Newsweek: Perils of Being LGBTQ in India

Quora Blog: What It's Like to Be Gay and Indian

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Guardian: Indian Americans Balance Family with LGBTQ Identity

Comedian: Being Gay and Indian in America

India Declares: Freedom of Sexual Orientation is Fundamental Right

Hindu Views of LGBTQ Issues


Hindu views of homosexuality and, in general, LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) issues, are diverse and different Hindu groups have distinct views. Homosexuality is regarded as one of the possible expressions of human desire. Although some Hindu dharmic texts contain injunctions against homosexuality, a number of Hindu mythic stories have portrayed homosexual experience as natural and joyful. There are several Hindu temples which have carvings that depict both men and women engaging in homosexual sex.


Same-sex relations and gender variance have been represented within Hinduism from Vedic times through to the present day, in rituals, law books, religious or so-called mythical narratives, commentaries, paintings, and sculpture. The extent to which these representations embrace or reject homosexuality has been disputed within the religion as well as outside of it. In 2009, The United Kingdom Hindu Council issued a statement that 'Hinduism does not condemn homosexuality', subsequent to the decision of the Delhi High Court to legalize homosexuality in India.


India Supports LGBTQ Rights


India’s Supreme Court has given the country’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans and queer community the freedom to safely express their sexual orientation. In a historic decision on August 24, 2017, the nine-judge panel declared that an individual’s sexual orientation is protected under the country’s Right to Privacy law.

“Sexual orientation is an essential attribute of privacy,” the decision reads. “Discrimination against an individual on the basis of sexual orientation is deeply offensive to the dignity and self-worth of the individual. Equality demands that the sexual orientation of each individual in society must be protected on an even platform.”

Although the Supreme Court did not directly overturn any laws criminalizing same-sex relationships, the language of the court decision offers hope to the LGBTQ community. The judges expressly state sexual orientation falls under an individual’s right to privacy, a constitutional right, and that no individual should be discriminated against based on their orientation.

Going forward, this can establish a precedent as organizations challenge discriminatory laws in court, and offer protection against discrimination in places such as the workforce.

This could even deliver a death blow to an oppressive and controversial law in the Indian Penal Code. Section 377 is a law that limits a citizen’s right to express their gender identity or sexual orientation in consensual relationships. In 2013, another panel of the Supreme Court upheld Section 377.

India’s traditional culture can make it difficult for people who are LGBTQ to be open about their orientation, but some are still challenging the country’s norms. Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil came out in 2006, making him the country’s first openly gay prince. Since then, he has been fighting for the Indian LGBTQ community.

Prince Manvendra started a grassroots campaign in 2014 called “Free Gay India” to campaign for LGBTQ rights. He has put a spotlight on the oppression as a guest on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and was recently on an episode of “Keeping Up With The Kardashians.”

“I knew that my coming out would definitely make a difference,” the prince told the Kardashian family. “When people found out about me, they set up a bonfire and burned my effigies in it.”



Being LGBTQ and Indian

If Kinsey was right, there are anywhere between 50 and 100 million people in India who are LGBTQ. But the number of people who came out to all the Pride marches in India last year? About 5,000. And that includes not only queer people but their allies and supporters.

Beliefs in the Western origins of homosexuality are also widespread and intransigent. Ironically, however, it is tolerance of homosexuality that is beginning to be imported into India. And what is the biggest engine of change? Cinema.

Bollywood is the entertainment of choice for over 1 billion people. That means that, in global terms, it influences the lives and attitudes of a tremendous number of people. And Bollywood stars, too, have a god-like stature, at least in India.

So the question is not if but how and when Bollywood will play a role changing attitudes toward LGBTQ rights in India. The time is ripe for social change. And LGBTQ rights are an issue close to the hearts of many in the Bollywood film industry. The question is one of courage and, of course, the timing of that courage. But change is coming in India.

In fact, it’s already started. At the risk of drawing too many parallels with the history of the gay rights movement in the West, India has already had its first “Stonewall moment.” In 2009 the law criminalizing sodomy was repealed. It was painful, and it made headlines, but it was a transformative change.

Change happens in fits and starts, and sometimes attitudes evolve slowly. And our conversations are part of all our futures. In India today, almost any conversation about homosexuality is a good one. Fortunately, that conversation has started.

