Sexuality is a topic rarely discussed in India. In recent years, birth control and HIV prevention campaigns has brought down some of the age old inhibitions. Yet eyes are averted, whenever a commercial related to such issues is broadcast on TV. Such a reticent society, which refuses to acknowledge the most simplistic of issues related to sexuality, cannot be expected to be accommodating of LGBT. India’s stand upon Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender people is still unclear. Even as Jiteshbhai, one of the Prayas staff working on NACO’s HIV prevention and awareness project with MSM( Men who have sex with Men) community, told me his story, some of the other staff members told him to be a bit discrete.
“You are talking to a girl. Show some discretion,” they said.Jiteshbhai is himself gay. When Prayas first got involved with NACO’s project to spread awareness about HIV among MSM community, they realized that it’s not going to be an easy task. How do you spread awareness among a community which is practically untraceable and intends to stay hidden? According to unofficial records, there are over 2000 MSM’s in Gandhidham, Adipur and Anjar region in Kutch district of Gujarat. But very few of them are open about this. “We live in small towns. Here people are not that forward or understanding, and almost everyone knows everyone. So very few of us have the courage to live the way they want,” Jiteshbhai explained. Jiteshbhai got associated with Prayas seven years ago; he was the first MSM member. “I was also skeptical about all this in the beginning. But slowly I realized that it was a good cause. So I also joined Prayas’s campaign and started reaching out to other MSM’s in this area,” he said.
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Ever since then, it became a lot easier for Prayas to carry out this project.Due to societal prejudices, MSM’s in this area keep their lifestyles private. As a result, they don’t have access to any sexual education, which puts them at a high risk towards HIV and other STD’s. In this project, Prayas’s main aim is to reach out to MSM community, make them aware about HIV transmission and prevention, and at some level also provide necessary support to HIV positive people.As I listened to Jiteshbhai, I realized that the issue, i.e. HIV, being acknowledged here was just the tip of the iceberg. Probably I am not the right person to take a stand upon the LGBT rights in India, but is it right to force people into a lifestyle they don’t want. A lot of gays are forced to get married under family pressure against their wishes.“One of our MSM member had to get married because his family wanted so. But he couldn’t cope up with that life or love his wife. Later his wife became a sex worker. Now they are both leading a double life.”“A few of us like getting dressed up like girls do. They like doing makeup, hairstyles and wearing beautiful dresses. But they can’t do that in public. We get really attached to the ones we love. But sometimes we are just not allowed to be with them. Some of us can’t handle that.”
-These are just few of the stories Jiteshbhai shared.In past few years, there has been a tug-of-war between various organizations and judicial authorities regarding the status of section 377 of Indian Penal Court, enacted by British colonial regime in 1860, which categorizes same-sex relationship as “unnatural offence” and punishable by law. But the fact is, even if all the rights are recognized for LGBT community in India, that won’t be enough. Indian society has a long way to go before attaining that level of equality.After we complete this journey, sure it won’t be a conventionally assumed ideal society, but there is just that slight possibility that people would be a lot more happier if they were allowed to be who they are without any judgment or discrimination.*Names in the article have been changed in order to protect identities *Photo source: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-30791795