BY: LISA CUMMING
Padma Iyer made history when she posted the first-ever gay marriage ad in a Mumbai newspaper’s matrimonial pages.
The subject of the ad, her son Harrish Iyer, is a leading gay rights campaigner in India.
What made the ad so fantastic is the fact that it was written exactly like a traditional arranged marriage ad. Just a mother looking for happiness for her son.
Homosexuality in India was legal for a brief four years after the homophobic law was struck down in 2009, but then reinstated in 2013.
A strikingly large number of the Indian population believes that homosexuality is a disease and can be cured with various treatments. Snake oil salesmen like yoga guru Baba Ramdev offer a wide variety of treatments, Ramdev just happens to think that yoga can cure the gayness.
The fear mongering is so bad that even the former head of the National Indian Psychiatric Association believes that many homosexuals are actually uncomfortable with their sexuality and should undergo treatments to get that whole nasty business sorted out.
Having a large portion of India’s population so wrapped up in fear and extreme intolerance makes it very difficult for gay citizens to feel comfortable in their own skin.
“I am angry, frustrated and feel unbearably suffocated in my closet. I realized I was gay by the time I was 14. No, I never had any ‘bad experience’ in my childhood that made me ‘turn gay’. No uncle or elder cousin ever molested me. I am gay because I believe I was born gay,” writes an anonymous young Indian student. “I had my first boyfriend when I was 19. We met online in a gay-dating chat room and when we finally met face to face, it was love at first sight. Never before in my life had I been so happy. He too was a closeted gay, but was far too petrified to ever come out. When he refused to commit to a future with me just because his family would not accept it, and he’d ultimately have to marry a girl as all Indian men are expected to do, I broke up with him. Our relationship lasted only a few months, but it left me emotionally scarred and broken in spirit.”
This heartbreaking sentiment only makes what Ms. Iyer did even nobler. She is a mother who refused to stigmatize her son’s sexuality and decided to normalize being gay.
In arranged marriages there is a battle between the son’s/daughter’s happiness and the “parent knows best” standpoint. Ms. Iyer chose to take both into consideration when she placed that ad.
A lot of informative websites describe the major differences between arranged and forced marriages, but how does forcing a gay man or woman into a marriage still count as an arranged marriage. It becomes evident that some parents just don’t know best.
Last year The Times of India published a piece titled “I am gay and I was forced into marriage.” It told the stories of three gay citizens, all their names changed, and their experiences with being forced into the closet. Unfortunately, a situation like the ones described are not rare occurrences.
“I am 27 and I come from a small town. I shifted to Hyderabad a little over a year ago because my parents were looking for prospective grooms. I am gay and proudly so. I ‘came out’ to myself when I was 16. Ever since, I have been interested in girls. But I could never ‘come out’ to my parents. Now, my mom is pressuring me to get married,” writes a young gay woman. “She calls me every day to tell me about the guys she has found for me. Sometimes, I feel that I should just get married for the sake of my mother and then get a divorce later… But then, will she be able to take that? I am totally lost… I am very sure that [I] don’t want to marry a man, but what do I do?”
India is in a standstill when it comes to actually bringing about change for gay men and women on the ground. News outlets like The Times of India publish their stories, but their government threatens a maximum punishment of life in prison if two people are caught.
Despite the sad state of things with the re-instatement of an archaic law, the Indian government cannot do much about gay-rights activists protesting and speaking freely.
Hopefully, because of the spark that was lit by Ms. Iyer, other parents will begin to think about having open conversations with their children about sexuality and what that means in relation to an arranged marriage.