Your Gay Guide to Mumbai

My last post listed down some of the gay pubs, cafes and spas and cruising spots in India’s capital Delhi. In this post, let me tell you about the various gay friendly places or things you must visit if you are visiting Mumbai.

Mumbai is called the economic capital of India. It is also where the Indian film industry Bollywood is located (yes, those movies with songs and dance are made here). Mumbai is also called as the city that never sleeps, because even late at night, the streets are bustling with people. The city also has a very active gay scene, thanks to years of activism. So what are the interesting places and gay hangouts that you could visit if you are visiting the city, let’s find out.

Parties : As in Delhi, the city hosts gay parties every weekend. There is no single club where the party is organsied every week. The venue keeps changing and is usually communicated through SMS or whatsapp. Salvation Star, Gay Bombay are some of the party organisers in the city.

The HIVE : The Hive, located in Khar West, often plays hosts to various queer events that are organised by Queer Ink every 2nd Sunday of the month. These events often have movie screenings, workshops, performances etc.

The Humsafar Trust : Humsafar Trust is among the oldest organisations to be working with the queer community. It also used to take out Bombay Dost Magazine, which was the first gay magazine of India back in the 90s. Humsafar Trust works on HIV/AIDS prevention among the LGBT community now, but also runs various queer focussed program. You can drop by their office at Santa Cruz.

Mumbai Local : In my Delhi post, I talked some of the cruising spots. In Mumbai, nothing is more cruisier than the local trains. Taken by millions of people every day for commute, the Mumbai local are packed to the brim always, and are often notorious for the cruising that happens inside. Imagine, hundreds of bodies pushed against each other, it’s natural that there will be action. The 2×2 compartment is well known for some hot action.

Gay Bombay : Gay Bombay, or GB, is the oldest organisation working for gay men in Mumbai. They organise various events for gay men in the city, including parties, health talks, outings etc. They are an unregistered organisation and do not have an office. You can check out their website for updates.

Kashish International Queer Film Festival : The Kashish Film Festival has emerged as a major event in the gay calendar of the city (apart from pride). Held in May, the film festival is billed as the largest South Asian film festival and often stretches over 5 days. If you are in the city during this time, join for some wonderful movies from around the world.

Pride March : Pride march in Mumbai, also called as the Queer Azaadi Mumbai, is held around end of January, and is often preceded by a month full of activities. If you are visiting the city in January, you will be in for a treat! Do check out their website for updates.

Sukhdeep Singh

Sukhdeep Singh is the Founding Editor of Gaylaxy magazine which is India’s largest English language LGBT magazine. He grew up in Kolkata, in a Sikh family and in a liberal atmosphere. While studying in college he launched Gaylaxy magazine in 2010, which is now also available as an App. His message to the world is: “Treat everyone equally, with love and dignity.”

Your Gay Guide to Delhi

So you are travelling to India? It is very likely that you will start your tour from Delhi, the capital of India. And if it is your first travel to India, be prepared for a culture shock in more ways than one. I had recently befriended a person online who was visiting from the UK. He said although he had assumed Delhi and India would be quite different, nothing had prepared him for the culture shock still. The noise, the chaotic traffic and the honking of cars takes some time getting used to!

But once you are here, there are several interesting gay spots and places that you can explore. But before moving to those, let me just quickly jot down some of the popular tourist spots that you must visit if you are in Delhi. You will probably also find them in any tourist guide map of the city – Lotus Temple, Jama Masjid (old Delhi), Red Fort, Humayun’s Tomb, Lodhi Gardens, Nizammudin Dargah (next to Humayun’s Tomb), India Gate, Delhi Haat, Bangla Sahib Gurudwara and Qutub Minar.

Coming back to the focus of this article, here’s your gay guide to the city:

Connaught Place: Located in the heart of Delhi, Connaught Place is a popular place that houses many restaurants, brands, cafes etc. The place is always swarming with people, especially on weekends. Palika Park, which is just above Palika Market parking, is also a popular meet up point for Delhi’s LGBT community. You will find the park teeming with gay people on Sunday evening, when many people descend to the park to meet friends and hang out.

