The Delhi Gymkhana Club considers its premises far too ‘cultured’ for the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community. Ashwin aka Maria Mehra, 38, a transgender (biologically a man but psychologically a woman), has been facing constant humiliation by the elite club’s board to give up dressing like a woman. “I’m treated like an outcast. I’m frowned at, pushed around and insulted,” says Mehra, a foreign educated, green-card holding linguist who speaks 11 foreign languages.
“The club’s secretary called me to his office and asked me to stop dressing like a woman, threatening that my membership would be terminated if I don’t listen to him. One of the other members told me that I should dress up like a man to fit the social norm. Yet another member told me that since I am in minority, I must follow the majority,” says Mehra, whose family is also facing harassment. “Once, a member told my mum, “Your son looks like a prostitute.”
Mehra’s mother, Zenobia Khan, who is also a member of the club, says, “The club wants me to force Maria to not dress up as a girl.”
While the club’s secretary, OP Malhotra did not respond to calls, when we called the club’s president Prakash Chandra to ask how gay friendly the club is, he said, “I don’t know what LGBT is.” When explained, he replied: “We are not LGBT friendly. We do not encourage such things as our members are very conservative.” A committee member of the club, Urmila Gupta, said, “I am not aware about LGBT.” When explained, Gupta said, “Oh!” and hung up. Member Bittoo Rajiv Rattan said, “Do you mean we should allow hirjas in our coffee shop? The Gymkhana is an elite club and we can’t go against the Indian culture.” Last year too, transgender activist Laxmi Narayan Tripathi was asked to leave the Mumbai Gymkhana Club by its president during a private dinner.
The community is livid. LGBT activist and lawyer Shashi Bhushan says, “Mehra is far more qualified than most of the club members, and dresses up in the most dignified way. So why change?” Agrees Anjali Gopalan of Naz Foundation, “They must undergo a training session for LGBT awareness. It’ s absolutely wrong to behave this way.”
What the law says
Delhi-based lawyer Mayur Suresh says, “India is a free country and there’s no law that can force a person to dress in a certain way. Asking her to dress like a man is sheer discrimination. But unfortunately, unless the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) bill gets implemented, a private organisation can’t be enforced not to discriminate.”
However, other lawyers are of the view that such discrimination is unconstitutional, and that the club is being disrespectful to Article 14 and 15 of the Indian constitution and the Delhi High Court that in its 2009 ruling, while decriminalising article 377 of the IPC, assured a life of dignity to LGBT citizens.