As India moves toward decriminalizing same-sex sex, with a Delhi court ruling this week striking down a 150-year-old British anti-sodomy law in the city, Queerty asked Pradeep Solanki to describe what the news means to him. He files from his home in Canada.
About ten years ago I was walking excitedly around downtown Mumbai, soaking in the sights and sounds of the land my family left more than 100 years ago. I passed by Churchgate Railway Station and the unmistakable aura of gay men cruising was palpable. I was approached very seductively by a square-jawed youth who wasted no time in getting to the point. He whispered all the things he would do to me if only I would follow him to his flat around the corner. My temperature raised, I followed him closely and he held my hand. In India it is a common sight to see two men (or two women) holding hands or walking arm on shoulder as a mark of deep friendship. We turned a corner and his demeanor turned violent. He snatched my wallet, insulted me in Hindi and finally threatened to call the police.
Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code is the same anti-sodomy law under which Oscar Wilde was prosecuted. While post-colonial India has been quick to throw off any reminders of the British, such as changing the name of Bombay back to Mumbai, it has been slow to overturn this one law. Gay men routinely face harassment from hoodlums and police alike using this law. Untold number of HIV positive men fear getting medical treatment because disclosure could result in imprisonment.
But India is on the fast track toward progress, both economic and social. Former Miss Universe and Bollywood actress, Celina Jaitely publicly credits gay designers and make-up artists for her success. Middle-class youth in the urban centers have been quick to embrace new sexual mores. For them being gay is not as much a stigma as it was for an earlier generation. The majority of gay men I met while in India were married but had sordid liaisons in public restrooms and alleyways. In a country where privacy is rare, the most private places for a discreet encounter is often the rush-hour commuter trains in Mumbai. The compartments are segregated by gender because the passengers are so tightly touching that it would be obscene for a woman to be in a male compartment. I have enjoyed many dry-humps and feel-ups on these trains.
Though I live in Canada where same-sex marriage is legal, my partner and I have long wanted to maintain a winter home in India. I have hesitated buying property with him in India because of this law. This morning, when I saw the news on Times of India, I could not help but weep for joy. Change is coming for the better. Not just for gays but for everyone. The land that gave the world the Kama Sutra (an ancient sex-manual that has a whole chapter on male-male sex) has been subjected to first Muslim, then British rule. Each colonizer has imposed mores, dress codes and sexual guilt, all of which are alien to India. Finally we are reclaiming our cultural birthright. This is a proud day.
(Photos: AP, Reuters)
Pradeep Solanki was born in Africa to Indian parents, raised in U.K. and spent his adult life in Canada. He is a writer of fiction and editor at Descant Magazine, a literary journal where I also write a regular blog on the writing life (Descant.ca).