LGBTQ people have a long recorded and documented history since Ancient India.[1] Hinduism and the various religions derived from it were not homophobic and evidence suggests that homosexuality thrived in ancient India until the medieval period.[2][3]

LGBTQ people in the Islamic communities were persecuted more severely especially under the Islamic rule of the Mughal Empire, which ruled over large parts of India and much of Central Asia (and ultimately derives from the Mongol Empire), though Mughal leaders largely tolerated the cultures of the various non-Muslim communities of India.[4][5][6][7][8]

From the early modern period, colonialism from Europe also brought with it more centralized legal codes that imposed Christian-European morals that were homophobic in nature, including criminalizing sex between two people of the same gender, and criminalizing transsexuality.[9][dead link]

In the 21st century following independence, there has been a significant amount of progress made on liberalizing LGBTQ laws and reversing the homophobia and transphobia of the previous colonial era.

Erotic sculptures of two men (center) at the Khajuraho temples

Ancient period

Hinduism provides a wide breadth of literary and artistic sources showing LGBTQ life in Ancient India. Hinduism does not have explicit morals condemning homosexuality nor transsexuality, and has taken various positions on the topic, ranging from containing positive descriptions of homosexual characters, acts and themes in its texts to being neutral or antagonistic towards it.[10][11][12] The concept of sexual minorities was widely known in the prevailing Hindu culture by the time Gautama Buddha founded his philosophies, and homosexuality was also thought to be viewed positively in Buddhism[13][14][15]

At the Lakshmana temple in Khajuraho (954 CE), a man receives fellatio from a seated male as part of an orgiastic scene.

Rigveda, one of the four canonical sacred texts of Hinduism says Vikriti Evam Prakriti (meaning what seems unnatural is also natural),[16]

The Kama Sutra is an ancient text dealing with kama or desire (of all kinds), which in Hindu thought is one of the four normative and spiritual goals of life. The Kama Sutra is the earliest extant and most important work in the Kama Shastra tradition of Sanskrit literature. It was compiled by the philosopher Vatsyayana around the 4th century, from earlier texts, and describes homosexual practices in several places, as well as a range of sex/gender 'types'. The author writes that these relations also involve love and a bond of trust.

The author describes techniques by which masculine and feminine types of the third sex (tritiya-prakriti), as well as women, perform fellatio.[17] The Second Part, Ninth Chapter of Kama Sutra specifically describes two kinds of men that we would recognize today as masculine- and feminine-type homosexuals but which are mentioned in older, Victorian British translations as simply "eunuchs."[18] The chapter describes their appearances – feminine types dressed up as women whereas masculine types maintained muscular physiques and grew small beards, mustaches, etc. – and their various professions as masseurs, barbers and prostitutes are all described. Such homosexual men were also known to marry, according to the Kama Sutra: "There are also third-sex citizens, sometimes greatly attached to one another and with complete faith in one another, who get married together." (KS 2.9.36). In the "Jayamangala" of Yashodhara, an important twelfth-century commentary on the Kama Sutra, it is also stated: "Citizens with this kind of homosexual inclination, who renounce women and can do without them willingly because they love one another, get married together, bound by a deep and trusting friendship."[15]

The Kama Sutra also refers to svairini, who are "independent women who frequent their own kind or others" (2.8.26) — or, in another passage: "the liberated woman, or svairini, is one who refuses a husband and has relations in her own home or in other houses" (6.6.50). In a famous commentary on the Kama Sutra from the 12th century, Jayamangala, explains: "A woman known for her independence, with no sexual bars, and acting as she wishes, is called svairini. She makes love with her own kind. She strokes her partner at the point of union, which she kisses." (Jayamangala on Kama Sutra 2.8.13). The various practices of lesbians are described in detail within the Second Part, Eighth Chapter of the Kama Sutra.[19]

The Arthashastra, a 2nd century BCE Indian treatise on statecraft, mentions a wide variety of sexual practices which, whether performed with a man or a woman, were sought to be punished with the lowest grade of fine. While homosexual intercourse was not sanctioned, it was treated as a very minor offence, and several kinds of heterosexual intercourse were punished more severely.[20]

