Mumbai Gay Pride 2009

I loved his costume

I loved his costume

I attended Mumbai gay pride on the 16th of August. It is celebrated on this particular date because the gay community organizing this event says that India got freedom on the 15th of August but gay community never got freedom so they decided to celebrate their freedom one day after the independence day of India. The event was basically organized by an NGO called Humsafar that works with the gay community in Mumbai. I had already contacted people at Humsafar about my project and they were very welcoming. I was in Gwalior doing my training but I took a leave of 4 days and flew to Mumbai. I arrived in Mumbai on the night of the 14th.

They were at Delhi pride also

They were at Delhi pride also

I had attended this year’s Delhi Pride on the 26th of June and I really missed a video camera but I had arranged a video camera to record Mumbai Gay Pride. I had asked my friend Yogesh, who works in Bollywood, to arrange a camera for me and he provided me everything I wanted. I went to Humsafar on the 16th with a camera person and a friend from the US named Ryan. We met in Benares and I invited him to attend Mumbai Pride with me. I wanted to cover the preparation for the parade, interview a few people at Humsafar, interview a few people at the parade, participate in it, enjoy the party and make some new contacts to work together in the future.

Preparation for the parade

Preparation for the parade

I was supposed to start interviews at Humsafar at 12 o’clock but when I reached there I found that there were already a few media people interviewing Humsafar guys but they arranged a guy to show me their office. The office was amazing; they had an HIV and AIDS testing center. I had already been to a few NGOs but I had never seen any NGO having an HIV and AIDS testing center before, so it was really impressive. The Humsafar guy took me to the second floor of the office where they were preparing for the next day’s parade. There were about 20 guys practicing dance. A few of them hijras also. They had a guy to play Punjabi dhol and a big music system. I was surprised to see that they were practicing some traditional dance of hijra culture.

A poster at Humsafar office

A poster at Humsafar office

I just spent sometime watching the people preparing for the parade; they were really working hard and seemed so excited for the parade. All of the performers were either homosexuals or hijras who come to Humsafar if they need any help. The guy showing us the office told me that the CEO of Humsafar, Mr. Vivek Raj Anand, had just arrived at office and he asked me if I would like to interview him and I really felt lucky that I got to interview him. He was really amazing, very well educated, had very good knowledge of the issue and he really knew what he was talking about. He did not have much time but I got 15 minutes and I think it was good enough to start.

Mr. Vivek Raj Anand, The CEO of Humsafar and I

Mr. Vivek Raj Anand, The CEO of Humsafar and I

I believe that the gay community has always been in existence in India but a lot of people see it as a disease which came from the West so whenever I interview someone about gay culture, I always ask them about the history of gay culture in India. I ask them to tell me about the presence of gay culture in Hindu religious books because I know that Indians do not want to compromise with the religion and once they know something is part of their religion and culture, they are always so welcoming to this idea. And I also wanted to do the same thing, because I believe that if people know that gay culture has always been part of our culture, the it would be easy to make them understand the issue.

A participant of the parade

A participant of the parade

My idea behind interviewing all these people was to interview them and put the interviews online. I had intentionally done the interviews in Hindi so that people living in India could understand them. The interviewee told me a few stories that came from Ramayana and other Hindu religious books which showed the presence of gay culture even during Ram’s time. He talked about what kind of problems he had to face in society, how people discriminated against him, how he came out of it and what is the hope for the future. It was really interesting to learn the history of gay culture in India. He had very good knowledge about history of gay culture in India, especially in Hinduism.

Its true

Posters at the parade

Mr. Anand asked me to work with the MSM community in Benares. He said that he could give me a project or he could get me one through the UP government which was something I really wanted to do. We talked about working together in Benares but he said that Humsafar doesn’t work out of Mumbai and Thane district. He said that he would help me with anything I wanted- funding, training or any other thing but they will not go out of Mumbai and Thane district officially to work. I think I will not be able to work with him soon as my NGO is not registered under section 12 A and any NGO can not get this registration until they are at least 1 year old. But now Sanjeevani Booti has completed its 1 year and now I can apply for this registration.

Thank you Baba Ramdev

Thank you Baba Ramdev

Mr. Anand told me during his interview that he wants to thank Baba Ramdev on behalf of the whole gay community because Baba is the one who challenged the judgment of the high court of Delhi in the Supereme Court of India to revoke of section 377. He said that the Supereme Court of India would also give the judgment in favor of the gay community and this way they would have equal rights very soon. He said that there was no one who bothered coming against the judgment of Delhi high court but it was Ramdev Baba who brought this matter to the the Supereme Court of India so thanks to him. I would also like to thank Baba Ramdev for making the process faster.

Absolutely not

Absolutely not

I interviewed the Mr. Anand, the manager of Humsafar, one bisexual , two hijras, and few gays. It was really a nice experience interviewing them and listening to them and their stories. All of them were a little different from each other but they had the same issues. I think everybody whom I interviewed at Humsafar talked about discrimination the most. The manager of Humsafar told me that he wanted to get his passport with his gender showing either a girl or a hijra or a transgender but the government officials do not want to do it. Government officials tell him that they just do not know what a transgender is.

This was really interesting

She was really interesting

He said that he has gotten his name changed officially to a female’s name and now preparing for a gender change operation but still the government doesn’t want to issue him a passport showing his gender as a female or as a hijra or as a transgender. He has sued the government for this reason. He was saying that gender change operation facility is not very good in India and he wants to go abroad to get it done but since the government is not issuing his passport he is unable to do it. He said that he has decided that he will take his passport only if they issue the passport with his gender showing as a female or a hijra or a transgender.

