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The Well of Loneliness November 26, 2008

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The Well of Loneliness

Somak Ghoshal
Opinion column
The Telegraph (Calcutta)
Tuesday, November 25, 2008


In the beginning there is death. A double suicide, to be precise. Amruta Patil’s Kari — so far the only Indian graphic novel looking at female, in fact any kind of, homosexuality — begins with the protagonist, Kari, and her lover, Ruth, jumping off the terrace of their respective apartments. There is an intensely Frida Kahlo moment before this fall, when Kari and Ruth sit hand-in-hand, hearts popping brutally out of their bodies, twined around by a single, slender artery, like the tendril of a delicate plant. “There are two of us, not one,” the text says. “Despite a slipshod surgical procedure, we are joined still.”

“I cannot part with her… Bury us together,” said a suicide note. Not the one Kari and Ruth left behind, but one that was found on the bodies of Lalithambika and Mallika in 1980. These women from Kerala tried to kill themselves because they could not bear to live apart. The same year, two married women jumped before a train in Gujarat for a similar reason. These reports go back to a time when the 29-year-old Patil was probably only a few months old. Since then, almost all the stories of lesbian affairs and ‘marriages’ that have appeared in the media have been marked by tragedy. In 1987, after two policewomen, Leela and Urmila, ‘married’ each other in Madhya Pradesh, they were suspended from the force. They went on to live together with Urmila’s family in her village. Some neighbours were outraged by what they considered unjust treatment of the women by their employers. They saw nothing wrong in this marriage, which was but “a wedding of two souls”.

After watching Dostana recently, I wondered if the lighthearted comedy around a ‘gay’ couple that had been so expertly manipulated in the film, could ever be adapted to a lesbian situation. Can a frivolous, but inoffensive, explicit (without being prurient) idiom be forged by Bollywood to show same-sex female relationships? So far, female homosexuality has been badly served by the film industry. Deepa Mehta’s Fire justified lesbianism as a virtue made of necessity by unhappily married women, while Girlfriend and Men Not Allowed were more sleazy than sensitive, intended for the straight male, rather than the queer female, gaze. In a gender-unequal society, lesbianism is used only as pornographic titillation, offered up for male voyeurism rather than for female pleasure.

Given such skewed perceptions of female homosexuality, Kari is possibly the first-ever testimony of an authentic lesbian imagination: it makes no apologies, it does not try to rationalize or explain away. Patil works with pure feelings, without a hint of sentimentality. An adolescent Kari watches k.d. lang for the first time on TV in 1997, bewildered by her feelings of desire and recognition: “What kind of creature was this, this genderless one, and why did she make me feel this way? All I knew was that if I ever stood in a room across a creature such as this, my heart would be in serious peril.”

Patil’s visually powerful narrative gives us glimpses of lesbian fantasy — an erotic frisson with, and the desire and romantic yearning for another woman — when Kari drools over the imagined sexiness of the yet-to-be-seen Susan Lush. As Kari and Ruth meet for the first time, we see the poster of Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge on the wall behind them; their romance is as full of adventure and social disapproval as the one between Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol in the film. There are impossible, but unavoidable, longings. “Isn’t it great?” Ruth says in a moment of passion, “We never have to worry about getting knocked up by mistake?” “I’d give anything in the world to be able to knock you up, Ruthie,” Kari replies, her dark eyes welling up with sadness. Then there are times when Kari simply wants to wish away her breasts and look like Chow Yun Fat, or goes for a “2mm buzz cut”, leaving her barber crestfallen (“Madam, face looking boy type”).

Kari opens up hidden structures of feeling, where female beauty is recreated against the grain of patriarchal notions of comeliness, of the models of womanhood fostered by advertisements for nubile or homely brides. But even as Kari co-opts its readers into this ‘other’ world, where the ‘natural’ and the ‘normal’ collide and collude with the ‘unnatural’ and ‘abnormal’, it opens out the darkest mysteries of the human mind. Kari is alien and familiar all at once. The novel knows the way of all flesh and the irrational weaknesses of the human mind — how a maddening but forgiving and self-sustaining bond of affection holds Kari and her flat-mates together; why Kari seeks out her dying friend, Angel; what keeps Kari and Lazarus (futilely in love with her) together. Along with Kari, we too hurtle through air, fall headlong into the sewers, dream her deadliest nightmares, and emerge sadder and wiser. “I still love Ruthie more than anyone else in the world,” Kari tells us in parting, “but I won’t be jumping off the ledges for anyone any more.”


Telling our secrets November 25, 2008

Posted by qmediawatch in English, Gay, Gay & Lesbian.

Telling our secrets
Sex between men is illegal in India, putting them at high risk of contracting HIV

Sylvia Rowley
Winner, Amateur category
The Guardian International Development Journalism Competition 2008


Venkatesh Routh lives with his wife and two-year-old son in Mancherial, a small city in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. Three nights a week he says goodbye to his wife, who is nine months pregnant, and goes to the railway station. But instead of getting on a train he walks to the end of the brightly lit platform, past the chai-wallah selling hot sweet tea, to the point where the floodlights go no further. Here he steps into a maze of dirt paths and thorny bushes. There are no women, and the men have all come for the same reason: to have sex with other men.

“I come here in secret,” says Venkatesh, standing in the dark. A train clatters past, horn blaring. “I am a kothi [effeminate homosexual]. I didn’t want to get married, but my family members pressured me. Every day for three years they kept asking, ‘Why don’t you marry?'”

“When I started coming here for sex I’d heard the word ‘Aids’, but I didn’t know how you get it. I didn’t know how to use a condom,” he says. “Now I show other people how to use them properly.”

As 29-year-old Venkatesh fills up the condom box bolted to a crumbling wall among the bushes, he is taking part in what looks to be one of the most promising HIV prevention efforts in the developing world in recent years. All over Andhra Pradesh, men who have sex with other men – who may or may not think of themselves as gay or bisexual and who are often married with families – are forming community groups and helping each other to solve their own problems. Venkatesh is one of them.

