Anand Chandrani was born on November 9, 1973 in a conservative Gujarati family in Nagpur. He was almost 15-years-old when he realised he was a gay but it took him 13 years to tell his family about the same. From a closeted gay to being an activist for the LGBT community, the road hasn’t been an easy one for Anand, who is the president and chairman of the board of Sarathi trust. The trust works for the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders in Nagpur. In a heart to heart chat with Nation Next, Anand Chandrani speaks about Sarathi trust, his own struggle as a gay and article 377.
How did Sarathi Trust come into being?
In 2002, when I visited Mumbai for some work, I came across Humsafar trust. Humsafar was the first organization in India, which started working for the welfare of LGBT community. I liked their work and when I came back to Nagpur, I started talking to my friends about starting something like Humsafar in Nagpur. Most of them liked the idea but none of them was willing to make their names public. To register a trust, you need at least three people. It took me around one and half years to convince two more persons other than me, and finally in 2006, Sarathi trust was registered. When we were visiting all the government hospitals in Nagpur to research about the existence of HIV and AIDS in the gay community, we came across the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) staff. They introduced us to the YMCA secretary and we got a place at the YMCA office in Sitabuldi to operate from.
How does Sarathi help gay community?
Sarathi trust is an organization working for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community in Nagpur city and around. Our basic motto is to eradicate the stigma related to the LGBT community from the minds of general public. But to do that, we need to first deal with the health and human rights issues related to the community. Keeping this in mind, we have worked on two projects in the past. The first project was supported by the Government of India and the second one by a global fund. In the first project, in order to reduce the prevalence of HIV/AIDS among men in Nagpur, we were told by the Government of India to research about men having sex with men in Nagpur. Under this project, we also created awareness about HIV/AIDS, provided counseling, did free condom distribution and gave legal help to the gay community through our lawyers. Global fund project, which was called Project Pehchan was also about HIV awareness, but under that project we also worked on the mental health issues, family counseling and partner counseling. We supported people from LGBT community, who wanted to pursue their studies and also helped them getting proper ID proofs so that they could at least open their bank accounts without any problem. Currently, we are working on Project Tarang, which was started in 2007 – during NACO (National AIDS Control Organisation) phase III with the help, joint effort and collaboration of Avert Society, Mumbai and Maharashtra State AIDS control society, Mumbai. The program aims at reducing the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the LGBT community.
What kind of activities does the trust undertake on a day-to-day basis?
Since I’m from the LGBT community, I know where people from the community often meet. We go to such places and interact with people and create awareness about HIV and AIDS. We then take their feedbacks to know what kind of sexual activities they’re into and how much prone they are to get infected by HIV. After taking that into account, we take them to the counsellors to get their problems solved. We advise them to always have safe sex and not to have multiple partners. We tell them to contact us in case they have any confusion. Apart from that, we work with the local media persons, politicians and police for the advocacy of the rights of LGBT community.
When did you tell about your sexual orientation to your family? What was their reaction?
I told my mother about my sexual orientation in November 1994. I was 21 and had lost my father in April 1994. Also, I had my first break up during that period. I was in a relationship with a guy for three years. We broke up because he got married to a girl as he did not want his family to know that he was gay. When he got married, I was very depressed. I tried to commit suicide because there was nobody whom I could talk to. My mother couldn’t come to terms with it and she asked me the reason behind it. That’s when I thought, ‘Why should I lie? I’ve been lying to her for so many years!’ I decided to tell her the truth, even if that meant her throwing me out of the house. But luckily, my mother who’s not at all qualified, understood me and said, ‘I don’t understand what’s being gay. I just know you’re my son and I will accept you the way you are!’
Did you face any kind of mental and physical abuse while growing up because of your different sexual orientation?
