Was the term LGBTQ even in popular use when you were growing up as a gay boy in Delhi?
Of course not. It has come into popular coinage only in the last 8-10 years, especially in India. Was I aware what gay is? Yes, I was because we are the product of the 80s and 90s and I did travel out of India quite a lot when I was a kid. When I went to Disneyland, for instance, we used to see gay people.
When did you realise you were different?
I was in an all-boy’s school. When there were plays, I would do the female roles. In the beginning, the teachers would decide who would be the female roles and I would be cast as Sita or Mother Mary. As we grew older, we were allowed to choose the roles we would do and I always gravitated towards the female roles. I had a taste of wanting to do something different from what the other boys were doing. I realised, at a very early age, that I was different. I have three sister and my mother is a super phenomenally strong person. For me, this was normal but, for the rest of the world, it was queer. What is the definition of queer—a single mother is queer, a single father is queer, a strong, independent woman is queer. The purpose of the LGBTQ community is to include everybody in the rainbow.
The process of coming out is difficult for many queer people. What were the conflicts you faced?
There was an internal struggle about when to come out and how. There was no struggle about am I gay? The question was ‘do I make it simple for everybody and make it a marriage of convenience’. Do I make it simple for everybody and follow the norms? I went to the University of Warwick when I was 17, where a lot of these struggles happened for me though the university was very open-minded and had a lot of LGBTQ alliances. A lot of students who went there from various parts of India end up becoming like your family. I was the only Indian who was gay or, if there was somebody else, they were not coming out. Everyone around me had a girlfriend and were heterosexual and I thought, maybe I should hide my sexuality. Maybe I should not coming out.
Was your coming out made difficult by your business family background?
The time I knew who I was, my parents were building their empire and everyone knew the surname and who I was, so it was a lot of struggle. When I went to King’s College, London, for MA in international management, and I started living full time in London, that’s when I decided that I am not going to live a lie. I saw so many people living their lives that I didn’t think there was anything wrong with me. I came out to my family when I was 21. I came out first to my mother and my sister and my father overheard the conversation. I was visiting India at the time. Their response was more like, ‘are you sure you are gay?’ As if I had a choice. Or, they said, ‘maybe you haven’t met the right girl. Maybe it is a phase. We have all had bisexual phases, I’m sure it will pass’. It was alack of education. I said, ‘I am 100% sure’.
I think what they were a little afraid of was the whole HIV epidemic and how it was made to seem that every gay man had HIV. Their next few questions were, ‘Are you using protection? Are you sure you are being safe? Do you want to get tested?’
What made you file your petition?
The Orlando shooting. A lot of politicians said they were sending thoughts and prayers and everybody responded by saying, ‘well it’s illegal in your country to come out of the closet’. The Supreme Court had said in 2009 that we were a ‘minuscule minority’ and there aren’t enough people. So, a whole bunch of people ended up filing petitions and I said, ‘I also will because I want to say that there are people like me’. Mine came after the privacy judgement and we felt the time was right. It was clear the Supreme Court was saying that the state did not have any business in the bedrooms of consenting adults. I also brought a little bit of the capitalistic point of view of the pink economy and the socioeconomic aspect of ignoring the LGBT community and how much it cost the country to have homophobic and draconian law. The more they accept the LGBT community and let them flourish, the more the GDP will benefit.