Last edited: October 25, 2003

India Film Festival Examines Homophobia

Associated Press, October 19, 2003

By Ramola Talwar Badam

BOMBAY, India (AP)—One film focused on the life of a lesbian truck driver. Another showed two older men lovingly feeding each other.

In a country where homosexuality is a crime, and where gays rarely gather publicly, India’s first gay film festival was more about coming out than it was about filmmaking.

“We need to create public awareness and confront prejudice,” said Chatura, a young activist for a Bombay-based lesbian support group. “We hope the film festival will dispel ignorance about us and our lives and spark debate.”

Chatura, who would only give her first name, joined about 200 other activists, college students and relatives of gays at the festival, titled “Tremors of a Revolution.”

Organizers had a hard time finding a venue for the three-day event, which ended Sunday. In the end the audience squeezed into a college auditorum on the outskirts of Bombay.

The Indian news media published articles announcing the festival, but photography was banned because organizers said audience members were “in various stages of coming out.”

Many of the 40 films featured criticized Indian law, which defines homosexual relations as a crime against nature punishable by 10 years to life in prison.

“Homosexuality is abnormal, it’s an illness,” said a frowning, unnamed police officer in one documentary.

Other films focused on the ridicule and discrimination faced by same-sex couples in India.

“Manjuben, Truck Driver” focused on the life of a cross-dressing truck driver who said economic independence helped her lead life on her own terms.

Another documentary showed the relationship between two men in their 60s who see each other on the sidelines of what seems to be heterosexual lives. Each is married, with grandchildren.

Most homosexuals in India live with their parents, referring to their partners as “friends” for fear of being disowned by their families.

Those who live together don’t advertise their sexuality, for fear of being evicted by landlords.

But over the past decade, the Indian media and gay activist groups have reported instances in which lesbian and gay couples privately exchanged marriage vows in temples and mosques. The marriages have no legal sanction.

“We’re getting more active and more bold and we’re trying more and more to get out,” said Nitin Karani, 32, an activist with a gay rights group, Humsafar Trust, which has 8,000 members in Bombay.

“There is guilt and shame in pretending to be friends and not lovers and meeting each other on the sly,” said Karani, who told his parents and colleagues eight years ago of his sexual orientation.

In June there was a gay pride parade in Calcutta, in eastern India.

In August, gay rights groups in Bombay held a rare news conference to criticize a Vatican document that urged lawmakers and religious leaders to campaign against gay marriages.

Filmmaker Natasha Mendonca said the film festival would open people’s minds. “Most Indian films are about marriages. They don’t reflect my reality or that of many other people. This one does.”

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