Jun 02, 2008
Even as India debates its laws and attitudes towards homosexuality, gay parties and clubs get open space in the southern city of Bangalore. A young cosmopolitan expatriate population and new workforce policies are helping the city become acceptant of same-sex couples.
Bangalore: Every Sunday, half a dozen gay men run in the city’s Cubbon Park. Later, more join in as the group meets for idlis, vadas and coffee at the old-world Airlines Hotel. They call themselves the Gay Running and Breakfast (GRAB) club—though for many it is really “grab minus the running”, quips co-founder Arvind Narrain.
Thursdays, meanwhile, bring together a group of information technology (IT) professionals, lawyers, doctors, artists and others under the umbrella, Good As You (yes, that stands for GAY). They put out newsletters and offer a social platform for gays to interact and share experiences.
Among the city’s growing expatriate population, there is a lesbian club. Private gay parties are common at pubs and restaurants across the city, where same-sex couples can freely kiss and hold hands.
In mid-July, the Indian franchise of London-based TimeOut magazine plans to launch in Bangalore and include a section with gay- and lesbian-specific content and listings, as it has done in Mumbai and New Delhi.
All this is playing out here even as India debates its attitudes—and laws—towards homosexuality.
Earlier this week, the Delhi high court directed the Union government to figure out its stance on homosexuality; the ministry of home affairs favours prosecution (homosexuality is punishable under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code), while the health ministry is against enforcing this law for issues related to health monitoring.
But, cities such as Bangalore are showing no such quandary: Over the last few years, a gay scene has emerged and entered the mainstream here.
“I was astonished at the gay scene in Bangalore,” says Naresh Fernandes, editor-in-chief of TimeOut, which also provides weekly event listings for Mint. “My activist friends tell me there is a level of openness hitherto never seen in any city in the subcontinent. Going by anecdotal evidence, Bangalore may very well be the gay capital of India.”
A younger and more cosmopolitan workforce—often away from family and relatives who might recognise them—has been the main catalyst.
Institutionally, the movement has gained recognition from multinational companies. Spurred by home office policies, companies such as Hewlett-Packard Co. and International Business Machines Corp. have non-discriminatory policies in place, and include sexual orientation.