One in seven men who have sex with men in Andhra Pradesh is HIV positive according to the state government. They are almost 20 times more likely to be infected with HIV than the average Indian adult (the national adult prevalence rate is 0.36%). This is because unprotected anal sex with multiple partners carries a high risk of HIV, and because discrimination drives men who have sex with men underground.

Homosexuality is illegal in India under the notorious section 377 of the Indian penal code and is a social taboo. There is incredible pressure for men who are attracted to men to hide their sexuality. Sex between men is often limited to brief liaisons at so-called “hotspots” behind a train station or by the side of a highway. “We wear a mask, the masculine mask,” says Krishna, founder of a network for men who have sex with men in Andhra Pradesh. “We drop our voices, change our walk. That is drama, you have to act.”

Because men who have sex with men are so well hidden, it is almost impossible for government Aids agencies or HIV/Aids charities to reach them. “The Government people can’t walk around looking for hotspots,” Krishna says, laughing at the thought. “They can’t find them!”

Men such as Krishna, however, do know where to look. In Andhra Pradesh, community-based organisations (CBOs) made up of men who have sex with men can now be found in every district. Outreach workers at the CBOs map all of the sex hotspots in their area and visit them daily, armed with an HIV education flipbook, a stash of condoms, lubricant, and a plastic model of a penis. Each CBO is supported by a local non-governmental organisation (NGO) which provides a drop-in centre and sexual health clinic, and a state level NGO, the Alliance for AIDS Action, a partner of the International HIV/Aids Alliance, which coordinates the programmes and provides training to the community groups.

CBO members also work with police, doctors and parents to tackle the wider discrimination that puts men like them at risk of HIV. “I tried to go to the government hospital because of an anal infection, but the doctor called me a kojja [derogatory word for transsexual] and refused to see me,” says Venkatesh. “I felt so bad I wanted to commit suicide,” he says, “but now we do workshops with the doctors to make them understand us better.” This work is crucial as untreated sexually transmitted infections increase men’s vulnerability to HIV. If the sessions fail then Venkatesh will try other means – one doctor who constantly refused to treat men who have sex with men was sacked recently after CBO members talked to the hospital authorities.

Most groups also try to improve relations with the police because, as one man says, they “harrass us like hell”. I was told about police at hotspots demanding bribes (“they will pocket whatever we have”), and arresting, beating and raping men. In response to this and violence by local thugs, CBOs have formed Rapid Action Teams – if a man is in trouble he can ring for help and a group of his peers will quickly come to the scene and challenge the attacker. CBOs also do “sex and sexuality” training to build a rapport and understanding with the police.

The results for these projects are staggering. An evaluation in 2007 showed that 96% of men who have sex with men reported using a condom with their last male partner, up from 55% in 2003. The prevalence of syphilis, which is used as an indicator for HIV, more than halved in the same period. This is a cause for celebration not just for men who have sex with men, but also for their wives. Roughly eight out of 10 men who have sex with men in Andhra Pradesh are married and if they become HIV positive it is very likely that their wives will too. The state Aids prevention body estimates that 96% of men who have sex with men in Andhra Pradesh (that they know of) are now being reached by this type of programme.

The Alliance for Aids Action hopes that by empowering men who have sex with men to solve their own problems, these changes can be made to last. “How long can a third party run a programme?” asks Narendra Nath, a senior programme officer at the alliance. “When this project finishes [in about five years] we hope that the CBOs will be able to keep doing the HIV prevention work.”

Back in the maze of bushes by Mancherial train station a group of three kothis who have come here in search of “someone beautiful” crowd around. The mood is jovial and they joke that one man in our group is “looking very smart!”

“I don’t tell my wife I come here because she’ll feel bad,” one says. But I use a condom – I don’t want to make her suffer.”

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2008

‘Dostana’ has a subtle message on homosexuality: Karan Johar (Interview) November 16, 2008

Posted by nitinkarani in English, Movies, Online/New Media.
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From ThaiIndian News:

November 16th, 2008 – 9:12 am ICT by IANS

Mumbai, Nov 16 (IANS) Filmmaker Karan Johar says his “Dostana” is as brave a film as “Brokeback Mountain” and that he has moved beyond the “bubblegum cinema” tag. He stresses that the Abhishek-Bachchan-John Abraham starrer, despite being a comedy, puts out a “subtle message on homosexuality”.”I’m asked if our actors can do ‘Brokeback Mountain’. Well, Abhishek and John have done ‘Dostana’. It’s an equally brave film,” Karan told IANS in an interview.

He admits that it was courageous of Abhishek and John to sign up for the gay comedy by director Tarun Mansukhani.

“It’s very brave of Abhishek and John to put themselves into this gay situation and not be embarrassed or be self-conscious. They’ve given 300 percent of themselves without flinching,” Karan said.

Though an out-and-out comedy, the producers say the film “isn’t just about gay jokes”.

“It definitely puts out a subtle message on homosexuality.”

And what about John’s skin show?

“He’s got the body, why not flaunt it? If you’ve a beautiful house don’t you invite guests to see it? If you’ve made a film you’re proud of, don’t you want audiences to watch it? If John has a great body why not show it?”

Excerpts from the interview to IANS:

Q. From loving the family to loving your friend…quite a leap, huh?

A. At the end of it, it’s all about loving. Whom you love and how is a personal choice. You’ve a right to choose whom you love. “Dostana” addresses itself in a comic way to the individual’s right to choose. And I fully believe in that.

Q. Your friends and family watched the film earlier this week. Their reactions?

A. Trial shows are superb indications of what’s to come. Much preferable than premieres which I never have. I called the people I love. Some loved “Dostana”, others hated it. I take neither praise nor criticism to heart.

Q. What did your mom think of “Dostana” and its gay jokes?

A. My mom loved it. Because she loves me and my director Tarun Mansukhani. Also because she was amused. She’s a happy person. And she likes happy films. “Dostana” is a happy film…Happy and gay.