The hijras I interviewed

The hijras I interviewed and I

He told me that he only looks like a man from his body but he is not a man, he is a woman. I interviewed one Muslim guy also who was with a group of two hijras. This interview was also very interesting. It was the first time when I interviewed any Muslim gay. He said that his family will never allow him to get married with a man, which is what he wanted, so he has decided to either escape from the home or just stay unmarried for his whole life. The hijras were also fantastic. They told me a lot of things about hijras that I did not know before.

Biggest attraction of the parade

Biggest attraction of the parade, for me:)

I never understood the difference between people’s use of the word “hijra” and a “gay” and when I asked him about it they said that educated people use the word gay and uneducated use the word hijra, that’s all. They also talked about the issues hijra community is facing in India and it was exactly as the issues of other people whom I had interviewed at Humsafar. Hijras told me something really interesting that there are two different kinds of hijras.

look at the costume, awesome

look at the costume, awesome

One of them is more respected in amongst hijras. They get married to the hijra goddess when they are so young. They have to wear a thread all the time which represents their marriage with their goddess. They can live with their family as well which doesn’t happen with the other kind of hijras. The hijras who bless and dance at the weddings are different than them; it was really interesting, and I need to do some research about it. I interviewed a bisexual who was in fact a male sex worker. It was the first time when I had ever met any male sex worker and it was amazing talking to him. He also had few issues likes discrimination because he was a bisexual guy.

Participants at the parade

Participants at the parade

He said that when he was 14 years old and would go out with his friends and his friends used to look at the girls but he never felt like he had any interest in girls. He said that when he turned a bit older, he met Mr. Anand who brought him to Humsafar and that was the time when he came to know why he did not have any interest in girls. He joined Humsafar and now he works there as a program manager. He said that he used to distribute condoms to the male sex workers at railway stations and once he gave a pack of condoms to a policeman thinking that this policeman was a male sex worker. The policeman slapped him and kicked him out of the railway station; it was a funny story.

Aceept our sexuality, it is not a defection

Aceept our sexuality, it is not a defect

The first day was all about watching people preparing for the event and interviewing a few people at Humsafar. After completing the interviews on the first day, we came out of the Humsafar office and we were standing on the road waiting for an auto-rickshaw and at the same time a 25-26 year old guy named Sourendra came to me and started talking about what we were doing in Humsafar office. I had already seen him in the office so I also didn’t hesitate telling him about my project. He asked me where I was from, what I was doing at Humsafar etc. and then he asked me about my project and said that he was also gay and visits Humsafar on regular basis.

Folk dance performers at the parade

Folk dance performers at the parade

He seemed to be an educated and interesting guy. He asked me where I was going and after my answer he said that he was also going to the same direction. He said that he also wanted to come with me. I asked him if he would like to be interviewed and he said- why not. We went together to my friend’s place and my friend drove us to somewhere where there was a litti-chokha (very famous Bihari food) party. We all went together and I interviewed him over the dinner at 1 o’clock night time.

377 out

377 out

Actually I regretted that I took him to that party because the guys over there at the party got too much interested in him after hearing that he was a gay. They would all come, look at him and laugh. I was really not comfortable there and I told my friend to change the place but since it was already 1 o’clock night time, we just decided to continue the interview at same party place. Sourendra was such an open and energetic and nice person. He talked about a lot of things that usually people do not want to talk about.

Participants at the parade

Participants at the parade

He talked about his sex practices and this conversation was really interesting. He talked about discrimination in the society, family, friends and discrimination at his job. He used to work at a call center and everything was fine for him. After a few months the call center in-charge changed and a new guy came who seemed like did not like gays. Sourendra’s voice was was sweet, like a girl, but this new in-charge wanted him to speak with a heavy voice which was something unnatural for him. He said that he pretended to speak with a heavy voice but it did not work and his performance level decreased and finally he had to leave the job only because he could not speak with a heavy voice.

Neither less nor more, we just ask for equal rights

Neither less nor more, we just ask for equal rights

When I asked him about the existence of gays and hijras in our religion and history, he told me something really interesting. He told me about the existence of gays and hijras during Krishna’s time. He said that once Krishna also wanted to sleep with a man. It was something that I had never ever heard before. I know that Ramayana in North India is different than Ramayana in South India. They have some difference between them like Ramayana in North India says that Hanuman was a celebate and South Indian Ramayan says that Hauman had more than one wife. People living in the North do not eat fish because it is meat for them and people living in West Bengal eat fish because it is sea food for them.

Bijay with his friend

Bijay with his friend

Different people have different beliefs about the same thing and maybe the case here was also the same: the Mahabharta Sourendra had read was a little bit different from the one I have read, not an issue at all. I liked interviewing Sourendra. After completing the interview we dropped Sourendra at the railway station. I was so excited for the next day’s parade. I was supposed to meet my friend Bijay, who lives in Chennai, at the parade. He was also gay and was in Mumbai to attend the parade.

Aadimanav

Aadimanav

We met at the Church Gate and headed together to the parade. I had two other guys to help me with the camera and other things. Mumbai Gay Pride seemed different than Delhi Gay Pride. I think the organizers had tried to give a cultural look to the parade. There were folk dance and song performers from South India and they were performing local dance of South India. I met Laxmi also at the parade. The parade was a little bit delayed as other things in India and started around 12 o’clock. I think the number of people at Delhi Gay Pride and the Mumbai one was same, something around 3000 people.

