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A collection of oral histories
of LGBT persons
 

 

Profiles

To watch videos and read transcripts of individual interviewees, please click on
the image or name that will take you to individual pages of the interviewees.

 
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India : Queer Ink
International : Amazon
Aditya Bandopadhyay  

1. Aditya Bandopadhyay
After studying law in Kolkata, Aditya set up practice in Delhi, earlier with Lawyers
Collective and now independently. He was one of the key persons who worked to
bring justice to the activists who were arrested in Lucknow in 2011 for distributing
condoms at a public place. He now heads 'Adhikaar',
an advocacy organization
working for equal rights and healthcare for LGBT persons. He is the Asia-Director
on the board of International Lesbian and Gay Law Association and sits on the
steering committee of other international LGBT and HIV organizations.

 
Producer:
Vivek Anand

Concept, Interviews & Direction:
Sridhar Rangayan

Ashok Row Kavi  
2. Ashok Row Kavi
Ashok, born and brought up in Mumbai, worked as a journalist in various
newspapers and magazines for over 18 years. He then started India's first gay
magazine Bombay Dost and later founded The Humsafar Trust, one of the largest
male sexual health agencies in India. He was the first person in India to come out
openly as a gay man and has been a vocal advocate for gay rights and equal
health facilities for MSM and Transgender persons.

project BOLO - vol1
Betu Singh   3. Betu Singh
A born fighter Betu started off as a security guard in a Delhi hotel and then went on
to set up her own flourishing business. But she gave it all up to work for lesbian
rights. She set up the Sangini Trust in 1997 which and is one of the very few
registered lesbian organizations in India. Apart from providing advocacy and training services, Betu's strength lies in her ability to help lesbian women in distress by
talking to their parents, peers and other stakeholders. Betu continues to fight on
her own steam often against extreme hardships.


Bindumadhav Khire   4. Bindumadhav Khire
Bindu was born and brought up in a very conservative family in Pune, but that did
not stop him from coming all out and openly work for the LGBTcommunity. It did
take many years of struggling with his sexuality, but once he came out, he did it in
full force. He founded Samapathik Trust that does extraordinary grassroots level
work in HIV prevention among MSM & Tg communities. He is also the author of
several booksincluding 'Partner' 'Indradhanu' with a focus on gay, transgender &
bisexual themes which are almost the only such books available in Marathi.
Supported by
UNDP India
Produced by
The Humsafar Trust

Associate
Producer
Solaris Pictures

Dalip Daswani   5. Dalip Daswani
At 55, Dalip has seen it all - the personal and the political. Both the hate and
happiness, the violence and victory. He has faced estrangement and discrimination
from his very own family because of his sexual orientation. As an extremely
talented ceramic designer his shows were applauded in the press, but again his
sexuality became a stumbling block to a successful career. His outspoken views
even alienated him from the close group of people who started one of the earliest
underground LGBT groups in Delhi. However through his ceramic work, writings
and activism, he continued to be one of the fearless spokesperson of the
incumbent LGBT movement in the 90s. Today, living a retired life in his tranquil
home, he has no regrets in life - every life experience is a learning is what he feels.

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Gauri Sawant   6. Gauri Sawant
From being a young shy boy from a conservative middle-class family to heading an
organization of transgenders, Gauri has indeed come a long way, far ahead of even
what she ever imagined. Her leadership qualities were spotted by Ashok Row Kavi
when she was working with The Humsafar Trust. She was encouraged to set up her
own community based organization Sakhi Char Chowgi, under which she now
manages several projects that address both health issues of transgenders and
provide livelihood opportunities. She is an aggressive fighter who knows how to
handle both the police and the politicians. Though she is estranged from her own
biological family, she has formed a happy family with a partner and a daughter.
 

Geeta Kumana   7. Geeta Kumana
For Geeta Kumana, it has been an eventful ride - from being a windsurfer to being an
activist to being a businesswoman - but she has glided through them all rather
smoothly. Her first brush with the lesbian community was at Stree Sangam, but
Geeta soon founded her own organization Aanchal Trust, which was perhaps the
first lesbian organization in Mumbai to have an office, hire professional staff, run a
counsel & distress helpline and even have a lesbian radio spot on air! Geeta soon
became the one and only out visible lesbian in Mumbai, her photographs splashed
across newspapers and live on every news channel. But then, Geeta is one who
knows no fear and is known to always speaks out her mind.

