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Thursday, November 6, 2008

Feelings and Emotions of the other side

Gay and Indian | Coming out | Is it criminal?

Nilanjana Bose / CNN-IBN

TimePublished on Sun, Nov 02, 2008 at 21:05, Updated on Sun, Nov 02,
2008 at 23:29 in Lifestyle section

Vadodara/Korapat (Gujarat): Gita is thinking of ways to break her
lover's marriage. A lesbian, she admits to having always liked girls.
"For me this seemed natural but I realised there was no one else like
me. But I was the way I was. I wrote a love letter to a girl once in
school. When the other girls found out, they started coming to me,"
she says.

Kiran is upset. Her whose girlfriend of six years was locked up in her
house by her father soon after their relationship was discovered, and
is to be married off soon. Kiran hasn't seen her girlfriend for two
years but is now determined to run away with her before the wedding
later this year.

Gita and Kiran are just two examples of the silent sexual revolution
sweeping India, slowly but surely. These are all coming out tales,
some mocked at, others reject, but all told in hushed tones.

In 2006, two tribal women from Orissa – 32-year-old Weteka Palang and
24-year-old Meleka Nilsa - became the poster girls for lesbian
movement in India. Both escaped abusive marriages to be with each
other and today live as woman and wife.

But it wasn't really a fairy-tale wedding. The couple had to run away
from their village and stay away for a year.

They then bought acceptance with a drum of country liquor, a sack of
rice and a bullock - which they gave to the Kandha community. But in
the end, they were accepted as two women in love - a victory few
lesbian women can achieve in India.

Lesbianism is something that is rarely talked about in India when we
talk about queer relationships. Yet it is a reality. But the women
say, in many ways their lives are very different from gay men, and
sometimes extremely difficult.

Living with prejudice comes with the territory for lesbian women. From
being called hijras and being mocked openly. Very few
relationships last because of constant pressure from family and

Yet these women look the world in the eye. Some choosing to change
their sex to make themselves more acceptable, some proudly retaining
their feminine bodies - living with their partners in a queer

NEXT PAGE: Maya Sharma told her son she was a lesbian...

Maya Sharma, author, lesbian and activist, was married for 16 years
and even has a son. When she found marriage too stifling, Maya broke
out. Today, as the architect of Parma, a lesbian support group in
Baroda, she is godmother to the lesbian movement in this part of
Gujarat - and is happily settled with her partner for more than three
years now.

Maya and her son have a quiet understanding about her relationship.

"He supports me. We have this tacit kind of understanding. He was
there when we did the book launch. Parents no more and that makes it
simpler. My family has accepted. And I don't care sufficiently. I
don't say it outright that I am living with a woman just as straight
people don't have to say," she says.

Others like 42-year-old Shaina Rahmatullah proudly wear their lesbian
label on their sleeve. Shaina says she has never wanted to be
monogamous and has had more than 25 relationships in four decades. A
practicing Muslim - she was told the Koran forbids same sex love - but
Shaina has over the years, thought of a fitting answer.

"This is natural too. Love is not a crime," she says.

Many women come to Parma to be among their own - from small towns and
villages across Gujarat. None of their parents took it very well when
they admitted to being attracted to their own sex.

But this support group offers comfort and solace. Like any
heterosexual, they too have been through love and loss. For some the
journey has been made more confusing by the sex they were born into.

A transgender man, was born Ketaki and grew up wearing frocks and
skirts. But she hated being addressed and identified as a girl. Today
she calls herself Ajay, a man trapped in a woman's body, attracted to

"I was very confused and then decided to get an operation done. I
didn't have the hormones of a woman. Never felt like a woman. I have
always used the masculine form when I have talked about myself," he

In 2003, Ajay had married a woman at a temple. Soon after, the couple
had a baby, Preeti, using in-vitro fertilisation. But in July, Ajay's
partner - who suffered from severe depression - killed herself. Now
Preeti, their daughter, is being raised by a lesbian support group.

Today, Ajay is in the process of getting a sex reassignment surgery
and becoming a man complete with male sex organs, determined to be a
good father to little Preeti.

"I would tell God, you should have made me a man, why did you make me
a woman? But I know I am doing the right thing. Life is difficult but
I want to make some thing of my life," says Ajay.

Vikram, too, was born Shalu Chauhan, and changed his name after he had
his breasts removed. He says he knew from his school days, that he was
attracted to women

"I met this girl in class V who I liked. I would wish she would just
sit with me. I would play with her, follow her around, made greeting
cards for her but never proposed to her," he says.

At 24, Vikram is like any other young man, complaining how women are
difficult to please. Now that he looks like a man - it's become easier
to get women's attention. Today, he says, he is almost ashamed to have
been born a woman.

"I have always liked girls. It never bothered me. What bothered me was
my body. Very few girls are understanding. They will not want their
boyfriend to be a woman. They want their boyfriend to be a man. In
these things, India is still backward," he says.

From loving women, to wanting to be a man, to get acceptance for this
love - it's a complex world for these women. Yet, they all say this is
far more liberating than being forced into behaving a heterosexual
where they feel neither longing nor love for the opposite sex.

Being accepted for who they are is still a long way off. But the
journey has begun.

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