Youngest participant of the parade

Youngest participant of the parade

A group of people was carrying a huge rainbow flag. Mumbai seemed more respectful to the flag than Delhi. People at the Delhi parade were so excited that they started jumping with the flag and tore it off only few minutes after the parade had started. I saw a guy with his four or five year old daughter at the parade. She was sitting on her father’s shoulders and was holding the flag. A few of my foreign friends tell me that although they support gay rights they do not like gay pride parades as they are so vulgar but in India situation was the completely different- very cultural, good enough even for a five year old girl.

Laxmi and Celina

Laxmi and Celina

People were dancing, jumping and laughing so it seemed like a very happy event. I was also enjoying it. An hour after the parade started, a Bollywood actress named Celina Jaitely joined the parade. She has been involved with gay rights issue for a long time in India. I saw many Bollywood and TV stars at the parade. I think she was in the parade for more than an hour. There were a few guys with Celina and they had dressed amazingly. I had never ever seen anything like that before. Laxmi, Celina and everyone else at the parade were dancing and enjoying themselves.

bombay gay pride 194

look at the masks

I saw two Muslim girls also at the parade who were wearing Burka. They joined the parade an hour before its end but they also seemed to be enjoying it. They were also dancing with other people but most of the time they wanted to be under the gay pride flag. I think they were concerned about their identity. Many people seemed concerned about their identity like at Delhi Pride. They had covered their faces with clothes or some kind of masks. I just don’t understand why people come to the gay parade if they are so concerned about their identity? Better stay at home and watch it on TV if they can not support it openly.

Baba Ramdev would like it

Baba Ramdev would like it

Mumbai Gay Pride seemed more organized in some ways. They had a van stuffed with banners, posters, masks, t-shirts etc. But masks and t-shirts were the most demanded items. I also tried to get one t-shirt but could not because they ran out within few minutes. They were distributing bottled water also to the participants. They had few volunteers with big bags who were collecting all the garbage, poly bags and bottles used during the parade. They said that they did not want to leave anything as garbage on the road, so this was a very clean festival which usually doesn’t happen in India.

live and let live

live and let live

I saw many people looking through their balconies and windows of their houses. I am sure they were surprised. Many people just joined the parade serendipitously. I saw a few people who were standing somewhere along the road doing their business, and then they saw the parade and joined it. One thing was very sure that Mumbai pride had more transgenders and hijras than at Delhi parade. There was a group of hijras which was right behind the flag performing some traditional hijra dance but this dance was not something I had seen hijras doing where I live. This hijra dance seemed more organized and calm, but usually hijra dance is very energetic and loud.

Meeting after the parade

Meeting after the parade

The parade was moving and moving and I was just filming the parade, talking with participants and enjoying it. Finally the parade stopped at August Kranti Marg sometime around 4 o’clock where a few social workers and NGO members delivered a speech about gay rights and their future planning. I also took a break and went to the beach nearby. I did some filming there also and interviewed a gay couple whom I had seen at the parade. One other thing that was in my mind was the repeal of Section 377 and I wanted to talk about it with the participants of the parade and members of Humsafar.

They were so happy

They were so happy

I asked about repeal of Section 377 to almost everyone I talked with and everybody was so happy about it. There was a guy who told me that these kind of laws are very important for bringing change in the society. Section 377 did not affect gay culture very much in India, even when it was effected, because you never know who is doing what inside their room but the worst thing that happened because of implementation of 377 was that it changed the thinking of people over time. But now since 377 is repealed, it will take some time, maybe 50 or 100 years, but someday gays will have equal rights in India. I also believed what he said.

Hijras

Hijras

After the parade ended, my friend Bijay took me to a very famous and old restaurant near August Kranti Marg. After having a few bottles of beer, we headed to Bijay’s hotel. I spent some time at Bijay’s hotel and then we headed to the party place. The party was organized at a disco but the Mumbai party was different from Delhi one. The Delhi party was organized by the organizers of the parade whereas the Mumbai party was organized by the participants. Delhi party’s entry was free but Mumbai party’s entry was Rs. 500 but they gave me three free drinks.

I with my friends after the party

my friends and I after the party

The Mumbai party had more people than the Delhi one and it had more lesbian couples also. It was my second time at any disco after the Delhi pride party and I was so excited for it. I don’t know why but I drank a lot of beer that night at party and got completely drunk. I saw many gay couples kissing and hugging each other which was not new to me but my friends were so surprised to see it the way I was surprised at the Delhi party. The party was supposed to last for the whole night but I had to leave early as my flight back to Bhopal was at 6 o’clock morning time.

look at the costume

look at the costume

Ryan helped me by packing up my stuff and bringing me to the airport. Somehow I arrived safely in Gwalior but that I will not forget that party night, it was crazy, I loved it. This trip was very successful because I got to meet with a lot of new people, interviewed them, learnt a lot and built some business relationship with Humsafar. They have invited me again to the parade next year and I will try to attend it. I still think about the people I talked with, their issues, their stories… it was so nice talking with them.They are fighting for a issue which should just not be an issue.

very happy picture

very happy picture

My friend Sanjay, who helped me with camera, told me what I was doing was crazy when I explained him my reason for being in Mumbai but after listening to the people I interviewed, his mind also changed. He also told me that gays should also have equal rights in our society. Actually my question stories of gay culture in Hindu religion worked for him. All of the interviewees told me few stories and it changed Sanjay’s mind. I know it very well that if somehow people can come to know about the existence of gays in Hindu religion, then there will be less problem for gays to get acceptance in Hindu society.

rainbow flag

rainbow flag

I think the basic reason behind the discrimination against gays in India is the communication gap, especially about sex practices, between straights and gays and 150 years of section 377. Section 377 changed our society a lot; it changed the mind overtime. When I look at Hindu religious books and history I find that gay sex practices have always been part of Hindu culture. It was not any issue at all and we were the most liberal society on the planet but the British changed everything in India. Well, we are getting rid of the poverty given by them slowly and I hope to get rid of this crazy system also.