Palika Bazar in Connaught Place, Delhi

Nehru Park: Nehru Park is a famous gay cruising area/park in Delhi once the sun sets. You will find many people cruising here in the evening, and the bushes and trees of the park give ample opportunities too. But beware of criminal gangs who are known to loot people.

Spa: Mykonos Spa is a famous gay spa in Delhi, that operates in Lado Sarai, close to Qutub Minar. They offer a variety of services, including spa, Steam bath, Dry Sauna, Jacuzzi, Gym, shower. They also offer accommodation and rent out rooms to guests. Check out their website for more. Apart from Mykonos, there are a couple of other gay spas like the G-Spa at Green Park. Their Saturday dark nights are pretty famous. Check out their website. You also have Mens-Spa (website) providing a host of services. Some other popular spas are Aarogya Health Care And Spa and Kalph Kaya Spa.

Chez Jerome G-Cafe – Located on the terrace of the building that houses Mykonos Spa, this is Delhi’s only LGBT cafe that is maintained by Sambhav Sharma and Jerome. You not only have some really friendly staff and great food and ambience, but also have a wonderful view of Qutub Minar. Sunset at the place is absolutely mesmerising. Check out their facebook page (and the pictures of the cafe below).

Chez Jerome Cafe
Chez Jerome Cafe, Delhi

Parties: Gay parties happen every Saturday, and is often hosted in some club in Connaught Place. Unlike Europe or America, there are no fixed gay bars in India, and information about these parties are often circulatd via SMS or Whatsapp. Kitty Su at The Lalit too hosts parties on Thursday.

In case you are worried about the legal status of homosexuality in India and the implications for you as a visitor, read this post of mine.

Sukhdeep Singh

Sukhdeep Singh is the Founding Editor of Gaylaxy magazine which is India’s largest English language LGBT magazine. He grew up in Kolkata, in a Sikh family and in a liberal atmosphere. While studying in college he launched Gaylaxy magazine in 2010, which is now also available as an App. His message to the world is: “Treat everyone equally, with love and dignity.”

Gay Sex Culture in India – Does it Exist?

Sex is a taboo topic in India, and any discussion around sex is usually hushed. Governments are still stuck on whether to allow sex-education in schools or not. All this, despite India being the land of Kamasutra, and a land where temples like Khajurao depict sex in a very open and unrestricted manner on its walls through carvings pointing to an era when sex was celebrated openly. In such an atmosphere, where (straight) sex itself is taboo, you can imagine the many barriers that discussions around gay sex exist.

But does the reluctance of people to talk about sex means people are not having sex, or there is no sex culture in India? Far from it. Remember, India did not reach a population of 1.2 Billion through test tube babies. However, what it does do is make it difficult to talk about ones desires openly, and throws everything underground.

With the many restrictions, both legal and social around gay sex, it is not surprising that a gay sex culture (as it exists in European countries) does not exist in India. There are no bear or leather clubs, or clubs or pubs around fetishes. India does not even have gay clubs or bars. No Nude beaches. You do have gay parties but they are organised in regular bars/clubs once or twice a week, and notified via SMS or through secret Facebook groups. Sex toys are in demand in India, yet they are sold mostly underground (or online). Individuals do enjoy BDSM, master-slave relations, kink etc., and these are mostly put up in the profile description of Grindr and Planetromeo. LGBTQ space in India is still too preoccupied with discussions around coming out and fighting the homophobic law – Section 377.

But how does it all affect you when you visit India? Well, to begin with, it means when you visit India, there is no single club or bar in any city that you can go to to explore the gay life. If you do not know any LGBTQ Indian before who could show you around, or pass on the information of parties to you, then grindr and planetromeo remain your best friend to connect with people and gather these information.

