You are here: Home People Speak Louder, prouder, and struggling
Louder, prouder, and struggling

Jun 01, 2011

India’s position on gay sex may have changed legally but with little direct impact on lives of people. Sylvia Rowley visits the state of Andhra Pradesh to find changes in societal attitude even if a bit slow.

The day the high court in Delhi ruled that being gay was no longer a crime was the day that Krishna Gurram Kouda finally came out to his family.


Despite having set up a state-wide network for gay men in Andhra Pradesh, the 39-year-old had never told his relatives about his sexuality. "I live with my parents," he explains as the fan above whirs in an ineffectual attempt to stave off the 40C Hyderabadi heat.

"I have a good relationship with my brothers and their children." He looks at me. "I thought they would accept me," he pauses, "but I was a little afraid."

I first met Kouda in 2008 when I was reporting on how discrimination puts gay men at greater risk of HIV in Andhra Pradesh (which has one of India's highest rates of the virus) for the Guardian's international development journalism competition. At that time, section 377 of the Indian penal code made gay sex illegal, and strong social stigma drove gay men underground. Now the law has changed, I wanted to know whether their lives had also altered course.

For Krishna, the answer is yes. On the day of decriminalisation – 2 July 2009 – Krishna went public, spending hours on local TV and radio, talking about gay issues and rebutting religious leaders. When he got home at 10 o'clock that night, his mother and brother congratulated him. "You speak about your community's problems so well," they said, recognising for the first time that they knew he was gay.

Since then, Krishna and Avinash, his partner of seven years, have received joint invitations to family parties and an annual couples-only puja [prayer].

'No change'

But for most of the gay men I met, decriminalisation had made little obvious difference. Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh, is 1,500km and a cultural leap away from middle-class activism in Delhi, where the case was won.

One study indicates that one-fifth of men who have sex with men in Andhra Pradesh were HIV positive in 2009/10, compared with one-sixth in 2007

"There is no change," says Satish, an outreach worker at a drop-in centre for men who have sex with men in Secunderabad, Hyderabad's twin city. "Same harassment by police, same harassment by society, same harassment by goondas [thugs]."

"It's like this," another chips in. "Section 377" – he kisses his teeth and flicks his hand dismissively "only high level people who are going on websites and reading the paper know about that. Not the medium-class people, not the lower class."

Only a week earlier, a 30-year-old transgender sex worker nick-named Charmi was badly beaten by the police at a cruising point in Secunderabad. A distant legal change is not enough to stop rank-and-file officers beating gay and transgender people who they call "bad people" and robbers.

Nor is it enough to counter social and economic pressures facing poor men: "The really bad situation is facing the low-income people," says Krishna. "They depend on their family financially, emotionally. They can't say, 'I am gay, I don't want to marry.' They have nowhere to go."

HIV rates among gay men remain high. Although data collection is problematic, one study indicates that one-fifth of men who have sex with men in Andhra Pradesh were HIV positive in 2009/10, compared with one-sixth in 2007.

More sensitive

The legal change may have had limited direct impact, but life is by no means the same as it was three years ago. Krishna's organisation, Suraksha Society, reports that beatings, rapes and thefts by the police have reduced dramatically in the areas where it works.

This is because Suraksha members now make weekly visits to every police station in Hyderabad, and run monthly sex and sexuality workshops with the police.

Earlier we talked 99% about condoms and HIV. But this is only one part of our lives, a small part

"One day we asked – why are we blaming the police? How many times have we tried to explain our sexuality to them?" says Krishna. "When we told them about our struggles, most were very impressed. They said, really, we didn't know this kind of thing, we thought you were bad people only."

The Suraksha men now have such a good rapport with the police that they distribute condoms to the cops and run HIV testing clinics for them at police stations.

Hyderabad also had its first gay pride march, a 3,000-strong rally in November 2009 called Melukolupu (awakening). The media is becoming more sensitive, and when one channel, TV9 Telugu, exposed local gay men on the dating site, there were protests and the channel was forced to apologise.

The legal change has brought no revolution in Hyderabad, and stubborn economic and social blocks stand in the way of greater freedom for many. But, in some ways, things are moving fast. Sitting in Krishna's office as the stiflingly hot afternoon draws to a close, phones ring and legal documents are swished back and forth, and I sense that the men of Suraksha have become louder and prouder.

"Earlier we talked 99% about condoms and HIV. But this is only one part of our lives, a small part," says Krishna. "We also need rights and acceptance, and that's what we are fighting for."

Source : Guardian
Most Read
Most Shared
You May Like




Jobs at OneWorld










Global Goals 2030
OneWorld South Asia Group of Websites