Q. Are you delighted by the way people have taken to Abhishek and John’s gay jokes?

A. I’ve to say this. It’s very brave of Abhishek and John to put themselves into this gay situation and not be embarrassed or be self-conscious. They’ve given 300 percent of themselves without flinching. More power in the industry to this kind of positive thinking.

More than myself I’m delighted for my director Tarun Mansukhani. He has been with us from the start. He’s a funny guy. And the film isn’t just about gay jokes. It definitely puts out a subtle message on homosexuality.

Q. Which is?

A. I think the whole question of gay acceptance is prevalent all over the world. It’s just a myth that in the West people accept homosexuality more readily than they do here. I feel the gay community should be given the respect it deserves. “Dostana” is a funny though not offensive take on the issue.

Nowhere does the film offend people of any sexual orientation. We’ve treated the theme with great dignity. We’ve taken homosexuality to an amusing level, but not at the cost dignity. I do believe audiences are far more evolved than we give them credit for.

Q. Do you think you can swing it?

A. I’m asked if our actors can do “Brokeback Mountain”. Well, Abhishek and John have done “Dostana”. It’s an equally brave film.

Q. Did you ever feel it could backfire?

A. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I didn’t just want to push the envelope I wanted to tear it. Even my “Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna” pushed the envelope. I made a Rs.50 crore (Rs.500 million) film on infidelity. Now I’ve made a Rs.50 crore film with homosexual overtones. Anyone who calls me a bubblegum filmmaker now needs a serious reality check.

Q. What about John’s skin show?

A. It goes with the film’s mood. Any exposure out of context is vulgar. If you saw “Dhoom 2″, everyone wore minimalist clothes because they were in Rio. My characters in “Dostana” are in Miami. It’s the partying capital of the world. My trio exudes a sex appeal in their body exposure. I think Priyanka and John are highly aesthetic in their beachwear.

Q. John has exposed more skin than any other leading man.

A. He’s got the body, why not flaunt it? If you’ve a beautiful house don’t you invite guests to see it? If you’ve made a film you’re proud of, don’t you want audiences to watch it? If John has a great body why not show it?

Q. You’ve proved your power as a filmmaker by marketing “Dostana” so well.

A. There’s no such thing as a powerful filmmaker. There’s only a powerful film. All of us filmmakers are sailing in the same boat. I’d like to say Tarun Mansukhani is the real star of “Dostana”.

Pakistani gay finds love across the border November 12, 2008

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Which is the real menace? November 12, 2008

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Which is the real menace?


People whose bodies and sexualities put them beyond the pale of social norms are without rights in the eyes of Indian police

Dipika Nath

guardian.co.uk, Friday November 7 2008 08.00 GMT

Under rightwing and leftwing governments alike, India has prided itself on its status as the world’s largest democracy. Civic freedoms, an independent judiciary, and basic political rights for citizens are part of that promise. But in India and far too many other democracies, rights that are arguably even more basic – to be who you are, to live freely in your body, even to call yourself a citizen if society despises you – are a different matter.

Early on October 20, Bangalore police arrested five hijras – a traditional cultural identity for working-class transgender people who, born as men, identify as women. Such arrests are sadly routine. Throughout India, many hijras cannot get identity papers: the state will not let them change their legal sex and denies them IDs if their appearance does not match their birth gender. As a result, they often cannot work, go to school, find jobs, vote, or even move around freely. Social prejudice against “men” or “women” who are not “masculine” or “feminine” enough makes them ready victims of violence.

Denied viable opportunities for work, hijras are forced to resort to begging or demanding goodwill funds during marriage or birth celebrations. That way of life has been part of several regional Indian cultures, where blessings of a hijra were considered a good omen. But as these traditions erode, many hijras have had to survive as street beggars or sex workers. In both cases, police slap them with fines, jail them, sometimes physically or sexually abuse them.

But on October 20, the five hijras, who were apparently begging but not soliciting sex, were charged with “extortion” – a crime which, unlike begging, allowed the police to hold them without bail.

In India’s vibrant civil society, a growing number of NGOs support the sexually – as well as politically and economically – disenfranchised. A crisis intervention team from the Bangalore-based organisation Sangama, which works to protect and advance the rights of sexual minorities, arrived at the police station to help. The group is trained to assist hijras in fending off barrages of minor charges. But this time, the police jailed the five members of the crisis intervention team as well, beating and sexually abusing some of them.

The situation escalated after about 150 activists from a wide range of social movements – lesbian and gay, hijras, feminists, trade union leaders, Dalit activists – gathered outside the station for a peaceful protest. The police invited six of them into the station, ostensibly for a dialogue, then arrested them. Two women among them were sexually assaulted, one of them kicked and beaten by a police inspector when she demanded he not touch her breasts. However, none of the six were charged.

In conversations with Human Rights Watch, one of the activists said that this points towards the distinct class prejudice at work in such instances of abuse. “The police obviously thought that we were the ‘leaders’ of the organisation, so they didn’t charge us whereas they thought the others were just workers and they could treat them worse.”

Meanwhile, police attacked the protesters outside the station, charging them with batons. They rounded up 31 of them, beat them, threw them into a police van, and drove them away. They were held without food or water for almost 18 hours. At the height of the police violence, 60 police personnel stood guard over the 31 activists.

Eventually, the hijras and the human rights defenders were freed, though many still face charges that include “unlawful assembly” and “rioting.” The press reported – and police confirmed to the activists they arrested – that this was the start of a drive by local authorities to contain what they called the “eunuch menace”, citing public complaints against hijras as justification. A police official told one jailed activist who demanded an end to the violence and the human rights abuses: “Yes, this is human rights violations, so what? Stop us if you can.”

The poor and disempowered are no “menace”. But prejudice is. Indian democracy is still riven, and endangered, by deep divisions. These shocking arrests show how people whose bodies and sexualities put them beyond the pale of social norms are effectively without rights in the eyes of the police.

The violence also shows, though, how anyone who defends sexual rights can also become a target of abuse, arrest, and, in some cases, sexual violence.

