policies and all, the contempt and homophobia that people felt for me abroad was far far greater than what I see here in India." Joshi admits that when he came back to India he wondered about how open to be: "I did not want to make anyone feel uncomfortable. " He doesn’t go out of his way to talk about his sexuality, but doesn’t hide it either — "I have a blog online where my sexuality is out in the open!" — and accepts that in the moderately intimate confines of an office it’s hard to keep a strict distinction between personal and public lives.
"The workplace is FULL of people discussing their personal lives," he laughs. Amar, who worked in a public sector bank, is the opposite case. He says emphatically that he doesn’t approve of flaunting his sexuality publicly. "You can take it as my mindset. Even if I were in a foreign country where things were more approved, I would like my gay relationship to be intensely private." He didn’t get married, as some gay men do to blend in, but he admits that resisting office queries about this wasn’t easy: "People have not been convinced with the reasons I have given." He also had to deal with a female colleague who wanted to marry him. "She waited for me till she was 32 and then lost hope and married someone else."
Through all this, Amar says he maintained "an intimidating dignity" that kept people at bay. Yet listening to him it does seem like this took a toll. Amar’s story is full of cases of colleagues who tried to get close to him, but were rebuffed, and perhaps this aloof image affected his career, because when we spoke to him he had just quit his job at 48 to do things on his own. The truth may be that the idea of a strict personal/private divide is a fallacious one, at least in workplaces where some level of human interaction between employees is encouraged. People are uncomfortable if you bring deep personal issues to the office, but not bringing any personal stuff marks you off as cold and weird as well. The problem with homosexuality is that its still in a grey area. Gays and lesbians often think they’ve successfully handled the sexuality issue, only to find themselves confronted with the personality one.
One executive told us of how well he concealed his sexuality — but admitted his office evaluation had described him as `remote and unfriendly.’ Companies sometimes pretend that they can do nothing on gay and lesbian issues until the law has changed, but what many of these cases indicate is that the issues are more complex than purely legalistic ones — and as such offer scope for action straight away. Many gays and lesbians would love to have legal rights like same sex partner benefits, but would probably settle now for a greater awareness and tolerance on sexuality issues. Karan is a case in point. He works for the Indian operations of an American engineering company which does have an `equality’ cause that he could conceivably avail of if he felt he was being discriminated against because he was gay. Yet he’s chosen to conceal his sexuality because he’s worried about subtler undercurrents that could derail a gay employee’s career. Karan points out that its still barely acceptable for his straight colleagues to have unmarried relationships.
"I’ve sometimes caught married superiors advising unmarried but partnered colleagues not to waste their time on romance and to focus on work. These snippets of free advice are given at the touch of a hair-trigger, like if the poor guy spends three minutes extra on the phone with his girlfriend." In such an essentially intolerant situation he can see himself facing real problems by being out. "They may not be able to throw me out, but there’s definitely a chance of their disapproval manifesting in other ways. I can see myself working extra hard just to compensate for my sexuality. I’d rather put in this extra hard work as a single person with no determinate sexual proclivities, so that it’ll count directly towards my career." With such essentially censorious and judgmental seniors, a mere legal clause would offer little protection. Companies like Karan’s need to open up to newer forms of relationshipsand behaviour in general. What would make them?
In the end the same pressure that has driven companies abroad. It’s worth noting that while change in Europe has tended to be driven by the government, in the US, the corporate sector has been well in advance of government policy. Greg Nevins, senior staff attorney at Lambda Legal, a leading US NGO fighting for gay and lesbian legal rights, points out that "only 19 states have laws banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. When the federal government does not protect LGBT people in the workplace, there is less incentive for employers to make protecting LGBT employees a priority." Yet corporate acceptance of gay and lesbian employees has been a big recent change in the US and the reason lies in a survey Lambda Legal conducted with Deloitte, which showed that "54% of GLBT respondents said that gay friendly non- discrimination and anti-harassment policies were "critical" to their decision about where to work."
