Homosexuality or consensual sex between two members of the same gender may have been legalised now, but among the Ho tribe of Jharkhand it has always been socially accepted. Homosexual men are called Kothi Panthis in the region. There is no shame attached to being one.
The numbers of Kothi Panthis has been constantly increasing. Some attribute this to the near total absence of women in and around the numerous mines in the area, where a large number of males are at work all day and night.
A survey conducted by Citizen Foundation, an NGO, in a radius of 20 km in and around Chaibasa town in Jharkhand has revealed that the numbers of homosexual men were much higher than elsewhere. There are 10 meeting points at which these men assemble at Chaibasa every evening. There are at least two couples who claim to be married to each other.
Homosexuals here embrace all professions: some are farmers, some workers, some businessmen, some even government officials. If they are Hos, they face no social censure. However, in recent years, two of them have died of AIDS, while two others are known to have contracted the disease.
"Observing the alarming rise in their numbers and the rampant practice of unsafe sex, the Jharkhand Government invited us to spread awareness and carry out interventions and treatment programmes among them," Sanjeev Kumar, the project manager of Citizen Foundation, told Hindustan Times.
He said that they begun work in April last year in assistance with Jharkhand State Aids Control Society, and explored several unusual facets of the Ho community.
"Most of them had developed relationship with their partners from their childhood," said Kumar.
"It's tough convincing them to stop practicing homosexuality," said Singh. "Tribal society has no hassles accepting gay marriages. It has been happening amongst them since decades."
Citizen Foundation's outreach workers, Vikash Verma and Anand Tripathi said they conduct monthly meeting of the group members. "The meetings focus primarily on improving health, financial status, and living conditions. We arrange bank loans for them to start business and lead dignified lives," said Verma.
Though largely ignorant of the historic Delhi High Court ruling legalizing homosexuality, a group member said, "Now, at least, the police will not harass us."