The High Court in Delhi is in the last stages of deciding a challenge to Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. This law, a British colonial invention, criminalises “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”. Human rights activists want it reinterpreted to end the criminalisation of adult, consensual homosexual conduct.

Casting off that regressive colonial burden is crucial. But the events in Bangalore – the splashy city that is the showcase of India’s capitalist modernisation – reveal other burdens, some modified from the colonial era, that still weigh on the country.

One is the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act of 1956, passed following independent India’s ratification of a 1950 international convention, which can be traced back to the colonial-era Contagious Diseases Act. The 1956 law gives police wide leeway to arrest and abuse sex workers, and it has been used against HIV outreach workers and others who behave in ways authorities simply do not like. Contemporary anti-begging laws are a throwback on colonial “vagrancy” laws, which gave colonial officials power to control the “natives”. Now they serve to keep an underclass in subjection and fear.

More crucially, though, the divisions of poverty still weigh on the country. And poverty and the effects of prejudice reinforce and intensify each other. People who already face discrimination and hatred, including many sexual minorities, remain shut out from the promise of prosperity from the establishment of call centres and high-tech firms in Bangalore. What prosperity has resulted has not trickled down to the lower classes among the despised and disenfranchised.

The Bangalore violence is a ringing challenge to Indian authorities, a reminder that democratic institutions are no cause for self-congratulation if their doors are closed to many who need them. “Stop us if you can,” the police told the human rights defenders they arrested and abused. India’s democracy must address all the intersecting forms of economic, political, and prejudicial exclusion that lead to such a slap in its face-otherwise the violence will not stop.
Dipika Nath has a doctoral degree in feminist studies and works as a researcher in the LGBT rights programme at Human Rights Watch.

Different, just like everybody else November 10, 2008

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Different, just like everybody else


The Hindu: NXg November 6, 2008

GROWING UP: To get attracted to someone from the same sex is quite natural and people are yet to open up to the fact fully

The ongoing fracas in Ramjas College in Delhi had college students up in arms. Teacher harassment is something that touches students at every age. But going through the reports did you notice something? One banner clearly stated “We are not against homosexuality. We are against harassment.”

Natural occurrence

Now everyone knows what homosexuality is. But dealing with the discovery that one’s preferences don’t really match with most of one’s peers can be upsetting. Feelings that naturally occur as we grow might at times be confusing. Don’t let these things confuse you or make you feel guilty. Don’t let your developing sexuality confuse you. As the Terrence Higgins Trust, a leading HIV and sexual health charity in the U.K., explains, “Sexuality is the word we use to describe our sexual interests and preferences”. Sexuality is as normal as hair highlights and mp3 music but it develops in many ways. Some are heterosexuals (boys like girls and vice versa), bisexuals (boys like boys and girls and vice versa) and the homosexuals (boys who prefer boys) and lesbians (girls who prefer girls). Many believe that the definition of ‘lesbian’, ‘gay’, ‘bisexuality’ and ‘heterosexuality’ is better expressed as ’sexual orientation towards people’, rather than ’sexual attraction to’. This reflects the fact that people build committed, stable relationships and are not purely focused on sexual activity. “Each kind of sexuality is unique and perfect in itself. But we like putting labels on things; it’s easier to understand and identify. Discover and revel in what works for you,” explains Neha Sood, 27, Delhi-based member of Youth Coalition, an international organisation of young people aged 15 to 29, working on sexual and reproductive rights.

Life isn’t easy

Still since the world has always had more heterosexuals (or straight as they say), gays and lesbians don’t have an easy time. Same sex relations are often considered deviant in an otherwise largely straight (or so they say) world. And sexual preference is certainly no way to discriminate against, be rude to or otherwise treat people badly. Vicky Powell Communication’s Officer at Stonewall, Britain’s national charity working to improving the lives of lesbians, gay men and bisexuals, explains, “Originally the term ‘homosexual’ was used by scientists and doctors to describe same-sex attraction and behaviour as a sign of mental disorder and moral deficiency. To obtain distance from such medical labels, the terms gay and lesbian are now used.”The majority of women and men are heterosexual and they experience attraction and seek partners of the opposite sex. The words ‘heterosexual’ and ‘heterosexuality’ come from the Greek word heteros, meaning ‘different’ or ‘opposite’.The issue of attraction and orientation can be a bit tricky.

Some people know they are gay or lesbian from a very young age; others may be much older before they decide to come out, sometimes even having married and had children first. You can’t make someone be of a particular sexual orientation; you are what you are. “Most gay people were created by two heterosexual people. If people could be forced to be a particular sexual orientation, then most people, by that definition, would be forced to be straight,” says Vicky.Makes sense doesn’t it? So what do you do if you being a boy like other boys or being a girl like girls? If you think you might be gay or lesbian how do you know for sure? “Most people as they grow up will have suffered a degree of confusion about who they are and their personal identity. Some people may never feel attraction to members of the same-sex. Some might and then grow out of it, while others know they are definitely gay. Each one of us is different and we develop at different times and stages but each individual will know what he/she feels. What is important is the support and understanding of friends and family,” explains Vicky.

All major religions take a view on homosexuality and some a more stark viewpoint than others. The Stonewall survey “Love they Neighbour” found that many people held more moderate views of homosexuality than is often claimed on their behalf by religious leaders. People of all faiths supported anti-discrimination legislation and were in favour of legislation that gave equal treatment to gay people across a whole range of social issues.This brings us to homophobia. Vicky says, “The word homophobia was coined in the 1960s. It refers to the irrational hatred, intolerance, and fear of lesbian, gay and bisexual people. Homophobia can manifest itself in different ways: from discrimination to verbal and physical violence.” Many people have been murdered because they were either or suspected to be homosexual. “Homophobia thrives on myths, stereotypes and ignorance about lesbian, gay and bisexual people,” says Vicky. All young people must understand what homosexuality and same-sex relationships are and work to educate and improve society’s understanding of gay people, how they live and the positive roles they play in society. Next time you hear of prides (marches/processions), walk to show your solidarity. Read more about pride marches and what you can do at http://bengalurupride.googlepages.com/faq