VIDEOS ARE COMING SOON

Delhi Gay Pride 2009 – parade


Rainbow salute to Delhi

Rainbow salute to Delhi

I attended Delhi Gay Pride on the 26th. I heard a lot about gay pride festivals and how fun they are but had no idea about it so I was so excited to be there. I arrived in Delhi on the 24th and Adam and Megan also joined me for the parade. They were supposed to go to Benares but they changed their flights and came to Delhi to join me at gay pride. The Gay Pride started from Barakhambha Road and ended in a bar called M Lounge in Sector 15, Noida. I arrived at the parade place with Adam and Megan and what I saw was just amazing.

I am a girl and love a girl

I am a girl and love a girl

They had hired band parties for music. When I reached, there were about two thousand people present. I had asked the organizer how many people were they expecting and he had said that last year they were expecting somewhere around 500 but about 1500 participated and this year they were expecting something like 2500 participants. He told me that the media was also very supportive to them last year and he was expecting for the same this year as well. When I reached there, I found a lot of media people covering the event. Police were also there to help them. I don’t know if they were helping the organizing committee because they were supposed to or they just wanted to but they were helping.

It was an international event

It was an international event

I was just wandering here and there and watching people doing things. I had thought that I would be talking to the participants but after reaching there, I decided not to disturb them at that moment because they were extremely happy and enjoying themselves and I did not want to disturb them by making them talk to me. The most interesting thing for me was that the participants were not only gays, but a lot of straight people and families were also there. A lot of foreigners were also there. I talked with a few of the foreigners about why they were there in the parade and all of them answered almost the same thing- to support the cause.

Posters

Posters

The organizing committee had arranged masks to cover the faces for the people who did not want to reveal their identities and a lot of the participants, even straights and families, were using these masks. I know that gay culture is not accepted yet in India so it made sense to me for the gays to wear the masks but I did not understand why straight people were using the masks. What was their reason to participate in the parade if they were so shy? I did not like it. �I think everyone should come forward and talk about the issue; only then the gay community in India can get its social identity.

Band Party

Band Party

I heard a few gays talking with the media and when the media asked them how they feel being a gay, all the people said the same thing- that people make fun of them and they do not have equal rights. The parade was getting started now and the energy, joy and happiness could easily be felt there. The band players had started playing their instruments, everybody was so happy, a lot of people were dancing with their partners, a few of them were alone and they were just dancing and jumping by raising the rainbow flag in the air.

I liked this poster

I liked this poster

The parade was supposed to start at 5 PM but obviously it was also delayed�as most of the things in India, but this was the first time in my life when I was enjoying the delay. Finally the parade started sometime around 5.45 and to be honest this instance of my seeeing the energy, joy and happiness I saw there, was only my second experience in my whole life. I had seen the same amongst the people of Mehndiganj in the year 2007 when they were going to start their rally against Coca-Cola. Lots of loud music, people jumping, shouting, dancing, laughing… It was awesome. The atmosphere and the people there made me full of energy.

The rainbow flag

People jumping with the flag

They had a huge rainbow flag and almost twenty people were holding it, jumping with it and people were dancing under this flag, music was on… wow…it was just awesome. The participants of the parade were very mod and liberal, they were wearing very modern dresses. A lot of them had designed special masks, caps, hats and dresses for themselves. �I saw a few girls wearing only shorts and bras, and they had tattoos which is very uncommon to see in India. I had never ever seen those kinds of dresses on Indian girls. A lot of hijras were also there. They were also dressed somewhat differently than what they usually dress like.

The parade attracted good number of people this year

The parade attracted good number of people this year

The parade started moving and more and more people started joining it. A lot of students came to join us. The number of participants had reached up to something like 3000 by now. A lot of people were standing at both sides of the road and just watching the parade. I saw many people coming out of the restaurants and other shops and they also joined us. The participants had designed different kinds of banners, posters, flyers and a lot of them had got different slogans written over their clothes and bodies.

Adam distributing HIV & AIDS education pamphlets

Adam distributing HIV & AIDS education pamphlets

A lot of people had gotten their face painted in rainbow color. I had brought HIV & AIDS education pamphlets to distribute amongst the participants and general people and Adam and Megan helped me doing it. I gave them about 100 pamphlets and they distributed them within a few minutes. I noticed something strange that a few people just did not want to take the pamphlet but a few were very curious. A few people came to us asking for a pamphlet. There was an old guy who took our pamphlet and came back to Adam and he wanted to talk about the material written in it.

Thanks, Adam and Megan

Thanks, Adam and Megan

Adam asked him to talk to me and he came to me and asked do you work for HIV & AIDS and I said yes. And then he asked me if I was supporter of the gay community or gay rights and I again said yes. And then he told me something strange. He asked me how I could be a supporter of gay rights and then work on HIV & AIDS at the same time. He said that gays are responsible for the spread of HIV all over the world. He seemed kind angry when he was talking and I wanted to talk to him about it but the parade was moving so I just gave him my business card and asked him to meet me later.

