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'It feels good to be legitimate'

Gay men celebrate the ruling in Delhi
The ruling decriminalising homosexuality is a boost for India's beleaguered gays

The ruling by a court in India decriminalising homosexuality has provided a boost for the country's beleaguered gay community. Sunil Mehra, former editor of the Indian edition of Maxim magazine, on what it means to be gay in India.

"I remember my moment of truth.

"The man I picked up proceeded to rob me in my own house: robbed me of my shoes, my money and left only after I wrote him a cheque for yet more money. I was up all night. Fretting. Pacing. Dying. And being reborn.

"Come morning and I had made my decision. I hit the bank opening time and instructed the authorities to stop payment on the cheque. The decoy - policemen often set up decoys sending gigolos to meet gay men in India- brazenly stormed right back into my house after being turned down at the bank. I was ready for him. With fisticuffs. And a new found resolve to NEVER be afraid again. The law was not on my side. But from then on I was.

"In another time, another place the law would have been on my side. Circa 1985 only I was.

"In a closed patriarchal society where homophobia raged -and rages right on- the threat of blackmail and exposure turned grown men into blubbering nervous wrecks.

Policemen look on at gays celebrating the court ruling in Delhi
'Police in India often harass and extort from gay people'

"Cut to 1993. Writing for a weekly news magazine that prided itself on its yuppie, 'with it' credentials. In the air-conditioned editorial offices of these opinion makers spilling over with well paid professionals, small town India seemed so far far away.

"The reality check came in an edit meet spent debating the merits, content, timeliness of a cover story on homosexuality in India. The tone of the discussion was set by the suave, debonair, cigar chewing, tennis playing publisher/editor. 'Lets face it. They ARE deviants,' he said.

"Moral of the story: a society's laws are as good as its citizens. You get the laws, the country you deserve.

"For many of us the journey from the 377 (Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code defines homosexual acts as "carnal intercourse against the order of nature") world to a non 377 world is marked by innumerable, significant, intensely personal milestones that someday will constitute the history of a much-maligned minority.

'I'm a good man'

"Through it all its been an effort to hold one's head high, walk lonely but proud and repeat ad nauseum to oneself: I'm a good man. I love my family. I take care of animals. I do not lie. I do not cheat. I believe in God. I earn my living. I pay my taxes. And it's really my business who I sleep with. I could do far worse. Believe me I could. God knows, many others do!

Gay men celebrating the court ruling in Delhi, India
'The threat of blackmail turned grown men into nervous wrecks'

"Friends, family have kept the faith. Offered unconditional love and support. One's unique social, professional, economic circumstances and privilege have offered shelter, cocoon, insulation even. But the new post 377 world offers hope to the millions of others who do not share the same privileges I do. They can feel normal again.

"The policeman who extorts gays is rendered powerless because the system has empowered them: acknowledged their right to exist, to live a life of dignity and never be intimidated again. To be mainstream. And that's important.

"It's also important to laugh. As we did this morning.

"I called my partner and gave him the news on the law being repealed.

'We are legal Navtej,' I laughed.

"He joshed right back: 'Hmmm well the marriage wasn't legal. Lets get divorced. Now, that would be legal!'

"It feels good to be legitimate in the textbooks again."

The author is the former India editor of Maxim magazine



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