As India’s first openly gay prince, Manvendra Singh Gohil has spoken of how he was once made to undergo shock therapy to try and get him back to a straight life which later egged him to help others in the sexual minority community with the launch of the LGBT+ charity The Lakshya Trust. On September 6, he observed the day of scrapping of the section 377 as Independence Day.
Son of the Maharaja of Rajpipla in Gujarat, near and dear ones of Manvendra even contemplated surgery for him so that he could get back to heterosexual ways. He was blackmailed, he was humiliated and even ridiculed but ultimately he chewed the bitter pill and came out in 2006 as gay to a local paper Divya Bhaskar. Later Oprah Winfrey featured him on her show in 2007.
Prince Manvendra spoke of his rather bitter ordeal at the turn of the year of the decriminalisation of same sex relations courtesy the Supreme Court September last.
23 year old, Megha Nandi, a graphic designer has no qualms about accepting that she is a lesbian. But not only does this have a stigma attached in a smaller city like Lucknow but has challenges unlike metros are umpteen.
Many openly lesbian women in the city reportedly continue to be jeered at. In one case one such romantic escapade led to a cafe owner sending a message asking the girl to even get a boyfriend, which hurt bigtime.
Many like Nandi believe Delhi, Mumbai or a Kolkata is much more accepting of the queer culture which is now part of the Indian milieu post the landmark verdict.
Similarly love in the post 377 era brings fears like never before. 27-year-old Jatin Mishra and 23-year-old Love Preet, both madly in love face threats, blackmail, and even violence because of being different. There are many others like Jerry, Daksh, Anmol, Tanzeel, Jitendra, Suraj, Ali, Abeer, Lisa and Jatin who have now made it to a documentary series Caged uncaged that capture the mind of a member of the queer community.
Many in the community have welcomed the scrapping of section 377 because sex “against the order of nature” drew a jail term and a fine. There were multiple cases where the police used the law to harass members of the LGBT community.
In its judgment on Right To Privacy, the Supreme Court said rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender population are “real rights founded on sound constitutional doctrine”.
Surveys however point at how one in every two Indians disapprove of same-sex relationships in the post Article 377 era. LGBT+ people still feel a huge social stigma around coming out of the closet.
This aside, good news is Uttar Pradesh has seen nearly 36 per cent respondents in a survey agreeing that sexual relationship between two men or women should be accepted by society.
Research shows that homophobia cost India’s economy between 112 billion rupees and 1.7 trillion rupees ($30.8 billion) in 2012.
Back home there has been a silent revolution of sorts on the LGBT front. The seeds of the LGBT revolution were first sown after the arrest of leading LGBT activist Arif Jafar at the Manyawar Shri Kanshiram Ji Green Eco Garden.
In the 90s, Lucknow became one of the first cities where queer support groups emerged. Jafar setup what was known as Friends India, in 1991. He worked with men who have sex with men — in the parlance of HIV/AIDS prevention organisations referred to as MSM.
Issues regarding Section 377 came into light in the year 2001. It was first brought into light by ‘Naaz Foundation’ a non-governmental organization. The organization filed a petition in the Delhi High Court in 2001, and the court declared the provision declaring sexual relations between two same-sex adults as “illegal”.
Now the syllabus of Lucknow University’s department of sociology has the case of Section 377 in a paper titled ‘Law and Society’.
The first Pride parade held in Hazratganj gave the LGBT community more teeth in 2017. Recently the queer lit fest in the city too attracted major eyeballs in town.
Reading down the provisions of Section 377 and decriminalizing same sex consensual relationships has come as a slap on the faces of those people who mocked LGBT community and hurled abuses to them such as ‘Hijada’, ‘Chhakka’ and many other ugly abuses.
There are no doubts that from last year many queer after this historic judgement have opened themselves up to their families and their workplaces. There certainly are more open conversations regarding the queer community today but broadly when talking about social acceptance and rights and privileges the community has, nothing much seems to have changed. The police has yet not been sensitized. Even today doctors continue to look at homosexuality as a disease.
There exists miles of distance between society and the queer community. They truly are different but they aren’t disabled. It needs much care and love to understand them and their lives. They don’t need anyone’s sympathy, they need understanding. Conversations on Queer community should be conducted to know them and their lives more.
Conceptualized and written by Lucknow journalist Abhay Raj
(Additional inputs and editing from LT Desk)