And how does a law like 377 affect you? Well, the law is mainly used as a tool of harassment and for extortion of money by criminal gangs or by police. The Section 377 is mostly applied in cases of rape and child sex abuse, and is seldom applied on gay men for having sex. For more details on how Section 377 affects you as a gay tourist, you can read this post that I wrote sometime ago.

The fact that you are a foreign national visiting India however apparently acts as a deterrent for the police, as the police would not want to get into the tangles of dealing with embassies and disturbing foreign relations of India with other countries.

 

Sukhdeep Singh

Sukhdeep Singh is the Founding Editor of Gaylaxy magazine which is India’s largest English language LGBT magazine. He grew up in Kolkata, in a Sikh family and in a liberal atmosphere. While studying in college he launched Gaylaxy magazine in 2010, which is now also available as an App. His message to the world is: “Treat everyone equally, with love and dignity.”

Queer Carnival in Delhi – A Celebration of LGBTQ Talent

Gaylaxy, India’s leading LGBTQ magazine, organised a Queer Carnival on 13th November in Delhi. November is the pride month in Delhi, India’s capital, and a number of pride related events are held in the month of November. The actual pride march will be held on Nov 27th.

The Queer Carnival too was part of this month long celebration of sexuality and diversity. The carnival provided a platform for people to showcase their talent. Gaylaxy has always believed in “empowering expressions” and has been doing that since the last 6 years through its online platform, where various people share their thoughts, personal stories etc. The Queer Carnival was an extension of the online to offline.

Calls for performances were given a month in advance, and we received a number of entries from various queer individuals. Entries were received for song, dance and poetry. The talent of the individuals simply stumped us!

The Carnival also had some interesting stalls for people to check out. For the first time in India, there was an Asexuality Awareness stall. There also was a stall by Kinkpin displaying some really quirky and fun products related to sexual health. Another stall by Posterwa selling feminist and queer posters. Paintings and pictures by queer artists too were on display.

Mr. Gay World India 2016 Anwesh Sahoo and Spicy Tutuboy, the artistic persona of Diniz Sanchez were the two wonderful hosts for the evening. Around 15 people performed at the carnival, including Abhina Aher – a transgender activist and founder of a transgender dancing group “Dancing Queens”. Held at Gulmohar Club, in the heart of a resident’s colony,  it was really heartening to see so many residents come to the event and express their support for the community and its people.

The Carnival not just provided a platform for people to showcase their talent, but also proved to be an important socialising space for queer individuals at a time when homosexuality remains deeply taboo in India and homosexual sex remains criminalised by law.

Some of the pictures on display at the Carnival
Some of the pictures on display at the Carnival
Spciy Tutuboy and Anwesh Sahoo (Mr. Gay World India 2016) - the two hosts of the evening
Spciy Tutuboy and Anwesh Sahoo (Mr. Gay World India 2016) – the two hosts of the evening
The Asexuality Awareness stall
The Asexuality Awareness stall
Kinkpin stall with sexual health products on display
Kinkpin stall with sexual health products on display
Mr. Gay World India 2016 singing a song
Mr. Gay World India 2016 singing a song
A painting on display
A painting on display
A dance performance
A dance performance
Poetry being recited by a young poet
Poetry being recited by a young poet
Soniya, an acid attack survivor, expressing her support for the LGBTQ community. Soniya faced acid attack in her teenage in 2000 and she remained on bed for 2.5years. When she started walking again she opened a small parlour at her home without getting any support from govt. and organization. Now it’s been 15 years of running that parlour at her home.
Soniya, an acid attack survivor, expressing her support for the LGBTQ community. Soniya faced acid attack in her teenage in 2000 and she remained on bed for 2.5years. When she started walking again she opened a small parlour at her home without getting any support from govt. and organization. Now it’s been 15 years of running that parlour at her home.
Trans activist Abheena Aher and a founding member of Dancing Queens group performing a dance
Trans activist Abheena Aher and a founding member of Dancing Queens group performing a dance
Audience at the Carnival
People enjoing the performances at the Carnival
Sukhdeep Singh

Sukhdeep Singh is the Founding Editor of Gaylaxy magazine which is India’s largest English language LGBT magazine. He grew up in Kolkata, in a Sikh family and in a liberal atmosphere. While studying in college he launched Gaylaxy magazine in 2010, which is now also available as an App. His message to the world is: “Treat everyone equally, with love and dignity.”

