A Place To Call Home

This article was published online on the website of Gaylaxy magazine (Link: http://www.gaylaxymag.com/articles/current-affairs/a-place-to-call-home/)

Twelve years ago, Sachin Jain was a young gay man in Mumbai who wanted a place to live. It was his first time living away from his family. Apart from the difficulties that a paying guest faces in Mumbai, Sachin had to face an additional one of homophobia. “A snoopy neighbour would actually peek into my living room through the peephole on the door, and once I peeped right back! As I talked to gay and lesbian friends who also rented, I heard stories about hostile housing societies and bigoted straight room-mates,” he says.

Sachin could not feel free in his own house; he did not feel comfortable inviting his friends or partner over. He felt the need to hide his belongings or keep them locked up at all times. “The worst thing was the necessity to hide oneself in the closet, or become this sex-less, sexuality-less being languishing in the shadows of don’t ask – don’t tell,” he recalls.

Within four months, Sachin moved out of the place. He knew then that he did not want loneliness. This is what pushed him to establish Gay Housing Assistance Resource, or GHAR in the year 2000.  “I remember in the initial years of GHAR, Sopan, a friend, gave me a ceramic house as a gift with “Ye tera GHAR” written on the bottom – I have kept it with me for over a decade!” he reminisces.

GHAR faced a few glitches before it could establish its own ground. Guised and direct personal advertisements for sex were one of the nuisances. Even with genuine advertisements, the group did not have enough member support to be able to help each other out.

Even in developed metropolitan cities in India, acceptance of openly homosexual people, especially in residential complexes is to be achieved. The society by and large has opened up to acknowledge LGBT rights, but is not liberal enough to accept homosexuals living within their vicinity. This is changing, slowly but surely. GHAR has been pretty much left to its own devices. More and more people coming out of the closet has surely helped, but the attitudes of the authorities have been beneficial in making the atmosphere a lot friendlier towards the LGBT and GHAR.

Apart from social networking and changing attitudes, Sachin’s patience and perseverance has been vital in the success of GHAR. “Humour is the best way to cope with it. Share your stories, have a laugh and move on. Also, getting in touch with the queer community from the developing world – knowing that there are countries with the death penalty for being gay, where activists are holding pride parades nevertheless – is also inspiring.”

GHAR now provides housing assistance to people in six Indian cities as well as USA and Canada. The facebook debut of GHAR in 2012 has skyrocketed, with 600 new members and 30 new posts. To find a place on GHAR is simple enough. After sending a request to join the Facebook group called G.H.A.R. (Gay Housing Assistance Resource), you will be added to the group by an administrative member. You can then post your advertisement for letting or renting by creating a post. The group also suggests estate agents and LGBT-friendly property websites. Searching for LGBT housemates and emergency asylum are two outstanding features of GHAR.

Sachin feels that there was a noted difference in people’s attitudes after the decriminalization of homosexuality in 2009. He says, “The LGBT Facebook generation is much more assertive and confident about itself.” The ability to put up  pictures on this social platform has made it far easier for people to find a home that suits their needs.

Don’t go on a hunger strike if you are a woman

Of all the techniques of protest that have come and gone, starving yourself is one of the most ridiculous ones. Gandhi-enthusiasts may now pelt stones at me in their non-violent way, but this is an infantile way of getting your way. And if you don’t have a Y-chromosome, you might as well forget about it. Look at Irom Sharmila, for example. Fasting since 2000, she has achieved nothing other than occasional admiration from the media and accusations of suicide. For which, she’ll be appearing in court in December 19, 2013.

Even though her techniques are exactly the kind to cause mass excitement, she has two major shortcomings. One, she isn’t an aged man and two, she is from the North-east.

When Anna Hazare decided to go hungry, it took no time for the media and public to gather around him, so that he could rescue them from corruption by throwing a temper tantrum. No one dared to accuse him of attempting suicide because he was fighting for the greater good, wasn’t he? Also, there were overzealous mobs walking all over the place, ready to cause a stampede on anyone who opposed. Let’s not even get started about the number of suicidal attempts by Mohandas Gandhi.

Why we would want to put so much faith in people who are clearly delusional due to their primary motive of hunger not being met, is beyond my understanding.

But hey, they were grown men who clearly work for our welfare. And people actually know the names of the states that they come from. But a woman from Manipur does not require her demands to be met. It’s nice that she’s received all these awards, and she says Gandhi is her idol, but she’s probably just anorexic.  

On Child Marriage

The Indian government trying to pass laws to improve women’s rights over the past few months was a lot like watching Phoebe in tap-dancing class, doing strange wavy motions and saying “I’m totally getting this!” This happened when the UPA was poked awake from its deep slumber by people protesting for women’s rights since December 2012.

One of the things they did was raise the age of consent to 18. And in the very same year, India refused to sign the UN resolution against child marriage, in spite of having the highest number of child marriages (24 million). 
In the dreamland of our leaders—where there are flowers and bunnies (rainbows aren’t acknowledged here)—children get married and wait till they are 18 so they can finally consummate the marriage. In this happy world, moral crusaders who slap boys and girls who come within arm distance of each other are allowed to roam around freely and kill youngsters for falling in love.
Not that one should have much faith in an organisation that lightly poked Sri Lanka once, condemns Israel from time to time, and is planning to hold auditions for Syria and Sudan. But for a nation who thought forming a Non-Alignment club was the cool thing to do, an acknowledgement of the grave child marriage problem doesn’t seem like a bad idea.