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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


Queer as Folk June 11, 2008

Posted by nitinkarani in Bisexual, English, Gay & Lesbian, Indian Express, Movies, Transgender.
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From The Indian Express, 10 June 2008:

Queer as Folk

Premankur Biswas

Posted online: Tuesday , June 10, 2008 at 02:32:32
Updated: Tuesday , June 10, 2008 at 02:32:32

The second edition of the LGBT film festival of Kolkata will appeal to a cross section of audience, promise the organisers In its second year the Annual Lesbian Gay Bisexual & Transgender (LGBT) Film & Video Festival of Kolkata may not boast of the glamour or scale of it’s more illustrious cousins like the New York or London LGBT film festivals, but it sure has managed to achieve something that took these iconic festivals years. “Even in our first year we managed to draw a sizable non-queer audience. In fact, it wouldn’t be presumptuous to state that film connoisseurs of Kolkata have an active interest in queer cinema,” states Anindya Hajra, member of Pratyay Gender Trust, one of the organisers of the festival.

The reason, explains Hajra, is Kolkata’s healthy interest in everything “cultural”. “Most viewers choose to view these films for their individual merits. The queer factor comes into the picture later,” he claims. But the organisers aren’t complaining. “ The idea is to create awareness and generate dialogue. It doesn’t matter if they come here just to view good cinema, as long as the films manage to touch them in some way,” states Hajra.

The festival, which will be held at Max Mueller Bhavan over this weekend, is a joint effort of Pratyay Gender Trust and Sappho for Equality. “Apart from some of the most important LGBT films from across the world, we also have an interesting section of Indian shorts, and videos from experimental, amateur and professional filmmakers from India. These shorts – ranging from 6 minutes to 35/ 40 minutes are the highlight of this year’s festival,” says Hajra.

The selection of films was done keeping in mind the discerning taste of the Kolkata audience. A bouquet of films, which explore the topic homosexuality in different cultures and situations, is to be presented to the audience. “ Our opening film is The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros, which is a coming-of-age tale of a Filipino youngster. It got 12 awards, including the best film award at the Berlin Film Festival,” says Hajra. The closing film of the festival is the acclaimed Cuban film, Strawberries & Chocolates (Fresa y Chocolate), which explores a complicated relationship between a gay dissident and a communist student in Cuba.

Film lovers will also get the opportunity to catch Wong Kar Wai’s Cannes Film Festival winner, Happy Together, which is hailed by many critics as his best.

The festival is on at Max Mueller Bhavan on from 14 to 15 June. For more details contact 9831518320 & 24292969.

Media-Monitoring Group Launches In India June 1, 2008

Posted by nitinkarani in English, Gay & Lesbian, Organizations.
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From San Francisco Bay Times:

Media-Monitoring Group Launches In India

A gay journalists group has formed in Mumbai, India, to lobby for balanced treatment of gay issues in the media and entertainment industries. The Queer Media Collective kicked off its activities with an awards ceremony April 19, honoring, among others, the Hindustan Times newspaper, Time Out magazine, NDTV, Zee Café (a TV channel), Mumbai Mirror advice columnist Dr. Mahinder Watsa, Sunday Times columnist Bachi Karkaria, TV reporter Barkha Dutt, filmmaker Reema Kagti, the CNN-IBN documentary series The Alternate Sexuality, and, as queer newsperson of the year, Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil, who was disowned by his family for coming out in a news article.

“Barkha Dutt, who got the best-TV-journalist award, is pretty much the most respected TV journalist in the country,” said media collective spokesman Vikram Doctor.

Be gay, be anything — just not single! June 1, 2008

Posted by nitinkarani in English, Gay & Lesbian, Marriage, Online/New Media.
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From Salon.com:

With same-sex marriage now legal in California, mothers across India and elsewhere are eager to see their gay sons and daughters finally get hitched.

By Sandip Roy

May 30, 2008 | When I left India for America, my aunts worried about who I might end up marrying. “I hope you’ll marry another Bengali,” an aunt told me. Over the years that relaxed to, “I hope she’s a Hindu, even if she’s not Bengali.” Then it became, “At least another Indian,” until finally we reached, “I hope you’ll get married to someone before we all die.”