Avoid Girls?

Look at the T-shirt

He never contacted me but it was strange to see him blaming the gay community for spread of HIV & AIDS. I know that gays are at higher risk of contracting HIV than straights but it doesn’t mean that they are responsible for the spread for this disease. Many people say that gays do much safer sex than straights. I think the Indian government’s HIV & AIDS program and corruption in the public health sector is responsible for the spread of HIV, not gays. I listened to a gay guy talking with a journalist and this guy was saying that he had been in gay relationship for the past five years and he was proud to be a gay. He said that gays are the people who do safe sex and know a more about STDs than straights.

So helping to each other

So helping to each other

The journalist asked him if he had informed his family about his gay life and he said that his father knew about it but his mother sometimes told him that he is also becoming part of hijra community. I have noticed that people do not know the difference between gays and hijras. Finally the parade arrived at Jantar Mantar and stopped where they had organized speeches of social activists, gay rights supporters, different NGO members and a few gays also. Few gays who were wearing masks during the parade took their mask off when they came on the stage. It seemed like everything changed within a few hours. They were shy before starting the parade but not anymore.

I loved her dress

I loved her dress

They said very loudly that now they were not shy anymore. They were proud to be gay. Speech happened about section 377 and a few other gay rights related issues and finally the organizer asked everyone to light up a candle. I also lit up a candle. Finally the parade was over but now there was a party left which was supposed to start from 9.30 PM at M Lounge bar in Sector 15, Noida. It was about 7 o’clock now and they asked the participants to gather together again at 8.30. They had arranged a few buses to take participants at the party place. I was so excited for the party.

HIV, AIDS education pamphlet distribution

An student from University of Montana, USA had contacted me to volunteer for my organization and for housing at my guest house. I also wanted to start something for sex workers in Benares. I asked him if he would like to help me organizing some kind of program for sex workers. He seemed so much interested in my work. Although we could not do anything for sex workers because of his busy schedule in Benares and some of my unexpected work that I had to accomplish but we still distributed pamphlets during Maha Murkh Sammelan (Biggest fool Conference).

This festival is very very Benares thing and I think it happens only in Benares. It is celebrated every year on 1st of April. This year they had more than 3000 people during that conference. But since Winslow and I were the only people to distribute pamphlets, we thought to target maximum of 200-250 people. We went there, sat on the steps of Rajendra Prasad Ghat and started distributing pamphlets. We had targeted 15 to 45 year old people, but our priority was 15-30 year old. People were not interested in taking pamphlets from my hand but they seemed so interested in Winslow.

Winslow finished his pamphlets first and then I gave him most of my pamphlets also and we distributed almost 150 pamphlets. First of all we distributed pamphlets amongst the people who had come to the festival, and later we just wandered along the river and distributed some more pamphlets to young people. On the 2nd of April, Nandlal Master had organized a program which was inauguration of a water cooler, computer room and sewing machines which were donated by some organizations to Nandlal Master’s organization- Lok Samiti. Water cooler was given by Union Bank of India and other stuffs were given by some organization from south India.

Nandlal had tole me that 600-700 people would come to the program so we had planned to distribute some pamphlets there also. We reached there but unfortunately there were not much young people. They were either under 10 year old kids or over 45-50 year old people. So we better decided to not distribute the pamphlets. But Nandlal has asked me to organize some HIV, AIDS education program for his Kishori centers. Kishori center is a school run by Lok Samiti and ASHA for the girls who are over 13 year of age. There are about 10 Kishori centers and each center has about 50-75 girls.

Winslow’s friend, who had lived in Benares for a year about two years ago, knew the principal of Delhi Public School and had asked Winslow to meet him. Winslow told me about it and I also asked him to ask the school if they would let us organize a HIV, AIDS education workshop at their school. Delhi Public School is a English medium school and is fanciest school of Benares or maybe India’s. I have always wanted to work with English medium schools because their kids seems to be on biggest risk of contracting STDs. They have co-education system but there is no sex education in India.

Its a good opportunity for me to get involved with English medium schools and I am looking forward to it. It seems like Sanjeevani Booti will be busy this summer but there is a huge problem for funding and I don’t know how to solve it.

Sex worker children rights rally

Children of sex workers at Durbar's officeChildren of sex workers at Durbar’s office

I participated in a rally organized by Durbar for sex workers children rights. This rally started from Durbar’s office at Sonagachi, the red light area. Seranna and I with the other crew members arrived at Durbar’s office at 6.30 evening time. This rally was supposed to start at 7.00. We were so excited. I saw hundreds of policemen wandering around the office. First of all I thought something bad had happened but in fact they were there to protect us. There were about 3000 people already present there, with most of them being children of sex workers. All of them were lined up and carrying some banners.�

Children carrying banners

Children carrying banners

There were a lot of hijras and transgenders also. There was a group of children of sex workers who were going to lead the rally with music and dance. I really liked this idea of having some music and dance also. The rally started around 7 o’clock and I think there were about 5000 people present by then. It was a huge rally. The rally started from Durbar’s office and passed through narrow alleys of Sonagachi, which is the biggest red light area of India. Seranna and I were in front cheering up with the children of sex workers.