[Source: Nish Gera / Writer, Filmmaker / Huffington Post]



LGBTQ and Contemporary Hindu Society


Sexuality is rarely discussed openly in contemporary Hindu society, especially in modern India where homosexuality was illegal until a brief period beginning in 2009, due to colonial British laws. On July 2, 2009 The Delhi High Court in a historic judgement decriminalized homosexuality in India; where the court noted that the existing laws violated fundamental rights to personal liberty (Article 21 of the Indian Constitution) and equality (Article 14) and prohibition of discrimination (Article 15). Even before this judgment, in India homosexuals were very rarely prosecuted despite the existence of such laws in the penal code. However, the Supreme Court of India re-affirmed the penal code provision and overturned the Delhi High Court decision, effectively re-instating the legal ban on homosexuality.


Even though Hinduism is never known to exclusively ban homosexuality, certain Hindu nationalist factions are opposed to legalizing homosexuality while certain others choose to remain silent. However, in the last twenty years homosexuality has become increasingly visible in the print and audio-visual media, with many out LGBTQ people, an active LGBTQ movement, and a large Indian LGBTQ presence on the Internet. From the 1990s onward, modern gay and lesbian Hindu organizations have surfaced in India's major cities and in 2004, plausible calls were made for the first time to repeal India's outdated and nontraditional laws against homosexuality.



Homosexuality in India


Homosexuality is mostly a taboo subject in Indian civil society and for the government. There are no official demographics for the LGBTQ population in India, but the government of India submitted figures to the Supreme Court in 2012, according to which, there were about 2.5 million gay people recorded in India. These figures are only based on those individuals who have self declared to the Ministry of Health. There may be much higher statistics for individuals who have concealed their identity, since a number of homosexual Indians are living in the closet due to fear of discrimination.


Homophobia is prevalent in India. Public discussion of homosexuality in India has been inhibited by the fact that sexuality in any form is rarely discussed openly. In recent years, however, attitudes towards homosexuality have shifted slightly. In particular, there have been more depictions and discussions of homosexuality in the Indian news media and in Bollywood films. Several organizations, including the Naz Foundation Trust, the National AIDS Control Organization, Law Commission of India, Union Health Ministry, National Human Rights Commission of India, and the Planning Commission of India have expressed support for decriminalizing homosexuality in India, and pushed for tolerance and social equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people. India is among countries with a social element of a third gender. But mental, physical, emotional and economic violence against LGBTQ community in India prevails. Lacking support from family, society or police, many gay rape victims don't report the crimes.


Religion has played a role in shaping Indian customs and traditions. While injunctions on homosexuality's morality are not explicitly mentioned in the religious texts central to Hinduism, the largest religion in India, Hinduism has taken various positions, ranging from homosexual characters and themes in its texts to being neutral or antagonistic towards it.


In 2005, Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil, who hails from Rajpipla in the Gujarat, publicly came out as gay. He was quickly anointed by the Indian and the world media as the first openly gay royal. He was disinherited as an immediate reaction by the royal family, though they eventually reconciled. He appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show in October 2007, and on BBC Three's Undercover Princes.


In 2008, Zoltan Parag, a competitor at the Mr. Gay International contest said that he was apprehensive about returning to India. He said, "Indian media has exposed me so much that now when I call my friends back home, their parents do not let them talk to me".

In June 2008, five Indian cities (Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata, Indore, Pondicherry) celebrated gay pride parades. About 2,000 people turned out in these nationwide parades. Mumbai held its pride march in August 2008, with Bollywood actress Celina Jaitley flagging off the festivities. In July 2008, the Delhi High Court, while hearing the case to decriminalize homosexuality, opined that there was nothing unusual in holding a gay rally, something which is common outside India.


Days after the July 2009 Delhi High Court verdict legalizing homosexuality, Pink Pages, India's first online LGBTQ magazine was released. In April 2009, India's first gay magazine Bombay Dost originally launched in 1990, was re-launched in Mumbai.

In June 2009, Bhubaneswar, the capital city of Odisha, saw its first gay pride parade. A day later, Union Law Minister Veerappa Moily announced that the Union Home Minister has convened a meeting with the Union Law Ministers, Union Health Ministers and Home Ministers of all states to evolve a consensus on decriminalizing homosexuality in India. In June 2009, Delhi and Bangalore held their second gay pride parades, and Chennai, generally considered to be a very conservative city, held its first.

Mumbai has one of its own pride events, like Kashish Mumbai Queer Film Festival which was first held in 2010 and again the next year. It was the first queer film festival in India and is held in a mainstream multiplex theater which screens LGBTQ films from all over the world.

In May 2011, Kolkata Rainbow Pride Festival was formed. The 11th Kolkata Rainbow Pride Walk, held in July 2012, was attended by more than 1500 people.  Kolkata hosted South Asia's first pride walk in 1999.

Chandigarh held its first LGBTQ pride parade in March 2013 and it has been held annually ever since.

The first LGBTQ pride parade in Gujarat state was held at Surat in October 2013.





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