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
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
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
“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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