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A place to call

A place to call

Homosexuality has
been illegal in India since 1860.

The law, Section
377, covers “unnatural offences,” and
it’s very difficult to strike down because it
includes childhood sexual abuse. Many cops use the law
to blackmail men into giving them sex or money, but they
don’t seem to target women as much.

Even though
I’d been attracted to other women since I was 8 or 9,
I didn’t even call myself a lesbian before I
met my ex-girlfriend Cath. She’s from the U.K.
and was the first open lesbian I’d ever met. Before
that I’d only dated straight women.

Through Cath I
met many lesbians from abroad and within India. I knew
there must be more Indian women who didn’t have
support, or help, or places they could go. I mean,
here in Delhi we have only one gay bar, and
it’s usually about 100 men for every three women! I
just didn’t want women to face what I did,
where I thought I was the only one.

In 1997, after
we’d been together about two years, I decided to
start India’s first hotline for women attracted
to other women. We quickly realized there needed to be
face-to-face contact, so we started a support group.
We’ve had over 4,000 calls to our hotline and over
450 women in our support group since we started.
Similar services are now in Calcutta, Bombay, and

Cath and I run a
guesthouse for Western women in Delhi’s
upper-middle-class Vasant Kunj neighborhood. It pays for the
hotline and support group when grants run out, but
it’s also a safe place for women attracted to
other women to meet and hang out.

The biggest
difficulty for women in India is facing family pressure to
get married. One woman who comes here a lot has had her past
two girlfriends cave in to family pressure, and now it
looks like her present girlfriend is going to do the
same thing. It helps her to have a place to talk about
her feelings openly.

If a woman can
support herself, independent of her family, it’s much
easier to be open about her attraction to other women. But a
lot of well-educated women in Delhi find that even
with jobs they can’t afford to live on their

I just
don’t want anyone to get married against their will
or, worse, commit suicide. Yesterday we rescued a
woman from her parents’ house. When they found
out about her feelings for other women, they locked her
in the house and cut off the phone lines. She hadn’t
left the house for two months. It was a big family
drama, but we finally got her out of there, and now
she’s sitting with her partner in our house.

So much has
happened in the past 10 years, and there’s still so
much more that we need to do. But I have a plan. Right
now, though gay and lesbian people in India are
starting to feel comfortable in social spaces, they
aren’t making a political issue out of it. So
I’m going to invite all the gay people from
Asian countries to join us for a march. There will be
thousands of people—hundreds of
thousands—marching in the streets. We will get
there, but it will take time.

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