Posts Tagged ‘Homosexuality’

The statement that spilled venom at a convention meant to create awareness and foster concern for homosexuality.

Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad: “The disease of Men Having Sex with Men (MSM), which was found more in the developed world, has now unfortunately come to our country and there are a substantial number of such people in India. Even though it (homosexuality among men) is unnatural, it exists in our country and is now fast spreading, making it tough for its detection. With relationships changing, men are having sex with men now. Though it is easy to find women sex workers and educate them on sex, it is a challenge to find MSMs.”

The Minister was addressing a national meeting on HIV/AIDS prevention on July 4. The AIDS convention, organized by a forum of parliamentarians, was also attended by PM Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi. Some Union ministers and chief ministers, besides members of Parliament and legislative assemblies, Zila Parishad chairpersons and mayors, apart from professionals working in the area also remained present.

The comment raised eyebrows and caused havoc in the country. Activists and other groups demanded apologies and some went to the extent of Azad’s resignation. Having foot in the mouth, the minister hastily called a press conference the next day. “Some people have played with the words. I have been quoted out of context,” he said. “My reference was to HIV as a disease. As health minister, I know (male homosexual sex) is not a disease.” Though, the video clips of Azad’s speech in Hindi kept ruling the Indian news channels.

Ghulam Nabi Azad has been in the news a few years ago for the late-night-TV-solution he offered to control population. “If there is electricity in every village, people will watch TV till late night and then fall asleep. They won’t get a chance to produce children. When there is no electricity, there is nothing else to do but produce babies.”


: Homosexuality is a form of mental illness and can be cured.
Fact: The American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of official mental illnesses in 1973. The American Psychological Association followed suit in 1974. And so have most associations around the world.

 Homosexuality does not exist in nature and therefore it is not natural.
Fact: Historians tell us that homosexuality has existed since the earliest of human societies. Anthropologists report that homosexuals have been a part of every culture. It is also a well-known fact that same sex behavior is ‘natural’ between animals.

Myth: Sexual orientation is a choice.
Fact: Sexual Orientation is not a choice. It usually manifests itself in early adolescence prior to any sexual experience. What is choice is a person’s decision to act on their orientation or to deny and act against it. Doing the latter can create emotional problems later.

Homosexuality is a foreign concept.
Fact: We have the Kamasutra in India, which is a 2500-year-old sex guidebook. The book has a chapter exclusively on homosexuality. There are temples in Khajurao, Modhera, Patan, Dahod, Somnath etc with homosexual statues that were built even before the Muslims invaded India. We have Shikhandi in Mahabharata who was gay. Also, we have several gay characters in Ramayana, Mahabharata and other Indian epics. We have this concept ofArdhnareshwari (Half Shiva and half Parvati). We also have gay Gods and lesbian Goddesses in our Hindu mythology.


MOHNISH KABIR MALHOTRA, a publicist and gay rights activist

“I think the minister needs to apologize immediately. He has insulted the entire homosexual community. Homosexuality is very much a part of nature and it even finds references in religious texts. To call it unnatural is absurd.”

MARIO D’PENHA, a historian of the gay rights movement in South Asia

“To have such a level of bias and ignorance expressed in that context about something so basic is very dangerous. What is farcical, given his comments, is that he said the country needs more sex education. There are a lot of gay people in India who would like to give the minister an education.”

NANDITA DAS, actor-director

“I am appalled by the ignorance of the health minister. He is in a position of responsibility, and so his ignorance cannot be overlooked as it sends out wrong messages. In today’s day and age where same sex marriage is being legitimized around the world, and our own Delhi High Court has decriminalized homosexuality, I am amazed how ill informed and insensitive our minister is.”

ADITYA BONDYOPADHYAY, a lawyer and gay rights activist

“When a minister, and especially the health minister, says this in public, it conveys the impression that this is government policy, and that can have a huge impact on the lives of gay people who already struggle with official discrimination and police harassment. The religious right will jump on statements like this to increase the amount of hate.”


“Azad should apologize for discriminating against Indian citizens on the basis of their sexual orientation. There’s no scientific proof to justify his comments. I am surprised he made such a statement.”

VIKRAM BHATT, director-producer

“How can something that hundreds of people indulge in be unnatural? It could be unpopular for some, uninteresting for some and unbelievable for others. But unnatural? No chance!”