"When employers do not establish and enforce such policies, they are not able to offer what some of the best workers look for," says Nevins. There might even be a halo effect here. Some years back Richard Florida, an expert on regional economic development, noted an interesting trend in American cities that were doing well economically. They all tended to have large, vibrant gay scenes which he theorised acted as a marker for the young creative people driving the new economy — even when they weren’t gay. It signalled a tolerance for diversity and alternative lifestyles and a good atmosphere, all attractive to the sort of new workers cities and companies most wanted to attract. Florida’s views have been criticised over time, but smart companies have taken on board some of this thinking. Hassan certainly discovered that when he was graduating from the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad this year. He was pretty much the only person in his batch who was out, a slightly isolating experience perhaps, but not one that affected him much since he finished at the top of his batch. He was a highly sought after candidate, particularly by the global consulting companies.
"I researched them all thoroughly and one of the key factors in my decision was the quality of their support for gay and lesbian associates," says Hassan. The consultancies were soon competing to prove their gay and lesbian friendliness — pointing to partner support packages, connecting him with their gay and lesbian network and promising that if a client was ever to have an issue with his sexuality he would be reassigned with absolutely no personal penalty. Hassan isn’t sure if he can reveal the consultancy he finally chose — it’s the same irony that applies to most other companies operating in India, where they may not want to reveal how supportive they are. But its internal support of gay and lesbian employees is impeccable and that was his deciding factor. As more Indian companies realise they need employees like Hassan we may expect their policies for gay and lesbian employees to start changing — even if they really don’t want us to know!
Some names have been changed on request (with inputs from Vinod Manhanta)
May 26, 2007
India’s ”Queerfest” targets anti-gay law, prejudice
New Delhi, (Reuters) – Hundreds of India’s closet gays and lesbians came out to celebrate their sexuality with the launch of a 10-day festival in New Delhi, hoping to build on a campaign against the country’s strict anti-gay law. The “Nigah QueerFest ’07” kicked off late on Friday with a film screening, a lot of bonhomie and laughter — a rarity for most Indian gays who are often scorned and persecuted for even holding hands in public.
“This festival is a celebration of our sexuality,” said Gautam Bhan, a tall gay rights activist. “We are seeking our own space through culture and at the same time, conveying our opposition to Section 377,” he added, referring to the anti-gay law. Homosexuality is a crime in India and can result in a jail term of at least 10 years. While the British colonial-era law has rarely been enforced, activists say it has become a tool for police to harass gay and lesbian couples in order to get bribes. If couples refuse or are unable to pay a bribe, they are often put in dingy cells, brutally beaten and humiliated. Being called gay is widely considered an insult in a country where ancient temples, murals and other arts such as the “Kama Sutra” — the cult book of love written by an Indian ascetic 2,000 years ago — graphically describe gay sex. India’s flourishing Hindi film industry, Bollywood, has often used gays as characters of humour and ridicule.
Recent films which have attempted to be more sensitive towards homosexuals have been greeted with fiery protests by right wing Hindu hardliners. The anti-gay law, which dates back to the 19th century, is now being questioned by gay rights groups who argue that not only is it an abuse of human rights but also acts as an impediment in the fight against HIV/AIDS in India. However, the government says Indian society is not ready to legalise homosexuality. A court judgement is pending. Activists say the festival — which will include talks, photo exhibitions, films, performances and a candlelight vigil — is an attempt to use culture to help society recognise the rights of India’s homosexuals. Shrenik, a filmmaker who will screen his film about the subtle flirtation between a gay male couple who try to steal a moment in a crowded bus — a telling example of how law comes in the way of love — said the anti-gay law has to be scrapped. “I am sure a day will come soon when the restrictions would go and we would be able to meet like this,” he said. “They can’t stop us for long.”
