“You’ve spoilt my day” was the reaction of the Dean of Students of Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi when Kapil Rananaware, a student, approached him for the formation of a support group for LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) students.
Rananaware is an openly gay IIT Delhi student who felt the need to form such a group for like-minded students to come together and share their views. He eventually formed a group called ‘Indradhanu’.
This isn’t a stray case where institutions or college managements have failed to step up when it comes to providing support to students from the LGBT community. Many students feel this stems from lack of understanding about homosexuality. But some even say institutions simply do not want to address the issue.
When contacted, SK Gupta, Dean of Students, IIT Delhi, said the institute does not differentiate between students on the basis of their sexual orientation. “For us, all students are equal,” he said.
Delhi University also does not have a forum for LGBT students. But some students have got together to restart the Gender Study Group, which was discontinued a few years back.
Zeeshan Hasan Akhtar, a DU student who is part of this group, said he could not find any help when he was struggling with his sexuality. “The college environment is not open, as there are no discussions about homosexuality.”
But the group has found a supporter in Ashley Tellis, a former DU faculty and the first open gay lecturer in the university’s history. He is the unofficial mentor of the group. “We are in the process of making FAQ booklets on issues like homosexuality and sexual harassment which will be distributed to students to make them more aware about it,” he said.
Despite general lack of support, there are some institutions where LGBT students can find a platform to voice their opinions.
Ayesha Kidwai, a Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) professor and member of the Gender Sensitisation Committee against Sexual Harassment (GSCASH), said, “We are a small committee but we try to help out LGBT students if any explicit reference is made about their sexuality.”
But some LGBT students said the committee does not seem very friendly towards them. “JNU has a big community of queer people. We need a group supported by the university where students can discuss their sexuality over a cup of tea,” said a JNU student, who wished to remain anonymous.
Anjali Gopalan of Naz Foundation, an NGO that works with LGBT groups and those afflicted with HIV/AIDS, said colleges need to understand that these groups will not influence other students. “Because of the existence of these groups a straight person won’t become a homosexual. It doesn’t work that way,” Gopalan said.
Kanika Khandelwal, media coordinator of Lady Shri Ram College, said, “Our society has miles to go before students can talk about their sexual preferences openly. LSR’s women development cell regularly tries to engage in open discussions about sexuality.”