Travelling To India? These Cities Have a Vibrant Gay Culture

You probably already know by now that homosexuality is criminalised in India under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. However, the existence of a law hasn’t deterred the queer community in India in any way, and a vibrant gay culture exists in various Indian cities. Here are some of the best cities to be LGBT in India.

1) Mumbai – The economic capital of India and the centre of Indian movie industry Bollywood, Mumbai has one of the most vibrant queer cultures. There are regular gay meet-ups and gatherings being organised by Gay Bombay group where everything from movie screenings to cooking classes to  talks on relationships are held.  Apart from this, the city also has one of the largest LGBT film festival called Kashish that is held in May. It just concluded last week and Sir Ian McKellen had inaugurated it this year. The city also holds one of the largest pride marches in January and it is usually preceded by a month of pride activities.

2) Bengaluru – The Garden City of India, also called the Silicon Valley of India, is one of the friendliest cities of the country and hosts a weekly meet every Thursday at the Good As You Office where around 20-30 gay men usually meet and engage in friendly banter and discussion on various queer topics. I once took a friend of mine who was visiting from France to one of these meets. Apart from this, there is a Gay Runners And Breakfast (GRAB) group which, as the name suggests, is a runners group that runs around the famous Cubbon Park every Sunday and then meets for breakfast. Bengaluru too hosts a Film Festival in February, while pride is held in November end, and is preceded by a month of pride related events.

june_bengalore_gay_runners

3) Delhi – Unlike Mumbai and Bengaluru, the capital city does not have regular official meet ups being organised by any group. But that doesn’t stop the queer community from coming together. You can find the LGBT community thronging Pallika Park at Connaught Place every Sunday evening. People come there with friends, to meet friends, to make friends. Other events that are held are usually communicated through social media or via email lists. Delhi also holds one of the largest pride parades in India and it is held around November end.

4) Kolkata – The people of the city are as sweet as the Rosogullas (a sweet dish). Sappho for Equality and Pratyay Gender Trust hold a film festival around November, while Pride March is held in December

june_kolkata_gay_pride

5) Chennai – Pride in the city is held in June. The city also has a queer literature group that meets regularly.

And if you are more into parties, then all of these cities also have gay parties every weekend. Apart from these, there are other cities like Hyderabad and Pune that are making their presence felt on the queer calendar with the increasing activities being organised or held in these cities.

If you plan to visit India, or any of these cities, do explore the local LGBT scene as well.

Sukhdeep Singh

Sukhdeep Singh is the Founding Editor of Gaylaxy magazine which is India’s largest English language LGBT magazine. He grew up in Kolkata, in a Sikh family and in a liberal atmosphere. While studying in college he launched Gaylaxy magazine in 2010, which is now also available as an App. His message to the world is: “Treat everyone equally, with love and dignity.”

Section 377 & India : How Safe Is India for a Gay Tourist?

India is referred to as a sub-continent because of the varying weather, terrain, people and languages that you find in the country (well, actually the India sub-continent includes Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh too, but India is still no less of a sub-continent on its own). The country has 29 different states, each with its own distinct culture, language, food, sub-languages, dialects etc. The variety is so huge that if you move from one state to another, you might even be mistaken that you are in a different country!! During one of my own solo trips in South of India, I met two young German students who were stunned by the diversity they found in India and remarked that in Europe, you find a totally different culture and language only when you move from one country to another.