May 26, 2007
India’s "Queerfest" targets anti-gay law, prejudice
by Palash Kumar, Reuters
New Delhi (Reuters) – Hundreds of India’s closet gays and lesbians came out to celebrate their sexuality with the launch of a 10-day festival in New Delhi, hoping to build on a campaign against the country’s strict anti-gay law. The "Nigah QueerFest ’07" kicked off late on Friday with a film screening, a lot of bonhomie and laughter — a rarity for most Indian gays who are often scorned and persecuted for even holding hands in public.
"This festival is a celebration of our sexuality," said Gautam Bhan, a tall gay rights activist. "We are seeking our own space through culture and at the same time, conveying our opposition to Section 377," he added, referring to the anti-gay law. Homosexuality is a crime in India and can result in a jail term of at least 10 years. While the British colonial-era law has rarely been enforced, activists say it has become a tool for police to harass gay and lesbian couples in order to get bribes. If couples refuse or are unable to pay a bribe, they are often put in dingy cells, brutally beaten and humiliated.
Being called gay is widely considered an insult in a country where ancient temples, murals and other arts such as the "Kama Sutra" — the cult book of love written by an Indian ascetic 2,000 years ago — graphically describe gay sex. India’s flourishing Hindi film industry, Bollywood, has often used gays as characters of humor and ridicule. Recent films which have attempted to be more sensitive towards homosexuals have been greeted with fiery protests by right wing Hindu hardliners. The anti-gay law, which dates back to the 19th century, is now being questioned by gay rights groups who argue that not only is it an abuse of human rights but also acts as an impediment in the fight against HIV/AIDS in India.
However, the government says Indian society is not ready to legalize homosexuality. A court judgment is pending. Activists say the festival — which will include talks, photo exhibitions, films, performances and a candlelight vigil — is an attempt to use culture to help society recognize the rights of India’s homosexuals. Shrenik, a filmmaker who will screen his film about the subtle flirtation between a gay male couple who try to steal a moment in a crowded bus — a telling example of how law comes in the way of love — said the anti-gay law has to be scrapped.
"I am sure a day will come soon when the restrictions would go and we would be able to meet like this," he said. "They can’t stop us for long."
May 30, 2007
UNSAFE SEX? Indian law criminalises homosexuality under the oppressive Section 377
by Rohini Mohan, CNN-IBN
New Delhi: Sexuality was once considered an unimportant, secondary issue in Indian social sphere. But now, it’s vibrant and political. It fights for the legal, and social rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgenders, Joined in by health care NGOs, human rights activists and feminist groups. Together, they form contemporary India’s queer movement.
"It’s significantly different from women’s rights politics, but there are many points where all these different movements meet,” says queer rights activist Ponni. Once a derogatory word, queer is accepted as an identity today, signifying a sexual orientation. The recent PSBT Film Festival on Gender and Sexuality and ongoing Nigah Queer Fest prove the point.
"It (Queer) does not fit within societal norms and society is not generally accepting of it. Although society in general is ready to talk about these issues,” says a researcher at the Nigah Film Fest, Mario. However, in complete contrast to the vibrant queer movement is the Indian State. It criminalises homosexuality through the Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. Gay activists call this a violation of human rights, stamped and approved by the government.
"The use of Section 377 against homosexual men is rare, but how way it plays out in reality is that it’s often used to extort, blackmail, it’s used by police to harass,” says a researcher with Alternative Law Forum Siddharth Narrain. But despite the Constitutional criminalisation, queer voices are gaining strength from the civil society that is getting less narrow minded about them. It just goes to show that the 145-year-old Section 377 is more out-of-date than ever.
June 10, 2007
Born Gay: From Innocence to Awareness (See reponse #30)
Posted by: ‘Jake’ from India
We all were babies—cute innocent babies. I now understand the meaning of certain small and so called insignificant moments of my life during childhood, on the basis of which, I have drawn the conclusion—“ Being Gay is my birthright and I shall have it!!” As kids, we all are unaware of the X-rated stuff! And I wasn’t an exception. All innocent like a lamb!!
