Interview: Gay Indian seeks refuge at Cambridge

Homosexuality in conservative Indian society is forced into hiding by not only the government, but also family, neighbours and the police. The battle between older guardians and the younger generation in India continues its vicious circle where gay and lesbians are forced into marriage by their parents. Some are thrown out of their homes; most lead a double life while others suffer in silence. Balaji Ravichandran, a young medical student has talked to about his own experiences of being gay.

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Having studied medicine in India, Balaji moved to the United Kingdom about a year ago.

The British Medical Journal provided him with a two-month scholarship to study medical journalism and subsequently appointed him as the editor of studentBMJ.

“I got to love the freedom homosexuals enjoy in this country, and decided to be open and complete about my own sexuality,” explains Balaji.

This talented scientist has an unconditional offer to study at one of the most prestigious colleges in Cambridge – if he can find the £22,000 needed to fund his course.

He has only recently declared his homosexuality to his mother, but his father remains unaware.

According to Balaji, one can be jailed in India for life for been gay. He states that according to Indian law, ‘unnatural acts’ are forbidden and punishable by an unlimited fine including life imprisonment.

As a result of anti-gay and lesbian legislation and their rejection by the Indian community at large, gay and lesbian people are keeping their status and activities secretive.  He mentions a few examples of the realities of gay existence in India, like the 40-year-old married male with two children diagnosed with HIV who in his secret life solicits younger men for sex via the Internet.

The Gully (an online magazine) reported in 2004 that a young man, Raju Sharma, had been hung by his ankles with a rope from the first floor balcony of his parents’ flat by his father, who threatened to kill any neighbour attempting to rescue him. His father had found out the son was gay.

It also reports of a young man being assaulted by local police and forced to give oral sex. When attempting to file a complaint, the policemen’s superiors threatened him with prosecution under Indian law for carrying out ‘unnatural acts.’  But despite Indian law and its society there has being an increase in pro-gay movement.

According to Shaleen Rakesh, Director of the gay outreach group, Naz Foundation, there has been a remarkable change:  “Ten years ago the only option a gay person had was to go to cruising areas- to parks and public toilets for random, discreet sex. Now there are so many venues, so many private parties, gay night clubs.”  Kim Mulji, executive director of charity Naz Foundation, told:  “Most men who have sex with men in India do not identify as gay, and we find men with differing sexuality and gender identities and no identities.”

For Balaji, life in India as a gay man remains a frightening thought.

Having lost two of his gay friends to suicide, he suffered depression himself in the aftermath of the Asian tsunami which affected his hometown.

He finds himself, “in a quandary that could mean his future life or death.”

Balaji believes that the current legal and social barriers for gay and lesbian goes further by deterring the prevention and treatment of HIV.

According to figures published by Naz, South Asia represents some 20% of the world’s population and includes the countries of Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka with a combined population of over 1.5 billon people.

This region is at the forefront of the AIDS pandemic, where in India, the numbers living with HIV has been estimated to be more than four million within highly localised epidemics.

According to Naz, in such heavily populated region, males who have sex with males have been significantly ignored in regard to ensuring that appropriate and accessible HIV/AIDS services are available.

The majority of those services that do exist have been primarily developed through technical assistance and support from Naz.  Until there is significant progress shown in the attitudes of both the legislator and minds of Indian society, Balaji is keen to stay in the UK.

“I have an unconditional offer from King’s College, Cambridge to study Natural Sciences. But without funding, I cannot take this course up, and coming from poor background, I have no funds to cover my course.

“The course, because I’m not from the EU, costs more than £22,000 a year. There are no full scholarships anywhere for undergraduate studies, and all my efforts to secure funding have been in vain, including charities like Wellcome Trust.

“My passion in life has been, and will always be, to ‘do science’, as opposed to being a scientist.

“And there is no better place in the world to nurture scientific ambitions than Cambridge University.

“What’s even better, I need not live a lie, and can be honest about my sexuality. After all, despite all the adversities I have faced, my homosexuality has been the greatest source of my strength.

“Now, having come this far, I hope I will not have to give up on my dreams just because I was born poor – something over which I have no control over.”


About Naufal Khan

Publisher & editor of Indian Spice.