India is a large country, 1.2 billion people, even taking just the basic 6% that those are gay make a total of 60miillon to 120 million gay people. The culture is religiously diverse with Muslim, Christian, Sikhs, Hindu, Buddhists. It's countrymen made of a wide range of Asians from Middle East, to China to southern, influenced by colonization by British, French, Dutch and Portuguese among others. With travelers from Europe, Australia and USA - it should make it a cauldron mixed of all the best yet orthodox ways and conservatism push homosexuality under the carpet.
In 2009 the Indian government repealed the age-old British law banning homosexuality. A step in the right direction. And some citizens in larger cities try to be recognized in Mumbai, Kolkata and Delhi yet the gay culture remains discreet.
Steps to equality must start somewhere and this repeal of the gay ban is the beginning. The increasing focus on women's rights and equality is going to go hand in hand with the recognition of gay people. Eunuchs (trans-type people) are called to provide good luck at marriages but then banished at all other times to their own world on the edge of societal existence. But where does that leave the gay man and girl?
The lesbian is all but visible. While for gay men there are ways - as visitors we can see them on gay meeting applications like gaydar, grinder and most of all Planet Romeo. To insiders it is a must to be part of special invite lists for local parties - all of which happen in just the major cities and even then limited to Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Kolkata and lucky if they occur weekly. There are also the traditional cruising grounds in existence, but where does that put homosexuality?
It's in the fringes - speaking to gay guys in Delhi they are happy that way . Using applications and cruising grounds keeps their identity safe - some say they live in Delhi because they can be who they want to be, but families and friends are still none the wiser. It simply gives them a way to practise their interests and in no way gives them the full freedoms.
I was lucky to meet Rohit who works for a gay travel agency - though from Mumbai where he says the city is vibrant with gay people and lifestyles he is still learning what life is like in Delhi. Gay nights weekly on the outskirts of Delhi - well a different town altogether - Noida - this is the safe kind of party. Its held in a bar - with a dj and alcohol. When i went - M Lounge- about 60 people were there, small number but perfectly filled the small joint. A group of cross dressers/ transsexuals danced the night away. I spoke to Melissa, dressed in a brightly colored sari, she has been living in Delhi for a year but had spent a few years in Berlin, to which she speaks enthusiastically about "Berlin it's amazing, one of the best cities on earth". Berlin is incredibly open and gay life there is one of the most equal in the world, yet she raves about Delhi.
Another meeting place is weekly in the Central Park on Connaught Place gay people meet on Sundays. The place is packed with groups of lads hanging out.
I first meet Mahindra - spends half his time between London and Delhi - he called me to join his group sat chilling out - he must have spotted my British mannerisms. I see the sparkle in the eye as he mentions his life on London and tries to convince me that Delhi is just as exciting.
I move round the park and speak to a group of lads on a bench. They enthusiastically tell me they are all bisexual - all 8 of them! I ask what life is like as a gay person and they say it is good. These men so obviously live double lives - then I discover a darker side, they're all escorts. The main speaker talks of his escort agency - Delhi Boys - which he started 2-3 years ago. It's doing well and saw an opportunity to build a business.
According to my Delhi contact the city is rife with lads charging for their time: students with bills to pay, uneducated guys with a need to earn and then those simply finding it an easier way to earn money. They charge 1500-3000ruppees per hour barely £40. It's a living.
Even in the gay night there were plenty of escorts - many dressed in black as a signal: keen to sexually exploit themselves - make themselves available. It's hard to distinguish who they are, their English is amazing- better than many working in call centres (which is most of their occupations). So as a single gay man - how does it work?
Some talk of getting married to a woman at some point for the sake of their parents. Yet speaking to some elders during my India visit this is becoming more difficult - the recent rape cases are the result of years of neglect. Families disposing of female offspring in favour for a male heir - men out number women and therefore opportunities to marry significantly decline. Men without a women "go crazy. At the age of 24-25 years old, no woman, no sex. That's why we have so many rape cases. It's not like in Europe where sex is legal from 14-16 years old and frequently had, these men have never had it - so they have to find it.
It's a dark side to India that can only get worse. Men are hiding their sexuality, men are unable to find women. It's a vicious circle that can lead to slow progression in equality and sexual freedom.
Turn on Planet Romeo and its like a machine gun - guys are driving messages begging to meet, not to meet but to get their sexual fulfillment. If this is how the gay men feel with a sexual outlet how are the straight men going to behave?
The gap between rich and poor is growing by the day in India - and the cultural differences between cities and countryside will drive India to cultural despair. If campaigning for women's rights is tough then getting gay rights firm on the agenda is a long way off - especially if gay men are happy to let it slide and remain discreet.
See the Full Transcript of the interviews in the next blog