Deepa Mehta’s film, Fire, follows the story of Sita, who is a lesbian. This film was released in India in 2000. Soon after its release, 200 members of the Shiv Sena stormed a Mumbai theatre where Fire was being viewed and vandalized it. Theatres in Delhi, Surat and Pune got a similar reaction from political parties and stopped viewing the film on the same day. It is interesting to note that a film about lesbian relationships was treated with such disgust when ancient India had a culture that thrived on lesbians, gays and transgenders.
There are several examples in Vedic and Hindu texts of saints and gods transcending sexes. Lord Mohini and Ardhanarishwara are two examples of gods who were transsexuals. Transgenders were an integral part of Indian society. Instances of same sex depictions are present in Indian epics as well as Indian mythology. The Kamasutra speaks about feelings for the same sex too. Being attracted to members of the same sex was never considered to be a crime and transgenders were venerated. However, the coming of the British challenged several existing beliefs of the Indian population.
The British passed the Indian Penal Code with Section 377 in 1860. Under this law, “carnal intercourse against the laws of nature” was criminalized. Therefore, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) movement started against the British rule in the 1920’s. A rough timeline of LGBT history, using literature as its primary reference points, has been given below:
1922: A freedom fighter named Gopalbandhu Das published erotic poems which addressed his male friends and co-workers.
1924: Ugra publishes his short story “Chocolate” which dealt with gay sex.
1936: The renowned Urdu poet Firaq Gorakhpuri writes an essay defending homosexuality.
1945: Ismat Chughtai publishes “Tehri Lakheer” which describes a lesbian relationship in great detail.
1962: Rajendra Yadav publishes “Prateeksha” which depicts homosexual relations between two women.
1968: Bhupen Khakkar writes openly about a bisexual relationship in middle class India.
1974: VT Nandakumar publishes “Randu Penkuttikal” which portrays lesbian relationships in Kerela.
1977: Shakuntala Devi publishes “The World of Homosexuals” which was the first study of homosexuality in India.
1979: Vijay Detha publishes “A Double Life” which speaks about a sexual relationship between two women in rural Rajasthan.
1981: Marathi plays dealing with same sex relationships like “Begum Barve” and “Mitrachi Gosht” are enacted in theatres.
1984: Ashok Rao Kavi comes out in an interview with Savvy magazine. He was the first openly gay Indian.
1992: First public protest by gay rights activists takes place in New Delhi.
1994: Samuthiram publishes “Vaadamalli”, a Tamil novel about the Aravaani (transgender) community.
1994: A. Revathi, a Hijra, writes about Transgender issues and Gender Politics.
1994: Hijras get voting rights.
1997: Fifteen gay men take part in the first official gay pride march in Kolkata.
1997: First LGBT Rights Seminar held in National Law School, Bangalore.
1998: Shabnam Mausi is the first trangender to be elected into public office.
2005: Manavendra Singh Gohil, a Gujarati royal, comes out as gay.
2006: Amartya Sen, Vikram Seth, Arundhati Roy and other Indian literary figures appeal to the Supreme Court to decriminalize homosexuality.
2008: Pride Parades happened for the first time in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Kolkata.
2008: Vidya publishes the first Indian transwoman autobiography “I am Vidya”.
2009: “Pink Pages” India’s first official LGBT Managazine is published.
2009: Section 377 is revoked.
2011: A Gurgaon Court recognizes a marriage between two women.
2012: “Creating Inclusive Workplaces for LGBT Employees in India” is published by IBM, Goldman Sachs and Google.
2013: Qradio, the first Indian radio channel for the LGBT audience is launched.
2013: The 2009 judgement on Section 377 is over turned by the Supreme Court.
2014: Transgenders are recognized as the third gender.
2014: Vanathi Srinivasan, the General Secretary of the BJP in Tamil Nadu releases a book on LGBT rights, “Maraikappata Pakkangal”.
2015: Madhu Bai Kinnar, a transgender, is elected as the Mayor of Raigarh.
2015: Manabi Bandopadhyay, a transgender, becomes the Principal of a college in West Bengal.
The current scenario of LGBT rights in India is conflicting. On one hand, there is the young urban population which is in favour of LGBT movements. On the other hand, there is the rural Indian orthodoxy which is hell bent on “cleansing” India of its LGBT population. There have been reports of LGBT individuals who have been administered electric shocks to “cure” them. Additionally, cases of corrective rape have also been reported.
Despite these horrifying incidences which have left members of the LGBT community scarred, there are several instances that have been taking place in India which are heartening to see. International Queer Film Festivals have been held in Mumbai; “Wonderful Things Happen” is a matchmaking site that was launched exclusively for gay and bisexual women; The American College in Madurai teaches “Third Gender Studies” as a specialization; and social networking sites such as
GayBombay, Pratibimb and Orinam are increasing in popularity every day. There are several organizations in major cities of India that work for LGBT rights such as Humsafar Trust, Alternative Law Forum, Sangama and Queerla. Most importantly, several prominent individuals in the Indian political scene have come out in favour of decriminalizing homosexuality. These include Milind Deora, Arun Jaitley, Harshwardhan Singh and Ram Madhav.
All these incidences and occurrences are constantly giving the LGBT community hope for a brighter future. For isn’t that a requirement for happiness – to love without fear?