All this makes India an ideal travel destination for  a number of tourists. But India is also a country that criminalises anal and oral sex through Section 377 – a legacy of the times that Britain ruled over India. Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code criminalises “unnatural sex against the order of nature” and includes all non peno-vaginal sex. Although ideally the law should apply to straight people engaging in oral and anal sex, the law is widely perceived to be targeting LGBT people only. If convicted under this particular law, you could be sentenced to a maximum of life imprisonment.

However, the Indian LGBT community has been fighting this law in the courts for more than a decade now and met with success in 2009 when the Delhi High Court said that Section 377 should not apply for consensual sex. However this verdict was challenged in the Supreme Court by various religious groups, and the Supreme Court reversed the Delhi High Court judgement in Dec 2013 and re-criminalised anal and oral sex. Currently, the Supreme Court has agreed to re-examine its own verdict by a larger bench of five judges.

Section 377 in India has largely been a tool for the police to extort money from gay men at cruising spots and harass them by threatening to implicate them under Sec 377 if they do not pay them bribes. Recent crime data though shows that a number of cases were filed under Section 377 by the police, there is no distinction though if it was filed against LGBT people or in cases of child abuse (Section 377 is also often invoked in cases of child abuse).

Foreigners taking part in Delhi Queer Pride 2015
Foreigners taking part in Delhi Queer Pride 2015

Despite the existence of Section 377, more and more Indian cities are organising pride marches, LGBT film festivals, parties and other events. Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and Bangalore see some of the largest pride marches of the country. There is a thriving LGBT culture in the larger cities, and people mingle and meet in parties, social events, and also via apps like grindr and planetromeo. A number of gay travel portals exist with a largely foreign clientele.

Apart from the legal front, socially, India is still a largely conservative country where public display of affection is generally frowned upon. But you will find a lot of homo-social behaviour which often stumps people visiting from West. Two men holding hands while walking on the road might imply they are gay in Western countries, but such a gesture holds no meaning in India.

India is a vast and beautiful country, a little chaotic may be, but definitely worth visiting. And when you make that trip, do check out the local LGBT scene as well.

Sukhdeep Singh

Sukhdeep Singh is the Founding Editor of Gaylaxy magazine which is India’s largest English language LGBT magazine. He grew up in Kolkata, in a Sikh family and in a liberal atmosphere. While studying in college he launched Gaylaxy magazine in 2010, which is now also available as an App. His message to the world is: “Treat everyone equally, with love and dignity.”

Glimpses of Pride March from India

Two Indian cities held gay pride marched recently- Bengaluru on Nov 29th and Delhi on Dec 2nd. Both these cities have been holding pride marches since 2008. With a right wing government ruling India currently, and the shrinking space for free expression, pride march in both these cities extended support for other minorities and causes as well, demanding a society where everyone is able to freely express themselves. Homosexual acts remain criminalised in India under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.

Bengaluru Pride

A participant has his body painted

Bangalore Pride 2015 033

A transgender person takes part in the pride marchBangalore Pride 2015 036

Another person dresses up in a traditional attireBangalore Pride 2015 053

A gender queer participantBangalore Pride 2015 020

Delhi Pride

one_india_delhi_pride

Foreigners take part in Delhi Pridedelhi_pride_firangs

A poster demanding removal of Section 377no_377_poster

A participant dresses up as a PrinceDSCN5070

Another poster points out that Sec 377 is a British Legacybeefy_poster

A participant in a feather dressrainbow_feathers_delhi

Sukhdeep Singh

Sukhdeep Singh is the Founding Editor of Gaylaxy magazine which is India’s largest English language LGBT magazine. He grew up in Kolkata, in a Sikh family and in a liberal atmosphere. While studying in college he launched Gaylaxy magazine in 2010, which is now also available as an App. His message to the world is: “Treat everyone equally, with love and dignity.”

Gay Rights Across the World – Advancements and Backlashes

The world is going through an interesting phase when it comes to gay rights. While there are advancements happening on LGBT rights at all fronts, the pace is certainly vastly different at different parts of the world. In fact, in some places, the situation of LGBT people is in fact worsening. But before going any further, it would be prudent to have a look at some of the major developments in the last few months.

