I was in Class 11 when I realised I was gay, but it took me three years to understand my orientation. About five years ago, I came out to my sister as my parents are no more. She took me to a psychiatrist who subjected me to electroshock therapy. I had to undergo three sessions — the first one lasted 20 minutes and I was in severe pain. I told my sister I don’t want to undergo “treatment” but they took me again after a week, sedated me and gave me a shock again, for a longer period. I had a final session after another week, and the doctor declared that I was “normal”.
I am still gay. My sister is married and thinks that I am bisexual, and that it is a phase of life that will pass, and that someday I will marry a girl. I’ve had a boyfriend for a year and a half. Since he is still studying, he hasn’t yet come out, but we do plan to get married and hopefully now, it will happen sooner. Now that the law has changed, other changes will follow.
In India, when a law changes, the mindset of people gradually changes. The community now needs more understanding than acceptance. Personally, I can go to my sister and say that I am gay, I have a boyfriend and I am not a criminal. I have equal rights like any other Indian citizen.
– As told to Priya M Menon
WENDELL RODRICKS, 58, FASHION DESIGNER, GOA
When people say ‘life in the shadows’, it is not an accurate description of what a person from the LGBTQ community experiences. What we experience is a life of sheer terror and fear. At every turn, one is faced with revealing the truth and wanting to live honestly with oneself. I am fortunate to have had family and friends who were supportive. But I know I am in a minuscule minority to enjoy the privilege of being open and yet loved and respected.
The judgment on 377 will change lives. It was always my mission to battle 377 not for myself but for the youth and future generations. This judgment is historic not only for India but India’s progressive stance in the world. The people of the world will look at India in a new light. Something we should all celebrate for our country.
It touched my heart when the judges stated that the country apologise for the pain suffered by LGBTQ and our families. I did not expect an apology. Nor did one expect the judges to put out the words like “I am what I am”. To quote a song that is an anthem for the LGBTQ community is heartening.
Today the community can sing that anthem with pride, dignity and in the inclusivity of equal human rights for all Indians.
ANAND CHANDRANI, 42, GAY RIGHTS ACTIVIST, NAGPUR
Yes, finally. What I feel right now cannot be classified as happy or sad. I’m mostly relieved. A huge burden has been lifted from our shoulders. I am out as a gay person and I’m not worried for myself but I know of everyday stories of suicide, of youngsters running away from home, being beaten and blackmailed. Boys were forced to marry girls. Now we’ll be rid of these pressures gradually. People used to be scared of going to the police, but now they’ll be able to muster the courage to file a complaint if they face harassment.
Earlier, whenever people used to wish me on Independence Day, I would reply ‘I’m still a criminal in my own country’.
After living through many Independence Days, I’ll now scream that I too am free.
I founded an NGO, Sarathi, 12 years ago, and believed that someday this will come true. Discussions about sexuality have now begun in houses and I’ve got calls from siblings of gay individuals asking how they can support their brother or sister. The fight has just begun. Social acceptance will come with time. If one has the right to marry, people will be bound in legal relationships and this will in turn reduce the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS.
– As told to Abha Goradia
‘Called my dad and told him, BBC says I’m gay so it must be true’
PARMESH SHAHANI, 42, HEAD OF GODREJ INDIA CULTURE LAB, MUMBAI
I met my partner at a queer film festival in Mumbai in 2016. We sat next to each other and our arms touched. It was electrifying.
I wondered if I was looking at an apparition or a human being, he was so gorgeous. We talked through the film. I was wearing a shawl and I asked if he was feeling cold. He wasn’t but of course he said that he was. So, we shared the shawl.
We’re from different universes but love has brought us together. It’s challenging because he is 20 years younger than me and closeted — even his family doesn’t know — whereas I’m “super” out. I came out to my family in 2004 and was one of the lucky ones because my family accepted it without batting an eyelid. I came out very dramatically. My mom knew but I hadn’t told my dad. I was organising an LGBTQ film festival and the BBC wrote about it and put it on the front page of their website. So, I called my dad and said, “The BBC says I’m gay so it must be true because it’s the BBC.”
