India’s celebrities speak up for gay rights

Katherine Knowles March 22, 2006
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With the recent official founding of gay group the Men’s Community Development Society (MCDS), Indian celebrities have been moved to speak out about attitudes towards gay people in the popular paper Hindustan Times.

Male supermodel Dino Morea kicked off the debate noting: “when I entered the modelling world after completing my graduation, I had loads of stories about homosexuals forcibly making you enter into an act with them. In fact, I used to be very scared of them initially and always used to maintain a safe distance but then slowly I realized that my all such notions were wrong.” The model, who was famously photographed semi naked apart from a flower garland concluded: “On many occasions gays can make great friends”.

The actor Zayed Khan suggested: “gay people follow their natural instinct and are not fake”. His liberal attitude delighted members of the MCDS when he noted, “who are we to judge whether they are right or wrong? In my view sexuality of a person hardly matters. I believe that we should accept it like many other aspects of life and treat it as normal”.

Given that homosexuality is illegal in India, this liberalism might seem surprising. Although, as the travel guide Gay India suggests, homosexuality is as common as in any other country; an “unspoken, unquestioned, and unlabeled way of life integrated into family and village customs”. Academic Shivanada Khan argues that, “the debate on sexualities may even at times be perceived as a form of neo-colonialism whereby Western sexual ideologies have “invaded” Indian discourses on sexuality and identity by professionals, laypersons, “straights” or “gays,” and whereby indigenous histories and cultures become invisible.”

It is clear that the terms of the debate have changed, with groups such as the MCDS demanding and recognition and legitimacy, and with discrimination towards openly gay people a sad fact of modern Indian life.

The film star Koena Mitra offered her opinion to the debate: “I think Indian society needs to change its attitude towards gays and lesbians. Why should they be treated any different from others?”

It’s a point of view that the MCDS, a group which grew out of the Indian Community Welfare Organisation offering AIDS and HIV education and care, appreciates. A care worker, Mr Jaya said: “homosexuals suffer police harassment, people don’t employ them in good jobs, and they are marginalized.”

“I don’t understand why there should be so much apprehension about the issue,” concluded Ms Mitra in her statement which gay rights supporters hope will be influential in changing attitudes, particularly among her young fan base. “Everyone has the right to live life as they see fit and make their own choices. There should be no discrimination on the basis of sexual preferences.”

India’s courts are reviewing laws that make consensual gay sex an offence punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

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