Section 377 of Indian Penal Code – which came into force over 150 years ago – says: Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal shall be punished with imprisonment for life or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 10 years, and shall also be liable to fine. In other words, homosexuals can’t breathe free in the world’s largest democracy.
Last month, the Indian government cleared a bill to ban commercial surrogacy aimed at barring foreigners, people of Indian origin, couples with kids, live-in partners, single parents and homosexuals from having children through the rent-a-womb service. Announcing the decision, India’s Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj told reporters: “We do not recognize homosexual or live-in relationships, that is why they are not allowed to commission babies through surrogacy. It is against our ethos.”
So what is it like to be a homosexual in India? Since the law of the land terms homosexuals as criminals, they are forced to remain in the closet. It is difficult to gauge the pain gays, lesbians and bisexuals endure whether they stay in closet or dare to come out. Recently, Anamika Pareek, "a proud lesbian," wrote on Quora:
"The reason we have to hide and pretend all the time is that society will hate us. The only reason we live in depression most of the times and have suicidal thoughts is that we can’t tell anyone and not everyone is courageous to come out and face the trouble… The other day my girlfriend wanted to kiss me. I told her to wait for like years till we start living together because if anyone sees us, we will be in jail. Though I consoled her, but here “living together” looks like a distant dream when my parents are worried about getting me married (obviously with a boy)."
Nonetheless, photographer Arjun Kamath addressed the struggles of homosexuals in India through Coming out, his aptly titled photo series. The fictional narrative shared the story of two women coming out to the world, from the initial moment of love and bravery, shown through the character Maitreyi leading Alpana out into a forest, to a horrific ending. (Photos & Captions: Arjun Kamath)
It's a free world.
Maitreyi opened the door for the first time.
A cold wind blew mercilessly, chilling Alpana to the marrow, as she opened the creaky closet door. Flashes of lighting in the distance made the already nervous Alpana not want to step out.
The twigs cracked under Alpana's feet as she stumbled out of the closet; Maitreyi's calm presence gave her the hope that the forest was a safe place.
The wildlife held its breath as Alpana embraced Maitreyi; the girls had been in love for the longest time ever. They had finally come out of the closet and now there was no looking back.
As Maitreyi and Alpana grew comfortable in each others arms, the glowing sun started to reveal itself through the perilous clouds.
The love between Maitreyi and Alpana overflowed and changed the mood of the forest.
They walked hand in hand, observing the screeching swallows as they chased whirring dragonflies in a dance of life and death. The golden sun had evaporated the fear in their hearts and filled it with hope.
The girls smiled in their newfound comfort and decided to play a game of hide and seek.
Alpana whispered, "Now I can do whatever I want." Maitreyi smiled and said, "I've never stopped you."
Alpana tightened the knot one final time. "Good luck, Mai" she whispered.
Maitreyi and Alpana had never been happier.
Maitreyi surrendered to the beat of her feet against the rocks that littered her path.The delicious rush of wind skimmed past her face as she ran around the forest trying to catch Alpana.
Suddenly during the game, Maitreyi collapsed to the ground Squirming with anguish, she sat on the damp grass, clutching her feet. A nasty thorn had penetrated her leg and she was in great pain.
Seeing Maitreyi in pain caused Alpana's chest to swell with melancholy. However, Alpana willed herself to comfort Maitreyi and pull the thorn out of her flesh.
Maitreyi's thumb caressed Alpana's earlobe softly, her fingers supporting the back of her head as she leant in firmly, yet seductively, placing her lips over Alpana's nose. "It's not your fault..." whispered Maitreyi.
Parivala, very much like Maitreyi and Alpana, had found freedom in the very same forest a few days ago. So when she saw the girls embrace each other, her heart was overcome with joy. She was glad that they had come out.
Parivala blessed the girls and walked away.
It was a new day and the glimmer of hope strengthened with every passing minute.
Maitreyi and Alpana's joyful laughter echoed through the forest. But somewhere in the distances, they heard something moving.
The Rakshasas (monsters in Hindu mythology) of the forest had heard Maitreyi and Alpana's laughter.
The only love that was allowed was between man and woman.
Maitreyi and Alpana would pay for their sin: they had loved each other, and not a man.
Maitreyi and Alpana were dragged through the forest mercilessly.
The love that brought them together, was the love that tore them apart.
Maitreyi and Alpana were shoved back into the closet.
Maitreyi clutched Alpana's hand tightly as the doors closed on them.
Silence hung in the air like a bereaved soul as Maitreyi and Alpana embraced each other one last time before they were set on fire.
Plumes of black smoke filled the closet and the searing heat slowly made it difficult to breathe.
God wept a silent rain as Parivala screamed and cried... but it was too late. She had blessed the girls a few days ago and now they were gone.