“The gay community in India is in its ‘flower power’ phase,” a fag in Delhi told me the other night. In other words, the country’s homos are still too busy fucking to get political.
After four months travelling around India, I think he’s got a point. It’s extremely easy to get laid, but nearly impossible to get people mobilized to fight for their rights.
Big cities like Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai are starting to organize Pride marches, but so far they’re modest events that aren’t generating action and results throughout the rest of the year. Meanwhile, homosexuality remains illegal and HIV rates among gay men are higher than any other group.
It’s not like some activists aren’t trying. In Mumbai, Nitin Karani is organizing bi-weekly gay film screenings for the queer rights NGO Humsafar Trust, while Vikram Phukan works at resurrecting India’s queer mag, Bombay Dost. Further north, in Delhi, India’s most senior queer rabble-rouser, Ashok Row Kavi, is coordinating the anti-HIV battle on behalf of UNAIDS.
But like the rest of India, the gay community remains sharply divided along class lines. The middle and upper classes are mostly working together for their own benefit, while the vast lower class remains relatively uneducated and marginalized.
What Indian queers need is their own Stonewall, an event that galvanizes everyone to come together as one. The Pride parades are fun, but homos won’t get the hetero majority’s attention until they raise their fists in the air, shout “We’re Not Gonna Take It Anymore” and force the country to openly acknowledge other forms of sexual pleasure. Or, at the very least, start a sharply-worded letter-writing campaign.
The gay community in India could also use a prominent role model or two. Right now, there’s no Ellen, no Elton, not even a Scott Brison. A lot would change overnight if a famous Bollywood star or cricket player had the guts to come out of the closet.
In the meantime, more ordinary folks need to pave the way by coming out themselves. I acknowledge that, in India, it ain’t easy. I’ve never seen a culture where the pressure to marry, have children and live with your family forever is so intense.
But if all the cool but closeted Indian guys I’ve met over the last few months want to live free, they’re gonna have to stand up and make it happen. Just like the nation as a whole did in the 1940s, when it bravely won independence from Britain.
Last month, I went to one of Karani’s Humsafar Trust screenings in Mumbai. The movie that afternoon was the 1980s doc The Times of Harvey Milk, which featured TV news footage from one of San Francisco’s early Pride marches.
As the so-called Mayor of Castro Street, Milk, rode a rainbow-coloured float past waves of sweaty, liberated bodies, an Indian guy sitting next to me turned and said, “We’re not even there yet.”
No, but the storm in India is brewing. And I can’t wait to see what happens when it hits.
This is my final column from India. Thanks for reading, and for making comments. Stay tuned for my travel essay about Gay India, including all the info you need on where to go to be gay, coming soon in The Guide.