Gay India: Interview with gay couple from Delhi

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.

Gay India protests Article 377

Protests in India against the offensive Article 377

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:

Erotic carvings at the Khajuraho temple Central India

Back in the old days, anal sex seemed to be the norm in India judging by these ancient erotic carvings at the temple at Khajuraho

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.

Gay India Delhi scene Knight club by Castle 9 sign

The venue of the weekly gay party when we were in Delhi: Knight World Cuisine Lounge by Castle 9

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.

Gay India Nomadic Boys Taj Mahal

Enjoying a romantic moment at the famous Taj Mahal

#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.

Gay India frowned on by traditional Indian society

Indian traditional society remains largely conservative and frowns on homosexuality


#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. 

Gay India young puppy love

Young puppy love…these two cute Indian puppies in Varanasi reminded us of Nick and Rhys’ young love

#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.

Gay India difficulties protests

Anti gay protests in India gives a very sad blunt message to its LGBT community

#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.  

Gay India pride events Gay Delhi Pride 2008

Delhi Pride 2008 – the year when large summer pride events started taking place in cities across India

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).

Gay India Mumbai International Queer Film Festival

The Kashish Mumbai International Film Festival going strong since 2010

#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.

Pink city Jaipur The City Palace of Jaipur

The Nomadic Boys discovering one the many beautiful palaces in India – the City Palace in Jaipur

#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.

Gay India boys holding hands in public Jaipur

Boys walking in Jaipur holding hands

#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!!

A fabulous wedding

Nick you’ve been warned: the wedding proposal better be fabulous!

For more about our adventures through Malaysia, please check out our India travel video:

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Discovering gay life in India

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16 Comments

  1. Sam

    Hehehe! You said bum sex!

    But seriously, this sucks. I understand that some countries take more time with progress in this respect than others, but undoing progress being made, that’s just bullshit! Nick and Rhy sound like fun guys, though. I love Grindr for the ability to chat to and meet up with locals you would otherwise probably never encounter (and I don’t just mean in a sexy way…but that too!)

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks Sam. Agree with Grindr – never had the need for it back home but in Russia we quickly learnt this is the best way to tap into a gay ‘scene’ in countries where it has been forced underground.

      Reply
    • Tom

      Singapore has the same 377 law. It was just challenged in the supreme Court and it was found legitimate. Another backwards decision!

      Reply
      • Stefan Arestis

        Singapore as well?!! What a shame 🙁

        Reply
  2. Claire

    Awesome insight. Good work guys! X

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks Claire 🙂

      Reply
  3. Luis

    Obviously that’s a shame, especially since I’m going to Mumbai and Goa for Chriatmas and New Years (any chance you guys will be around?). But I’ll tell you this: the best gay sex are still where the scene has gone underground and via grindr! lol

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks Luis! We are in Bangkok for Xmas and NYC. Sorry to miss you.

      Reply
  4. Amy

    I must admit, I clicked on this post because of the cute puppies but I ended up learning a lot from your insightful post 🙂 It’s awful to hear that the law is moving backwards in India; their human rights record is getting worse and worse it seems.

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      LOL thanks Amy. We just learnt that Sri Lanka is worse and it’s an arrest-able offence if two men are caught holding hands in the non-Hindu way!

      Reply
  5. wilfrid

    Stefan, did you see The Economist of 11 October (online) on The Gay Divide, which argued that while many countries have made great progress a lot of others (in Asia, Africa and the Middle East) have gone backwards with respect to gay rights and tolerance of gays?
    http://www.economist.com/printedition/2014-10-11

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      I have a news app which I use to keep up to date with things which includes The Economist, but for some reason it didn’t have this very excellent article.

      Thanks Wildrid 🙂

      Reply
  6. Ankita

    First of all — those ain’t even the best of our puppies. We got much better ones.
    Also, the current government is banning EVERYTHING. Right now they’re trying to ban beef consumption. Unfortunately, I don’t think the law is going to go very far with regard to liberalism. However, people of my generation, at least those formally educated, have a relatively liberal approach. I haven’t met too many marriage equality supporters, but a great many agree with decriminalization, even if only for the fact that they believe personal lives are not the law’s business. So there’s still hope, even if it is the form of a rather Don’t Ask Don’t Tell-style approach — which doesn’t sound very nice, but would be a big improvement given the current conditions.
    P.S.: Next time you’re in India’s gay scene, please talk to youngsters you meet about the perils of ‘counselling’ and such… I’ve read about so many gay youth getting (and later regretting) gender reassignment surgery because ‘doctors’ don’t know the difference between gender and orientation.

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Hi Ankita and thanks for your comment. It’s lovely to see open minded views like this. I’ve heard about ‘counselling’ and it just sounds horrific!

      Reply
  7. Nikita

    These guys sound like so much fun! I didn’t realize the laws in India were moving backwards in India in such a horrible way… It’s quite heartbreaking, really. It’s so sad that people can’t even come out to their own families! Thanks for sharing this.

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks Nikita xxx

      Reply

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