Gaylaxy Magazine went up and running since Section 377, a homophobic relict law of colonial Britain, was declared unconstitutional by the High Court of Delhi on 2 July 2009. Today the bilingual publication with its catchy tagline „empowering expressions“ reaches deep into Indian society. But ever since a loophole in the world’s biggest democracy made it possible for the law to be re-enacted, things are changing quickly for the worse. Gaylaxy’s publisher and editor-in-chief Sukhdeep Sing shares from first hand experience how fragile the status quo can be.
How long have you been running Gaylaxy Magazine and how would you describe its melody?
I founded Gaylaxy in January 2010, so it has been running for more than 5 years now. When I started Gaylaxy, homosexuality had just been de-criminalized by the Delhi High Court in 2009, but there were no avenues for LGBTI* people to express themselves. Things were restricted to articles that would appear in newspapers and other publications every now and then. Apart from that, there was no single magazine or website you could find out all about things related to LGBTI* that were happening around the world and in India. There was also no single unifying platform where gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender people could share their experiences and write their personal stories or thoughts. I wanted to provide such a platform to the gay community. Our tagline – „empowering expressions“ signifies that.
Where are you based in India and what is gay life over there?
I am currently in Delhi. There is no „office“ Gaylaxy has, and we have members spread across India in all major cities. When I launched Gaylaxy, I was in Dhanbad, a city close to Kolkata. Then for 4 years I was in Bangalore, and currently I am in Delhi.
Gay life isn’t as open as it is in Europe. Also, the experience varies a lot from larger cities to smaller cities or towns and villages. People mostly are in the closet, and even when they come out, it usually is to a close group of friends. Coming out to families is something many don’t do. Things are changing in the larger cities though, and there is a trend of youngsters being more out and open about it. Bigger cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore and Chennai do have a more active gay life, with different gay support groups and social activities like film festivals, queer performances and fairs, parties etc happening round the clock. Every year there are more cities organizing gay pride marches. But beyond the city fences things are terribly bad. V Only very few people have the courage to come out, or any support for coming out and they face a lot of homophobia. Most Indian men still get married to unsuspecting straight girls chosen by their parents in arranged marriages.
What are the latest updates on Section 377 and how does it affect your society?
In July 2009, the Delhi High Court had read down Sec 377 and decriminalized consensual homosexual relationships. But in Dec 2014, the Supreme Court reversed that order, and essentially said that the LGBT community was a „miniscule fraction“ whose rights did not need protection. It also said the Parliament could repeal the law if it saw fit. A review petition filed before the court was rejected, and then a curative petition has been filed, which hasn’t come up for hearing yet. In a curative petition, a 5-judge bench will hear the matter all over again to decide the constitutionality of the law. Chances of succeeding in getting a reversal in a curative petition are very low, so we are keeping our fingers crossed.
However, the Supreme Court made another very disturbing observation when, while hearing the case of a gay Gurjarati movie for tax exemption, the judges said that homosexuality was a social evil for some, and then denied tax benefits to the movie.
Sec 377 has largely been used by police to intimidate and harass the community, especially transgenders. It also affects the HIV/AIDS program and keeps people from taking proper medical care due to fear of persecution. Suddenly, you cannot talk about things because it is illegal!
Talking health: how bad is problem with HIV and what is being done to fight it?
India still has one of the largest number of people affected by HIV, though it has been possible to contain the spread of the virus and prevent an AIDS epidemic. This is largely because of the targeted programs that the government ran through various NGOs. However, the new right-wing government has greatly reduced the health budget and cut into the costs of HIV/AIDS program. This has severely affected the work of many NGOs, who have had to stop many of their programs as they could no longer pay the salaries. Activists have pointed out that this could slip India back into an AIDS crisis, if remedial steps are not taken
You publish in two languages, English and Hindi. How big is the Hindi speaking community and do they have different topics and priorities?
English is a foreign and elitist language in India. India has many regional and other languages. Hindi is one of the most widely spoken language, and so the Hindi speaking community is much larger compared to the English one, and reaches people in villages and smaller cities.
Our Hindi section was started keeping in mind that it will eventually help us to reach out to a larger number of people. Also, while much resources are available in English, there are close to nil online resources in Hindi. The Hindi section is run separately by Sachin Jain, who is its editor. The topics and articles dealing with LGBTI* are independent of the English one.
What would you wish for your country to change?
I wish the country to be more tolerant towards alternative views. There has been a rise in intolerance over the years and anyone not conforming to the majority view/opinion/lifestyle is being attacked through smear campaigns and other. Also, I wish there was more overall equality in the Indian society – both economically and socially, and that the marginalized sections and minorities could get their rights.
Interview Torsten Schwick