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Last Updated: Friday, 21 July 2006, 11:09 GMT 12:09 UK
Secret lives and woes of India's gays
By Navdip Dhariwal
BBC News, Delhi

Gays in India

There is an anonymous looking building in a conservative neighbourhood in the Indian capital of Delhi that on most days fails to attract much notice.

On Tuesday afternoons through its creaky iron gate opens at regular intervals and rows of young men gingerly step in through the front door.

This is Sangini, a support group for gays, that meets in secret.

Those who attend have been told of it by word of mouth and advised not to advertise the meeting.

The reason for taking such precautions - their way of life is illegal in India.

Dressed in a bright pink salwar kameez, with his hair in a neat shoulder length cut, "Shilpa" gazes forlornly at the television set in the corner playing a DVD.

He dresses as a woman to express his sexuality but has to keep the rest of his life under wraps.

"We are always getting harassed by the cops," Atul one of the group organisers complains, "My partner and I have been living together in secret for over seven years".

His friend Samai says, "they should legalise homosexuality - why should we be forced to keep ourselves hidden - the law and society needs to change".


But the law has not changed for 145 years. Brought in under the British rule, the legal system only recognises gay and lesbian relationships "as an unnatural offence".

Two men dance together in nightclub in Bombay
Indian laws say same sex relationships are "unnatural"

Its continued implementation has bought much anguish and persecution to same-sex relationships.

In some Indian states people have taken their own lives because they have found it too unbearable.

It is not just police harassment that is concerning human rights groups.

Anjali Ghopalan is a leading campaigner in HIV/Aids prevention. She claims that the law is preventing charities like hers from doing their work.

"The authorities hide behind the law," she says.

"It is not uncommon for our outreach workers to be harassed by the cops constantly or as we have seen in recent incidents, two men being arrested for holding hands in a park - the law is being used to frighten people."


The US based Human Rights Watch has also expressed concern about India's colonial law.

Men during gay march in Calcutta
The gay march in Calcutta has become an annual feature

They have written to the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh about their worries over the treatment of the gay community.

Various groups are now lobbying the government and the courts for a change in the law.

Ironically India has a long tradition of non-heterosexual relationships.

There is evidence of it in its literature, the arts and ancient texts that date back thousands of years. Modern day India though still refuses to legalise homosexuality.

The support group Sangini is preparing for its role in the campaign to overturn the law.

Another one of the project workers, Aman, says that after facing years of prejudice and harassment by people who suspected he was gay - he has finally come out in the open to family and friends. "I finally feel relaxed," he says.

He was forced to leave home but he says "I now hope I can have children and a life like the straight people I know. If the world's largest democracy cannot recognise our rights - what hope is there "

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