I was 5 or 6 years old. I used to stay with my grandma, because my school was just behind her house! My parents used to stay in another apartment, a bit far away. On weekends I used to visit my parents. That apartment had a considerable amount of members. There was this guy called Adhish who was only a year elder to me and he was my best friend there! Sweet and innocent memories of him—he used to run towards me and hug me when I used to come on the weekends! I used to feel so nice…I was only a kid then but that feeling of a boy touching me made me feel high—nothing sexual—pure innocence yet distinct from the ordinary touch!
Then there are more sweet memories of a guy… I do not really remember how he looked…all I know is that he was very cute looking and his name was Amit! I was 7 years old then. In that same apartment, there was Amit—he must have been 22-25 that time. He was very fond of kids. He used to make all kids sit on his bike and give each one of them a ride around the compound! I used to eagerly wait for my turn…and he used to pick me up and make me sit ahead on his bike. I am again saying there was nothing in mind—neither his nor mine! I just liked him…the way he rubbed his unshaven face on my face…the way he pulled my cheeks…I really wanted him always…!!!
Then in my grandma’s apartment, there was a guy called Siddhesh. I, also liked him very much, yet never knew what was that liking all about!! He always played with me. The way he fondled my hair, held my hands, gave smiles…that all was so pure and holy—innocent above all!! Not that I was living in the world of men! There were many girls as well around me, but I never felt anything for a girl the way I felt for a guy!! As a kid, we all have certain funny concepts about various things… I used to think that a fairy will come and with her magic wand she will bring me a prince charming who will kiss me and hug me and love me all the time!
The first time I came to know what “gay” means was when I was in 8th class! That time I was 15! Aaron, my best friend in school, once mentioned that so and so person was gay! He used that word almost thrice or more. I couldn’t really understand what he meant by gay. All I knew was the British English Dictionary meaning of the word gay which equated it with happy!! I had practically never seen that word in the dictionary—else I would have known the slang meaning, mentioned at the bottom!! We used gay in poems…where Elizabeth Madam told us it meant very happy, mirthful, jovial etc. etc. and no one in the class laughed—all were innocent! Also no one laughed when Trevor once accidentally pronounced first three letters of the word Titan as tit!!!!
Anyways, then, it was Aaron who first explained me what gay meant! Then I came to know that I was gay! Yes, being gay never made me feel guilty because of the proper explanation given by my friend! Later, at some instants there were crooks, which made me feel guilty! But now I am very much open about my sexuality, and more importantly, I am very confident and happy about it. After all being gay is being twice blessed—once blessed for being a man and second time blessed for being able to love another man.
Today, I think about all those past moments of my life. I now know that I liked men even before I knew the meaning of being gay, even before I knew that I was gay! Indeed, I am Born Gay! This message was in response to one of the members who put forward the concept of being Born Gay like being born free! These were my elaborate thoughts…thanks for initiating a hint!!
Response to above commentary from member of AmmanRainbow (Jordan):
From: Fadi in AmmanRainbow@ yahoogroups. com
August 1, 2007
Thanks for sharing. "After all being gay is being twice blessed—once blessed for being a man and second time blessed for being able to love another man." I loved this sentence and thought of highlighting it here! We are twice blessed 🙂 Actually I loved the entire post of this man giving us an account of him becoming aware of his gayness. It is not far from what each single one of us has experienced. For me, it has been the same, I remember how much I used to like other guys while being a little kid. Guys at school, in the neighbourhood. Waiting for a guy to pass by in order for me to check him. Feeling happy when he says hi or talk to me…etc
I have never recognized that what I used to feel means that I am gay. Maybe like the man, I was first intorduced to the word gay in my 8th grade, but in Arabic they say "Looti" in reference to Prophet Loot and his assumed homosexual people! Here the world ‘Looti’ has no attachement to happiness whatsover, it indicate very bad people with bad morals! I, myself, used to think that Looti people are bad ones!
