A Queer Ban in India, Gay and Legal in Nepal

Article excerpt

India, Jan. 11 -- His eyes are tiny and piercing, with a gaze that doesn't trust easily. Shadowed by the pink mask covering his mouth, they are all one sees of his face. "This is Balram." The inky dusk spills around his long, straight hair and settles under his eyes in dark pools. His eyes dart between Mahesh and me. "He works for Pink Triangle and distributes condoms to people who come to Ratna Park on Saturdays," Mahesh tells me.

Move your cursor over the image below to know about the laws that criminalise gay sex in the Indian subcontinent.

Mahesh is a gay university student and we are at Ratna Park, which is located smack in the middle of a busy, polluted street in Kathmandu, and is a well-known 'cruising spot' for gays, transgenders and rarely, lesbians. Couples, single men, and groups of young boys feverishly and unremittingly pace the length and breadth of the park, looking for companionship, dates or sex. "Hi, you are from India? I have been there, stayed in Pune for three years. Much easier to find boys there. They approached me all the time," says Balram as Mahesh and I settle down on the cemented railings that border the park. "We come here to meet new people and hang out. There is no other place for us to go, no gay bars or parties." A small group has gathered around us, coaxed by Mahesh, who works for the Blue Diamond Society - Nepal's pioneering LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) rights organisation, which has played a central role in giving this small country of approximately 27 million one of the most successful LGBT movements in the world.

LGBT rights are not the most accessible in our part of the world. While India re-criminalised homosexuality with the Supreme Court upholding Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code last December, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh and the Maldives don't recognise same-sex sexual activity either. Nepal is the only country in the region which not only permits homosexuality but whose Supreme Court has also ruled against archaic laws that discriminate against homosexuals. It is even considering the formulation of laws to legalise same-sex marriage. No mean feat for a fledgling democracy which is still languishing somewhere near the bottom end of the human development index.

TG women wait to participate in Miss Pink

In 2007, the Nepal Supreme Court delivered a landmark ruling when it mandated that the government abolish laws that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, instituted the formation of a committee to study same-sex marriage laws across the world and recognised a self-identified third gender category, marked as 'other' on official documents. A watershed moment in the struggle for LGBT rights in the region and across the world, it made Nepal something of a haven for sexual minorities.

The much-publicised lesbian wedding of a couple from the US took place in the Himalayan nation in 2011. There have been a few Hindu gay weddings here too, where grooms have travelled from across the world, including India. Manvendra Singh Gohil, a royal from Rajpipla, Gujarat, was reportedly planning to get married in Nepal, as published in The Sydney Morning Herald. From being India's once-favourite honeymoon destination, the country is possibly now our favourite gay destination.

As silhouettes turn greyer, the chatter of people around us settles down to a steady hum. A fruity laugh penetrates the darkness, and a boyish, slim figure in jeans and hooded sweatshirt comes up. "Main Mohini hoon. You can call me Mohan also. I have come here to date boys, not to find a boyfriend, only boys."

He sits a few railings away from us, fishes out a half-squeezed tube of Fair and Handsome and a gilded hand mirror, and begins applying the cream carefully on his face. "You'll see. in a few minutes, I'll become beautiful like Mohini," he says with a smile that refuses to leave his face. "We call her Mohini mummy, she is very strong. …