Section 377 of Indian Penal Code – which came into force over 150 years ago – says: Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal shall be punished with imprisonment for life or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 10 years, and shall also be liable to fine. In other words, homosexuals can’t breathe free in the world’s largest democracy.
Last month, the Indian government cleared a bill to ban commercial surrogacy aimed at barring foreigners, people of Indian origin, couples with kids, live-in partners, single parents and homosexuals from having children through the rent-a-womb service. Announcing the decision, India’s Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj told reporters: “We do not recognize homosexual or live-in relationships, that is why they are not allowed to commission babies through surrogacy. It is against our ethos.”
So what is it like to be a homosexual in India? Since the law of the land terms homosexuals as criminals, they are forced to remain in the closet. It is difficult to gauge the pain gays, lesbians and bisexuals endure whether they stay in closet or dare to come out. Recently, Anamika Pareek, “a proud lesbian,” wrote on Quora:
“The reason we have to hide and pretend all the time is that society will hate us. The only reason we live in depression most of the times and have suicidal thoughts is that we can’t tell anyone and not everyone is courageous to come out and face the trouble… The other day my girlfriend wanted to kiss me. I told her to wait for like years till we start living together because if anyone sees us, we will be in jail. Though I consoled her, but here “living together” looks like a distant dream when my parents are worried about getting me married (obviously with a boy).“
Nonetheless, photographer Arjun Kamath addressed the struggles of homosexuals in India throughComing out, his aptly titled photo series. The fictional narrative shared the story of two women coming out to the world, from the initial moment of love and bravery, shown through the character Maitreyi leading Alpana out into a forest, to a horrific ending. (Photos & Captions: Arjun Kamath)
It’s a free world.
A cold wind blew mercilessly, chilling Alpana to the marrow, as she opened the creaky closet door. Flashes of lighting in the distance made the already nervous Alpana not want to step out.
They walked hand in hand, observing the screeching swallows as they chased whirring dragonflies in a dance of life and death. The golden sun had evaporated the fear in their hearts and filled it with hope.
Alpana whispered, “Now I can do whatever I want.” Maitreyi smiled and said, “I’ve never stopped you.”
Alpana tightened the knot one final time. “Good luck, Mai” she whispered.
Maitreyi’s thumb caressed Alpana’s earlobe softly, her fingers supporting the back of her head as she leant in firmly, yet seductively, placing her lips over Alpana’s nose. “It’s not your fault…” whispered Maitreyi.
Parivala, very much like Maitreyi and Alpana, had found freedom in the very same forest a few days ago. So when she saw the girls embrace each other, her heart was overcome with joy. She was glad that they had come out.