Home Stories

How Does India Treat Members Of LGBTQIA Community?

As the LGBTQIA community has been expanding in India, so have its problems. Discrimination, homophobia, indifference, and institutionalised apathy are just some of the many challenges faced by the community. This news documentary reveals the real life struggles of some of the LGBTQIA+ persons in India.

By Prema Sridevi
New Update

(Produced below are the abridged version of the transcripts of The Probe’s news documentary titled:
How Does India Treat Members Of LGBTQIA Community?)

India’s LGBTQIA community has been steadily growing. Many of the community members comprising lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual people have been in the closet for too long, but not anymore. Today, many walk with pride in a society that has been very resistant to change. As the LGBTQIA community has been expanding, so have its problems. Discrimination, homophobia, indifference, and institutionalised apathy are just some of the many challenges faced by the community.

Grace Banu is an Indian software engineer, a Dalit rights and Transgender Rights activist. She was also the first transgender person to be admitted to an engineering college in Tamilnadu.

Grace Banu alleges that transphobic treatment was meted out to her at the recently held Chennai Book Fair that was inaugurated by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin. Some of it was caught on camera, and some happened behind closed doors.

We met up with Grace for an online chat, and she revealed shocking details of transphobic treatment meted out to her by the book fair's organisers. “So, we went and we gave the letter and they were not ready to accept our letter. But we followed the proper procedures… Every document was submitted to them and they said we have to discuss with our team and you should go and meet that minister… this minister. They asked me if I knew this person from my community? They said - You should get a recommendation from them. I asked them - Why?”

For the first time, Chennai Book Fair this year showcased a stall for the LGBTQIA community. But as Grace and her members of the Queer Publishing House opened their stall, they claimed there were more instances of harassment, discrimination and transphobia.

The discrimination happened from the first day onwards and on the second day, a person came in the morning. One of the organising team Secretaries came and he said - So many complaints are being received from the public. I was like - What? What kind of complaints? So, they said - You don’t put the banner here and you don’t stand here… I was completely angry and at noon, the same person came and he shouted in front of the crowd,” stated Banu.

The matter did not end here. There was indifference from those who had set up other stalls, too, until one man Grace claimed came and threatened her.

“A man came and told us - No, no, no. You are blocking our stall. So, you should remove it. So, I said - If you need anything, you can go and raise the complaint with BAPASI, who is the organiser. So, he immediately got angry. He kicked the banner. I said - We don’t want to talk with this guy and we should go to BAPASI. When we went to BAPASI, in the closed room they were saying - Hey, everyday we are receiving so many complaints from your stall. So, how I am going to help you is - Why don’t you shift your stall to the corner?” narrated Banu.

Grace also told The Probe that on the next day another member from the organising team came and asked her not to wear a saree.

Transgender persons since aeons have been facing social exclusion. Jane Kaushik, a transwoman teacher was shunted out from a school in Lakhimpur Kheri in Uttar Pradesh. Jane says that the school took this decision after they claimed some students got to know about her gender identity.

The Probe team went to Jane’s residence in Burari in North East Delhi and caught up with her. I got a job as a TGT Social Science teacher in a school in Lakhimpur Kheri, Mohammadi Kheri at Uma Devi Children’s Academy. They gave me the job on the condition that I should not reveal my identity before staff members and students,” said Jane.

After hearing about Jane’s experience, we decided to confront the school authorities. Sunny Gupta, the Director of Uma Devi Children’s Academy said: “I have told her continuously that I don’t have a problem with her. I don’t have a problem with anyone. My school is open for everyone. My only issue is that the person who comes here must be fit for the students. We completely believe in non-discrimination. Just ask her this - Jane, just tell me the truth when the Board examination is just two months away, if a student comes to you and asks you Jane madam, I have this confusion… Solve it. Will you be able to solve it?”

Jane, today, is struggling to make ends meet and is still looking out for that elusive job as a school teacher. But she says the harassment that she allegedly faced as a school teacher was nothing compared to what she underwent as a child during her school days.

“I can never forget that phase. That was a very uncomfortable and isolated phase. During that period also I tried to commit suicide twice because I was subjected to physical and sexual harassment inside the school. When I was in tenth standard, a student would hit my private parts and ask me if I were a boy or a girl. That was so painful even physically and this would happen three to four times at least everyday. I couldn’t tell this to anyone. What was more painful was the fact that it hurt my dignity and self respect,” reminisces Jane.

Not just Grace Bano or Jane Kaushik, tens of thousands of members of the LGBTQIA community have been facing prejudice and discrimination and are being bullied into silence for living their truth. For owning their story.

Indian filmmaker Onir Dhar is one of the foremost voices for gay rights in the country. He is known for his book “I am Onir, and I am Gay”. He is also known for his film My Brother Nikhil. It was one of the first mainstream Bollywood films that dealt with HIV, AIDS and same-sex relationships.

Onir was recently refused entry to the Bhopal Literary Fest. He alleges that it was because he was gay.

“It was the Bhopal Literary Festival and I was invited there to be a speaker. They did not allow me in as it seems there was threat of protests and violence against my presence and the police also said that they cannot guarantee my safety,” said Onir to The Probe.

This was not the first time Onir had been shunned. Similar instances have happened in the past, but it’s only now he has realised the extent of the problem and is still coming to terms with what it means to be a gay person in India.

For India’s LGBTQIA community, coming out has always been a challenge. The Kerala lesbian couple Adhila Nasarin and Fathima Noora fought an epic battle to live together after their family, relatives, and friends opposed their relationship. Same sex marriages are still not legal in India but in a landmark judgement in May 2022, Kerala High Court allowed the couple to reunite after they were forcibly separated by their parents.

“After a few days, my mother came with a few people to kidnap me and separate us. This was all planned by both of our parents… Adhila’s father started hitting her and my mother forcefully dragged me to the car where I was hurt badly and was bleeding. They kidnapped me to a counsellor’s  house for counselling. I wasn’t able to contact Adhila at all. Later, I came to know that Adhila filed a habeas corpus petition to get me. By God’s grace, we were reunited by Kerala high court after 8 long days. Those 8 days felt like 8 long years. It felt like we’d been finally unchained,” said Fathima to The Probe.

There are numerous lesbian couples in the country, like Adhila and Fathima, who are proud to wear their gender on their sleeves. Payal and Yashvika’s story is unique. The duo met on social media and are social media influencers today. But in online space, too, both Payal and Yashvika were intimidated by trolls, haters and bullies.

India does not recognise same-sex marriages. The Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether to legalise same-sex marriages on March 13 this year. Many LGBTQIA community members are hopeful of a landmark order in the case. Still, Payal and Yashvika decided to get married much before the country's top court was to give its decision.

“We as members of the LGBTQ community, we wanted people to know that we are normal. Our feelings are normal and we want to lead a normal life. So, I wanted a normal marriage just like how a man and a woman gets married. I had never seen such a normal marriage of a lesbian couple with all rituals. So, I wanted all the rituals for my marriage along with all the functions. I wanted a grand wedding,” said Yashvika.

Payal told our team that she was shocked to find that there were no pre-wedding videos of lesbian couples on Google and YouTube in India searches. “We couldn’t find a single pre-wedding video of the LGBTQ community members in India. That was very shocking for us and at the same time we were also very happy that we were going to do something that no one has ever done before. Finally our wedding was India’s first lesbian pre-wedding,” said Payal.

For many of India’s LGBTQIA community members, coming out from the closet means not reducing life to mere blacks and whites and even shades of grey because they want to see the rainbow with pride.