Remembering Siddharth Gautam: One of India’s First LGBT Activists

Remembering Siddharth Gautam, member of AIDS Bhedbhav Virodhi Andolan & one of India’s first LGBT activists.

Updated09 Sep 2018, 08:04 AM IST
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4 min read

“History owes an apology to LGBT persons for ostracisation and discrimination.”

With that, the Supreme Court struck down the draconian law that criminalised sexual activities between two consenting homosexual adults. But the fight for the right to love has been long and hard and one of the most prominent names to have led this fight is advocate and gay rights activist – Siddharth Gautam.

Remembering Siddharth Gautam: One of India’s First LGBT Activists
(Photo courtesy: Facebook/Jean-Pierre A. Fenyo)

Who Was Siddharth Gautam?

Siddharth Gautam joined the AIDS Bhedbhav Virodhi Andolan (ABVA) once he returned after studying at Yale, in around 1989. Founded due to the collective efforts and commitment of a number of activists, ABVA launched one of India’s first AIDS activism movement. The aim was to fight to decriminalise homosexuality and secure the rights of LGBTQ people.

It demanded rehabilitation schemes for HIV positive people. To further this, the ABVA began running a free dispensary for sex workers in Delhi's GB Road District.

In 1991, the ABVA, published a 93-page report titled Less Than Gay: A Citizens’ Report on the Status of Homosexuality in India, a first of it’s kind report that focused on the plight of homosexuals in India.

The report was prepared by seven ABVA members – Arun Bhandari, Dr JP Jain, Jagdish Bhardwaje, Lalitha SA, Dr PS Sahni, Shalini SCN and Siddhartha Gautam.

With personal anecdotes by many on topics like love, sexuality and society, the aim was to get people to talk about the lives of the LGBT community.

First ever gay rights protest organised by ABVA at police headquarters in New Delhi on 11 August 1992.
First ever gay rights protest organised by ABVA at police headquarters in New Delhi on 11 August 1992.
(Photo courtesy: AIDS Bhedbhav Virodhi Andolan)
“Many people deny that homosexuality exists in India, dismissing it as a phenomenon of the industrialised world. Others acknowledge its presence but condemn it as a capitalist aberration, a concern too individualistic to warrant attention in a poor country like ours. Still others label it a disease to be cured, an abnormality to be set right, a crime to be punished.”
An excerpt from Less Than Gay: A Citizens’ Report on the Status of Homosexuality in India

The report went on to highlight the social attitudes towards the LGBT community across various sections of the society.

ABVA was the first organisation to launch a legal fight for the rights of LGBT people. In 1994, the ABVA filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in Delhi High Court challenging Section 377. Just a few months after this report was published, Gautam passed away after a long battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, at the age of 28.

Rejoinder

(A rejoinder by the ABVA to the above article has been published in its entirety below.)

The article in relation to Siddhartha Gautam (S.G.) states:

1. “Siddhartha Gautam founded AIDS Bhedbhav Virodhi Andolan” in the caption to the topmost photo

2. “In 1991, the ABVA, under Gautam, published a 70-page report titled Less Than Gay….”,

3. “Siddharth Gautam’s ABVA was the first organisation to launch a legal fight for the rights of LGBT people.”

4. “Siddharth Gautam’s initiatives laid the foundation stone to the movement that has now ensured Section 377 be repealed at long last.”

The factual position:

ABVA was founded due to the collective efforts and commitment of a number of activists. Many of the activists had been working together in various campaigns from 1984 to 1988-89 which made it easier for these activists to come together to form ABVA. S.G. joined at this point of time. Giving credit to one individual for founding ABVA is an insult to all the ABVA members both dead and alive. S.G. was one of the members of ABVA. As a collective ABVA was one of the first organizations to talk about HIV/AIDS as a human rights issue. To be fair Ashok Row Kavi (Bombay Dost); Dr. I.S. Gilada (of erstwhile Indian Health Organization); and Dr. Suniti Soloman (Chennai) were easily the earliest to be active on these issues years before ABVA was formed. There must have been many more – most importantly PWH&A (people with HIV & AIDS) who chose to maintain anonymity or carried pseudo-names.

All members including S.G. worked under and as a collective viz ABVA. It is an insult to all members living or dead to insinuate that ABVA members worked under S.G. In fact many ABVA members had more than 20 to 30 years of experience as political activist, whereas S.G. was new in India and was looking for a foothold. The report ‘Less than Gay’ was prepared in 1991 by seven ABVA members viz Arun Bhandari, Dr. J.P. Jain, Jagdish Bhardwaje, Lalitha S.A., Dr. P.S. Sahni, Shalini SCN & Siddhartha Gautam. It may be mentioned that not just Siddhartha Gautam but two other co-authors of ‘Less Than Gay’ viz Shalini SCN & Jagdish Bhardwaje have also since passed away. Siddhartha Gautam’s contribution to ‘Less Than Gay’ was not more or less than other six co-authors’. The hard copy of “Less Than Gay” as released in 1991 is of 93 pages minus the cover and not of 70 pages which is the net version.

ABVA does not belong to one individual – living or dead. It is a collective.

It was not S.G.’s initiative but of ABVA as a collective. Giving credit to one individual who died at least two years before the ABVA took up the legal battle for repeal of Section 377, IPC in the Delhi High Court in 1994 is an insult to all the ABVA members both dead and alive.

It is also an insult to the intelligence of readers of your esteemed The Quint.

(This article has been updated to include the rejoinder by the ABVA.)

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Published: 08 Sep 2018, 03:28 PM IST
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