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Why People Are Asking Indian Clubs And Bars To ‘Gay Well Soon’

More from Shambhavi Saxena

As people are getting ready for New Year’s Eve shindigs, some bars, clubs and restaurants in India decided to debar gay couples.

A report by DNA revealed that among those taking this clearly homophobic stance were Shiro and Bar Stock Exchange in Mumbai, as well as many oft-frequented places in New Delhi’s Hauz Khas Village.

And there was no way this was just going to slide. Mumbai queer activist Harish Iyer got the conversation going on social media, resorting to some cool Munnabhai-gandhigiri-style action. He and “a group of peace loving fags” decided to offer ‘a queer rose’ for these ‘homophobic dosts’.

Many others began to speak about the ban on Facebook using the hashtag #GayWellSoon. And still others took to service reviewing apps like Zomato, to give these erring companies bad reviews and force them to rethink their policy. As a result, Shiro has been the first to change its stance, saying “[its] management decided that a man can be accompanied with a couple(s) or two men can enter with a lady.’

Shounak, a young media professional, had this to say: “I understand with [Section] 377 hanging over everyone’s head, companies might think it’s best to remain on the side of the law. But how would having non-discriminatory policies harm them?”

It might be easy to dismiss the whole thing – after all, there are so many other places a gay couple could go to. But a number of issues have been brought to light, and they need discussing.

The Long Arm Of The ‘Anti-Gay’ Law

I spoke to Sahil, a working professional from Delhi, about this. He says, “We had to deal with the law, we had to deal with family, workplace discrimination is still there. And now, after a long day of work, you want to go and grab some drinks and get some food, and you get told this?”

In 2013, the Supreme Court of India overturned an earlier judgement by the Delhi High Court, criminalizing non-procreative non-heterosexual sex with arguable finality. The homophobes had a field day, and it gave homophobia an institutional basis.

For Sonam Mittal, co-founder of The Spoilt Modern Indian Woman, the legal aspect of the decision by Shiro and Bar Stock Exchange were murky, and only raised more questions. “Is this a company policy across Bar Stock Exchange [outlets] in Bombay and Bangalore as well?” She asks. “Are they doing this in Shiro Kolkata, or just the Bombay one? I don’t know if this is personal prejudice translating into company policy, or a pressure from higher up. But in terms of human rights, it’s absolutely rubbish.”

Mittal also finds it unsettling that such a move could imply mechanisms that violate individual privacy. She says: “We have PAN cards and Aadhar cards – we don’t have our sexuality cards! Is this what they want? When they’re allowing people into their premises, the first thought they have is how these people are having sex? That’s very pervy.”

Something else that struck her was that the rule and subsequent discussions alike had focused overwhelmingly on gay men. “I’m not even sure the paper would have even approached [queer] women to find out what their experience are,“says Mittal. As she explains: “They always see women as potential victims, and men as potential rapists.”

And it’s precisely this outlook that is being used as a defence by bars like Shiro and others.

Playing The Woman Card

“No stag entry” signs hang outside several reputed bars and clubs in metropolitan India. Men are only allowed in if they’re accompanying a woman. Shiro and other places have gone one step further and banned men coming in pairs, but more specifically, men posing as gay so they can get in and cause trouble. It’s supposed to be a line of defence against those creeps who come to ruin your girls’ night out.

Mittal calls bullshit on this. “If they really care about the safety of women patrons inside their premises, then what security measures have they already taken? CCTV cameras, bouncers, waiting staff who are quick to act? I would rather not have this kind of ‘safety’ where another community – which is also marginalized – is made to suffer.”

Sahil says there’s something more insidious at work here: “They want feminist and queer activists to fight each other off for public spaces.” He adds, “That has been the regular operative method of patriarchy and misogyny. It offers to solve something without looking at the root cause of the problem, and it will fence people in or fence people out.”

Make Businesses Gay Again?

Several people, Harish Iyer included, have argued that homophobic business are ultimately shooting themselves in the foot by losing out on ‘The Pink Rupee’. Many same-sex couples are double-income-no-kids, and have considerably more spending power, but these ideas are overwhelmingly American or European. Yes, some gay couples in India do have that lifestyle, and many more aspire to it, but social dynamics work out very differently when homosexuality is illegal.

“These couples are really brave,” says Raksha, who identifies as gray-ace. “According to the regressive [Section] 377, gay people should not exist and these folks are pretty much risking being reported.”

But for her, there’s a whole other issue coming to light as well. Places like Shiro require you to have a certain capital. But so do places that host ‘Gay Nights’ and ‘Gay Parties’.

“It is expensive to be gay,” says Raksha. And here’s where the Pink Rupee argument falls a little flat. These are “classy” joints – the preserve of metropolitan elites. Not necessarily the next battleground for a radical queer politics.

Article 15(2) of the Constitution prohibits establishments from turning away people on the grounds of “religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth,” but bars proudly declare their right to reserve admission, in polished steel plaques.

Recounts what happened in Mocambo (a high-end Kolkata restaurant that refused service to a woman’s driver for not being “properly dressed”), Shounak says “As long as we can’t have our privilege checked and/or stand in solidarity, these places just keep making business.”

As it turns out, money – and especially now after demonetisation – will not be the great leveller, after all.

How Do You Solve A Problem Like MariaHomophobia?

“I think we should start boycotting places that still find it difficult to be inclusive,” continues Shounak. “What is the point of internet outrage if we can’t do something about this in real life?”

Mittal, however, says a boycott “requires a high level of engagement,” and is currently mulling over “something that has a lower ask, but still makes an impact.”

Something that often came up in my conversations with people was how our access to digital tools – made that much more apparent after demonetization – have simply been squandered. In the digital age, learning and understanding can now happen with a few taps on a smartphone. There is no dearth of resource material being created by and about the LGBTQ community. But the unwillingness to learn is exactly what leads to hurtful and discriminatory rules.

Raksha believes “orientation needs to be done at a widespread cultural level across the country.” As she remembers, “the day after the Supreme Court judgment, I heard two men saying women cannot have same-sex relationships, because they can’t have heteronormative Penis-in-Vagina sex.”

Perhaps the new year’s resolution that all of us should be making (and sticking to!) is to battle this lack of knowledge, and work towards a society that is respectful and dignified for all LGBTQ people.

And for all those who think why this fuss over a meal and that they can go somewhere else, it’s not about that. It’s about everyone’s right to live, breathe and love freely.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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