She probably didn’t mean another man.

But now it might just happen. Same-sex marriage is on a roll in California. First a Republican-dominated Supreme Court said there was no reason gays and lesbians couldn’t get married. Now there comes a new Field Poll that says that, for the first time ever, a majority of Californians think same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.

As the pink confetti settles around us, I’m left wondering how immigrants are going to come out anymore. Many of us come from countries that really don’t have a word for “gay.” India certainly doesn’t. There are epithets and some rather technical terms. Coming out in India is usually about marriage, as in, “Mom, Dad, I don’t think I am going to get married.”

Now the California Supreme Court has yanked that coming-out line away.

Perhaps it’s time. After all, the Oxford English Dictionary has apparently had to recalibrate its definition of marriage to allow same-sex nuptials. The Field Poll shows that Californians support the right of same-sex couples to marry by a margin of 51 to 42 percent.

In a state where one in four Californians is foreign-born, that seems to be an astonishing change. When San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom started issuing same-sex wedding licenses in 2004, some of the first protests came from Chinese churchgoers. After all, immigrant families are supposed to be socially conservative.

But that might be part of the reason why the tide is finally shifting on gay marriage. (Of course a younger, more socially liberal state helps.)

For my immigrant friends, being gay in California is not much of an issue. Being unmarried in their 30s and 40s is the real issue, the conversation-stopper at Indian potlucks, the thing that makes them stick out at Chinese banquets.

My friend said that when a heterosexual but unmarried Chinese friend of his told his parents that at least he wasn’t gay, the parents retorted, “We’d rather you were gay with kids.”

Immigrant families just understand marriage, even same-sex marriage, more easily that singlehood. Singleness means you never grew up. It’s the biggest failing of parenthood — the incompleteness of the unmarried child.

It leads to acts of desperation. I’ve seen the ads for marriages of convenience — 29-year-old professional Indian gay, 5-foot-9, good job, looking for Indian lesbian facing similar family pressures. There was even a Web site devoted to Assisting Matrimonial Arrangements for Lesbians and Gays from India, complete with a “gaylerry” of posted ads.

In 1993 my friend Aditya Advani went to India with his boyfriend Michael Tarr and complained to his mother that no one would ever come to his wedding. She promptly organized a ceremony. The family priest presided over it. “Openly gay and married in my parents’ drawing room at the age of 30,” marveled Aditya. “Right on schedule as a good Indian boy should be!”

I recently watched their wedding video at their home in Berkeley while their cats purred on the couch. It still felt like a fairy tale, a lump-in-the-throat act of domestic revolution.

In 2004 when San Francisco started issuing same-sex wedding licenses, Arvind Kumar and Ashok Jethanandani rose at 5:30 a.m. to drive from their home in San Jose to San Francisco to stand in line to get married.

The couple were already married in a sense. Arvind’s mother, who had once adamantly rejected her son’s sexuality, presided over a Hindu ceremony for the two after they had been together for more than a decade. They are registered as domestic partners in Palo Alto and the state of California. The registration licenses hang on the wall where other couples might have pictures of their children.

Arvind and Ashok couldn’t get married in 2004. Despite getting up so early, they were behind 300 other couples in line. They finally got an appointment but by then the Supreme Court had halted the marriages.

At that time Arvind was philosophical. He knew it was going to be a long fight. “We are just fighting to simplify our lives,” says Arvind. “I don’t want a Palo Alto date, a state of California date, a Hindu ceremony date. I just want one date, one wedding anniversary like everyone else.”

Now Arvind and Ashok can get their one date after all. On June 17 California counties will start issuing marriage licenses to couples like them.

The next generation of immigrant gays and lesbians will have to come up with some other coming-out line.

And the revolution will have to find some new frontier.

Imagine this ad in the local Indian weekly: Hindu very well-established Los Angeles family invites professional match for daughter, 25, 5-foot-3, slim, wheatish complexion, U.S. born, senior executive in Fortune 500 company. Loves music and dance. Prospective brides encouraged to reply in confidence with complete bio data and returnable photo. Must be professional, under 30, caste no bar.

It might just be time for the gay arranged marriage.

A version of this story was originally published by New America Media.