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Let’s talk about 377 | Whom we love, can’t be dictated by an IPC section: Filmmaker Onir’s parents

Parents of filmmaker Onir, who directed movies about same-sex relationships, urge others not to ostracise their children. This is Part 2 of our series, Let’s Talk About 377.

india Updated: Feb 06, 2018 08:41 IST
Manjushree and Aparesh Dhar
Manjushree and Aparesh Dhar
Section 377,homosexuality,Onir
((Art by Malay Karmakar))

We are a happy, open family and have always encouraged our children to speak up. We now live with our son Onir, but our daughter Irene is the head of the family.

Irene’s 17-year-old daughter Trisha is also treated as a friend, rather than as a grandchild. We have long conversations, and it was she who first spoke to us about our son’s sexual orientation. We’ve known for years, but have never felt the need to have a “let’s sit down and talk” session with our son.

Onir directed My Brother…Nikhil (2005) and I Am (2010). Both films handled the issue of same-sex relationships with subtlety and maturity, and not as something that is either aberrant or perverse, as so many around us continue to believe.

One of us (Manjushree) took some time to understand what being gay means, and to understand that it is perfectly normal. To be honest, acceptance came the very day Trisha first broached the topic with her and her response was, “I have no problem. I love him.”

As a family, we have always fought for basic rights. Australia has legalised same-sex marriages and we both firmly believe that Section 377 is archaic. It flies in the face of privacy and human rights. How can love be governed by a section in the Indian Penal Code? Every individual has the right to be in love, whether it is between man and woman, man and man, or woman and woman. If being heterosexual is not questioned, why is being gay questioned?

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We do understand that parents want to see their children married. Onir always shied away from the issue of marriage. He would often get irritated when asked about wedding plans by relatives. For some time we thought he wasn’t getting married because he wanted to look after us.

Most parents do not discuss matters of love and sex with their children, and we didn’t either, but our reasons were different. We believe, firmly, that Onir and everybody like him has a right to their privacy, and more importantly, to their choices. We are happy that he is true to himself; that he is comfortable in his own skin.

It is not easy being gay in India and the support of family is critical. The only reason we are writing this piece and sharing our thoughts is because it is important to create awareness, to let other parents know that ostracising their child, or taking them to a doctor to find a so-called cure, is not a path one should walk on.

Onir and Irene have had long conversations. He first confided in her in 1997; he told her that he was gay and how difficult it was to have a meaningful relationship because so many people from the gay community do not want to come out in the open. He told her that he had created walls around himself but was clear that he did not want to lead a double life.

He even speaks to his niece Trisha. They both open up to each other. Our granddaughter once said, “I tell him about ‘boy drama’ and he tells me about ‘boy drama’.” She is a teenager who knows the importance of fundamental rights and the fundamentality of choices. She knows, from Onir, how he is often on edge; how his partners have struggled being in the relationship because of social pressure.

Allegations of misconduct were once made against our son. It is difficult being gay and being open about it. Onir often says that he is on edge around men because he’s not sure whether they are genuinely interested in him or because they are trying to befriend a ‘Bollywood director’.

“Give these children the love and acceptance they need. They are already grappling with the unfair stigma that society and the law impose on them.”

We don’t want Onir or any gay child to be ruled by the psychology of fear. Homosexuality is not ‘unnatural’. It is just an orientation. Like us, many of you would be worrying about your kids. We worry because we’re getting on in age and often think, ‘What will he do after our death? Will he be lonely?’

Give these children the love and acceptance they need. They are already grappling with the unfair stigma that society and the law impose on them.

Think about it: there is so else much to worry about and change. We should be worrying about children being raped; about violence and arson surrounding a movie; about caste murders. How can we — why should we — worry about two people being in love?

Don’t try and change their orientation. They have the right to flirt, to love, and to make choices. We are happy that our son does not lead a double life like many others are forced to do. He is open about his sexuality and has given many interviews on the subject. We use to stay in Kolkata at the time that the allegations were made against him. Our daughter called us and said: don’t believe everything that you read; if you have any questions, ask me, or ask Onir.

It is time to have open conversations, just as it is time for Section 377 to be struck down. Since our teenage years, we have always fought for basic rights and now, in our eighties, we continue to fight — for the rights of our son Onir and others like him. Whom we love, whom we choose to marry, should not and cannot be dictated by an IPC section.

We love our son. For us, he will always be, ‘our son Onir.’ And for Irene, he will always be ‘my brother Onir.’

(The authors are the parents of filmmaker Onir.)

(This is the second part of Let’s Talk About 377, a five-part series on the challenges faced by India’s LGBT community. Join the conversation with #LetsTalkAbout377 on social media or send us your stories and suggestions at

First Published: Feb 06, 2018 07:46 IST