Giti Thadani   8. Giti Thadani
A woman who just revved up a weatherbeaten truck and traveled thousands of
unchartered miles to discover hidden temples and sculptures… a woman who
tirelessly advocates preservation of the Shakti tradition and Hindu iconography
that is fast getting buried under… a woman who was ready to lip lock with another
woman for the cover of a magazine in India in the mid 90s… a woman who started
the first lesbian organization 'Sakhi Collective' way back in 1990… this woman is
none other than Giti Thadani, fearless, outspoken, radical and a trailblazer. Giti is
world renowned for her book 'Sakhiyani', which attempts to uncover lesbian subtext
in ancient Vedic and Sanskrit texts, as well as her other books 'Moebius Trip'. Her
recordings / documentation of ancient paintings & sculptures that depict same-sex
love is a rich treasure trove for every historian researching Indian LGBT history.

Hoshang Merchant   9. Hoshang Merchant
Hoshang has always been a rebel, he says, right from his childhood in Mumbai in a
Parsi household. He studied at Purdue and then traveled extensively teaching and...
looking for life experiences - from US to Iran to Palestine. He returned back to India
but could not get a job. He was rejected by several colleges and universities
because he was openly gay and unapologetically so. Finally he found his home at
University Of Hyderabad where he continues to teach literature. The anthology he
published 'Yaraana' was one of the first queer writings to come out of India and he
has more than 25 books to his credit - of poems, essays and stories. He is a rebel
with a cause!

Jehangir Jani  

10. Jehangir Jani
Life can be moulded into whatever shape one wants to, if one has the courage and
strength - this seems to be the life motto of Jehangir Jani, the well renowned artist.
Never one to be afraid of experimenting with mediums -painting, sculpture, mixed
media and new media - Jani has also experimented with life and love. He has never
been anxious of his sexuality and sexual desires and has been open about
expressing them through his works that are exhibited in many prestigious galleries
across the world and are part of exclusive private collections. While he even got
married unofficially to his same-sex partner much before anyone in India ever did,
he says his inspiration for his work is his own life, which has recently taken an
interesting turn towards meditation and spiritualism.


Lachi  

11. Lachi
Ever since her childhood, Lachi always dreamt of being a woman… and now she is
quintessentially every inch that. Being brought up in a not well-to-do family with very
conservative parents, the young boy that was Lachi did not know for many years
what is the meaning of the way he felt about himself and what to do with it. His
association with Laxmi Narayan Tripathi and Dai Welfare Society and the
transformation into the gritty glamorous Lachi is a journey of self discovery and self
transformation. Lachi today is a committed activist fighting for rights of
transgender persons. She also has dreams of being a Bollywood star - a
Bollywood transgender star, actually.


Laxmi Narayan Tripathi  

12. Laxmi Narayan Tripathi
Laxmi has always loved to be in the limelight... whether it is under the stagelights as
a dancer right from the age of seven, or arclights on the sets of the movies and
television shows she has acted in, or the flashlights of news cameras across the
world... she has been a showstealer. As India's most visible and controversial Hijra
(transgender), she has balanced working for the community at the grassroots as an
activist with using her glamorous celebrity image to push the envelope right upto an
UN task force meeting. Never scared to speak her mind, she also is perhaps one of
the few Hijras to stay with her biological family and be accepted by them.


Manvendra Singh Gohil  

13. Manvendra Singh Gohil
Manvendra Singh Gohil is the first Indian royalty to ever come out as a gay man. It
took him many years of internal struggle, a failed marriage and an inspirational
bonding with Ashok Row Kavi, before he veered away from being a lawyer to
activism. He set up Lakshya Trust which is now acknowledged as one of the best
CBOs in Gujarat with projects that reach the grassroots and advocacy at the
highest bureaucratic corridors, that shapes at the highest level. He was the third
Indian to be on Ophrah Winfrey Show and he has even led pride parades in
Stockholm. He is an Indian prince who is truly international.


Nisha  

14. Nisha
Girish Kumar was a simple boy-next door in a town in Southern India. Right through
his school, college and computer science diploma, he wore his shirt and pant right
through everyday, except on Sunday, when he secretly wore girl's clothes at his
friend's house. But he would never imagine that one day he would board a train to
Mumbai that would change his life forever. Surely joining a Hijra (eunuch) household,
dancing at weddings, begging on streets; joining The Humsafar Trust as an
outreach worker, rising up to head half-a-dozen projects as an Administrator and
finally transforming into the beautiful Nisha, was never part of his life plans. Nisha
now dreams of equal rights for her transgender community and a happy life with
her half-a-dozen transgender daughters.


Parmesh Shahani   15. Parmesh Shahani
Parmesh Shahani wears his style and sexuality on his sleeve - be it speaking at the
high-powered TED conference, signing away his book Gay Bombay, board meeting
at his corporate office or a gay party in town! However Parmesh admits to be a late
bloomer, becoming comfortable with his sexuality only after meeting Riyad and Roy
Wadia and going abroad to study at MIT, Boston. But now back in India and
heading a thinktank called Culture Lab and instituting a diversity policy at his
corporate office, Parmesh is never afraid to speak his mind. With a finger on the
contemporary gay pulse and a global vision, he is an inspiration for the youth.

