Chef and restaurant-owner Ritu Dalmia, who is a co-petitioner in challenging the legal validity of Section 377, which criminalises homosexual activity, talks about how to create a dialogue with youngsters on the topic.
At what age could you tell that you were attracted to women?
I did not realise it completely till I was about 22. However, saying that, if I look back at my life I think I always had very strong feelings towards women, I just did not know how to express it or define it. Once I became aware of it, yes, I did struggle with it initially.
When was the first time you came out to anyone?
The first people I came out to were my close friends, and soon after to my siblings and my mother. I was very, very lucky and I had support from everyone. It was a difficult decision to come out to my mother, but I did not want her to hear this from anyone else and I preferred to be the one to tell her. She was in a shock for a day or so, and after that she was very supportive; in fact, I always secretly knew she loved my partner more than she loved me, and always sided with her.
Girls who are “tomboys” and boys who are effeminate or considered “pansy” are often picked on at school. Do you recall any such encounters growing up?
I was a tomboy and a lot of fun was made of me in school, so much so that I decided to grow my hair and only wear salwar kameez, but thankfully this phase did not last long and soon I decided that I didn’t care what others thought of me. I will do what I am comfortable with. I am a lesbian, but I am also very comfortable with my womanhood, and I did not need to prove myself to anyone or fall into a stereotype.
How open are you about your orientation with kids in your family and immediate circle?
I have three nephews and nieces, between the age of 10 and 20. They have always known about my sexual orientation and my niece also came with me to the Pride when she was young. Anyone who matters to me knows my orientation and they are very proud of their Bua.
The awareness level is definitely a lot more than when I was growing up. Today, kids very well know that people can have different sexual orientation and don’t frown upon that, and that is amazing.
Is there any age to discuss gender / queer and straight orientations with kids? Should you approach it differently at any age? Do you have any advice to offer?
Where I’m concerned, it was very easy, since my niece came and asked me straight away if my “friend” was my life partner. She was about 14 at that time and I saw no reason to hide or lie. I think, today, you need not even initiate the conversation, the kids are very well aware of it.
Any advice to parents of young kids, who may display a different orientation? How can parents start a dialogue?
I come from a very conservative Marwari household and yet my mother accepted my orientation lovingly and gracefully. I think it’s most important for any parent to know that their children are like any other human being. I was once asked by a friend to have a chat with her 13-year-old who was struggling with her sexual identity. I told her what I would have told myself or my nieces, “You still have many years ahead of you, and you will figure it out yourself, without any help from anyone. And when you do figure out whether you are straight, bi or gay, your family and friends will still love you, and nothing really changes in life because of that.”
What is your hope from young India?
At least in urban cities, more and more awareness and openness exists, but we still have a long way ahead till it reaches the non-urban areas. For this, the most important factor is and will be education at an early stage, but hopefully that day will come in my lifetime.