sex workers hiding their face from camera

sex workers hiding their face from camera

Right after two-three minutes we arrived in the middle of the red light area.�I saw that there were sex workers everywhere- on the road, on the roof of the brothels, looking out of their windows… all of them were dressed very well but I could easily see that they were not happy and healthy. None of the sex workers wanted people to take their pics. They would turn their face away right after seeing the camera. I did not like it. It clearly means that they are too intimidated publicise their identities and it is only and only because of the way they are separated from the society. It was not something I was expecting.�

Sex workers children rights

I tried to look inside some of the brothels as well. I just could not believe what I saw there. The brothels were too dirty, just too much. There was not even any proper ventilation system for the houses. There were bottles of alcohol thrown everywhere. It was not something only about brothels, the whole neighborhood was terribly dirty. I saw many many people who looked like drug users and were physically and mentally sick. It was third world for me. I knew that Indian sex workers have a very bad life but I did not know that it was this bad. I had already seen some brothels in Varanasi and a few nearby districts but I never realized that our sex workers live in this terrible condition.

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Sex workers children rights

They are kept in the terrible conditions in the brothels, and have no ventilation, no proper food, no health care, can’t go out of the brothels and after all of this they can’t make good money. Sex work is extremely cheap in India. Some of the sex workers whom I had interviewed for the documentary had said that sometimes they charge Rs. 50 only per customer and they have to give half of it to the brothel owner. It was a terrible situation there. We distributed a lot of pamphlets to the sex workers which were about their and their children’s rights. I could not understand anything written on these pamphlets because everything was written in Bengali.

Sex workers rights

One thing that was very interesting to me was that a lot of children of sex workers were effeminate.� This whole group of the sex workers children who were doing cultural program and were leading the parade were either hijras or effeminate. Sometimes they would sing hijra songs as well. I have heard and few a sex workers and locals of Kolkata had told me that a lot of times the children of sex workers are also abused by the clients of their mother and I was wondering if this was the reason why they were so effeminate? I am not sure but it was not something I see often in my society- this huge number of hijras or effeminate people from one neighborhood.

Children of sex workers

Children of sex workers

A lot of locals of Kolkata told me that sometimes people go to brothels and contact the brothel owner and ask for a young kid and these cruel brothel owners bring the children of the sex workers who are sometimes only 6-7 years old. Usually it is not done in knowledge the mother of the child and even if they come to know about it, they just can’t do anything. Their children are forcibly made to have sex and this happens again and again- whenever there is a client asking for a young boy or girl. It was very sad to hear the way sex workers and their children are treated.�

Children of sex workers dancing

Children of sex workers dancing

A few people told me that since the kids of sex workers spend most of their time with their mother and do not get involved with any male and are abused often, it changes their lives and makes them effeminate. I do not know if this is true or not but it could be true also to some extent. Well, they were very nice with the dancing and music. Some of them were playing the drums also. After we had completed half of the way, a very famous hijra named Luxmi Narayan Tripathi joined us. She is very famous and represents hijras and transgenders of Asia.�

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Sex workers children

She was also full of energy and excited for the rally. She was jumping, clapping, dancing, shouting…it was so fun to see them. I loved being with them. I also danced with them, tried to repeat their Bengali songs which in fact I was not able to pronounce perfectly but I tried my best. I enjoyed most when they would sing Hindi song- hum honge kamyab (we will be successful). I also sang this song with them. It was really an amazing experience being with these little kids who were fighting for their rights. Finally we reached a big park where the parade was ended. Now different people were putting thoughts and addressing to the community people.�

Laxmi addressing to the community people

Laxmi addressing to the community people

A few sex workers, social activists and Laxmi addressed to the people present there. They promised to each other they will �keep fighting for their rights so long as they have even a drop of blood in their body. Now the rally was done and we had created a big traffic jam. I loved this rally, the kids of the sex workers and everything that happened in this rally. I am sure that I will go next year also to support them in their rally.

Sex workers bank and sanitary pad factory

Bank for sex workers

Bank for sex workers

Indian sex workers can’t open a bank account because they do not have any residential proof and there is no one who can be a guarantor for their bank account. It is a strange rule that I do not understand that Indian banks askall of their customersfor a guarantor and this guarantor could be anyone who already has a bank account with the same bank. In case if someone doesn’t know anyone who has already a account with the same bank, they can’t open a new bank account. Indian sex workers lack both things- a guarantor and residential proof.

Sanitary napkin factory

Sanitary napkin factory

So it used to be really hard for them to open a bank account. They were never ever able to save the money. Their savings were often looted, sometimes by the brothel owner and sometimes by their clients. Durbar wanted them to start saving and to do this they asked the Indian government and a few banks to let the sex workers open their bank accounts without bringing any guarantor or any proper residential proof but neither the government nor the banks agreed with it. Finally Durbar asked government to give them a license to start a co-operative society especially for sex workers and finally after a long struggle they got the consent.

A sex worker working with the napkin

A sex worker working with the napkin

Now Durbar has started a co-operative society only for sex workers and there are twelve-thousand sex workers saving their money with this society. This society works exactly as a bank- it provides loans and everything. A lot of sex workers are not allowed by brothel owners to go outside the brothels but they also wanted to have a saving account so for them Durbar’s workers go from one brothel to the next one to collect the money. I went to their bank also and saw a lot of sex workers coming to the bank in person and doing banking. Now the sex workers can save their money with this bank which is obviously a big help for them. And it’s only about saving, they can even take loans also whenever they need.

