It’s not just the burgers and fries that prompt Raj, 19, to hang around at McDonald’s Family Restaurant opposite Andheri station in Mumbai every other day. The second-year B. Com student goes there in search of adult male company, which he usually gets within an hour of arriving.
“The staff and other customers leave us alone, so does the police. Why shouldn’t they? We don’t misbehave or bother anyone,” he says.
This wasn’t the case a year ago, when the police frequently harassed gay couples for their sexual orientation.
“Delhi High Court’s July 2 judgment decriminalising sex between consenting adults has led to a drastic drop in the cases of harassment by the police. We’re good, gay men and the judgment helped people recognise that,’ says Vivek Raj Anand, CEO, The Humsafar Trust, a Mumbai-based group that works in the area of male sexual health (See All you wanted to know about homosexuality).
Homophobia runs deep in Indian society. As many as 17 groups have filed Special Leave Petitions before the Supreme Court (SC) challenging the Delhi HC order decriminalising homosexuality. The matter did not come up for hearing on Thursday in the SC.
“For the first time, all religions in India have come together to say they don’t want us,” says Anand of Humsafar Trust (See The Objections).
The anonymity of the metros, however, makes it easier for homosexuals to find social acceptance. They continue to be harassed in smaller towns.
Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) professor Srinivas Ramachandra Siras was found dead on Wednesday, just a week after Allahabad High Court stayed his suspension on charges of “gross misconduct” on campus after he was filmed engaging in a homosexual act with another man in his house.
“Whether it was suicide, murder or a natural death, the reason why he is dead is obvious: a deep-rooted intolerance and homophobia,” says Ashok Row Kavi, convenor of the Integrated Network of Sexual Minorities.
“We’ve written to President Pratibha Patil today requesting her, as Chancellor of AMU, to rule that the university respect the rights of its faculty and students, especially their privacy in matters of sex, sexuality and gender,” adds Row Kavi.
Stigma also puts India’s estimated 2.3 million homosexuals at risk of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, largely because stigma keeps them away from prevention services, such as free condoms, counselling and testing, says the National AIDS Control Organisation.
Can people like Raj continue to live openly and without fear? The Supreme Court will decide that. Till then, the suspense will continue.