In 2006, a royal Indian prince revealed a secret so taboo it ripped his family apart, stunned a nation and made international headlines.
Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil of Rajpipla was born with a golden spoon in his mouth. “At one time we had almost 22 servants [working] for us. As kids we would call it the 22 man army,” he says.
He lived a life of royalty, but the prince says he always felt something was wrong inside. Still, he did all that is expected of a future king and entered into an arranged marriage. “It was a total disaster. A total failure,” he says. “The marriage never got consummated. I realized I had done something very wrong.”
After his marriage ended, the prince says his world began to unravel. “I was suddenly feeling as if I’m falling apart,” he says.
It was the beginning of a nervous breakdown. In 2002, Prince Manvendra was hospitalized. It was then that he says he finally came to terms with his secret. “As I was growing up I was attracted to the male,” he says. “Then I was getting treatment in the hospital by this psychiatrist and while he was treating me, I came out to him through one of the counseling sessions and he was very, very understanding and he said, ‘There’s nothing wrong with you. You should be proud of your sexuality.’ And it was he who actually volunteered to tell my parents about myself. It was through him I came out.”
Prince Manvendra knew if he told the world he was gay, it could cost him the throne and his freedom. In India, sexual acts between people of the same sex are illegal and punishable by 10 years to life in prison.
Still, the prince was determined to reveal his truth. “Telling the truth, I will never regret,” he says.
In a 2006 newspaper interview, Prince Manvendra came out to the world. The people in his village were outraged. “It was like an earthquake,” he says. “People are so agitated and furious that their prince brought shame to us, to the family, shame to our heritage. Shame to the lineage.”
Prince Manvendra says his father, the king, refuses to accept that his only son and heir to the throne is gay. “It is not natural. Anything which is not natural is not something which you can’t procreate. We always hope for the better. So, you know, like he has some sort of a change in his mind or his attitude,” King Ragubir said in an interview.
The queen was livid. “She said, ‘You had done something most wrong so you don’t deserve to be blessed at all,'” Prince Manvendra says. “She thinks I am a criminal and I should be punished for that.”
The queen took out an ad in a newspaper to announce she was disowning her son and threatened to hold anyone who referred to the prince as her son in contempt. “I wasn’t shocked. Actually I don’t blame her. I blame her ignorance,” Prince Manvendra says. “As most of the Indians do about homosexuality. They are very, very, insensitive and unavailable on the whole issue.”
Although they live in the same palace, Prince Manvendra says he and his mother live in separate wings. “We do accidentally bump into each other, but she tries to avoid me,” he says. “She just will try to turn her face away from me or try to avoid coming down that moment of the time when I am maybe crossing her way.”
The prince says he and his mother were never close before he came out, but her behavior still has an effect on him. “Why should there be any discrimination on the basis of one’s sexuality? I mean, what have I done wrong that I should be treated in this manner?”
Growing up, Prince Manvendra says he always thought he was different. “Being brought up in such a protected environment, I couldn’t talk to anyone, couldn’t share my views to anyone, so I was confused whether I’m the only one like that or are there a lot of other people like me or was it kind of a disease?”
The prince says he didn’t come to terms with his sexuality until after his marriage ended, which he says was arranged but not forced. “I was confused about myself. I wasn’t knowing what [I was],” he says. “Am I heterosexual? What is homosexuality? I thought it was a passing phase. I might get over it once I married. And that’s the reason I decided to get married.”
Prince Manvendra says he was never physically attracted to his wife and never wanted to consummate the marriage. On their wedding night, the prince says he told her he was too tired after the long celebrations.
“It was terrible for her because she got married to me, like any other woman, she expected the kind of satisfaction from her husband,” he says. “I wasn’t showing any interest so she would get up and start sobbing. I probably thought she was feeling homesick and that’s the reason she’s sobbing away. … I didn’t realize that her anguish is because I am not paying any attention to her.”
When they separated, Prince Manvendra says she left him with a powerful message. “Just before she left me, she just said that, ‘Well, you tried to spoil the life of somebody like me. I just request you not to do that again,'” he says. “Well, it was totally true. I mean, it was a fact. And I decided there and then that, come what may, I’m not going for a second marriage again.”