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Genders and Sexualities > Calcutta Pages > Indian LGBT Movement Archives

|Snippets from the Indian LGBT Movement: Extracted from Records in SAATHII Calcutta’s LGBT Support Centre Reference Library

ISSUE - 1

The Indian lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) movement is truly a rainbow of many fascinating hues. This movement is gradually bringing to light, documenting and representing the rich diversity of sexualities and genders that have existed in our cultures since thousands of years. It is advocating that this diversity should be respected and discrimination against LGBT people should be stopped.

As an organized political movement the Indian LGBT movement is still quite young, having taken its first steps only in the early 1990s. However, it is not as if the movement started overnight. Rather it was a result of several visible and invisible developments taking place over the years in the world and Indian contexts. As of current knowledge, these developments in the Indian context can be traced back to the 1940s.

We present here a chronological account of milestones, big and small, achieved so far by the Indian LGBT movement. But these are only the more political milestones and involve either well known individuals, or groups and organizations of LGBT people.

There are many more developments taking place in the form of day-to-day social networking among LGBT people and their influencers all over the country. Even unknown individuals (whether LGBT or not) all over the country taking a stand on sexuality issues is contributing to the movement.

It will always be our endeavour to document as many of these developments as possible through various means at our disposal, or facilitate their documentation by other individuals and organizations involved in the Indian LGBT movement. Here, however, we focus on the political milestones of the movement.

The first issue of this column highlights developments till the 1970s:

1941 – Short story “Lihaaf” (“The Quilt”) written by Urdu writer Ismat Chugtai is published in Lahore (in pre-partition India). This story is regarded by some as the first to depict same-sex relations among women in modern-time India. An obscenity charge is levied against the author by the Lahore government, but it is overturned in court by the judge who ruled that the story can only be understood by someone who already has some knowledge about same-sex relations (and therefore cannot be said to “corrupt” innocent minds).

1978 – Shakuntala Devi’s book “The World of Homosexuals” is published. This is noteworthy as the first Indian book that attempted a serious, unbiased discourse on the issue of homosexuality in general as well as in the Indian context.

Late 1970s – “Gay Scene”, a journal is brought out by some individuals in Calcutta. The journal stops after a few issues. Unfortunately nothing is known about the whereabouts of the individuals who undertook the initiative.

Note: Information about "Gay Scene" was first reported in "Shakti Khabar" newsletter in 1990. “Shakti Khabar” was published by Shakti, London, which said it had a few issues of "Gay Scene" in its archival collection. SAATHII Calcutta LGBT Support Centre is trying to access copies of "Gay Scene" for inclusion in its reference library.

References: “Humjinsi – A Resource Book on Lesbian, Gay & Bisexual Rights in India, 2002 Edition”, India Centre for Human Rights and Law, Mumbai, 2002.

This resource book and an earlier 1999 edition are available in the reference library of SAATHII Calcutta LGBT Support Centre.

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ISSUE - 2

Snippets from the Indian LGBT Movement: Extracted from Records in
SAATHII Calcutta's LGBT Support Centre Reference Library

The Indian lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) movement is truly a rainbow of many fascinating hues. This movement is gradually bringing to light, documenting and representing the rich diversity of sexualities and genders that have existed in our cultures since thousands of years. It is advocating that this diversity should be respected and discrimination against LGBT people should be stopped.

As an organized political movement the Indian LGBT movement is still quite young, having taken its first steps only in the early 1990s. However, it is not as if the movement started overnight. Rather it was a result of several visible and invisible developments taking place over the years in the world and Indian contexts. As of current knowledge, these developments in the Indian context can be traced back to the 1940s.

We present here a chronological account of milestones, big and small, achieved so far by the Indian LGBT movement. But these are only the more political milestones and involve either well-known individuals, or groups and organizations of LGBT people.

There are many more developments taking place in the form of day-to-day social networking among LGBT people and their influencers all over the country. Even unknown individuals (whether LGBT or not) all over the country taking a stand on sexuality issues contribute to the movement.

It will always be our endeavour to document as many of these developments as possible through various means at our disposal, or facilitate their documentation by other individuals and organizations involved in the Indian LGBT movement. Here, however, we focus on the political milestones of the movement.


Picture: Dr. L. Ramakrishnan.

The second issue of this column highlights developments in the late 1970s and early 1980s in the cultural sphere, particularly theatre:

March 19, 1979 – “Begum Barve”, a Marathi play written and directed by Satish Alekar, is performed for the first time by Theatre Academy, Pune, at Shriram Centre in New Delhi. Begum Barve, the central character after whom the play is named, is a small-time Marathi theatre actor of the early 20th century, who plays female parts and whose male body desires to live a woman’s life. In that era men would play the female parts as well in Marathi plays.

“Begum Barve” remains to this day a play with universal appeal and has also had Gujarati and Hindi adaptations in the 1980s and 1990s. The original Marathi production was last revived on March 1, 2001, as part of the Theatre Interaction Programme supported by the Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi, and performed in Agartala. The English translation of the play, available with our reference library, makes for engrossing reading as well.

Late 1970s / early 1980s – “Partner”, a one-act play written by Dr. Anand Nadkarni, explores the relationship between two male hostel inmates in love, and the complications when one of them gets married

August 15, 1981 – “Mitrachi Gosht”, a lesbian theme play in Marathi written by eminent playwright Vijay Tendulkar opens in Mumbai and Thane. The play portrays the inner conflict of a woman who realizes she is lesbian. It was well received, and ran for 26 shows.

References: (1) “Humjinsi – A Resource Book on Lesbian, Gay & Bisexual Rights in India, 2002 Edition”, India Centre for Human Rights and Law, Mumbai, 2002.

(2) “Begum Barve”, Satish Alekar, English translation: Shanta Gokhale, Seagull Books, Calcutta, 2003 (second edition).

These books are available in the reference library of SAATHII Calcutta LGBT Support Centre.

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