SOCIETY AND TRENDS: LESBIANS
Indian lesbians are coming out
of the closet in increasing numbers despite knowing that society frowns
on alternative sexuality and considers them outcasts
Bangalore: I never thought that I was a lesbian. Never went through the
identity issues or bashing. Four years ago a lesbian friend introduced
me to an acquaintance and at that instant my heart jumped. She moved me.
We are still together.
Harpreet P., Mumbai: I live with my lover
Shalini, 14 years older and married with two kids. I was helping her on
an aids-related project. We spent a lot of time together but there was
no sexual overtone. Until she asked me to spend a night at her house when
her husband was away. When we woke up the next morning, I had my answer.
Being with each other, we had discovered femininity and beauty that night.
After her divorce we live together with the children.
Payal, Delhi: I discovered my true sexuality
through a negative experience. My senior in hostel. She kissed me and
caressed my body. I was at first confused, in denial mode, even suicidal.
Some day, I will be free to be with a real lover, a woman.
|OPEN AIR: Pathak (left) says
her family "sort of knew" so it was easier to come out
In a bid to reach
out to the Indian lesbian community, India Today posted a message recently
on egroups.com/list/khush. It was flooded with messages from all over
India and abroad. Agony to ecstasy, sexual gratification to emotional
trauma, women poured their hearts out. And if there was a revelation here,
it was that Indian lesbians are keen to come out of the closet.
So it was that Organised Lesbian Alliance for
Visibility and Acceptance (OLAVA), a group for lesbians, transgender and
bisexuals working in Pune district, could celebrate its first anniversary
openly. Messages like "Come out, wherever you are" and "Don't
compromise yourself, you are what you have got" were emblazoned across
the walls. Says founder-member Chatura: "We were pleasantly surprised
to see women from villages volunteering to carry out a campaign at the
risk of social ostracism."
What took many years for homosexual men to achieve-social
acceptance-took less for Indian females. From voyeuristic newspaper reports
of secret lesbian marriages, the openness has moved to another level.
Falguni Pathak's video album, Meri Chunar Udd Udd Jaye, which sold about
five lakh units, caused a heat wave in the lesbian community. The video
depicts a young girl confined to the four walls on a visit to her aunt's
house. The helpless girl's boring existence ends when she finds a painting
of an ethereal damsel, who comes to life and shows her how to let go.
Pathak denies any sexual messages in the video, but Lajja Kamath, a collegian
who prefers to date girls, says, "Her song inspired me to come out."
gives a lesbian personal freedom and complete integration of identity
Geeta Kumana, NGO Coordinator
Today's youth think it's "cool" to
make statements about one's sexual preferences. "Television and the
Internet gave rise to the perception that anything against the norm is
desirable," says Shruti Karnik, a sociologist, "and alternative
sexuality comes under that category." But what really gave a fillip
to the lesbian movement in India was Deepa Mehta's film Fire, which portrayed
an emotional and sexual relationship between two middle-class women. Though
the film ignited protests all over India, it also brought the underground
lesbian movement to the surface.
Three years ago, when the Naaz Foundation started
Sangini, a helpline for women in Delhi, it got almost no calls. Today
there are about 15 calls a day, mainly from women who are attracted to
other women and bisexuals. OLAVA started with four members last year and
has risen to 25 today. The Aanchal helpline for lesbian and bisexual women
in Mumbai gets at least 100 calls a week. Mumbai-based Humsafar Trust
too reported a substantial rise in women who call in for advice.
However, though the process of coming out is
not as socially painful as it was in the 1980s, it remains difficult.
A decade ago, when Bina Fernandes announced to her family that she would
never marry, she wasn't taken seriously. Five years later, when she announced
that she was going to live with a woman companion, it gave the family
a real shock. It grew worse when Fernandes and her companion were asked
by their landlord to move out. Says Fernandes: "All lesbians who
dare to come out in the open live under pressure. It's a constant fight
for survival." Adds Geeta Kumana, a lesbian and a project coordinator
with a human rights NGO: "The most common anxiety is the feeling
that one must either betray oneself by remaining in the closet or be dishonest
to others by leading a double life."
who dare to come out live under pressure. For lesbians, it's a constant
struggle for survival."
Bina Fernandes, Author
The families of P. Darshan and B. Jamwal got
a rude shock when their teenage daughters chose to come out and wrote
to them from their hostel in Shimla. The girls said they had decided to
spend their lives together. "We never imagined they were lesbians,"
says an anguished Darshan, a diamond merchant. Jamwal promptly send his
daughter abroad for studies. Darshan's daughter is undergoing treatment
for depression. It was easier for Harshali Pathak, a 28-year-old bank
professional, as her parents "sort of know". She lived for a
while with a Delhi girl. Aware of her sexuality since the age of eight,
Pathak could shed her burden with her "I-am-what-I-am. You-may-accept-it-or-not"
attitude. "My problem now," she says, "is how to reach
out to other women like me and find a right partner with whom I can have
a fulfilling emotional and sexual relationship."
Vrushali Deshmukh, in her thesis, Homosexuality:
An Exploratory Study In Mumbai, a survey of 60 lesbians conducted for
the Tata Institute of Social Services, reveals that in over 50 per cent
of the cases, women came to know about their sexual orientation only after
their first sexual encounter-mostly with their husbands. Dr Harish Shetty,
a psychiatrist, says social conditioning about marriage is so strong among
women that they end up being married, suppressing their natural desires.
There are problems of women being harassed,
attacked, blackmailed, coerced into marriages and sexual relationships,
and losing jobs, housing rights and family property. In countries like
England, Canada, the Netherlands and Norway, same-sex couples have legal
rights. They are entitled to the same pension and inheritance rights as
all other married couples and are also allowed to adopt a child. In India,
the homosexual has a long way to go, especially since Section 77 of the
Indian Penal Code criminalises the homosexual act. Says Jasbeer, a coordinator
with Sambhavna, an alternate sexuality group: "To assert the rights
of the sexual minority forcefully, the first step would be the repeal
of Section 77." But till then the message from the lesbians in India
today is very clear: "Support or deny, we exist."