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Updated: April 13, 2011 21:00 IST

As good as it can get

Vinay Chandran
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Vinay Chandran. Photo: Sagar Dave
The Hindu
Vinay Chandran. Photo: Sagar Dave

There are many reasons why Bangalore can claim to be one of the better cities for gay rights in the country, writes Vinay Chandran

What has Bangalore offered the gay rights movement? Are we a city removed, disinterested even, from the developments in the rest of the country? Not really. Maybe Bangalore can claim to be one of the better cities for gay rights in the country.

Back in 1977, Bangalore-born Shakuntala Devi (yes, that Shakutala Devi) wrote one of the earliest books on homosexuality called The World of Homosexuals. It disappeared from both print and public view, but the book was perhaps something of a beginning for Bangalore.

Now, while support groups for gays and lesbians in India were in existence as far back as 1978 in Mumbai –– or earlier perhaps –– the movement took shape in Bangalore with the formation of ‘Good As You' in 1994.

It is currently one of the longest surviving support groups in India at 17 years, still dutifully meeting once a week and offering a safe space for those who seek it.

Public activism and debate mark the other milestones in this city's contribution to the movement. The first legal seminar on homosexuality was held in 1997 at the National Law School of India University in the city.

Around the same time, Sabrang was set up — one of the earliest groups to bring together activists from different human rights perspectives to fight on a common platform for gay and lesbian rights. Other organisations formed soon after, Sangama and Swabhava among them, working with homosexual and transgender communities on issues such as advocacy, crisis intervention, counselling and research and documentation. With support from such organisations like the People's Union for Civil Liberties, Bangalore also became the centre of investigation on human rights violations of transgenders and homosexuals from many sources.

But a community cannot survive on crisis-mode alone. While debates and protests are incredibly assertive and important forms of engagement to help increase visibility, other — more private — efforts are necessary.

How does a city contribute to personal growth? And if it does, can we say that geography determines sensitivity? Bangalore is known as a laidback city. Perhaps that explains some of the support the gay rights movement has received from different sources, including the media.

But contradictions abound. Documented abuses, false arrests, blackmail and violence against transgender and homosexual communities are numerous and horrifying. However, the city also offers access to public places: from cultural events to weekly club nights. Bangalore fosters the fight, however hesitant, for those who are considered different.

Vinay Chandran is executive director of Swabhava, a non-governmental organisation working with sexuality in Bangalore.

Keywords: gay rights

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