The biggest challenge to overcome the myths that prevail in the society is to create awareness. And comments like these from a person of such a stature, leads us nowhere. Marginalization of HIV/AIDS and homosexuality makes the issues isolated. This makes it harder to spread the awareness messages and create social acceptance. Even today, it is considered a taboo to belong to the homosexual community. In such times, the Health Minister should not have afforded to make such an irrational and unscientific statement.

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• How has the repeal of Article 377 empowered the homosexuals?
I would like you to know that this Indian law was not known to many people, including those of the gay community. The fact is that in our country, religion plays a very important role. People were not aware about this law that criminalized homosexuality. They thought it is a sin, offense, crime etc. just because the society perceived it in that manner. And the society perceived it based on religion and the mindsets of the people in general. But since this law was decriminalized, most of the people came to know that this law once existed. After the court decision came, the amount of publicity generated by the media was widespread. It created a controversy, debates and discussions. This entire media publicity actually helped in mainstreaming homosexuality in the society. So, it was not about the law being decriminalized, but the publicity that created a lot of sensitization and empowerment in the community. One of my favorite quotes is that “Gay Rights cannot be won in the court rooms but in the hearts of the society.” See, I am very honest about my opinions. How many people in India follow the laws? Laws are made to be broken in our country. People don’t care much about the laws, what decisions the courts have made or what the parliament decides. If the mindset of the people is anti-homosexuality, then it does not make a difference if the High Court or the Supreme Court defies it. This decriminalization has definitely paved our way at Lakshya, my organization that works for HIV Prevention because this act was a serious obstacle towards HIV control in India. This law was being misused rather than being used. There are examples where my staff has been arrested by the Police. The irony is that they work for the Government of Gujarat, being paid salaries by the Govt. for distributing condoms for safe sex practices. The Police arrested them stating that it is against Section 377. We are here to save lives and the Police said we were violating the laws by encouraging homosexuality. So now that the law has been repealed, we do not have to face Police harassment. And we can now improve our strategies. In Gujarat, wherever we work, our HIV rates have fallen down and stabilized. Now there is no fear. 

• What is the role of media when it comes to homosexuality?

I must say that over the years, media has definitely changed its viewpoints. Earlier it used to give negative reports on homosexuality calling it abnormal and unnatural. This was the case especially with the vernacular newspapers. But my own coming out story actually broke the history of India, because I came out in a Gujarati newspaper in a Hindu fundamentalist state. It openly talked about homosexuality and not only that but it also brought out a very positive aspect of homosexuality. So, I think, this itself was a breaking news as for the first time in the history of India, a vernacular newspaper carried a positive story on homosexuality. This was a change in the role of media, after which other vernacular media also followed suit. In fact, through our organization, we follow one of the strategies called ‘Media Advocacy’, where the Government provides us with a budget. We are supposed to sensitize the media. We talk to them and clear their doubts on homosexuality. We seek their cooperation and support to bring out positive stories based on serious issues. This will help us in the long run not only in clearing the misconceptions about homosexuality but it will also make things easier for HIV control. So, I think, media has been sensitized but still a lot needs to be done. It is a continuous process as the people in the media keep changing! We cannot have the same set of people.

• What do you think about homosexuality being linked with religion, especially in India?

