(This article attempts to highlight the experiences of gay and bisexual men from Bihar and Jharkhand post the reading down of Section-377)
It is November of the year 2021. As I sit on my balcony reflecting on the passing year that has been, my eyes are caught by a boy of around twelve years, practicing his bowling skills on the street. But my attention is quickly diverted towards the twenty-year-old Karan, who told me a few weeks ago how much he had disliked cricket at that age. Growing up in the small town of Jharkhand, he could not understand why he was so different from the other boys around him. It was only during his college years that he realized that he was gay. No matter how much he tried to instill in himself an attraction for women, it wasn't going to happen. "I just accepted myself. I was done pretending," Karan says with a sigh of relief.
When I asked a similar question to a 25-year-old Sohan, he mentioned that knowing that he was gay and knowing that he was attracted to guys were both very different experiences for him. The former was laced in fun, while the latter was realized after spending half a decade in depression. However, just like Karan, he had stopped pretending. "I don't have much hope from this place," he adds, "It's not going to change, no matter what the Supreme Court says." I want to pause the interview for a moment and tell him that it's going to get better. But I am unable to. I don't know whether the need to be an objective listener takes over, or it's the reality around me that I don't entirely disagree with.
The very same evening, however, I get to interact with 19-year-old Ali. This radiant young man has already decided that he will settle in Norway. When I ask him the reason for this, he replies, "Arey sasti colleges hain na wahan!" (“College education is cheaper there!”) He also asks me to keep him informed if I come across any opportunity that may help him. "So when did you start gymming?" I enquire, distracted by his ripped abs.
"It was my sister. She encouraged me to after I came out to her."
"Are you also out to your parents?" I interject.
"No way!" he says, "My sister just came around to support me after the Section 377 judgment. My parents would be another level."
"But are you not worried?" I counter.
"I will be when they expect me to get married after a decade. I still have time," Ali replies.
Time is what 35-year-old Ram doesn't have. However, he is not worried. "My parents know," he tells me, "So they don't badger me for a daughter-in-law." I asked him what it was like to accept himself as gay.
"Eighteen years of depression, but be what nature has made you," he mentions, ending his sentence on a hopeful note.
"When did you realize you were attracted to men?" I enquire.
"Blame it on Dharmendra. So fairly early!"
I cannot help but giggle at this. "Oh yes, how could you not!" I reply.
When I mention if it was easy living in a small town in Bihar, he replies, "It's never easy. Anywhere. Indian culture is pretty chill, though. We are far more open-minded than we give ourselves credit for." According to Ram, people in rural India tend to be more open-minded than those who live in the cities. Every other person I had interviewed before thought differently. While some had been hopeful that things would improve for the better in the times to come, others didn't seem to agree with that.
Manohar is one such guy. He is 23 years old and identifies as bisexual. When I ask him if he would ever consider settling with another man in the future, he says "Log hame taali bajane wala samjhenge." ("People would consider us eunuchs") But Manohar adds that he would very much like to be in a relationship with a man if everything remains under wraps. Societal pressure overrides the need for intimacy for men like Manohar. However, once in a while, you come across someone like Bharat. Bharat is 24-years-old and is a law graduate. Bharat is out to his parents, and for him being himself has never been a problem. He doesn't feel there's a lot of difference between settling in a metro city or continuing to stay in Jharkhand. In fact, he wishes to settle in Jamshedpur. "With a partner, I guess?" I implore. "Oh yes! But then I need to find one first. And we'll see how that plays out," he mentions. "I am sure you will find a nice guy," I find myself saying before ending our conversation.
I had started this attempt to understand the life experiences of gay and bisexual men post- Section 377 from Bihar and Jharkhand with a lot of curiosity. I wanted to understand if they felt there had been a change after the monumental judgment. Has life become easy, if only to a little extent? What I found invariably is that a lot of people who I interviewed were not in denial as I had expected. They had accepted their sexuality as a part of their identity. The issue was mostly external. Some people did believe that their lives had become a little easier and society at large was at least aware of the varying sexualities. But the others didn't feel so. For them, the road towards acceptance was arduous and uphill. What really inspired me with all the discussion was how open people were in sharing details that I had presumed would be tough to bare. I remember Sohan mentioning after our interview how therapeutic that was for him. I think a lot of times, all we want is to be heard, especially when our stories hardly see the light of the day. They remain engulfed in shadows hoping that one day their relevance wouldn't remain confined to the contours of their hearts but would find an outlet. And people would hear, they would read, and they shall see that I too am—and that my life is as relevant and authentic as everyone else!
**All the names mentioned in the article have been changed to maintain the privacy of the interviewees.