Love – an unparalleled emotion, an intense passion, it’s a high that you forgive yourself for. It’s an emotion that transcends higher than mere physicality, beyond the realms of race, colour, nationality and yes, gender – though some people are ignorant enough to believe otherwise.
Religion – it’s faith. It’s something that leads mortals to believe that there is something higher than them, some force that guards as well as condemns them. In a twisted way, it unites people but also drives them apart.
These are two diverse concepts – but often, religion is used to separate people who are deemed to be in an ‘unnatural relationship’. In this piece, the positive connection between these concepts is portrayed by a man who truly believes in it and also works hard to help other people become aware of the same.
Ankit Bhuptani, founder of the Gay And Lesbian Vaishnava Association (GALVA) in India, a devotee of Krishna, has read various scriptures and texts that have convinced him that Hinduism has no qualms against homosexuality. An interesting observation that he made was that amongst the ten important rituals of Hinduism, only two of them hold gender as a barrier. The association was founded by ISKCON follower William in America 30 years ago – but it was Bhuptani who founded it in India.
According to GALVA, Hinduism is liberal, open-minded and has no place for homophobia. Bhuptani firmly believes that only when other religions started coming to India, did Hinduism get influenced and became against the LGBTQ community. After all, in Hinduism, there is a book on how sexuality and desire are connected to yoga and spirituality for purposes of upliftment. Vatsayayan’s “Kamasutra” is not treated as a vulgar book for the simple reason that kama or desire is seen as a ‘level of life’.
The organisation has discussions and intellectual debates on scriptures, spirituality and sexuality that occur once every month at a member’s house, where about 20 people turn up. Workshops are also conducted, and picnics are organised once in a while where prasads are distributed. GALVA’s other activities include organising same sex marriages (they’ve organised about four until now), parades and pride marches in India once a year, tentatively in January, in association with Queer Azaadi Mumbai. The pride march usually takes place a week post Republic Day to signify that even though India gained freedom and democracy years back, certain factions of the society are still struggling for the freedom to be themselves. Their main goal is to make sexuality a normal, day-to-day subject. Bhuptani’s glad that since GALVA began, a gay Catholic group has also been set up.
Bhuptani, who himself is a part of the LGBTQ community, says that he’s open about being gay. He tells us about the time when he had to fight with his own thoughts of being gay. “When I was 17, I found out that I was gay for the very first time,” says Bhuptani. Initially, it was difficult for him to discover his sexuality and he was so frustrated that he was on the verge of killing himself.
“As for my parents, they act as if they are ignorant about it – but they do support me, partially. They know that I give many interviews and speeches in many places. I think they are proud of me – but I can’t really say whether they support me completely,” says Bhuptani who also has a YouTube channel on which he discusses matters related to spirituality. He also works as a resource mobilisation and communication manager at VIDYA, an NGO which seeks to provide education to children living in Mumbai’s slums.
The GALVA movement has played a vital role in his personal life as well. It has boosted his confidence and he feels proud that this movement has helped many people fight with their sexuality crises. The movement has given people an optimistic and positive perspective about religion and the LGBTQ community.
Bhuptani says, “People message me once or twice in a day, thanking me for what I did and I feel happy about helping them. But I’m not really satisfied as such. Till the day the Supreme Court demolishes Section 377, I’ll fight for equal marriage rights – and when that’s done, I’ll feel fully satisfied. Only then will I feel like I’ve achieved something. I know I can accomplish that goal. But as someone rightly said, ‘Be patient, good things take time’ – and so, I will go according to this message, while also trying to achieve my goals.”
Since the past few years, people have changed their perspective about the LGBTQ community. People have become more open about it and have also provided moral support to the community. The media also seems to be playing a key role in influencing the people in a positive manner. It gave an impetus to the judiciary, by focusing on topics like Section 377. Due to these signs, Bhuptani hopes that the Supreme Court will decriminalise homosexuality. “Our expectations for a positive judgement are really high. And if there’s no positive judgement, we’ll have to start from the scratch. But there’s no looking back,” he states.
On being asked about Bollywood’s portrayal of the LGBTQ community, he says that the industry has to be a little sensitive and understanding when it comes to portraying the LGBTQ community. “We are portrayed in a comic way, in which LGBTQ people are mocked for being who they are. This upsets me. Bollywood follows stereotypes which are bad. For instance, gay people are the ones who act girly and like being around girls, which is wrong. It’s not even funny. I’ve hardly seen any movies where LGBTQ people are portrayed in a positive light. In that respect, ‘Kapoor and Sons’ was one of the best Bollywood movies I’ve ever seen. This is, by far, the only movie that has broken the stereotypes about gay people. I really liked the movie,” says Bhuptani.
“As for the web series on YouTube, they are doing a brilliant job,” says Bhuptani. “Their creativity and message is so hard-hitting that it change the perspective of a variety of people. This can, in a way, even influence the decisions or policies of the government. ‘All about section 377’ is comic but also sentimental, because the protagonist and the director of the show have depicted it in a wonderful manner. I’m hoping to see similar web series on YouTube,” he says.
On being asked about the recent surrogacy ban, Bhuptani replies in a single word, “Ridiculous”. “We live in a country like India that’s democratic – but still the Government does not fail to put a ban on every possible thing. How contradictory can this be? This ban is unfair, especially for the people who are a part of LGBTQ community,” he quips.