I have never associated myself with the word! and never really realized what it means. I have never imagined myself in an intercourse with another man, the idea itself used to repulse me, and then even when I started connected the dots of the word and me, I have always comforted myself that I can’t be gay because I dont think of intercourse! Although in the back of my mind, those calls of had became stronger every day, especially at the university time where I fall in love with my straight best friend! I have never imagine him sexually, and whenever such idea crosses my mind, I used to fight it so that I dont feel that I am betraying our friendship. I have always tried to think about it as friendship love and nothing more, but obviously I was in a BIG denial phase.
I guess those strong feelings are what helped me realized my sexuality and face my fears. Once I realized it, I instantly accepted myself and knew what the kind of life I want to live. Now I am blessed 3 times. Once for being man, a second time for being able to love another man, and a third time for having the best man ever to be my bf, lover and my life.
Have a nice day, Fadi
June 21, 2005
On the wings of a rainbow – Film fest, music video, awards and a march to mark gay pride week
by A Staff Reporter
Bangla band Cactus with two cast members from the music video Pokkhiraaj. Picture by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya
Being in the sexual minority is not just an issue of a choice of partner, because that choice comes with strings of stigma and suffering attached. But there are some lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) groups working towards a change. In Calcutta, one such organisation is SAATHII. In collaboration with two other NGOs, Amitie and Swikriti, and with support from the Elton John AIDS Foundation, London, SAATHII is hosting the Siddhartha Gautam Film Festival from June 20 to 25. Held in honour of the Delhi-based lawyer, an HIV/AIDS activist and advocate for sexual minorities, who died at age 28 of cancer in 1992, the film festival was first organised in Calcutta in 2000. Since then, the numbers have grown. This year, it?s making the first foray outside Calcutta. On June 21, it will be held in Chandernagore, under the guidance of Amitie.
Also a first this year is a music video on the issue, put together with the members of Bangla band Cactus, called Pokkhiraaj (The Pegasus). Apart from being broadcast over TV and radio, VCDs of the song will also be distributed. Another first is the television programme Out On TV, to be telecast on Bangla Akhon. It comprises a series of interviews with LGBT people, those who have worked with them and public figures. The films to be screened as part of Rainbow Pride Week include high-profile films like My Brother… Nikhil, award-winners like Many People Many Desires (New York International Independent Film and Video Festival), personal stories like Piku Bhalo Aachhey (by a medical student) and documentaries like Kinnor (on the lives of cross-dressers and transgender dancers of Bihar and Bengal).
Again for the first time this year, is the SAATHII Rainbow film awards, for which around 100 individuals from different groups in West Bengal have voted. The event will end in the Rainbow Pride Walk on June 26, the only one of its kind in India. Starting from Lake stadium, it will pass through Southern Avenue, Gol Park, Gariahat, Ballygunge and Park Circus. Around 1,000 people are expected to participate in Rainbow Pride Week.
June 27, 2007
Coming Out: Another Difficult Passage With Loving Results
Posted by Vijay
It’s really been long since I logged in to Gay Bombay and checked the posts in the group. And there’s no other better place for me to share my coming out story. For those who dunno me: I’m Vijay, in Singapore, doing my masters in electrical engineering.
Here are excerpts from last night’s coming-out events:
Part 1: To my Sister:
It’s was through yahoo voice chat. I told her that I’ll send her 2 files and asked her to read them. Those were the coming out story of Shri and the letter written by Praveen’s mom. I thot I can try this cuz, I wanted to test the grounds before. I told her that I’ll read through the letters and asked her to follow them as I read them aloud. There was a change in her tone when she saw " a mother’s feelings when her gay son comes out".
I: thot she’ll be freaked out but thankfully not. Both the letters were read out. Now came the moment.
I: what’s common between the 2 letters?
She: both the parents showed a great sense of affection and acceptance.
I: do u find any other similarity?
She: both sons are gay?
I: ok. now, why do u think I’d send these letters to you?
She: I dunno. u tell me.
I : Deepu, I dunno whether u’ll find it hard to accept this but even I have this thing in common with those 2 guys.
