Need to fight against fear, says Mumbai's gay community
As the world rings in 2014, the city's gay community puts forth a wish list for the New Year
The year gone by was not a good one for India’s LGBT community. With the Supreme Court criminalizing gay sex, community members, activists and supporters are left disappointed and saddened. As the New Year begins, gay community activists speak about the changes they would like to see brought about. Many agree that getting rid of misconceptions and sensitizing people is one of the basic steps that can help the LGBT community in getting their rights.
Prince and gay activist Manvendra Singh Gohil (49) feels that gay rights cannot be decided in courtrooms. He says, “Whether the courts criminalize or decriminalize gay sex, it will not stop anyone from loving whom they want to. Gay rights are born within the hearts and minds of the people. I do care about people and what they have to say, after all we are social beings and we have to live in a society. I feel it is our duty to make people aware of who gays and lesbians are. As a community, we need to prioritize change and ensure that people in the mainstream talk about LGBTs. We need support without prejudice from outside the gay community.”
Gohil adds, “Later this month, I have been invited to a Gujarati literary festival in Ahmedabad, to be a part of it. Not because I am gay, but because I am human. Similarly such participation and awareness programmes should be regularly attended and organized by LGBTs. Why should anyone be discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation? It’s like separating left- and right-handed people. This change of attitude has to be brought about not only for 2014, but for years to come.”
To this, Sridhar Rangayan, festival director of Kashish Mumbai Queer Film Festival, adds, “We need to take part in mainstream society. We have endured decades of repression and even now, in smaller towns, people are unable to accept their sexual orientation. We need large support from civil society in 2014. Even in films, we need more gay characters in mainstream and regional films. They have to portray gay characters as they are, in the real world. They should be a part of the story-telling process and not just an entertainment element.”
Rangayan further explains, “Everyone feels we are asking for too much by asking the court to decriminalize gay sex. I don’t think it is asking for too much. We are just asking to love and live with the person of our choice. That’s not wrong! What we need to do in 2014 is fight against fear. There is fear amongst members of the gay community, to love openly whomsoever they want to. There is fear amongst authorities and the society against gays in general. There is fear of acceptance and change in the people, which cannot exist any more.”
Writer Roy Wadia, brother of the late filmmaker Riyad Wadia, believes that gay rights in India go beyond Section 377. He says, “I feel Section 377 is a manifestation of out-of-date thinking and does not represent modern India. Section 377 is important, but what is more important is tolerance from the authorities, politicians, families, civil societies and from the gay community as well.
“What we desperately need in 2014 is tolerance, understanding, compassion and acceptance. Everyone is different and we need to be tolerant and accept people just the way they are. Everyone has the right to live with dignity and respect. A court or a political party or even religious groups don’t have the right to decide who should live with dignity and who should not. What we want for the gay community is very basic and I hope we get it.”
Vikram Doctor, founder of Gay Bombay, a support group for LGBTs, says, “All we want is the same rights as anybody else in this country. We want to be treated like anybody else and nothing more than that. There is no need to make the matter more complicated.”
The fight for equality isn’t a fight only related to the gay community in India. Myriad communities are fighting for equal footing, as Dhamini Ratnam, head of content at the online platform Queer Ink, says: “The fight for equality, justice and liberty isn’t one that only applies to the LGBT community, but to all disenfranchised communities in the country who are denied their fundamental rights. “Section 377 doesn’t just criminalize a whole section of the population; it also legitimizes harassment and abuse of people with alternate gender and sexual expression. I hope that 2014 will bring the fight for equal social, cultural and economic rights to the forefront.”
Pallav Patankar, director of HIV programmes at the Humsafar Trust, says, “We need better constitutional rights for gays in India. We need equal status within the Constitution, whether it is non-discrimination right, protection to one’s life, freedom of expression, belief, speech and religion. Every human being is entitled to basic rights of liberty, equality and fraternity, no matter what their class, race, nationality, political ideology, gender or sexual orientation is. We need to work hard to bring about equality in the real sense. Just decriminalizing gay sex doesn’t mean that everyone will treat us as equals. We have to change the mindset of the nation. We need fundamental rights in the real sense.”
Founder member of Lesbians and Bisexuals in Action Chayanika Shah says, “The wish list for gays in India is very long. There are so many things we want. But when we talk about 377, more than the law, I think the protest was more symbolic. The court’s ruling was not as important as the struggle we faced and it helped highlight our issues. No person is just an LGBT. Everyone has multiple identities and, with it, multiple problems. Violence and discrimination is largely faced by marginal groups and we are a marginal group. Hence I sincerely wish we face less violence and discrimination in the year to come.”
Fashion designer Wendell Rodricks has announced a cash prize of Rs 20,000 for the winner of the competition to design the poster and look of the forthcoming fifth edition of the Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival. Rodricks has judged the competition for the last two years. The theme for this edition of the film festival is saluting the spirit of gay communities in India.
The 2012 winner of the prize was student S Ayyappa from Hyderabad, while the 2013 prize was won by graphic designer Prachi Patil-Kotkar from Mumbai. The winning design will be featured on billboards, print and online advertisements, the catalogue cover, banners, cinema slides and delegate cards. The submission deadline for the competition is February 15.
More details are available at kashishmiqff.blogspot.in.
Section 377: The legal battle
>> The movement to repeal Section 377 was initiated by the AIDS Bhedbhav Virodhi Andolan in 1991.
>> The Naz Foundation Trust, an activist group, filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Delhi High Court in 2001, seeking legalization of homosexual intercourse between consenting adults.
>> In 2003, the Delhi High Court refused to consider a petition regarding the legality of the law, saying that the petitioners had no locus standi in the matter. Naz Foundation appealed to the Supreme Court against the decision of the High Court to dismiss the petition on technical grounds. The Supreme Court decided that Naz Foundation had the standing to file a PIL in this case and sent the case back to the Delhi High Court to reconsider it on merit.
>> In May 2008, the case came up for hearing in the Delhi High Court, but the Government was undecided on its position, with The Ministry of Home Affairs maintaining a contradictory position to that of The Ministry of Health.
>> On November 7, 2008, the seven-year-old petition finished hearings. The Indian Health Ministry supported this petition, while the Home Ministry opposed such a move.
>> Eventually, in a judgement on Jul 2, 2009, the Delhi High Court overturned the 150-year-old section, legalizing consensual homosexual activities between adults.
>> On December 11, 2013, the Supreme Court of India ruled homosexuality to be a criminal offence, setting aside the 2009 judgement given by the Delhi High Court.
>> The central government filed a review petition on December 21, 2013. The Naz Foundation has also filed a review petition against the Supreme Court order on Section 377.