iconimg Sunday, August 30, 2015

Naomi Canton, Hindustan Times
Mumbai, January 04, 2010
India’s first lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) pride shop has opened up in Mumbai. The flagship shop, Azaad Bazaar, on 16th Road, Bandra, sells a range of items such as mugs, T shirts, and ashtrays to encourage lesbians and gays to have pride in their identity and identify straight supporters.

Products include double male symbol, female symbol, bisexual symbol and sexy bitch stud earrings. Mugs saying Equal Rights 377, Ban 377, Pink Sheep of the Family and Out in India are also available. Cricket lovers rejoice...Sometimes it’s good to be Out one reads.

A range of rainbow-coloured bangles, fake eyelashes, key chains and photo frames are stocked too — the rainbow being an international symbol of gay pride, with the rainbow flag often used at LGBT rights marches.

T-shirts which read Maa Da Ladla and Your Handcuffs or Mine? also line the shelves, as do leather wrist bands and neck collars with spikes and studs. These are popular among straights and gays, claims partner of the business, Sabina.

“Lots of women have bought our Maa Da Ladla T-shirts for their husbands, saying they are Mama’s boys. It’s a fun comment on Indian society,” she adds.

Homosexuality among consenting adults was made legal in July 2009 when it was decriminalised by the High Court of Delhi. The case is now in the Supreme Court, which is why the shop still stock mugs saying Ban 377, Sabina says.

She co-founded the business under the name Jailbird, with her partner Simran in 2006.

Sabina refuses to reveal their full names, but says they are both “women in their early 30s, who are entrepreneurs who recognised a gap in the market.” She estimates there are up to 20 million middle class members of the LGBT community in India.

Jailbird had sold merchandise to gay rights marches and at private parties. In February 2009, they renamed it Azaad Bazaar, but retaining the Jailbird line of T shirts. In June, they launched the website, www.azaadbazaaar.com, which now gets 1,500 hits a month.

The shop does not sell sex toys or kinky products. “We have gay people who walk in with their families, and their nephews and nieces race around the store. It’s a very safe space,” Sabina says.

Items range from Rs. 30 to Rs. 2,000. The store also has a noticeboard promoting gay events, support groups and helplines. “It’s not just a gay pride store, it’s  a socially conscious store,” Sabina continues.  “We source bags from earthquake victims in Kutch, handicrafts from Aids patients and organic cotton from slum rehabilitation groups in Mumbai. “None of our products are saying being gay is cool. They are not about being gay activists,” Sabina adds.