Sex between non-virgin women incurred a small fine, while homosexual intercourse between men could be made up for merely with a bath with one's clothes on, and a penance of "eating the five products of the cow and keeping a one-night fast" – the penance being a replacement of the traditional concept of homosexual intercourse resulting in a loss of caste. These are punishments listed for the use of the priestly class of people (traditionally monks) for both heterosexual and homosexual sexual misconduct, where the punishments for heterosexual misconduct were often more severe than homosexual misconduct.[20]

Medieval period

A large number of erotic artwork dipicting homosexuality can be found on numerous temples throughout India, including Khajuraho temple sculptures built in the 700s, and the Sun temple in Konark built in 1200s.[21]

Early modern period

Early moghul emperors were often tolerant of the Hindu society and allowed them to live as they wanted to.[22] The Fatawa-e-Alamgiri of the Mughal Empire mandated a common set of punishments for homosexuality, which could include 50 lashes for a slave, 100 for a free infidel, or death by stoning for a Muslim.[23][24][25][26][27]

Various Muslim LGBTQ activists have attempted to find references to homoerotism within Indian Islamic culture. Mughal artwork and poetry may have contained examples of celebrations of male homoeroticism.[22] The first Mughal Emperor Babur wrote about his passion and desire for a male "lover" called Baburi (who was already an adult when the Emperor ascended the throne) in his autobiography Baburnama.[28] He wrote :

"Occasionally Baburi came to me, but I was so bashful that I could not look him in the face, much less converse freely with him. In my excitement and agitation I could not thank him for coming, much less complain of his leaving. Who could bear to demand the ceremonies of fealty?"[29][30]

1500s

1600s

1700s

1800s

Hijra and companions in Eastern Bengal in 1860

20th Century

See also: Hijra (South Asia) and Kothi (gender)

Two women using carrots as dildos, 20th century gouache painting.

1920s

1930s

1970s

1980s

1990s

21st Century

Asia's first Genderqueer Pride Parade at Madurai with Anjali Gopalan (July 2012)[70]

2000s

2010s

You shall not love or make love with the person you love, not because of excessive youth or because of unwillingness, but because he or she comes from a different religion, a different caste, the same village, the same gender. You may say you love each other, that you are happy with each other, that you give each other solace and courage and delight, but your love disgusts me. It runs counter to custom, it is an offence in law, it is against the order of nature, it brings dishonour to our family, it will dilute our blood, it will bring about kali-yuga, it will corrupt everyone around you, it is an abomination in the sight of the Lord. It must be forbidden. You may say you love each other, but I do not care. No, I cannot turn away and simply let you live your life in peace and happiness. I must do something about it. I will indeed do something about it. No, you have not harmed me, but I will harm you. I will disown you, I will treat you with contempt, I will make you an outcaste or a criminal, I will lock you up. I will break your legs, I will fling acid in your face, I will hang you from a crane, I will stone you to death. If the mob helps me, so much the better. If the law helps me, so much the better. If I can wrap myself in a flag, so much the better. If I can drape religion around myself, so much the better. But by one means or another, I will tear the two of you apart. It is fit and proper that I should do this. I will do this because my Clan tells me to, my Panchayat tells me to, this Book tells me to, this Section of this Act tells me to, Civilisation itself tells me to, God himself tells me to. No appeal to reason will touch me. No appeal to humanity will touch me. No appeal to Indian history or modern science will touch me. My brain is a science-free zone. My brain is a history-free zone. My brain is a fact-free zone. This, at its core, is a simple matter. My love is right. Your love is wrong.[95]

2020s

Stigma, Phobia, and Violence

The prevalent stigma around LGBT people often promotes Rape culture or non-consensual sexual violence.[124] The LGBT people who have been abused as a child and adult years restain to report complaint in the police station because of phobia and lack of proper law facility.[125] The rape culture also leads confusion regarding ones sexual orientation in their teenage and adult years.[126][127] For, example male child raped by male, female child rape by female, or vice-versa, may suffer from the prejudice of thinking they are gay, bisexual, or heterosexual. Some may be homosexual but choose heterosexual life, some may be bisexual but choose gay life, or some may be heterosexual but choose homosexual life. Hence, they end up in a life-long cycle of stress, trauma, hatred, and vengeance. Even though, Indian Psychiatric Society and World Health Organization have repeatedly warned that sexual orientations are natural and normal, corrective rape culture is promoted in India.[128]

