GayWatch: India

Big, bold and beguiling, India rarely fails to transform visitors with its sheer onslaught of sensory stimuli.  

BY Dan Allen

October 30 2009 11:40 AM ET

INDIA AZAADI MARCH X390 (SACHIN JAIN) | ADVOCATE.COMMeanwhile, decriminalization has spurred on the discovery of the “pink rupee,” with entrepreneurs and advertisers suddenly scrambling to get in on the ground floor of nascent queer commerce. India’s first-ever LGBT magazine, Bombay Dost, returned brighter than ever this year following a seven year hiatus. A Delhi-based fashion designer, Sanjay Molhotra, recently launched IndjapInk, the country’s first gay travel company. Even Amul, India’s largest food brand, ran a gay-friendly post-Section 377 ad for butter, with the caption “Out of the closet, out of the fridge!”

Generalizations are impossible in a land so large and diverse as India, and this is certainly true when speaking of the country’s massive and far-flung gay populace. Millions live in cities, millions more live in rural areas. Millions live openly as gay people, millions more live cloistered in traditional marriages and families.

“India is approximately where the U.S. was in the '70s,” says Vikram Doctor, a prominent Mumbai-based journalist and LGBT rights activist. “So while there are lots of openly queer people and more and more young queer people who have no intentions of getting married, there are still a lot of queer people who came of age before the scene was so out and who did end up getting married. And it’s still going to take time before things change.”

As would be expected, the country’s most progressive areas are its large cities, especially New Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai. “All three cities have large-ish gay scenes,” says Doctor. “Mumbai’s is perhaps a bit more open because it’s a bit more tolerant and cosmopolitan. It’s in the DNA of the city -- people have come here from the rest of the country to make money, so they really don't care [about] much beyond that. I don't want to exaggerate how easy it is to be gay in Mumbai, but people are likely to care just a little bit less than in other cities. Also, there are industries like Bollywood, the fashion business and advertising, which have always been queer-friendly here.”

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