Bunch of napkins ready to be packed

Bunch of napkins ready to be packed

In the same bank building they have a small shop for sex workers where they sell all daily use stuffs for cheaper than the market rate. This shop is only for the sex workers. They have a section for out of the community people (not sex workers) also where they sell small stuffs like toys and clothes made by either sex workers, their children or someone from their family. We also did shopped there. I really loved this idea of a bank and shop for sex workers. Durbar has done awesome work. In the same way they have started a factory where they make sanitary pads and they have only and only sex workers as employees. This was also an amazing work.

The final product

The final product

They were very well organized. Durbar had hired an MBA professional to help them launch their product in the market. I went there with Seranna andthe camera crew and did some shooting also. This factory was just at the entrance of Sonagachi, the red light area. There were about ten women working there. They said that after a certain age they can’t make much money so they definitely needed a stable source of income and getting a job like this will help them a lot. Most of the workers there, maybe all of them, seemed like over 55 in age and I am sure they these aged people have hard time getting work in the sex industry. I really liked this project a lot.

Kolkata

I arrived in Kolkata an hour ago and now at Durbar’s office. I have spent only an hour in Kolkatta and my cream color T-shirt is almost black now. Its fucking polluted city. There is smoke everywhere. It seems like Bengali people like dark colors a lot. Taxis are dark yellow, buses are dark green, buildings look very old, and yea they have trams also. It is not something I was expecting. It seems like I will have so fun here. Forgot to bring the data cable for my camera so will upload pics when I get back home.

Durbar guys are very nice. They all seem like they are welcoming us. They said that conference will start tomorrow so its day off for me. Maybe I will do some touristic activity today.

25 new HIV patients everyday

I went to the NACO (National AIDS control Organization) center at BHU with Claire today to get some data about HIV patients in Varanasi for our upcoming workshop at schools. First of all the counselor did not agree to give us any data, and told us to contact the head of the department first and then get permission. I had told her that I was from an NGO but still she did not want to give us any data. We went to the head of department’s room but could not meet him as he was busy with someone else.

We waited for two hours at the counselor’s room. We saw many people coming to get tested. I met a girl who was HIV positive and now volunteers for the NACO center. After spending a few minutes the counselor became friends with Claire and told us everything we were looking for. I am sure she did it only because a white skinned person was there. She said that NACO has a testing center in a lot of different districts of Uttar Pradesh but the BHU one is the only one in all of Poorvanchal where they have ELISA testing facility.

Poorvanchal is a county of Uttar Pradesh which contains seventeen districts. I was shocked to hear that all the people who want to get tested for HIV enentually come to Varanasi center. They can get tested in their districts as well but those reports are not considered as the final report. The ELISA test is the most reliable test and is available in Poorvanchal only at BHU center. She said that the number of HIV patients has increased rapidly within the past few years. When she joined the job nine years ago they had only five-six hundred people every month who wanted to get tested but now this number is between one hundred and fifty and two hundred.

She said that they had hardly fifty to hundred positive results every month a few years ago but now they have at least twenty five positive results everyday. This number was huge and I could not believe it. The interesting thing was that they have only people who are sent by some doctor, think about the people who do not know if they have HIV. She also admitted that the number of positive cases will increase rapidly within the next few years because government’s approach towards this issue is insufficient.

She was not happy with her job. She said that her salary was too low. She said that the WHO gives huge amount of money to the Indian government then Indian government gives money to the Uttar Pradesh government and then Uttar Pradesh government gives money to NACO therefore most of the money is eaten by the politicians and other people involved with this project.

There was one thing that I liked most about this work is that now they give free ARVs to every positive patient. They do not give ARVs to every patient, they are given to only those people whose CD4 is below some dangerous level. I asked her about the number but she did not tell me about it.

Hindi or English???

I went to Delhi public school, Varanasi branch yesterday with my friend. His nephew goes there. There was some kind of music festival in the school yesterday. I liked everything there but did not understand why all the kids and teachers were speaking English to each other. All the parents were supposed to meet the warden, but my friend did not want to because his English is not good. He said that even though he speaks Hindi to the school staff but they always talk him in English.

My friend told me to talk to them. I talked to them in English but they spoke to me in Hindi. And finally I had to switch to Hindi. It was second time when I was talking to them in English but they talked to me in Hindi. I had talked to same guy to whom I talked this time about four-five months ago for my friend and he spoke Hindi to me. My friend was wondering why they speak English with him. I think the warden speaks English only to non-English speaking people.

English has become a fashion nowadays in India. A lot of people speak English to each other. A lot of families, maybe 80% of the upper class and 50% of the upper middle class, in the big cities like Delhi and Mumbai have adopted English as their first language. They never speak Hindi. On some television shows where people call and ask questions to some expert, big city people call and speak English. Usually these shows are Hindi shows therefore the host of the show tells these people to ask their questions in Hindi but they say that they don’t know any Hindi.

Now I see people in small cities like Varanasi speaking English to each other; they don’t want to learn speak Hindi. It is impossible to get a good job in India without knowing English, and it is very good for everyone to learn English; but I don’t like the idea of adopting English as the first language. A lot of foreigners come to India to learn Hindi but Indians have started adopting English and English culture. It seems strange to me. What is the need to do this?

Once I was working with Krista, a research scholar from University of California, in Mehndiganj. We went to interview a Coke worker but an American was already interviewing him. So we had to wait until her interview. She had a translator with her who was from Delhi and worked for an NGO called ASHA. She was translating for that American girl and collecting some information for her NGO. She said that her NGO was going to publish a book, and this information would be printed in that book.