R. Raj Rao   16. R. Raj Rao
Raj's contribution to writings and discussions about Indian queer literature is
immense, though he himself hates to be branded as a queer writer, because his
work expands and grows beyond it. From a traditional family in Mumbai, Raj's
exploration of his sexual desires was mostly possible in crowded trains, parks
and public washrooms. He makes no bones about the fact that he does not
subscribe to class or caste when it comes to looking for lovers or partners, just
as the characters of his world renowned books Boyfriend and Hostel Room 131.
His writings reflect the angst and passion of the Indian middle and lower middle
class gay men whose sexuality is often subsumed within the patriarchal traditions.
Raj is one of the few out gay Indian professors who also runs a queer study course
at the Pune University where he has been teaching for almost two decades.

Ruth Vanita   17. Ruth Vanita
Ruth says she was never confused about her sexuality, she only needed time to
discover it. Experimenting with Marxism during her early college years and then
being vocal in her writings about feminist ideologies, for Ruth, studying same-sex
literature and theories were a natural next step. After few years of study abroad,
returning to India and teaching literature, she became part of one of the earliest
non-formal LGBT intellectual circle in Delhi. The excitement of the underground
gay & lesbian movement during the 90s is still fresh in her mind and she feels that
while the LGBT movement has made rapid strides in the last few years, there still
needs a more positive legal and social framework for same-sex couples to have a
lasting happy relationship in India. Her defining book 'Same-Sex Love in India' with
Saleem Kidwai is one of her many literary outings that form the spine of
contemporary Indian same-sex literature. She is happily married to her
same-sex partner and has a son.

Saleem Kidwai   18. Saleem Kidwai
The lines on Saleem's age-weathered face is a testimonial to the struggles by a gay
man to live his life with dignity in India during the time when homosexuality was
considered a perversion and a sin and legally a crime. It is also a sign of the
wisdom wrought by varied experience - from being the only male child in an all
woman traditional household in Lucknow, to witnessing the same-sex bonding at
India's all-male premier boarding school, to studying in Canada and being politicized
by the LGBT groups, to coming back and being part of the LGBT intellectual circle
in Delhi, to being one of the few out and proud spokesperson gay community.
Saleem's book with Ruth Vanita, 'Same-Sex Love in India' proved to one and all that
homosexuality was not a western import and that there were same-sex writings in
India right from medieval times. He now lives a retired life in Lucknow, but the news
cameras and press often invade his privacy and he has never said no to speak out
his mind - about homosexuality, literature and religion.

Shivananda Khan  

19. Shivananda Khan
Shiv belongs nowhere and yet everywhere. Born in a remote North Eastern state
of India, then migrating to UK, fighting racism and setting up a support group of
South Asian LGBT persons in London, followed by health support groups for MSM
across India, Bangladesh and other South Asian countries - these are progressions
on a pathbreaking journey that takes Shiv to being honoured by the Queen herself
with an OBE. Shiv is now Sir Shivananda Khan. But he wears these honours lightly
and continues to tirelessly work for the causes he believes in - from some of the
remotest corners of the world to the highest corridors of power - Shivananda Khan
straddles several worlds and personalities with élan and conviction.


Sunil Gupta  

20. Sunil Gupta
Sunil was never shy of his sexuality or sexual desires. He explored them, even as
an adolescent, at the most unexpected places and with the most unexpected
people. But his sexuality got politicized only when he went to Canada to join his
father. From Canada to UK to India, his life and experiences have truly been
transcontinental, crisscrossing with other Indian LGBT personalities like
Shivananada Khan and Saleem Kidwai. He has followed not only his professional
calling as a world renowned photographer, but also the calling of his heart to
discover many fulfilling relationships. Sunil has seen life to the fullest and more.
He has taken happiness and heartbreaks in his stride, including the rather startling
realization (at that time) that he was HIV positive. He now integrates his sexuality
and HIV status with his photographic brilliance to create snapshots of LGBT history.


Disclaimer: The interviews have been conducted between December 2010 and April 2011 and these profiles
have been written in June 2011.

Adita BandopadhyayAshok Row KaviBetu SinghBindumadhav KhireDalip DaswaniGauri SawantGeeta KumanaGiti ThadaniHoshang MerchantJehangir Jani
LachiLaxmi Narayan TripathiManvendra Singh GohilNishaParmesh ShahaniR.Raj RaoRuth VanitaSaleem KidwaiShivananda KhanSunil Gupta

 
 


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