Gay India: Interview with gay couple from Delhi
Just as we were getting ready to dress up with dramatic colourful saris on the Delhi gay scene and show off our bhangra and dandiya dance moves we learnt from our Bollywood dance class, we discovered that being gay in India has become illegal, again.
More specifically, a very old law dating back to 1861 (Article 377 of the Indian Penal Code), which criminalised bum sex with up to 10 years in jail was invalidated by the Delhi High Court in 2009.
Lots of excitement and pink euphoria followed. But in December 2013, the Indian Supreme Court reintroduced Article 377, stating it was for the government to strike it down.
Although the Supreme Court recently announced plans to review this law, gay India has been forced firmly back in the closet.
Article 377 specifically criminalises anal sex with up to 10 years conviction:
“whoever voluntarily has carnal [ie sexual] intercourse against the order of nature
with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment…”.
We found this slightly contradictory coming from a religion with quite a colourful sexual history as shown on these ancient carvings at Khajuraho Temple in Central India:
As a result of the anti gay laws, the gay scene in India has been forced underground.
Gay parties are advertised by word of mouth or limited social media. Using Grindr we were able to tap into the scene in Delhi and found the invite only gay party for that week taking place at the Knight World Cuisine Lounge at Connaught Place.
It was a fun night out in Delhi until the police raided it at 1am looking for their weekly bribe from the club promoters! Nobody was arrested and this is apparently the norm in gay clubs India.
At the club, we made friends with a sweet young Indian gay couple, who go by their anonymous nicknames of Nick and Rhys.
Nick and Rhys have an excellent blog about their relationship. The boys agreed to our Q&A about gay India and gay life in Delhi but on condition they are anonymous.
#1 Namaste Nick and Rhy! Welcome to our blog, please introduce yourselves
Hello Nomadic Boys! Welcome to India and to Delhi. We are Nick and Rhys, medical students living in Delhi and have been together for nearly 5 years.
#2 Why are you anonymous on your blog?
N: Since Article 377 was re-instated into law, it has effectively become a validation for all sorts of bullying and harassment of the LGBTQ community in India. Added to the social stigma we face, it is just too risky to be openly queer in India especially for young folks like us.
R: Being anonymous on our own blog is not our choice, neither do I like it. But since both Nick and I belong to very traditional families, we have no option but to hide our identities, so that we can express ourselves and still have no worries of being outed. Even on Grindr for example, it is rare to see anyone with their real names on display.
#3 Are you out to anyone at your work, friends or family members?
N: I came out to my dad, but this went horribly wrong. After lots of tears, screaming and visits to psychiatrists and counsellors we agreed to ignore the issue to preserve his sanity, and mine.
R: I am out to most of my closest friends, but not to anyone in my family, or else I would be thrown out of the house.
#4 Is there a risk to your job prospects in India if you’re openly gay?
N: Oh no, of course not!!! I can’t imagine this very conservative homophobic society having any problems at all bending over and coughing for a *gay doctor*! Ha ha ha!!
R: For us it is a huge risk because I don’t think anyone would want to be examined by a “gay” doctor, no matter how qualified he or she is.
#5 Do you think the situation will improve for the LGBT population in India?
N: It has improved in the sense that there is much more visibility for LGBTQ issues than ever before but that also results in a much more violent backlash.
R: I am hopeful it will get better eventually but at present it seems a very slow process, especially when you see the antipathy in society.
#6 Are there any pride or other public gay events in India?
R: Well, not many people know this, but Kolkata led the way in 1999, hosting India’s first ever gay Pride event called the “Rainbow Pride Walk” with 15 people attending. But it wasn’t until summer 2008 when large Pride events started to take place for the first time in Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi, Bangalore and Pondicherry.
N: Queer Film Festivals are also gaining popularity. The first one took place in Kolkata in 2007 and then in Mumbai from 2010 (called Kashish).
#7 Any advice for LGBT travellers visiting India?
R: It’s really not as bad as the law makes it out to be. Yes it’s illegal. Yes society is fundamentally conservative (where else in Asia isn’t it?) but there’s a huge gay population here waiting with open arms to welcome gay tourists.
N: As you boys found out, having a Grindr profile definitely helps you connect with gay locals and find out what is happening in the local gay scene. And of course, putting all the gay stuff aside, India is rich with so much history, beautiful temples, incredible food and so much culture to discover.
#8 Why do (straight) boys hold hands and cuddle up in public? Doesn’t this make it easier for you?
N: Boys holding hands in public is cultural in India. It is a sign of friendship amongst men but nothing to do with sexual orientation at all.
R: Personal space and privacy take a back seat when you live in a very crowded place like India. Hence holding hands and touching are not frowned on.
N: But strangely enough I feel more comfortable holding hands or hugging my straight male friends in public than Rhys. I think it’s because we have been brought up with such a restrictive moral code that any display of affection for your partner is considered ‘wrong’. So however much we want to shake off those homophobic feelings, they still linger.
#9 And finally, if gay marriage was legal in India, who’d propose first?
R: Nick please answer!!
N: Oh that’s an easy one… since Rhys asked me out the first time around with a proper ‘down on his knees’, slow waltz routine, the proposal to marry would come from me. And Rhys has warned me that it better be fabulous, with a dramatic dress…or else!!
For more about our adventures through Malaysia, please check out our India travel video: