Last edited: October 25, 2003

India’s First Gay Film Festival Highlights Growing LGBT Visibility Newscenter, October 19, 2003

By Peter Hacker, Newscenter, Asia Bureau Chief

Bombay, India—LGBT film festivals are nothing new for most western gay communities, but for India’s gays the country’s first film festival was major step forward in self identity.

In a country where homosexuality remains a criminal offence punishable with sentences from 10 years to life imprisonment just buying a ticket to the film festival, held this weekend in Bombay, was a major political statement.

Hundreds of people, including lesbian and gay activists, their parents, relatives and college students packed into the small auditorium to watch the films that delved into the angst of being gay in tradition-bound India.

The festival featured more than 40 films, including documentaries and experimental films from 16 countries, including the US, Britain, Germany, South Korea and France.

“We need to create public awareness and confront prejudice,” said Chatura, who uses only one name, an activist with Humjinsi, a Bombay-based lesbian support group. “We hope the film festival will dispel ignorance about us and our lives and spark debate.”

The Indian produced films were all documentaries. One film, Manjuben, Truck Driver, focused on the life of a lesbian truck driver from a western Indian village who said economic independence helped her lead life on her own terms.

Another documentary showed an elderly gay couple who refer to each other as “my friend,” admit to being gay, lovingly feed each other on New Delhi’s streets but have not yet come out to their wives, children or grandchildren.

Most Indian gays live at home with their parents, meet their partners at private parties and invite them home as “friends” for fear of being disowned by their families.

Gay activists are pressing for the courts to overturn the country’s sodomy laws. But, the federal government has argued that homosexuality goes “against public morality.” It said society’s disapproval of homosexuality was “strong enough to justify it being treated as a criminal offense, even when adults indulge in it in private.”

Nevertheless, LGBT groups are increasingly becoming vocal. In June there was a gay pride parade in Calcutta, in eastern India.

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