Come out with it

So how can you help yourself in case you have a same sex orientation? You will have to “come out” with it and talk. “’Coming out’ is the process of telling others about your sexuality. There is no one way or age to come out. You will know the right time to come out. Coming out to certain people, such as family, friends or colleagues may be difficult and takes courage. Reactions may vary as well,” says Vicky. Yet once you have made the decision to tell people about your sexuality, you may want to think about how you tell them. A., 17, was happy that finally he had pinned down the fact that it was best friend Y., another 17-year-old boy, with whom he felt emotionally and physically happy. He had had it with trying to join in all the girl jokes his cousins and friends cracked. He felt liberated and empowered. He wasn’t meant for girls nor they for him. Now all he needed to do was to tell his parents so that they would saying: “Wait till a wife comes and straightens you out”. He wasn’t going to straighten up and had no intention of doing so. One day at dinner, unable to contain himself, he blurted out that he was attracted to men and men only. Till date he wishes he had never opened his mouth.

“We are in a world where the daily images seek to convince us that heterosexuality is the only way to be,” says Neha. Most advertisements, movies and even school textbooks show us that only men and women can be together, have families and be happy. Thus they reinforce that getting attracting to people of the same sex isn’t the way to be. But that’s not the case. Same sex couples can be parents. They can adopt children and be as bad or as good as anyone else.”Neha’s checklist for combating such problems is simple: “What is required is a lot of discussion about sexuality so that families can be tolerant, and discuss issues. Education on issues of sexuality is required in educational institutions so that teachers and students can develop broader world views. The government-instituted Life Skills Education in India’s schools for 10 to 19 year olds may not be comprehensive but is a welcome step.”

Play safe

No matter what your preference remember the bottom line in all relationships is the same: safe sex. HIV stats among gay men are high, so don’t hesitate to reach for the box of condoms. No matter where, what or who you are, relationships are fun when you play safe. India is slowly waking up to the fact that all people may not have the same sexual preferences. The large number of gay parades or prides is ample evidence of that. Celebrate differences. Be proud of the pride!

Why come out?

  • Whether you’ve come to terms with your sexuality or you’re still thinking about it, it can be difficult dealing with that on your own. You may get to a point where you need to talk about it with someone, to get support or simply get it off your chest.
  • Don’t feel pressurised to come out; take your time. Only you will know when you feel comfortable and ready to do it.
  • Hiding your sexuality from other often means lying and pretending. Think about whether hiding your sexuality is more stressful than being open about it.
  • If you decide to come out, but are unsure how others might react, consider making contact with a support group first if you have access to one. Start by telling one or two trusted friends first, before coming out to other people.
  • Don’t take unnecessary risks when coming out. If you fear a hostile reaction, bide your time and gather support from friends before you make decisions. Develop your confidence and support network before taking the plunge.
  • Generally, however, you may be surprised by how positive the experience of coming out can be. Very few people regret coming out, even if it is difficult at the time.

Want to know more?

India helplines

  • The Naz Foundation (India) Trust’s outreach programme and support group can be reached at 011-29812287, 011-41724636 to know more. Call Naz Dost at 011-29812287.
  • For women, the TARSHI Helpline can be contacted at 011-24372229 Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays between 10.00 a.m. and 4.00 p.m.
  • For questions related to sexual well-being and safe sex practices visit http://www.tarshi.net/index.php?module=faq&FAQ_op=viewFAQs&MMN_position=26:26
  • Contact Sappho for Equality at sappho1999@rediffmail.com or call their Help Line at 09831518320
  • Contact the Good As You at 080-2230959 on Tuesdays and Fridays from 7.00 p.m. to 9.00 p.m. Visit their FAQs at http://www.geocities.com/goodasyoubangalore/faq.htm
  • Call Sahodaran, Chennai, at 044-23740486/044-55277810 or 09381016129
  • Call the Social Welfare Association for Men (SWAM), Chennai, at 044-23712324 or 09840437656
  • The South India AIDS Action Programme, Chennai, can be reached at 044-24522285/2452 3301


CASE STUDY: A wonderful thing…

I think I’ve always “walked the line” between being straight and gay without really being aware of it. I’ve always been a total tomboy and even identified more with guys but I was also this girl who really loved crushing on guys. I identified as very, very heterosexual back then. Girls didn’t even really enter the picture, though I guess I was checking them out too but without really taking note of the fact that I found them attractive. It was only when I was about 14 when I first had a proper crush on a girl that I realised things might be different. Now I know that I’m likely to be attracted to anyone I find beautiful, regardless of their gender!I had this sex education book that discussed sexual orientation in a very supportive, open way and that really paved the way for me to understand myself better. And hey, there’s no point denying it — it was definitely interesting and exhilarating to discover that I saw the world in a whole new way, and saw new kinds of beauty for the first time! It was a very personal experience, but a lovely one.

I’m a little afraid of coming right out and telling my parents straight out, “I’m attracted to guys and to girls”. But I have dropped hints about my girlfriend (ex now, because she’s moved away, which still makes me sad) to my mother but she’s not really reacted to it. I think she gets what I am trying to say but she doesn’t want to think about it too hard. I don’t want to spring the news on my parents out of the blue because they might think I am saying it just to shock them. I think I’ll break the news to them if and when I find a girl who I love and am going steady with and may even want to be with for life. Maybe a bit like the coming-out scene in the movie “V for Vendetta”, though I sure hope my parents won’t react like that!I’ve kept very quiet about my bisexuality, and I don’t really feel like coming out right now because I don’t have a very sensitive peer group or friends who I really trust enough to come out to.

This is not something I am happy about; I want to be more open about my sexuality because that might help others, but when I grow older I do intend to be part of pride marches and do my bit to join the protests against the discriminatory Section 377 of the IPC. Actually, if I could do something actively even now to get that Section amended I would, because I think it is very unfair. I don’t think the situation in India will change soon but I want to do what I can to at least make the people I know more open-minded and to realise that there’s nothing wrong at all with being gay or bi. It may be unusual but it’s a wonderful thing!

