India, with a population of about 1.2 billion people, has in the past few decades been increasing its prominence on the world stage. It has aggressively sought market reforms that have resulted in dramatically increased standards of living and it has begun to liberalize its culture and adopt more modern social norms.
One of the significant changes has been India’s response to homosexuality and gay people. In 2009, the High Court of Delhi found that sodomy laws were unconstitutional, a decision that was accepted by the government to apply nationwide. Although some religious leaders objected, the decision seems to have have caused no upheaval.
There are still strong cultural traditions that frown on same-sex sexuality, but there are also demonstrations of positive movement. This may be greatly due to a fledgling pro-gay movement which does not seem to have much organized opposition. The dominant religions have not adopted homophobia as a central tenet of faith and there do not appear to be dominant political figures who are using bias and animus as a rallying point. (As best I can tell from California – but I’m open to correction).
Consequently, we see increased visibility of gay people in the Indian culture. In 2006, Manvendra Singh Gohil, a member of the royal family of an Indian state announced that he is gay. While it caused great consternation at the time – including a threatened disowning – recent news reports about Prince Manvendra seem unfazed by the prince’s sexuality and seem to view him as something of a cultural phenomenon.
The GLBT community also seems to taking heart from 2009′s decision. The end of criminalization resulted in an outpouring of jubilation which seems to have been channeled into the establishment of greater community stability and visibility.
And now a small news report illustrates how this increased openness is encouraging the birth of ventures targeting the community. (hindustan times)
India’s first online store selling gay literature has opened. Based in Malad, the store is called www.queer-ink.com and has been started by Fiji-Indian Shobhna Kumar, a self-professed lesbian.
She works within the city’s gay community, counselling people and their families, helping organise the queer rally and working in HIV prevention.
“I had a selfish reason for starting this, as I could not get access to these books,” she explains. “And Amazon would not deliver them. I think they wouldn’t get through customs as they offend Indian sensibilities. There are a few Indian online bookstores, but they take weeks to deliver. I figured other people must be in the same position.”
India’s GLBT community may be in some ways where Western gay communities were a few decades ago. But there seems to be a rapidity to their movement, a momentum. And absent an organized religious right, India may soon catch up – if not pass – some Western nations in its acceptance of its GLBT citizens.