The biggest news that dominated the world was of course the US Supreme Court’s judgement that made same-sex marriages legal across the country. It was a huge win for the proponents of marriage equality, whose effects were sure to reverberate across the world. Despite being a world leader, LGBT rights have somewhat lagged in USA when compared to a few other nations of the world. Though same-sex marriages were legal in a few states within USA, others had brought in laws to specifically ban such marriages. The fight over the right to marry reached the courts, and finally on 26th of June the US Supreme court settled the matter once and for all. It is interesting how history tends to repeat itself. On the same day (26th June), had occurred what is now known as Stonewall Riots, which signifies the spirit to fight back for justice and rights.

But just days after such a big win, gay rights rally in Istanbul, Turkey was attacked by police. It may be noted that Turkey is the only muslim country to have a LGBT pride march, and the march has seen participation in thousands over the years. However, things haven’t been going smoothly for LGBT people in the country since the new conservative President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has taken over. It was shocking for participants to find themselves attacked with water canons by the police. On the otherhand, ISIS continues to horrify the world with its abuse and violence, and there have been shocking images of people the group suspected of being homosexual, being thrown off the buildings.

A participant in the Gay Pride event in support of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual (LGBT) rights reacts as others flee after Turkish police use a water canon to disperse them in Istanbul, Turkey, Sunday, June 28, 2015. Turkish police have used water cannons and tear gas to clear gay pride demonstrators from Istanbul's central square. Between 100 and 200 protestors were chased away from Taksim Square on Sunday after a police vehicle fired several jets of water to disperse the crowd. It wasn't immediately clear why the police intervened to push the peaceful if noisy protest away from the area. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
A participant in the Gay Pride event in support of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual (LGBT) rights reacts as others flee after Turkish police use a water canon to disperse them in Istanbul, Turkey, Sunday, June 28, 2015. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
A participant at Istanbul resists the use of water canon by Police(Photo: Reuters)
A participant at Istanbul resists the use of water canon by Police(Photo: Reuters)

The US Supreme Court judgement was bound to have repercussions across the world, and in India, newspapers quoted the Law Minister as saying that Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalises “sex against the order of nature” and is used as a tool of violence against LGBTs in India, could soon be gone. However, the minister issued a statement within hours of the report being published, claiming that he had been misquoted and there was no such intention of the government. A member of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party went on to claim that the party considers homosexuality a mental disorder. On the other hand, transgender rights are progressing in India with the Rajya Sabha, the Upper House of the Parliament, unanimously passing an important bill for transgender rights. It now needs to be passed in the Lower House to become a law. More disturbingly, the Government of India also decided to block over 850 porn sites, but had to roll back the ban after backlash from all quarters. The porn ban is only the latest in the series of things the conservative BJP government is banning.

Another European country Ireland, passed an important legislation that ‘allows transgender people to gain legal recognition without seeing a doctor or needing medical treatment’. In another historic ruling, the European Court ruled ‘that not recognising same-sex couples is a breach of their human rights’. On his recent visit to African continent, US President Barack Obama raised the issue of LGBT rights. African countries remain deeply homophobic, and the voicing of concern by President Obama shows the growing importance of LGBT rights in the global discourse.

From a cursory look at these major developments, it is evident that if there are happy advancements, there is a rise in conservative forces in parts of the world too which seek to undo the progress done. In such a scenario it becomes imperative for world leaders and progressive countries maintain diplomatic pressure on other countries and state unambiguously that LGBT rights form a key part of human rights discourse.

Sukhdeep Singh

Sukhdeep Singh is the Founding Editor of Gaylaxy magazine which is India’s largest English language LGBT magazine. He grew up in Kolkata, in a Sikh family and in a liberal atmosphere. While studying in college he launched Gaylaxy magazine in 2010, which is now also available as an App. His message to the world is: “Treat everyone equally, with love and dignity.”