The Changing Face of Gay India
While a decade ago gay venues were incredibly scarce, perhaps a dozen across the country, today they are prolific, openly advertised and held without contention.
There’s no question that India is one of the most frenetic and beguiling nations on earth. A melting pot of natural beauty, ancient religions, sublime foods and superb architecture. However, behind the veneer of the golden beaches of Goa and the dazzling Taj Mahal is country struggling with its identity and place in the modern world.
Since the liberalisation of the markets almost 30 years ago the economy has boomed. India’s GDP grew by an astonishing 8% in 2016. However, despite its fiscal explosion, India is severely lagging when it comes to social issues – not least LGBT rights.
Paradoxically, just as with many other cultures and religions, there are many historical examples of gender norms being transcended and subverted in India and until recently, homosexuality was not viewed as a crime.
Alas in 2017 homosexual relationships are illegal in India and there is no protection for the LGBT community under Indian law. This makes it difficult for hate crimes and discrimination to be prosecuted by the criminal justice system. It also enables regressive social attitudes to prevail in the current climate unchallenged.
It’s not all bad news. Earlier this year, India’s Supreme Court declared that sexual freedom was a fundamental human right and that they were entitled to express this without the fear of discrimination. The court ruled ‘Discrimination against an individual on the basis of sexual orientation is deeply offensive to the dignity and self-worth of the individual. Equality demands that the sexual orientation of each individual in society must be protected on an even platform.’
There is no evidence to suggest that this ruling is assisting in protection or prosecution. The law being touted here is one concerned with privacy coming under the Indian constitution, not one specifically protecting gay people.
There are cultural shifts in the right direction too. Back in 2013, a queer radio station called Qradio – Out and Proud was launched across the country. It now broadcasts a range of music, talk shows, documentaries and debates 24 hours a day. It’s the most prominent cultural outlet for LGBT citizens and is increasingly popular among the community.
Despite the lack of legal protection, it is incredibly unlikely, particularly as a visitor, that you would be the subject of any violence or animosity. Indians are largely very friendly to foreigners and will often look out for them if they suspect they are being unnecessarily bothered or mythered.
A recent article in the renowned and respected Times of India highlighted the proliferation of gay nights and events in a slew of bars and clubs across the country. While a decade ago gay venues were incredibly scarce, perhaps a dozen across the country, today they are prolific, openly advertised and held without contention.
There are other notable issues. Access to these gay spaces if often costly and much of the population incredibly poor. That isn’t a problem unique to India but in a country where home life is largely more hostile to homosexuality, restrictions to these places are even more concerning.
While the situation for LGBT citizens is far from ideal in India, there are indicators that progression is happening. This can hardly be a huge comfort to young gay and lesbian people growing up in an environment of hostility. However, with India’s continued economic growth, openness to foreign investment and ideology and influx of LGBT visitors I have justified hope it will, in the near future, be an excellent place to be born gay.