Being Indian; be it in India, South Africa, or anywhere else in the world; our roots are grounded in conservative layers of impermeable teachings. We are in the 21st century and even so, our traditionalist principals and values remain. This is a strong point in our culture, but also a weakness. It is important to note that principals should remain steadfast only if they are commendable and impartial.
Homosexuality in Indian Society
SUTRA looks back at the life of (and recognizes) the first and, to date most prominent gay activist in India.
Ashok Row Kavi was born on 1 June 1947, in Mumbai. He was educated in Mumbai’s “Bombay Scottish High School”, and then moved on to Bombay University where he achieved his Honors in Chemistry.
He later achieved a diploma in Theology from the Ramakrishna Math, at which stage he trained to be a monk. During this period he realized his homosexuality and had come to accept it. Ashok came out in 1868, when he did an interview in Savvy magazine.
SUTRA looks at an extract from an interview with Ashok Row Kavi, and Perry Brass, author of How to Survive Your Own Gay Life:
Can you tell us something about yourself? How did you end up being virtually the only openly gay man in India to speak out on the HIV issue there?
Ashok Row Kavi: “I was born in Bombay on June 1st, 1947, a premature baby not expected to live. Amma and Anna (Mom and Dad) were Brahmin refugees fleeing poverty in South India. Anna finally became a leading light in Bollywood (India's Hollywood) and a founding member of the Indian Motion Pictures' Producers' Association.
I was educated in Mumbai's elite Bombay Scottish High School from whose Secondary School I graduated. I got an Honours in Chemistry from Bombay University after two years doing textile engineering at the prestigious Victoria Jubilee Technical Institute (VJTI) in Bombay.
I did my diploma in religion and comparative theology from the Ramakrishna Math where I trained to be a monk. I also discovered my gay nature there and was given sensible counseling for it by the monks. "Accept it as natural. Whatever occurs in nature is natural though it may not be common," advised my counselor, Swami Harshananda.
I returned from the monastery to do a post graduate in Journalism while working as a trainee in the Free Press Journal, and finally joined the "Indian Express" chain of newspapers in Bombay. I started India's first Playboy clone, Debonair, with my English friend Anthony Van Braband in 1971.
I left the Express to start India's first morning tabloid, The Daily in 1981, left that to become city editor of my home ground newspaper, Free Press Journal. I then became bureau chief of India's newsweekly, The Week. There I came out, creating a ruckus in the conservative Christian management.
I quit journalism in 1990, after attending the Fifth International AIDS Conference in 1989 at Montreal, where I was aghast to see American gay men fighting for their very lives to get funding to fight AIDS.
I had come out openly as a gay man in 1986 (while at The Week), when I did an interview in Savvy, one of India's most controversial feminist magazines, explaining what "gay" really meant. It was not only a first but started a furor because of the plain speaking I did about the numbers [of Indian men] involved...
Before that I used to review books on homosexuality, and thus gave a good inkling that I was queer from the insights I had into the homosexual world in India. Coming out was a natural defense mechanism, but I now wonder. So many people have forgotten my long innings in journalism, human rights and my reportage in such famous cases like the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, where I was one of the first journalists to get in while thousands were dying.
I've become just a "gay activist," which is a very uni-dimensional look at my life. I have interests in religion, social biology, sexuality, science and even astronomy. I have reported developments in India's atomic energy establishment, the speeches of Indira Gandhi and her downfall, done court reporting, reported death and disaster on a huge scale. I am not just a gay activist: I am India spanning 50 years of her 5,000 year old civilization. A sliver of it, but a good representative one, no doubt.” - Ashok Row Kavi
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