After I came out, a lot of people from the upper class came and confided in me. These include industrialists, business tycoons, political leaders, religious leaders, Government officers, people from royal families of India and abroad… if I start making a list, it would be a big directory! People actually write to me and correspond with me, they say ‘We wish we had guts like to you to come out, but we cannot. But we confide to you that we are gay and we fully support your cause. So when religious leaders say that homosexuality doesn’t exist, I know how many of they themselves are gays! You name the religion and the sect, I know each and every person from that particular sect who is gay! If I open my mouth and leak out the names, people will lose faith in religion. But I don’t want to do that, I have no right to do that. When a person has confided with me, I should maintain their trust. But I surely have a laugh when I see the religious leaders opposing us and they went to the Supreme Court. What is happening in the Supreme Court concerning our appeal is also very interesting. Though India is a secular country, majority of us are Hindus. Inspite of that, if you look at the petition that has been filed in the Supreme Court against the repeal of Section 377, out of the total 16 petitioners, there are just 2 Hindus. Others include 7 Christians and 7 Muslims. Now tell me, where is the proportion? If Hindus are majority in India, there should have been more Hindu petitioners. Why the Muslims and the Christians are more? This makes it very clear that Hinduism doesn’t have anything on record or any evidence to show that it is against homosexuality. We have Shikhandi in Mahabharata who was gay. Also, we have a several gay characters in Ramayana, Mahabharata and other Indian epics. We have this concept of Ardhnareshwari (Half Shiva and half Parvati). We have gay Gods and lesbian Goddesses in our Hindu mythology. Then where is the question of Hinduism being against homosexuality? Yes, Islam and Christianity are very clear – both the Quran and the Bible – say that homosexuality is a crime. And this is very apparent by the fact that the Supreme Court has majority of Muslim and Christian petitioners. I’ll give you another example of Nepal, which is just our bordering country. Nepal Supreme Court has legalized same sex marriages. It is not a secular country; it used to be a Hindu kingdom. I got a letter from the Minister of Tourism of Nepal saying ‘If you have any of your friends who want to get married, send them to Nepal. The Government of Nepal will ensure that they get married in the Hindu temple, by a Hindu priest; we’ll offer them a marriage certificate and send them to Mt. Everest for honeymoon! So, Nepal being a Hindu country has no Muslim and Christian population to protest against homosexuality. Also, they were never ruled by the Britishers, so they did not have a law that was criminalizing homosexuality. This is very nearby example! And Nepal is doing the right thing by promoting gay tourism. A debt-ridden economy like Nepal is going to earn a lot of foreign exchange by inviting gay and lesbian couples to come and marry. Of course, Nepal is worse than India when it comes to economy, but India has a lot to learn from Nepal. India has vast destinations, many geographical locations to offer, while Nepal has only snow. If India wants to encash upon this opportunity, it can earn crores of rupees as foreign exchange by promoting gay tourism.

• The fear of losing social acceptance is one big hindrance in coming out. So, what can be done to gain the support of the society?

To gain social acceptance for anything, one has to strive hard to sensitize the society. We need to bring out the facts, create awareness and clear the misconceptions. I’ll tell you, even when I came out, the initial reactions of some of the people were that they burnt my effigies. Even at that time, I had just one simple media comment. I said, “I don’t blame them. I would have done the same thing if I were at their place. What I blame is their ignorance.” Why should I blame them, because they are not even aware what it is to be a gay or to be homosexual? It is our duty to educate them. As and when I have educated them, media has supported me and people have changed their minds and behavior. So, this is the only solution – education, awareness – whether it is about homosexuality, HIV-AIDS or any other social practice.

• Many young Indians are still in the closet, waiting to come out as homosexuals. What advice do you give to them?

See, there are two aspects of ‘coming out’. The first one is coming out to your own self. This should be the first and foremost thing, as many people are still fighting to come out to themselves because of some or the other fears. My advice to them is that being gay is something very natural and normal. As it is to be straight, it is to be gay. It is just a question of one’s preference or orientation of being attracted to the same sex or the opposite sex. So one should feel proud rather than to have a guilt feeling. And come out to yourself first. And then, in case they wish to come out to their close friends, family or relatives, that is a very personal or secondary choice.

• What is your message to the society?

My message is very clear and simple. We are human beings; treat us with equality, respect and dignity. The way we respect the other people in the world, the same way we expect respect from others.

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“It was difficult to be gay in my family. The villagers worship us and we are role models for them. My family didn’t allow us to mix with ordinary or low-caste people. Our exposure to the liberal world was minimal. Only when I was hospitalized after my nervous breakdown in 2002 did my doctor inform my parents about my sexuality. All these years I was hiding my sexuality from my parents, family and people. I never liked it and I wanted to face the reality. When I came out in the open and gave an interview to a friendly journalist, my life was transformed. Now, people accept me”

• What are the main stereotypes and myths that prevail when it comes to homosexuality?

One of the main stereotypes is that most people confuse to be gay with being transgender (Hijda, as it is called in India).
Number two, people think we are pedophiles (Adult men who like to have sex with children).
Another myth is that most gay men are effeminate.
The fourth one is that we are impotent (Sexually inactive).
We found one interesting myth around ten years ago when we started working for the community and for HIV-AIDS. It was a survey done among the lower income group and the uneducated class. We found that most straight men think that by having sex with another man, will not get them infected with HIV.
Also, most people think that if you are a gay, you cannot be from the upper class. They think only the uneducated, poor, lower middle class men can be gay.
These are the general types of myths when it comes to homosexuality.