I was also there and listening to their interview. She would often speak English to a village guy who did not know any English. She knew very well that the interviewee did not know any English but she was asking questions again and again in English. And the interviewee would just shake his head and it was the answer for her. What could be more stupid than that? I never understood why she was speaking English or to whom she wanted to show that she knew English.

All offices, whether they are government or private sector, have printed their letter pads saying that – They appreciate if you communicate in Hindi. But most of the time they communicate in English. People get their more attention if they have a letter written in English. If they write a letter to some office in English then their work is done quickly. I think offices communicate in Hindi only on Hindi day. Which means there is only one day for Hindi and 364 days for English.

Raj Thakarey- Chief of MNS

Raj Thakre, the chief of a political party called MNS from Maharashtra, protests against Hindi speaking people from U.P. and Bihar living in Maharashtra. His boys beat people who speak Hindi and destroy shops who have stock written in Hindi. They don’t want to anyone to speak Hindi in Maharashtra. They want everyone to speak Marathi. Hundreds of people have been killed in riots in Maharashtra regarding the issue of language. The Government is not doing anything.

There is no problem if they want everyone to speak Marathi, but nobody should have rights to stop people from speaking Hindi in India. Hindi is our national language but it’s a shame that a group of people don’t want Indians to speak Hindi in India. People are getting killed only for speaking Hindi. I think it would be better if they protest against English. It doesn’t make any sense to protest against Hindi in India. The Government supports them because of politics.

MNS guys beating Hindi speaker in Mumbai

They want to separate the Marathi vote. The biggest and strongest party in Maharashtra is Shiv Sena. Basically it is party of Marathi people. The nephew of the chief of Shiv Sena formed his own political party called MNS. This was a good opportunity for Congress to get the Marathi vote split into these two parties headed by the chief of the MNS and Shivsena. And Congress supported him so that he would get more attention and separate the Marathi vote, which would be beneficial for Congress.

Raj Thakare was arrested two-three times but never stayed in jail for more than two days. He was arrested only so that people would think that Congress was doing something. Congress did this so that people living in U.P. and Bihar wouldn’t neglect Congress. I don’t know if this whole drama will increase Congress vote or not, but one thing is sure that our politicians would do anything for getting vote. They don’t care if people are dying or what is going on. They just need votes, and that’s all.

I learnt English to get a job and I never want to speak English to any Hindi speaking person. But a lot of people think that they will be considered as smart if they speak English. I think if language is gone, then the culture is also gone. Language keeps people connected to the culture, and India is good so long as it is India, Indian people are good so long as they are Indian. We can never ever live a better life or develop by adopting English culture.

I think girls want to be more modern and show off a lot. They think if they speak English to a non-English speaking person, they will get more attention. When I hear girls talking to each other, they want to use as many English words as they can. It sounds funny to me. I don’t like Hindi speaking people speaking English to me. I am sure we understand Hindi better and we can make people understand us better if we speak our first language.

It would be a shame for us if we lost Hindi. I don’t know what will happen after ten-twenty years when a lot of people will have adopted English as their first language. If Hindi is gone from India, it means India is gone and Indians are gone.

AIDS survey in Mehdiganj, Varanasi

Lok Samiti had organized a group wedding of 30 couples in Mehdiganj where more than ten thousand people were supposed to come. I was also invited there, so I thought that it would be a good start for Sanjeevni Booti’s work. I discussed about it with Lane and we decided that we would take survey of villagers about awareness of HIV and distribute pamphlets about basic knowledge of AIDS. Lane wrote matter for pamphlet and created questions for survey.

I got two thousand pamphlets and 200 survey sheet printed. I needed few other people to help me taking the survey so I asked my friend Raju, Sonu and Bablu, who are member also of Sanjeevni Booti, to come help me. Sonu got agreed at once but Raju and Bablu were busy with their work. But I needed few people to help me so I offered them their one day’s salary and Raju got agreed with this offer but Bablu still didn’t get agree. Lane paid for everything- pamphlets, survey sheet, traveling expenses etc…

I needed few girls also to take survey of other girls but I could not find one. I asked Nandlal if some of Lok Samiti’s female members could take survey of other females for Sanjeevni Booti, and Nandlal said that he will send two females with me. I reached at the wedding place but unfortunately Lok Samiti females were busy organizing wedding, so we could not take survey of any females. We did survey with over 80 people, and distributed one thousand pamphlets.

I was shocked to hear the answers of the villagers about AIDS. It seemed like they didn’t know anything. Few people told us that AIDS could spread through air, few said that if people make relations more than 5 times a day then they are more likely to get AIDS, few said that AIDS could be easily treated by medicines etc… Nobody knew that AIDS could spread by sharing shaving razor or needles. We asked them if any other NGO had ever met them to talk about AIDS and none of them said yes, it means that they had not talked about AIDS with anyone who can tell them reality.

We have huge number of AIDS cases in India and it is increasing rapidly because sex practices change as people start becoming rich, and our economy is booming rapidly. So I think number STDs would also increase rapidly in near future. I think government should do something otherwise we will have the most cases very soon, because we have huge number of people living in India. I think Indians are very open to new ideas, and use of condoms was never ever a issue for us, so I think we can control this disease easily. We just need to educate people.

Lane wrote the survey report and published it on Sanjeevni Booti’s webiste.