Case Study contributed by MIRIAM KUMARADOSS, Good Earth School

Fashion fails to find favour with glam (sic) world November 9, 2008

Posted by nitinkarani in English, Times of India.
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(Times of India)

8 Nov 2008, 0454 hrs IST, Mansi Choksi, TNN

MUMBAI: Madhur Bhandarkar’s depiction of the glamour world in his latest production, Fashion, has not only ruffled the world of haute couture but made eyes roll in the queer community as well.

If some fashionistas have booed the film as a dumbed down portrayal of their art, many gay people are cringing at what they describe as Bhandarkar’s “caricature and moralising”. Every fashion designer in the film is gay, they charge, and all of them effeminate. “The only guy not shown as a pansy is the one who succumbs to family pressure and ends up marrying a girl,” says Nitin Karani, trustee of Humsafar, an NGO that works with sexual minorities. “I felt very offended watching the film. I think he’s used the gay issue only for publicity and hasn’t done justice to it.”

A spokesperson for Gay Bombay says that while he had prepared himself for the film trading on homophobia (as many films tend to), he was shocked to find how racist it was. The protagonist of the film, Meghna Mathur, played by Priyanka Chopra, feels terrible for having had to sleep with a black man to become a supermodel. “I expected the film to be way worse than it was because most of Madhur Bhandarkar’s film are homophobic. You can’t escape stereotypes and this film too doesn’t deal with the emotional issues of the gay characters, and there are no layers of complexity,” he says. 
For some, the problem was with the flat and selective portrayal. “Where were all the instances of happy gay couples in the fashion world? There are several of those in the real world. Why is it that gay people are only portrayed as comedians and sad creatures?” asks the young author of a book on the gay community in Mumbai. 

Others are less critical. City-based gay rights activist Girish Kumar says the film was in line with the comfort level acceptable in the mainstream. “I don’t know if he’s done justice to the issue but I feel that it has been a step towards introducing the concept of sexual minorities in the mainstream,” says Kumar. 

An American lesbian, who has been living in the city for the two months and is learning Hindi, was mortified by the film. “I was feeling very uncomfortable throughout the film. Within the current Indian landscape, I don’t know whether these stereotypes will help in the fight against Section 377 which criminalises homosexuality in this country. I was extremely offended by the flat portrayal,” she says. 
Priyanka Bhatia of Stree Sangam (a feminist collective of lesbian, bisexual and transgender women) say that except for a handful of films, Bollywood has mostly damaged the fight against the law and reinforced the stereotypes. 

“The biggest problem I had with Madhur Bhandarkar’s other film, Page 3, was that he equated homosexuality with paedophilia. Homosexuality is about two adult men not adult men abusing children. Even the film Girlfriend (by another director) about same-sex love was a disaster.” 

Films that have got the thumbs up include Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd, My Brother Nikhil and Rules (Pyaar Ka Superhit Formula). Some have a good word for Karan Johar’s attempt with Kantabai in Kal Ho Na Ho (the maid servant who suspects that the characters played by Shah Rukh Khan and Saif Ali Khan are gay). “It was a progressive and playful joke. It wasn’t derogatory to gays in any way—in fact the joke was on Kantabai,” says the author. “I’m really looking forward to Dostana. John Abraham’s character is supposed to have a mother who is open to her son having a different sexual orientation.” 

PM to decide on ministers row on homosexuality November 9, 2008

Posted by nitinkarani in English, IBN LIVE, Online/New Media, Section 377.
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Published on Sat, Nov 08, 2008 at 20:03, Updated on Sat, Nov 08, 2008 at 22:00 in Nation section

New Delhi: The government still seems divided on the issue of legalising homosexuality. Health Minister Anbumani Ramdoss now says that he will be going to the Prime Minister as he hasn’t been able to get the home minister to see his point of view.

Anbumani Ramadoss and Home Minister Shivraj Patil have been battling it out over the need to legalize homosexuality. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had earlier asked them to resolve their differences privately.

Ramadoss who is in favour of amending article 377 paid a visit to the Home Minister’s residence on Friday afternoon, but nothing came of it. 

“We couldn’t reach any agreement, the meeting wasn’t fruitful,” says Ramadoss.

While Ramadoss is of the opinion that article 377 is impending India’s fight against AIDS, Shivraj Patil believes that any move to relax 377 would lead to a rise in criminal activity.

The article states that, whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature, with any man, woman or animal shall be punishable with imprisonment for life or for a term which may extend to ten years and shall also be liable to fine.

The health minister’s opinion has found favour among homosexuals who’re fighting a case for repealing article 377 in the Delhi High court.

“What does the government have to do with what two consenting adults are doing in their bedroom?” says Sunil Gupta.

The Delhi High court had on Friday reserved its verdict on petitions filed by gay rights activist seeking decriminalization of homosexuality. It seems the court’s views can only help resolve the stalemate.


Differences on legalising homosexuality unresolved: Ramadoss (Zee News)

Mumbai, Nov 08: Locked in a war of words with the Home Minister on the issue of legalising homosexuality, Union Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss on Saturday said that his discussions with Shivraj Patil have “not been fruitful” and he would approach the Prime Minister for a speedy resolution. 

Ramadoss, who met Home Minister Patil on the matter yesterday, said “it was not fruitful from the Health Ministry’s point of view”. 

Noting that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had asked him to sort out the issue with the Home Minister, Ramadoss said he would now go back “to the Prime Minister and we hope to have a solution quickly on that”. 

The two Ministries had recently expressed diverse viewpoints on the issue in the Supreme Court following which Ramadoss had said he would approach the Prime Minister on the matter. 

