Gay tourism in India comes out of the closet
Gay pride in India
By Thommen Jose
“’Ind-j-a’ tastes better on your tongue... try it,” Sanjay Malhotra told me.
I did and it did. I mean, I wasn’t too sure about how it tasted, but it definitely sounded different. Well, may be better too. In a whacked-out sort of way. Sanjay Malhotra, the much-awarded fashion designer is also the director of ‘Indja’, a gay travel boutique. I had asked Sanjay whether the ‘j’ in his ‘Indja’ was a gimmick. Besides the taste thing, “adding a ‘pink’ to the company name would have been a cliché,” feels Sanjay. ‘Pink’ might be cliché, still gay-friendly travel companies like Pink Escapes and Pink Vibgyor which are just over a year old are witnessing business growth in double digits.
It all started in July 2009 when a New Delhi High Court repealed Section 377 which criminalised homosexual activity; a draconian 148-year-old colonial British law which proscribed homosexual intercourse as ‘carnal intercourse against the order of nature’. The long-awaited verdict summed up with a ‘...it is the recognition of equality which will foster dignity in every individual.’ A landmark victory for the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community in the country, the decriminalisation also accorded the community their own identity and eventual courage to be themselves in public. There would be no more hovering in shadows nor, pardon the cliché, hiding in closets. There would be no more hounding or harassment by moralists, political hooligans (save Mumbai) or zealot cops. The new dawn was marked by rainbow parades and gay pride marches all over the country. Tourism industry also opened its eyes to the ‘pink dollar’.
“The LGBT community has more disposable income as most community members have less family commitments,” says Bhuvan Mehta who owns Pink Escapes. “They are also the ones who travel and spend a lot compared to others.” The potential of the ‘pink dollar’ was industrialised with the capital hosting the first edition of Asian Symposium on Gay and Lesbian Tourism in 2011. Not only travel agents, hotel owners and gay tour operators, but the event also witnessed participation by prominent members of the gay community – present to put forth their expectations while travelling by presenting the problems they faced while doing so. “It was an eye-opener on all levels, a stupendous learning experience for everyone,” he says.
“There can be no overnight end to the problems, or prevalent situations where gays are regarded more as queers,” says Sanjay. Though we are the liberal Land of the Kamasutra, we as a people are not exactly above frowning, even jeering at adult males holding hands in public. “The transition in our attitude towards various sexualities can be brought about only gradually.” Indja has devised a programme called ‘Pinkperfect’ – a special training programme for hotel staffs on how to treat an LGBT traveller. Right from not looking amused or scandalised, not even staring at a little PDA, the programme lays huge emphasis on gallant and chivalrous behaviour. Currently imparted in the participating hotels in and around Delhi, it will soon be taken to partner hotels in metros all over India. With the house in order – or on the way – we can now move to the bigger picture of travel.
‘One size doesn’t fit all’ says Outjourneys about their customised tours. Individual or in groups, tell them the number of days and the places you want to visit, hint your budget and they promise to revert with the best experiential itinerary. Apart from the usual sights, all the travel companies also promise that extra – in most cases, an experiential angle. Pink Escapes gives you the option of attending an Indian wedding as well as an evening cuppa over talks with a prominent historian where you are privy to gleaned information on the country’s rich and varied past. “Another ‘delightful pink experience’,” as Bhuvan puts it, “is meeting exceptionally talented people from the LGBT community and spending time with them.” The capital abounds in singers and painters, designers and musicians from the community. “Not just acquaintances, but such meetings have also been instrumental in forming lifelong friendships,” Bhuvan assures.