India has been known for its strict rules against LGBTQIIA+, and you may also find many people denying LGBTQI+ rights because it doesn’t fit in the Indian customs and is not part of the culture. But is it really true that LGBTQI+ is against our culture and custom? Well, homosexuality and trans people were recognized and acknowledged in Vedas dated back to 3102 B.C., and you can find sexual positions and carvings in various temples and architecture, proving that the culture was diverse, open, and accepting towards different sexualities and preferences.
You would be shocked to know that in 15th-century Islam, it was normal and even expected of men to be homosexuals till they get married. In his book Babur Nama, India’s first Mughal emperor – Babur wrote openly about his love for another man Baburi. He professed not only his love and affection for this man but also wrote a lot of prose and poems in his honor. He even built Baburi Masjid as a monument and undying love for Baburi. There can also be several paintings found in ancient Islamic manuscripts depicting two men in intimate positions.
One of Shiv ji’s most popular avatars is considered to be half feminine and half masculine; even in Mahabharata Krishna Ji changes his gender and becomes a woman to get married to Aarvan before the famous battle.
It was only in 1862 when section 377 of the Indian Penal Code came into action, drafted by Thomas Babington Macaluay, criminalizing any sexual activity which is against the “law of nature.” Mahatma Gandhi supported this law at that time, but later it was claimed in Joseph Levylend’s book that there was a fair chance that Mahatma Gandhi was bisexual himself. This book was banned in many parts of India saying that it hurt the sentiments of several people.
The fight for LGBTQI+ rights started to slowly and gradually stir up the equal rights and acceptance of all individuals. In 1977 Shakuntla Devi, a maths wiz and writer, wrote the first book on homosexuals, which had interviews with homosexual men. She decided to write this book after being married and divorced from a homosexual man herself; she wanted society to accept homosexuality as normal and not ignore it as a taboo. Just 4 years later, the first All Hijra Conference took place in Agra, and it was attended by over 500,000 trans people. The slow but gradual progress gave Ashok Row Kavi enough confidence, who penned down an article for Savvy about being openly gay; it was the first coming out story in India. He inspired many people and faced a lot of backlash in the process; while some people were very supportive of his choice, many made his life and career difficult. After facing a lot of backlash in 1990, he started India’s first queer magazine – Bombay Dost, still in circulation today.
The first major gay-rights protest started in 1992, when in New Delhi during AIDS conference when it didn’t engage in the conversation and acknowledged the health of men who have sex with other men. It was also the year when lesbians and women loving other women got the spotlight. Gita Thadani set a helpline for lesbians, which facilitates cross-country networking between queer women across the nation. However, queer women were still more invisible than queer men until 1999 when a Delhi-based organization CALERI decided to do something about it and launched a manifesto named “ Lesbian Emergance” which broke the silence around the lives and struggles of queer women in India.
In 2001 the first major step was taken by NAZ Foundation and the Lawyer’s collective against section 377 in the Indian Penal Code. Later in 2004, the community became bigger and more organized, and many people joined the fight for equal rights. In 2006 it gained influential support from many authors and poets. Just after two years of this incident, the first-ever gay pride parade was organized in Mumbai and Delhi, which encouraged people to come out and support and voice for their rights in a vibrant and charismatic manner.
In February 2017, the Ministry of health and family welfare gave a statement to everyone’s surprise that homosexuality is natural. And in the following year, section 377 was finally decriminalized. The journey towards the decriminalization of section 377 has been long and tiring, but it ended in victory; even now, many LGBTQ+ people face many challenges and are discriminated against in society. The journey towards acceptance is a long way through but celebrating these small wins over the year is important too, as small wins build up the commotion for the bigger win.