• People have lowered viewpoints about homosexuality. What are the main reasons behind this?

Unawareness and ignorance about the subject are the main reasons. If any subject has been considered a taboo, kept hidden, not been allowed to discuss or debate openly, over a period of time, people will definitely carry myths and wrong understanding about that subject.
If you look at the history, homosexuality was very much a part and parcel of our Indian society. We have the Kamasutra, which is a 2500-year-old sex guidebook. The book has a chapter exclusively on homosexuality. It also talks about transgenderism, lesbianism and has different photographs and paintings that show homosexual positions. Apart from this book, we have temples in Khajurao, Modhera, Patan, Dahod, Somnath etc where I myself have seen homosexual statues. These temples have been built before thousands of years, even before the Muslims invaded India. So, I would say that homosexuality has existed since years, but because of the influence of Islam and Christianity, people started degrading it.

• Do you have any regrets for coming out as a homosexual?

The only regret I had was that I should have come out much earlier. I would have saved much more lives and many more families from getting devastated. This is the only regret, apart from this; I’ll never ever regret that I came out. 

• Does being a part of a royal family help or hinder your cause?

I would say it is more of a help than a hindrance. The fact is that some of the royal families are being worshipped in India. What work our ancestors did for development cannot even be compared with what our politicians are doing today. And this is why, people, even today; treat us as their role models. Fortunately, for me, when I started living in Rajpipla, I did a lot of social work for the people in almost all sectors like health, education, employment, agriculture, tourism, heritage, culture, art, music etc. and that was what people remembered when I came out.
Recently, without my knowledge, one of the newspapers (Times of India) conducted a survey. One of their reporters questioned the people, at random, to find out what they felt about me. Most of them replied, “We don’t have issues with he being gay or straight, for us he is our Prince. He has helped us in all these sectors.”

On the contrary, I was felicitated by a senior citizens group in Rajpipla for coming out. They felt that not many people could be honest to themselves and the fact that he has come out and been true is what we appreciate.

• You’ve decided to adopt a child…

This was just an answer to the questions put forward by the people of Rajpipla. They were worried about the future, the legacy. My adoption decision is just to carry forward our 650-year old family lineage. I am the direct descendant of that dynasty.
And adoptions in royal families are very common. Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad was also adopted in the Gaekwad family. In fact, our own dynasty began with an adoption 650 years ago and there have been several adoptions in the period in between as well.
Anyway, it is too early for me to take any decision because my father is still holding charge. It is only after I take over this responsibility, I can decide what is to be done. 

• Ten years down the line, how do you foresee the future of homosexuality?

The society is gearing up to come to terms with the realities of life. After all, how long can one support something that is not true? I very much gain inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi and his philosophies on life. One of the things that I like is ‘Satyamev Jayate’ (Truth always prevails). Based on this, he managed to get India free from the Britishers.
I connect India’s freedom movement with India’s gay rights movement. We also do not wish to create any sort of violence, we want to protest or rather fight for our rights in a very non-violent manner. We wish to collect people’s confidence, create awareness and build a network. So, we almost follow the path of Gandhiji. And he could manage to get freedom, though it took almost 50 years, but ultimately he won it on the basis of truth. So if he could do it, why not we?

So, I think, down the line, may be ten years-twenty years-thirty years, I don’t know what will be the period; but I am very clear, ‘Truth always prevails’. And on the basis of this, we also won our High Court case and this should be a learning lesson for us.

Prince Manvendrasingh Gohil was born on 23 September 1965, as the son of Maharana Shri Raghubir Singhji Rajendrasinghji Sahib, who inherited the title of Maharana of Rajpipla in 1963. In 2000, Manvendra started the Lakshya Trust, of which he is the Chairman, a group dedicated to HIV/AIDS education and prevention programs for gay and bisexual men. He is the only known person of royal lineage in modern India to have publicly revealed that he is a gay. It was on 14 March 2006, that the story of Manvendra’s coming out made headlines in India and around the world.

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