India won herself political freedom 62 years ago. But it took a quiet but revolutionary judgment on July 2, 2009 to emancipate her, reaffirming her status as secular, claim members of a community. With the amendment of Article 377 permitting consensual sex between two adults as legal, and decriminalising homosexuality, the judiciary just made letting your guard down easy. "Do I look like a criminal?" asks Goan designer Wendell Rodricks. "I don't know why there was a blanket rule in the first place. As per the law, anyone indulging in sexual act apart from carnal sex, was termed criminal. So, a husband and wife who enjoy oral sex, or even same sex couples, were accused of debauchery. I am ecstatic at the verdict."
He and Mumbai designer James Ferreira have been relentless torchbearers of the cause, and what made the
"coming out" simpler is the fact that they confided in their parents early on. James revealed his
sexuality to his parents 35 years ago, and feels lucky to have had support for his decision. That he chose to pursue fashion, a profession that's far more accepting of alternate sexuality, helped. "If your family allows you to be honest, the amendment will work. None of us want to be gay. I would have had a wonderful life as a straight man. Why would I put myself through torture if I had a choice? Parents and society must realise and accept that people are born gay," James stresses.
But most admit that although the amendment might make the average Indian more accepting of the "alien concept", it will hardly change inter-personal relationships. Not when we are living in a hypocritical society where even the most established of designers live in conventional societal worlds that are nothing but fantasies, many of them living a dual life with wife and kids. "The barriers are not going to crash that quickly," James says.
Delhi designer Suneet Varma believes voting for a reformist political party has paid off after all. He is glad that India allows him the right to live with dignity, irrespective of sexual preference. "I am a law-abiding citizen. I am a good son, I'm good at what I do. I treat my staff of 250 well, pay their salaries on time. I am all that, and gay," he declares.
The Bollywood and fashion industries have more in common than what they are credited for. And there are better chances of homosexual designers coming out in support at gay parades than macho film stars of the Hindi film industry. "You think Bollywood doesn't harbour homosexuals? But the industry rests on the male ego.
They aren't coming out anytime soon. Around the world, the last three decades have witnessed a sea change in perceptions over homosexuality. In India, in the last decade, we seemed to have regressed towards homophobia," Suneet laments.