Bureau Report

‘Dostana’ a bit of Bollywood daring November 9, 2008

Posted by nitinkarani in English, Movies.
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Film idols Abhishek Bachchan and John Abraham star as a pair posing as gays to get nearer to a woman. For India, that’s cutting edge.
By Anupama Chopra 
November 9, 2008
Reporting from Mumbai, India — “We are gay — this is my boyfriend.” The shock in this statement comes not so much from what is being said but who is saying it. The speaker in question is John Abraham, an A-list Bollywood hero, known for his chiseled chest and sexy smirk. The “boyfriend” is being played by Abhishek Bachchan, another well-known actor who is considered Bollywood royalty (he is the son of superstar Amitabh Bachchan and the husband of leading actress Aishwarya Rai). 

Abraham and Bachchan, both strapping matinee idols, have built their careers playing sensitive lovers and good sons, but in their upcoming film “Dostana” (Friendship) they are breaking with tradition, risking their carefully cultivated screen images and testing the sensibilities of Bollywood audiences.

“Dostana,” which will have its worldwide theatrical release Friday, is the first big-budget mainstream Bollywood film to feature gay protagonists. But the movie has more in common with “Three’s Company” than “Brokeback Mountain” or “Milk.” That’s because the characters aren’t actually gay. They are heterosexual men pretending to be homosexuals so they can save on rent and share an apartment with a curvaceous and conspicuously single magazine editor, played by popular actress Priyanka Chopra.

Predictably, both fall in love with her but are forced to keep up the charade of being lovers themselves. The film, set in Miami, is a breezy romantic comedy, with what producer Karan Johar calls “a candy-floss take on homosexuality.” But in a country where homosexuality is a criminal offense punishable by up to 10 years in prison, candy floss is cutting edge. 

While police in India don’t usually arrest people simply for being gay, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, a law dating back to 1860, criminalizes even private, consensual sex between adults of the same sex. Subsequently, the law has pushed homosexuality underground and there are no reliable numbers on the gay population in India. In 2004, the National AIDS Control Organization pegged the number at a minimum of 2.5 million, but some media estimates suggest a much higher number, as many as 50 million out of India’s total population of 1.13 billion.

Despite the numbers, the Indian gay story has rarely become fodder for film. Popular Hindi cinema has largely reduced gay characters to comic sidekicks or, on occasion, villains. India’s first bona fide gay film was a 12-minute adaptation of a poem by R. Raja Rao, who is one of the best-known gay fiction writers in the country. The film, titled “BOMgAY,” made in 1996, circulated at festivals and private screenings. It generated media buzz but was never commercially released.

In 2005, “My Brother . . . Nikhil,” a low-budget drama about a gay man’s struggle with AIDS, found distributors and critical acclaim but failed to connect with mainstream audiences at the box office. The film’s director, who goes by the single name Onir, says: “After ‘My Brother . . . Nikhil,’ I met several producers who said they loved it but nobody wanted to make another film that went near the subject.” In comparison, television has been quicker to feature gay characters and themes, in news shows and on the occasional soap opera, but is still a long way from airing a show like “Will & Grace.”

With the $10-million “Dostana,” Johar and his stars are entering uncharted waters. Which is why even a faux-gay angle is couched in glittering, mainstream trappings — stars, sun-kissed Miami beaches, trendy styling and several set-piece songs. But within these commercial parameters, Johar and writer-director Tarun Mansukhani are attempting to push the envelope.

To convince their landlady, the heroes invent a romantic back story about how they met and several scenes show them flirting with each other, holding hands and even doing a simmering tango. Another leading Bollywood actor, Boman Irani, plays a gay magazine editor who visits the girl on pretext of work but is more interested in checking out her two roommates. Most critically, the film features the stock, smothering northern Indian mother who becomes hysterical when she first finds out that her son is gay (she isn’t in on the lie) but eventually she blesses the union telling her son’s boyfriend: “I’m not sure whether you’re my son-in-law or daughter-in-law!”

This is the character that Johar and Mansukhani are hoping that viewers will connect with and take home. “The mother is the progressive element for India,” Johar say. “She carries the one message I want to send to parents: that their child’s sexual orientation is not something that should not be blessed.” It certainly helps that the message is being routed through attractive and popular stars. Actors in the Hindi film industry have largely shunned such roles, which might sabotage their larger-than-life images and alienate their fan following. Another leading director, Madhur Bhandarkar, had a difficult time persuading actors to play gay designers in his recently released film “Fashion.” “The two roles were rejected by eight to 10 actors,” he says. “Each one told me, ‘I would love to work with you but I can’t do a role like this.’ ”

But Abraham and Bachchan had no such qualms. “I was laughing as I heard the script,” says Abraham. “It’s not offensive or derogatory. I said yes and didn’t even think of the repercussions if there are going to be any.” Bachchan was equally sanguine about the role. He says: “I’m not the kind of actor who is obsessed about one’s image. I’m obsessed about not having one.”

Both were so comfortable with the content and each other that Mansukhani often had to rein them in to keep the contact from becoming too cartoonish. Otherwise, he says, “they would go drastically over the top.” The stereotypical gay flamboyance is not what the director was seeking. “I know exactly the tone I wanted,” he says. “They did not need to be effeminate. We wanted to get humor in without making it cheesy.” The priority was to make it lightweight and inoffensive, to the traditional and perhaps timid Hindi film viewer but also to the gay community. Johar says: “Even within the fun and games, handling it sensitively is a challenge. If we offend even one member of the homosexual community, it will really disturb me.”

Johar, who earlier hosted a popular chat show on television and is considered a style icon, has been fielding questions about his own sexuality since he directed his first film in 1998. He has neither denied nor confirmed the rumors, but his ability to handle the issue with grace has created confidence that his film will do the same. Vikram Doctor, columnist and gay activist, says: “Karan is a class act. He is comfortable with himself, and that is an inspiration. Hopefully ‘Dostana’ will reflect that.” Parmesh Shahani, author of “Gay Bombay,” believes that “any mainstream acknowledgment, even if it is tongue-in-cheek, will go a long way. Laughing about it is the first step toward more textured and nuanced characters.”

But at least a few are wary that the humor might be interpreted as ridicule. “This is token homosexuality,” says Onir. “There is a need to normalize instead of perpetuating stereotypes. Moreover, being physical is an integral part of our culture, but by stereotyping that holding hands is gay behavior we are adding to the homophobia. The question is: What signal are we sending out here?”