She: what? ???!!
I: yes, I’m gay too.
She: oh my god. are u kidding? Are u really serious?
I: why would I kid abt something like this? I’m really serious. What followed was a deluge of questions like when did u know this, how can a man have feelings for another man etc.
Thanks to the orinam pages and other gay resources like the faq on MP’s files, I could some how make her understand. After almost an hour of q&a, finally I asked her, what does she feel abt me now.
She: Vijay, from what I read abt this now and from the little that I know before abt this `gay’ thing, I understand that it’s nature and there’s nothing that we can do against it. I can assure u my full support. I dunno how mom and dad will react to this but yes, it’s a shock to me. Nevertheless, I’ll be ok and I’ll definitely be on ur side. Don’t worry da.
I was really amazed by her. I had never known that she’ll handle this in such a mature and empathizing way. I felt so blessed to have such a wonderful sister. I told her that I need to tell mom abt this today as my dad was out of station and I wanted to also tell my before he comes back. She told me to wait and that we can tell it after a few days but I insisted, cuz I dint wanna prolong this nervousness in me. As my mom wasn’t there at home (she had gone to a relative’s wedding reception), she told me that she’ll call me to come for the online chat when my mom comes back.
Part 2: coming out to my Mom
It’s was late in the night for me ( 1:00 AM in Singapore ), arnd 10.30 pm in Chennai, when my mom was back home. She came online, and told abt the relatives and that they insisted her to wait till the end. Then, she asked me what’s that something that I wanted to tell her.( my sister had already told my mom that I’ve got to tell her something) I asked my sister to open those letters that I sent her earlier and asked my mom to read them. She finished reading both the letters and asked me, "what’s up with these letters?" I asked her inturn, "ma, can u understand what’s being talked abt in these letters?"
She: I’ve earlier heard abt ppl like these in the `vazhga vallamudan’ society(the spiritual community that she is a member of). I know how hard it’s for these ppl and our professors there have suggested meditation for these ppl to get rid of the fear associated with this `problem’. Whether the society accepts them or not, these ppl have been taught to accept themselves and that there’s nothing wrong in it" . My heart almost skipped a beat in joy. I dint know that she’ll even show a hint of understanding this. She further asked, Ok.. so why did u send these letters to me?
I: why do u think I’d send these to u?
She: do u know someone like this? Shall I help them through the meditation that the society taught me?"
I: Ma. it’s me. no one else.
She too, showed the same reaction as my sister but more intensely shocked. But her questions later were not what I expected from her. she asked "do u feel this only now?" .
I: no ma. I had already known this since my teens. I was jus scared to talk abt this to anyone. only of late, after coming to know abt a Yahoo mailing list called Movenpick, which is a support grp for ppl like us, I started accepting myself completely and feeling confident abt the way I am. I’m so sorry ma.
She: Vijay, whatever it is, u are my child, my son. u’re as close to me as my eyes are to my body. I completely understand u and I’ll be on ur side for all the decisions that u take. But for my satisfaction, I’ll consult some ppl and doctors here to see whether u can get this cured. Even otherwise, I’ll totally support u. So do u think u can marry a girl?
I: No ma. I cant. it’ll definitely wont be fair on my part if I do that.
She: OK, that’s really something that’s hard to digest. I dunno how are we gonna face our conservative community. ppl will question us, abt why u aren’t married yet. we shud somehow figure out a reason. and moreover, I dunno how’s dad gonna accept this fact.
I: Yes ma. u shud help me tell him.
She: I’ll try my best. but I wont tell him immediately. . let me try hinting at it and see how he reacts. But eventually he’ll come to know abt it. Now what u shud do is, to be bold and forget all this. ok? Don’t be worried abt telling dad now. You’ve told me and now u shud feel light. u have no reason to be scared of telling this to me vijay. if u were here at home this moment, I’d have hugged u, kissed on ur forehead and embraced u. Because, I dunno much abt this thing ( homosexuality ) I dunno what to suggest u to lead a happy life. But u do what u think is right. u have all the freedom in this world, and I’ll be ok with whatever u do. Why did u take so long to tell this to me? U could have told this when u were in Chennai. why after all these days? "
I: Ma, I was afraid to face rejection. I thot u and dad will get angry on me and not know how to handle this. so I thot I shud take some time."
