We Might be Asking the Obvious, but Are Indian Parents Homophobic?

Are Indian parents conditioning their children to be straight?

Updated
LGBT
4 min read
When will Indian parents stop making their children lead closeted lives of suppressed sexualities? (Photo: iStock)

A homophobic shooter in Orlando enters a night club and ends 50 lives. A sting operation in Delhi reveals that ayurvedic doctors working at Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali clinics still believe homosexuality is a disease, a mental disorder.

The Quint believes its time to reach out… and offer #LoveToHomophobes. And as part of our campaign, we bring you this story from our archives.

Chances are most of us don’t remember Padma Iyer, mother of Harish Iyer, one of India’s front-runner gay rights campaigners. She placed a traditional ad in the paper, searching, like any other Indian mother for a groom for her son in May this year.

“Seeking 25-40, Well-Placed, Animal-Loving, Vegetarian GROOM for my SON (36, 5’11’’) who works with an NGO. Caste no bar (Though IYER preferred)”, the ad declared as it went viral.

The matrimonial ad as it appeared in <i>Mid-Day</i>. (Photo Courtesy: Screenshot of the newspaper)
The matrimonial ad as it appeared in Mid-Day. (Photo Courtesy: Screenshot of the newspaper)

It was quickly lauded as a first-of-its-kind effort in a country where homosexuality remains illegal – despite earlier attempts at decriminalisation. (Let’s not forget that Delhi High Court had turned down an archaic 148-year-old colonial law banning homosexuality in 2009, but its ruling was overturned in 2013 by none other than the Supreme Court.)

Leading dailies like the Times of India and Hindustan Times rejected the ad citing concerns that it would be in breach of the country’s law – till it was finally accepted by Mumbai tabloid Mid-Day. Whether Padma Iyer represented a new breed of parents in acceptance of her son’s sexual status, whether it was easier for her to seek out a matrimonial alliance since her son is a famed gay rights activist or whether covertly she echoed the same stereotypes of caste and vegetarianism, remain debatable.

Yet what baffles us as a culture is the way we shun homosexuality – despite culturally having a long association.

Why Are We Conditioning Our Children to be Straight?

Do Indian parents sit on a moral high horse when it comes to talking about sexual intimacy with their children? (Photo: iStock)
Do Indian parents sit on a moral high horse when it comes to talking about sexual intimacy with their children? (Photo: iStock)

So much so that recently a friend of mine spotted her daughter kiss her friend on the lips in her bedroom. The two girls are 11 and call each other “besties”, who always hang out together after school and are constantly in each other’s homes.

I can’t sleep, I’m having nightmares that my child is abnormal – what if she’s a lesbian. I have scolded her saying kissing a woman is not acceptable and that she must never do it again. I know it could be a playful gesture, but what if it blooms into something sexual? After all this is an age of sexual discovery too. She has just started her periods…things are changing… I am thinking of voicing my apprehensions to her class teacher also…
Pragati Chawla, 37-year-old mother (name changed on request)

Are we secretly homophobic? Do Indian parents (who seldom touch each other except in seclusion) sit atop a moral high horse when it comes to sexual intimacy as a subject of discussion at home?

My friend rather easily equated homosexuality to a young girl graduating to ‘womanhood’ through her period. Yet she chose not to speak to her about the things that really matter here.

Is Baba Ramdev the mouthpiece for an entire generation of sexually gaunt guardians?

Of Closeted Lives and Suppressed Sexualities

Harish Iyer with his mother Padma Iyer and British actor, writer and activist Stephen Fry, who was in India to film a documentary on the gay community. (Photo Courtesy: Harish Iyer)
Harish Iyer with his mother Padma Iyer and British actor, writer and activist Stephen Fry, who was in India to film a documentary on the gay community. (Photo Courtesy: Harish Iyer)

“I’ve always been attracted to boys since the time I was one myself, and yet my parents had something of a nervous breakdown. My mom threatened suicide when I told her that I wanted to live in with a man I’d met on a gay dating site. I just couldn’t hide my sexuality any more and keep meeting girls for an arranged marriage,” reveals 29-year-old marketing executive Raman Verma (name changed on request).

She kept saying that if I consummated marriage with a woman, my ‘bimari’ would be cured. At family weddings, I would get weird stares, as I wore bright pink and applied lip gloss and plucked my eyebrows. My biggest reality check came when I revolted against my folks and moved out with a job to another city – only to be jilted by my lover who eventually got hitched to a girl. Maybe the closet was safer then, I thought to myself. Today, I’m single. Still not talking to my folks. My matrimonial ad exists and I’m sure my mom is still hopeful I’ll be miraculously turned straight.
Raman Verma, 29-year-old marketing executive (name changed on request)
Are wives who quietly suffer their husband’s sexual orientation and mothers who force them into matrimony really that different? (Photo: iStock)
Are wives who quietly suffer their husband’s sexual orientation and mothers who force them into matrimony really that different? (Photo: iStock)

In April, a 31-year-old doctor, Priya Vedi committed suicide, after she came to discover that her husband of five years was secretly gay.

“Dr Kamal Vedi, I never wanted anything from you, but due to your abnormal sexuality you thought I need sex from you. It’s wrong. I just wanted to be with you, accepting you because I loved you very much but you never knew importance of this”, her suicide note was pasted on FB.

Are wives who quietly suffer their husband’s sexual orientation and mothers who force them into matrimony really that different? Are witch doctors and shock therapies and family threats the natural cure?

Are all the gay parades actually just the tip of the revolt?

(The writer is an ex lifestyle editor and PR vice president, and now a full-time novelist and columnist on sexuality and gender, based in Delhi. She is the author of ‘Faraway Music’ and ‘Sita’s Curse’. Her third book ‘You’ve Got The Wrong Girl’ is out next.)

You can send in your love notes to lovetohomophobes@thequint.com. Or use the hashtag #LoveToHomophobes to post your messages on social media.

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