The signal may be mixed but it’s timing is apt. The Delhi High Court is currently deliberating a petition filed by the Naz Foundation (India) Trust, a nongovernmental organization that supports gay rights, which asks that Section 377 be reevaluated to decriminalize private consensual sexual activity. Prominent Indians such as Nobel laureate Amartya Sen and acclaimed writer Vikram Seth have publicly demanded a legal change. Even the Health Ministry and Law Ministry have suggested the same. However the government maintains that gay sex is “against the order of nature” and propagates Western values. The hearings continue and a verdict is expected before year’s end.

While “Dostana” doesn’t make any political statements, Johar is confident that it will add to the conversation. He says: “This is a baby step, but endeavors like this do open up vistas. Cinema has a tendency of opening up mind-sets and making you a little more prepared for things. It will be a talking point. And there can therefore, someday, be a ‘Brokeback Mountain.’ ” 

Chopra writes frequently about Indian cinema and is the author of “King of Bollywood: Shah Rukh Khan and the Seductive World of Indian Cinema,” among other books.

30 mins gay and Indian November 7, 2008

Posted by qmediawatch in English, IBN LIVE, Online/New Media, Television.
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Vadodara/Korapat (Gujarat): Gita is thinking of ways to break her lover’s marriage. A lesbian, she admits to having always liked girls. “For me this seemed natural but I realised there was no one else like me. But I was the way I was. I wrote a love letter to a girl once in school. When the other girls found out, they started coming to me,” she says.


Kiran is upset. Her whose girlfriend of six years was locked up in her house by her father soon after their relationship was discovered, and is to be married off soon. Kiran hasn’t seen her girlfriend for two years but is now determined to run away with her before the wedding later this year.


Gita and Kiran are just two examples of the silent sexual revolution sweeping India, slowly but surely. These are all coming out tales, some mocked at, others reject, but all told in hushed tones.


In 2006, two tribal women from Orissa – 32-year-old Weteka Palang and 24-year-old Meleka Nilsa – became the poster girls for lesbian movement in India. Both escaped abusive marriages to be with each other and today live as woman and wife.


But it wasn’t really a fairy-tale wedding. The couple had to run away from their village and stay away for a year.


They then bought acceptance with a drum of country liquor, a sack of rice and a bullock – which they gave to the Kandha community. But in the end, they were accepted as two women in love – a victory few lesbian women can achieve in India.


Lesbianism is something that is rarely talked about in India when we talk about queer relationships. Yet it is a reality. But the women say, in many ways their lives are very different from gay men, and sometimes extremely difficult.


Living with prejudice comes with the territory for lesbian women. From being called hijras and dykes..to being mocked openly. Very few relationships last because of constant pressure from family and society.


Yet these women look the world in the eye. Some choosing to change their sex to make themselves more acceptable, some proudly retaining their feminine bodies – living with their partners in a queer marriage.


NEXT PAGE: Maya Sharma told her son she was a lesbian…



Maya Sharma, author, lesbian and activist, was married for 16 years and even has a son. When she found marriage too stifling, Maya broke out. Today, as the architect of Parma, a lesbian support group in Baroda, she is godmother to the lesbian movement in this part of Gujarat – and is happily settled with her partner for more than three years now.


Maya and her son have a quiet understanding about her relationship.


“He supports me. We have this tacit kind of understanding. He was there when we did the book launch. Parents no more and that makes it simpler. My family has accepted. And I don’t care sufficiently. I don’t say it outright that I am living with a woman just as straight people don’t have to say,” she says.


Others like 42-year-old Shaina Rahmatullah proudly wear their lesbian label on their sleeve. Shaina says she has never wanted to be monogamous and has had more than 25 relationships in four decades. A practicing Muslim – she was told the Koran forbids same sex love – but Shaina has over the years, thought of a fitting answer.


“This is natural too. Love is not a crime,” she says.


Many women come to Parma to be among their own – from small towns and villages across Gujarat. None of their parents took it very well when they admitted to being attracted to their own sex.


But this support group offers comfort and solace. Like any heterosexual, they too have been through love and loss. For some the journey has been made more confusing by the sex they were born into.


A transgender man, was born Ketaki and grew up wearing frocks and skirts. But she hated being addressed and identified as a girl. Today she calls herself Ajay, a man trapped in a woman’s body, attracted to women.


“I was very confused and then decided to get an operation done. I didn’t have the hormones of a woman. Never felt like a woman. I have always used the masculine form when I have talked about myself,” he says.


In 2003, Ajay had married a woman at a temple. Soon after, the couple had a baby, Preeti, using in-vitro fertilisation. But in July, Ajay’s partner – who suffered from severe depression – killed herself. Now Preeti, their daughter, is being raised by a lesbian support group.



Today, Ajay is in the process of getting a sex reassignment surgery and becoming a man complete with male sex organs, determined to be a good father to little Preeti.


“I would tell God, you should have made me a man, why did you make me a woman? But I know I am doing the right thing. Life is difficult but I want to make some thing of my life,” says Ajay.


Vikram, too, was born Shalu Chauhan, and changed his name after he had his breasts removed. He says he knew from his school days, that he was attracted to women


“I met this girl in class V who I liked. I would wish she would just sit with me. I would play with her, follow her around, made greeting cards for her but never proposed to her,” he says.


At 24, Vikram is like any other young man, complaining how women are difficult to please. Now that he looks like a man – it’s become easier to get women’s attention. Today, he says, he is almost ashamed to have been born a woman.


“I have always liked girls. It never bothered me. What bothered me was my body. Very few girls are understanding. They will not want their boyfriend to be a woman. They want their boyfriend to be a man. In these things, India is still backward,” he says.


From loving women, to wanting to be a man, to get acceptance for this love – it’s a complex world for these women. Yet, they all say this is far more liberating than being forced into behaving a heterosexual where they feel neither longing nor love for the opposite sex.


Being accepted for who they are is still a long way off. But the journey has begun