"If all you desire is free love, friendship, a life of trust, then all that you need to do is raise the standard of revolt… ‘
When Arif Jafar, the 39-year-old executive director of India Naz Foundation International, penned these lines in 1995, he probably wasn’t aware that he would actually end up doing what he wrote.
Today, when he rolls up his sleeves or raises his hand, one notices a miniature handcuff. What’s that? We ask. Thus begins our interview with a person who is still on bail after 47 days in jail.
Jafar says he was busy training his staff how to reach out to the vulnerable Men-Having-Sex-With-Men, shortened to MSM, community, when police raided his office and arrested him in 2001. He along with some others were arrested on the grounds of promoting homosexuality, under section 377.
“The charges under section 377 of the IPC have subsequently been dropped but I will continue to wear the handcuff till I am exonerated of the charge,” he tells Hindustan Times.
Gay men post 2001
The arrest didn’t change Jafar’s life alone. It triggered a nationwide reaction in favour of MSM as well as the entire queer community comprising of gays, lesbians, etc.
“Immediately afterwards, Naz Foundation filed a PIL in Delhi High Court, seeking legalisation of gay sex between consenting adults. There were hurdles and obstacles, but finally after an eight-year legal battle, the court, on July 2, 2009, legalised consensual gay sex among adults,” Jafar says.
Have things changed?
“Well, they have and yet they haven’t,” Jafar says. He elaborates, “Now we are happy that the police won’t come peeping into our bedrooms. But at the same time the society at large, more specifically the political and religious groups, would take sometime in understanding that there is a large community whose sexuality and individual needs are different.” A marked man, Jafar says, society at large has misunderstood his work.
“Loose talkers usually say we promote homosexuality. Well, our take is different. We are helping the abnormally large MSM community.” There is no official data on the queer community’s numbers, but Jafar’s assessment is they could be in excess of 15,000 in Lucknow and much higher in U.P. Quoting a study, he says, “Nearly 10 per cent of the total population are homosexuals. How can you ignore this community and its needs? Our work is based on creating awareness on the need to have sex education among MSMs. This community is vulnerable to HIV. Now, if people call it wrong, so be it.”
Happy and gay?
A well-read man — he holds MA (Sociology) , MSc (Botany) and M Ed degrees — Jafar, for the most part, talks about his work, the need to adopt a sympathetic view towards those who are not as blessed as the rest.
He avoids talking about his own sexuality. “It’s better we don’t touch upon that topic. We live in a society that’s not very open and hence may not be able to adjust to a different view immediately,” Jafar says.