I’m hopeful that Section 377 going away will liberate the LGBTQ community to love more freely and confidently. My partner and I would love to get married — even though in our minds we already are — and have it be recognised in India. Decriminalisation and equality are very different. There’s a long journey ahead before our love is considered equal.
– As told to Nergish Sunavala
ANKIT SHARMA, 30, GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEE, AJMER
It was September 17, 2014, my 24th birthday. I had decided to finally tell my family about my sexual orientation. I had been dreading the moment as mine is a traditional family where men only marry women. But I had to tell them the truth about who I am. “What gift do you want, Ankit,” my mother asked as soon as I woke up. This is the moment, I thought to myself. I switched on my phone and showed them an episode from Aamir Khan’s TV show where he interviews a gay person. The idea was to make them understand that not all males like females and vice versa. They watched the videos, my family seemed OK, so I told them I am one such person. There was a few minutes’ silence. Then they said I should never talk about it again. That was the last I heard from them on the topic.
Initially, they thought I was trying to avoid marriage. Then they realised I wasn’t lying and began efforts to “heal” me. They took me to pujaris and tantriks and psychiatrists. One psychiatrist tried to counsel them that I was medically fit, but they wouldn’t listen.
I was always skinny as a child and classmates would tease me about being effeminate. When I was older, I realised I am gay. I knew I was not wrong and that it was society that was unaware. It has been difficult, living without talking about it.
I work for the Rajasthan State Road Transport Corporation as a store sub-inspector. This is a historic day and a freeing judgment.
I now have a new life to look forward to. I am in love. He is from Maharashtra. Maybe we can get married now.
– As told to Syed Intishab Ali
NAVIN NORONHA, STAND-UP COMEDIAN, MUMBAI
It’s always difficult to come out in a homophobic nation, especially since you are brought up with the same notion of hating and attacking someone who isn’t like you. It’s been a real uphill climb and I’ve lost several friends and family members. The ones who stuck with me mean the world to me. My mom is as woke as the millennials.
I’ve been out to my friends since I was 19. At 22, I came out publicly at a comedy open mic and I haven’t looked back. I am one of India’s few professional comedians who talks openly about being gay in India.
While I was aware that the law does not stop me from existing as a gay man, my partner and I have to constantly double check if every window and every door is tightly shut before we can hug properly or kiss each other. The law was twisted and used by homophobes to just shun the queer community.
The scrapping of Section 377 will give others the confidence to embrace their identity. This life of dual identities can turn toxic and has led people down the road of addiction, self-harm and anxiety. No human should be scared to make love as they want to. Today we have several more LGBTQ members in the mainstream. We have strived hard not to be dismissed as a minority. As the American rock band Starship proclaimed in their song, all I’d like to say is: ‘Nothing’s gonna stop us now’.
– As told to Mohua Das
NAMITHAA JAYASANKAR, 24, STUDENT, CHENNAI
I identify as a queer woman. ‘Queer’ is an umbrella term, which encompasses all identities within the spectrum. When I was about 14 years old, I realised that I appreciate the female form though I didn’t know what I identified as. Then J K Rowling (author of the Harry Potter series) said she always considered the character of Dumbledore gay. That had such a huge impact on me and I decided to explore my identity.
I have been an activist for six years but have never come out to my parents. It is implied in the house. My mother keeps all the press cuttings in which I am referred to as a queer woman. But as the term ‘queer’ is ambiguous, my parents don’t think too much about it. I have spoken to them about the stigma and discrimination faced by the LGBT community and the violation of human rights. I consider myself privileged as I come from an urban, educated, upper middle class family.
I have not had to face stigma and discrimination, but my relationships have always been hidden. The SC judgment has not yet sunk in, though I know it will change the lives of many. Hopefully it will help me talk to my parents. I hope to be able to talk openly to my younger cousins, nephews and nieces. I hope the SC judgment will help more queer women come out. Then, there are larger issues of being independent, financially and emotionally.
– As told to Priya M Menon