Physical abuse majorly happens with gays who are effeminate and I have never been effeminate. I didn’t even face any mental abuse but I was going through a lot of mental trauma myself. When I realised I was different, I was not able to speak to anybody about it. I had a constant fear that if people came to know about me, they would not talk to me. When I opened up about my sexuality in front of my mother, friends and relatives, majority of them stopped talking to me. Relatives stopped coming home, started ignoring me and even my brother-in-law and his family did not talk to me for some time. Now it’s pretty fine. My niece makes her parents understand what ‘mama’ is! The new generation is quite open about all these things.
There’s also a lot of verbal abuse that LGBT community faces. Did you face any kind of verbal abuse personally?
Yeah! But it did not affect me much. The day I realised what I felt was natural, I wasn’t afraid anymore. I thought that if somebody’s saying something wrong to me, it’s his mistake and not mine. I don’t blame the person because he’s not knowledgeable enough. Ten years ago, I would get very angry with people who kept names for LGBT community but today I’m not. I’m running an organisation and I have seen it all. It’s not people’s fault. Our education system is not up to the mark, so people don’t get the right knowledge. Whatever they learn about the community is from some foolish articles or Bollywood movies, which show the gay community in a bad light.
A lot of people from the LGBT community are not very open about their sexuality and their views. You’re very open about both the things…
I’m proud of what I’m because I know what I feel is natural and normal. When I know there’s nothing wrong with me, why should I be ashamed of myself? Some of my friends tell me, ‘What is the need to do all this? You can lead a normal life?’ And I tell them, ‘I’m living a normal life. I’m a man and I love a man, that’s all!’
Do you have any idea about the number of closeted LGBT people in the city? Why don’t they come out in the open?
There is no exact data but there are many closeted LGBT people in the city. Coming out in the open doesn’t mean that you have to go out and shout out to everybody about it. A person should just accept it himself and so should his family, that’s it! Why do you want to get married to a girl if you’re gay and destroy the girl’s life and your own? Two years back a guy from a known family in Nagpur committed suicide after he got married. This was his second marriage. I was shocked when I heard about his suicide. He was such a lovely person. He was intelligent and charming. The moment I heard the news, I knew the reason behind his suicide! He was a gay. This is the one case I know of, but I’m sure there are definitely a lot of cases like this.
What would you like to say to the parents who have problems accepting their children’s ‘different’ sexual orientation and to the closeted people of the LGBT community in Nagpur?
I would like to tell the parents that your kids are your kids and not somebody else’. So, love them! If your kid knows about his orientation and still doesn’t tell you, it means he loves you so much that he’s ready to sacrifice his entire life. Accept him the way he is and let him live his life. And I would like to tell the community that kab tak khud se bhagoge aap? Jo aap ho woh ho! Khud se mat bhago and don’t destroy your and somebody else’ life. The way a heterosexual cannot become a gay, a gay cannot become heterosexual. There’s no point in living a dual life. I understand that it’s not easy but by having a self-realisation, you will at least live a healthy life. Once you accept what you’re, you will feel like a lot of weight has been lifted off from your head. If your family doesn’t know about you, they will tell you to get married because they love you. If you’re not accepting yourself the way you’re, you’re harming yourself and no one else.
What are views on section 377?
Section 377 is not only about the LGBT community. If you read it properly, it’s written that ‘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 term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.’ In a Supreme Court judgment, transgenders were given the right to marry. Ab shaadi karenge toh physical intimacy toh hogi na? If that happens there will be anal sex and that act will be criminalised under section 377! So basically the court has given them a right but has made them a criminal at the same time! Section 377 should be scrapped and if it’s there, it should at least be logical. When we debate about all these things, a lot of gurus and so called god men say that any kind of physical intimacy is only to reproduce. Then why do we manufacture condoms? Do-teen bacche paida karke sex karna band kar do na!
On a lighter note, it’s often said that, gays are girls’ best friends. Why is that?
There are a lot of similarities between girls and gays. They both think alike and like the same things. Moreover, girls feel secure around gays. I have a lot of female friends who are straight and married; if they want to go anywhere, they ask me to tag along. Even their husbands say, Anand ke sath ja rahe ho toh koi tension nahi!