She: "do u think, we’re that shallow, that mean.? how can u ever think, we’ll be angry on u. ok. I’ll even forgive u for thinking like that. I’m glad that u atleast talked abt this now instead of locking this in ur heart. I understand that this is natural and it’s not ur fault. I believe that everything is pre-written and nothing is re-written. U were perhaps destined to be like this(gay). No matter what, don’t ever think, we’ll reject u. I’m in fact proud of u Vijay. all that I’m afraid abt is ur future. may be cuz now u’re young, u can tell me that u can live alone. but can u live with a man, when u grow old and can u expect the affection and support from a man, till u die?
I: Ma. I dunno that. but I can manage things for now, being single. I wanted to also emphasise that I cant marry a girl and that u don’t have to try finding one for me. I also have other career plans in my life and I’ll be quite busy with that.
She: OK Vijay. even if u wanna live with another guy, I approve that. u go ahead. I’m confident that u’ll know what’s right for u. but give me sometime. I need this fact to sink in. it’s not a bad thing but it’s something like a new shocking news. meanwhile, I’ll try to gather more knowledge abt this. ok.? It’s very late now. go home and sleep well. a big burden is off u now. u’ll definitely do well in ur life my dear son.
Whoa! This really made my day. I felt like a new born. it may sound clichéd but ppl will know what it feels like only when they experience it. I’m so glad that I got a such a positive response from my mom especially. I was really overwhelmed with joy. I really thank MP for giving me all the confidence to live my life the way I am. Especially, thanks to Aniruddh, ‘apple’ Ramki, Praveen and his mom for helping me change my perspectives in life. And of course to Shri for his eye-opening letter to his parents.
June 17, 2007
Quite contrary…Increased visibility has not increased tolerance for the gay community
The bride is Manoj Shah, a model. The groom is Amit Pandey, a fashion choreographer. They have announced that they are going to be married. “We wanted to give our relationship a name and pledge our loyalty to each other,” says Amit. The two are worried that they will not have the law on their side. Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code criminalises sex between two people of the same gender as an unnatural offence. “If needed, we will move out of the country to legalise our relationship,” says a nervous Amit. Pawan Dhall of Sathii, an NGO working to prevent AIDS, describes the couple as brave. “A lot of gay couples have had private ceremonies and live together as married, but this is the first time that a gay couple is going public about their decision to marry. Law may not recognise it but it cannot stop two consenting adults from living together.” The gay community is far more visible in the city, compared to a decade, or even five years ago. Immediate circles, especially friends, seem to be more tolerant. Amit and Manoj have been open about their relationship with friends and family. “All my model friends were happy for us, though our parents don’t approve. They have not accepted our decision to marry, but are okay with our sexual orientation,” says Amit.
Has greater “awareness” ensured greater acceptance? Has “coming out” made life better for the members of the gay and alternative sexual communities? Amit and Manoj are very lucky. Increased visibility has led to new problems. There has been no let-up in the violence against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities — some feel it has increased. Two kotis (koti is a term to describe an “effeminate” man; originally derogatory) were murdered in the last two months.
There have been several reports of abuse. “There is greater resistance to one’s attempt to claim space. In schools and colleges, harassment or ragging based on a person’s orientation has shot up. Earlier, a boy who did not seem manly enough was called meyeli or sakhi in jest, but today one is immediately branded as ‘homo’ on a serious note,” says Anindya Hajra, a member of NGO Sanhita, who also runs a resource centre called Pratyay.
