City Life – Gay Delhi is Getting Straight
One year after the landmark Delhi High Court verdict.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Time: Late evening. Place: Central Park, Connaught Place. Props: Trees, pathways, bushes and men — young and old, masculine and effeminate. Under unlit lamps, some are eyeing each other; some are starting conversations, and some are having sex behind the bushes, which is always quick. 9 pm is the park’s closing time.
This slice of Delhi’s gay life is almost history and not just because Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) had taken over the Park to built Rajiv Chowk terminus. Exactly one year after the legalisation of gay sex by the Delhi High Court (click here to read that story), the social life of homosexuals in the city is more open, varied and as engaging, or dull, as that of straight people.
“When DMRC shut down the Central Park, there was no mass wailing,” says Anuj Bakaya, a doctor who was a regular to the Park. “We were too busy hooking up on man-to-man chat sites.” Those were the last days of cruising, the gay slang for walking about a locality in search of a sex partner.
For the next few years, though, the Sunday evenings in Nehru Park (the part facing the Ashoka Hotel) remained a popular meeting destination for the gay community. “Fashion designers, foreign diplomats and college students went there,” says Himanshu Dutta, a freelance writer. “But there was always this scare of being harassed by the park guards or the cops.” Section 377 of the Indian constitution, which criminalised homosexual sex, was feared as an easy tool for persecution. (It was this colonial-era law that was overturned by the court on July 2, 2009.)
By the turn of the century, Delhi’s gay nightlife had evolved beyond hurried gropings in gardens and Blueline buses. Gay bashes were being regularly held in Chhattarpur and Kapashera farmhouses. Pegs N Pints club in Chankayapuri was hosting Tuesday-night gay parties. A few more nightclubs also started ‘gay nights’ to grab their share of the pink money. “But it was all hush-hush,” says Mohnish Malhotra, a gay-rights activist who is also associated with Delhi Queer Pride Committee. “All that changed after the first pride parade in 2008 when thousands of gay and lesbian people marched into Jantar Mantar declaring to the city that yes, we exist.”
Though homosexuality remains a taboo in Delhi society, being gay in a certain upper layer is no longer a novelty. The premier cultural spaces such as India Habitat Center regularly hosts gay-themed film festivals and book readings. “We are becoming normal and boring,” says Arit Sen, a DU student who likes dressing up in drag queen costumes.
On July 2, 2010, 5.30 pm onwards, the first anniversary of the High Court verdict will be celebrated in the park above Palika Bazaar parking, which incidentally remains one of the last surviving gay cruising joints in the Capital. Programme schedule was finalised a week earlier on the terrace of the Indian Coffee House, the regular meeting site for the Queer Pride Committee. A rainbow of organisations will participate. ‘Saheli’ will sing songs. Delhi University’s ‘Queer Campus’ will do a talk session. ‘Mitr’ will perform a play. Some individuals will read poetries. One woman will dress up as actor Govindra and dance like him. The most emotional moment may be a reading of excerpts from the Delhi High Court judgment.
The morning after the 2nd July, 2009, Delhi High Court judgment