(On 6 September 2018, the Supreme Court of India read down IPC's Section 377, decriminalising homosexuality. FIT is re-publishing this piece in honor of its one year anniversary.)
India is known to be a country of paradox. We accept homo-social behaviour and yet there is a law which criminalises homosexual acts. It's very common to find same sex people arm-in-arm in public, hugging, embracing, holding hands but if a heterosexual couple is practicing the same behaviour in public, it catches all eyes.
Similarly, it's easy to hire a room in a flat or hotel for people of same sex but the heterosexual couple has to prove their relation.
It’s an irony – in the land of Kamasutra and Khajuraho, homosexuality is still seen as a western influence, forcing most of the sexual minority communities such as gay, lesbian, transgender, etc to be closeted or else face stigma and discrimination.
It’s Important to Provide Social Support to LGBTQA Community
In response to this, I founded an organisation called Lakshya Trust in 2000, the first organisation in Gujarat with the aim to create a platform for the LGBTQA (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer Allies) community to come together for solving their common issues such as coming out, marriage pressures, and police harassment.
Further, to break the norms and fight hypocrisy, I came out in 2006 becoming the first member of a royal family to openly come out as gay to the media. My experience of coming out and the circumstances I faced after that drove me to start a resource centre for the LGBTQA plus community at my royal establishment of Hanumanteshwar, the first one of its kind in India.
The objective of the resource centre is to give social and financial empowerment to the community.
It is evident in the society that LGBTQA community is socially challenged when it comes to coming out with one’s sexual orientation. Many a times, people are reluctant to come out because it has disastrous outcomes like getting thrown out of homes, fear of being disinherited and boycotted by society.
In India, most of us whether gay or straight are mentally conditioned to be attached to our family. So the idea of getting rendered homeless, fear of getting disinherited from the ancestral property forces us to succumb to marriage pressures and spoils the life of the spouse.
Those who have been homeless get depressed, feel socially insecure and contemplate committing suicide.
It’s therefore important to provide a social support system to them during this grave time. In my case too when I came out, my parents took out public notice disowning me and publicly disinherited me from the ancestral property thinking that I will succumb to their pressures.
In order to counter this problem, the resource centre will provide a shelter home to 20 to 25 persons at a time, who have been thrown out of the home abruptly and have nowhere to go.
Section 377 Is a Dispute Between Humanity and Hypocrisy
The Centre is also aimed at building financial capabilities among the boycotted LGBTQA people. We aim at imparting language skills, computer knowledge and help in brushing certain in-built talents among the inhabitants like fashion designing, make-up art, choreography, interior designing, embroidery, cooking etc to help them earn a living in the future.
An important part of this campus will be the medical centre since sound health is critical to lead a good life.
I am already involved in sexual health projects which will provide diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted infections, HIV testing and treatment, and organising workshops on safe sex practices with condom promotion. There will be a counsellor for mental health care issues as well.
Other than that, there will be provision for holistic health through naturopathy, yoga, meditation and also music therapy.
In line with my past initiatives, as the Ambassador Consultant for AIDS Healthcare Foundation, I have been given the opportunity to network with a lot of stakeholders such as political parties, educational institutions, media, lawyers, and medical professionals, both at national and international levels.
This position is helping me strengthen the advocacy for fighting for LGBTQA rights.
I briefly summarise Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code as a dispute between humanity and hypocrisy and we will win or lose depending on which of them survive the other.
On the occasion of International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, I wish to state that ‘homophobia’ is the problem, not ‘homosexuality’.
Secondly, LGBTQA rights are fundamental human rights which cannot be won just within the court rooms but are to be won in the hearts and minds of the people we live with.
We have to continuously fight with hypocrisy and help change the mindset of the society towards a better understanding and acceptance of the sexual minority communities.
(Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil is the heir apparent to the throne of Rajpipla in western Gujarat.)