It’s important to be in a safe place. But how many safe places have opened up for a person who can be identified as gay? The “creative” professions — showbiz, fashion designing, film-making, the arts — have always been tolerant. Several well-known personalities from these fields don’t need to deny their sexuality. Entertainment zones — shopping malls, multiplexes and nightclubs — provide a freer feel. More or less. But they can be hostile. “I was recently stopped from entering a new resto-pub with a friend. The reason was my long hair. Other men with long hair, supposedly in fashion, were allowed in.
Probably another gay man who isn’t identifiable would have gained easy entry,” says Anindya. Being in a liberal, supportive workplace — or home environment — is safe. Says Bishan Samadder, who works as a programme co-ordinator for an international NGO: “Coming out has not been an issue with supportive friends and family members. At work, I’m around people educated in a western model with an open outlook.” Yet such a place can be hostile, too. “There have been times when being frowned upon for being effeminate or the lack of conventional masculinity has been a cause of insecurity rather than my desire for a man,” says Bishan.
And the government job or a corporate one (not very high up on the ladder)? “A couple of months ago, my friend, a software professional, came out when he went public with a sexual harassment case in his office. His workplace has turned very hostile since and colleagues often gang up and ridicule him,” says Anindya. “A person I know lost his government job two months ago after telling a colleague that he is gay. The colleague went and complained against him to the boss. He suffered a nervous breakdown,” says Dhall. Public transport? “When dealing with taxi drivers or using public transport I adopt a more ‘straight’ and harsh attitude,” says Pronoy, a 25-year-old media professional. Many of the participants in the Rainbow Pride Walk organised every year in Calcutta to mark Stonewall Riot’s Day — the 1969 riots that galvanised the gay rights movement in the US — have later faced discrimination at workplace or among friends and relatives.
Yet alternative platforms are multiplying. The Rainbow Pride Week and Siddhartha Gautam Film Festival on AIDS and sexuality organised by Saathii have witnessed a growing participation from members of the LGBT community. The first Rainbow Pride Walk organised in 1999 had 15 participants, while this year the organisers are expecting nearly 400 people to join the parade, including many from the districts. “About 150 people attended the Siddhartha Gautam Film Festival in 2003. This year, we’re holding it in four cities and expect around 800 people to turn up,” says Dhall. Consciousness of identities is widespread. NGOs hand out lists that define the different identities: LGBT, Queer, Transsexual(ity), Transvestite (Crossdresser), Hijra, Koti.
While some feel these labels are Western hand-me-downs, others feel that naming oneself, one’s own community, is a major first step towards empowerment. This year will also witness the first LGBT film and video festival in the city, which is being organised by two support groups. Mainstream films, quite perceptibly, have opened up. “Films like My Brother Nikhil and Rules — Pyaar Ka Superhit Formula make a statement instead of showing homosexuality in a poor or jocular light,” says Dhall. “It is essential to feature alternative sexuality in mainstream films to depict gays as regular people. Honeymoon Travels in recent times has done that in a smart and subtle way,” says Bhaskar.
A year ago when some members of the gay community were putting up posters for World AIDS Day, they were stopped by a group of local boys. Both parties ended up in the nearby police station to file a complaint. “The boys who were identifiably gay were harassed, their clothes were torn and their mobile phones taken away,” says Anindya.“Humiliation and mockery are a part and parcel of our life.” Some of it may have to do with Calcutta. “I used to work in Bangalore before I shifted to Calcutta two years ago. The more cosmopolitan a city is, the less it tends to be bothered about a person’s private life or sexual orientation.
In Calcutta people are always a little too inquisitive about my orientation,” says Sumit, a software professional in an MNC. But the community’s experience now also mirrors any movement trying to claim space, says Anindya. “It’s like sounding the death knell for the traditional Indian family. There is panic that the world will turn queer and a large part of homophobic violence arises out of this anxiety and fear. It’s one right pitted against another.” And Bengali has still resisted a popular word that is an equivalent of “gay” —vernacular Bengali would dismiss a gay person as a “homo”, rather than refer to as a “somokami”.
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