Aniket Patil

A 25-year-old MBA graduate from Jalgaon killed himself by suicide. According to Times of India report, he joined the multinational company after completing his studies. According, to his suicide note, he said he was bullied and harassed over his sexuality at the Workplace.[129] Activist Ashok Row Kavi said,

This could have been simply avoided if he was counselled. The need of the hour is to have workshops regarding this important issue. In the realm of sexuality and gender, education is key, dialogue about gender and sexuality is essential. Insensitivity can lead to bullying, apart from coming in the way of learning.[130]

Anjana Hareesh

A 21-year-old bisexual student from Kerala Anjana Hareesh decided to end her life on May 12, 2020, in Goa. She stated in a Facebook video posted in March that her parents forced her into physical abuse, medication, and 'Conversion therapy'.[131] Equal Rights activist Harish Iyer, calls the death of Anjana is a "nasty reminder" of the phobias that exist in society. Speaking to The Quint, Iyer calls Anjana a "victim of bi-phobia."

Sexuality is just a variation and is not an aberration. So what are you trying to convert? It is important that you convert yourself – which being unknowledgeable about sexuality to come to a path of knowledge and wisdom where you understand that two people who love differently are not people who are variants or deviants or anything of that sort. They just love differently.[132]

Suicide of Arvey Malhotra

A sixteen-year-old teenager Arvey Malhotra from Delhi Public School, Greater Faridabad jumped off the fifteenth-floor building on February 24, 2022, leaving a suicide note, "This school has killed me. Specially higher authorities... tell ninna and bade papa about my sexuality and whatever happened with me. And please try to handle them… You are wonderful, strong, beautiful and amazing."[133] Arvey mother Aarti Malhotra said, "By 9th grade, things worsened. He came home panicking & breathing heavilyhe’d read a chapter about bullying which triggered him. He confessed, ‘The boys in my class blindfolded me and made me strip. I can’t take it anymore’; I was shocked; my son’s bullies became sexual assaulters. The school refused to take action; they failed us. It broke my heart. We visited multiple therapists. He was diagnosed with depression & lost his interest in art. In 10th grade, he got diagnosed with dyslexia, studying got difficult for him; his boards were round the corner."[134] On July 6, 2022, Aarti Malhotra shared a post on Instagram quote, "I lost my son, I need justice I really need your help to spread the word, there are no sensitisation training in schools for gender expressions, I lost my son to bullying. I need justice for Arvey."[135] The post crossed 1 million likes and people offered support to her from everywhere.

Pilot Adam Harry

Adam Harry became India's first trans man trainee pilot assisted by the Kerala government was forced to deliver orders for Zamato citing hormonal therapy and gender dysphoria makes Adam "Unfit" to fly. Adam who wanted to pursue a career in aviation enrolled himself in the Lanseria International Airport in Johannesburg and secured a private pilot license. Later, in 2020, the Kerala Government sanctioned an amount of 23.34 lakhs to Adam to support his dream of flying by getting him enrolled in the Rajiv Gandhi Academy for Aviation Technology in Thiruvananthapuram. Adam filed a petition to which the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment calls to the DGCA that its decision to deny a transgender person a commercial pilot licence was discriminatory. Further, the Ministry concludes that it is violative of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019.[136]

LGBT People

Name lifetime Notable as Notes
Arti Agrawal b.? Indian Scientist and Engineer L
Agha Shahid Ali 1949-2001 Indian Poet G
Abhina Aher b.1977 Transgender Activist T
Manish Arora b. 1973 Fashion Designer G
Vardaan Arora b. 1992 Recording Artist and Singer G
Anjali Ajmeer b. 1995 Actress T
Apurva Asrani b. 1978 Filmmaker and Screenplay writer G
Pulapre Balakrishnan b. 1955 Economist G
Gautam Bhan b. ? Writer, Researcher, and Queer Rights Activist G[137]
Deepak Bhargava b. 1968 Advocate G
Dinesh Bhugra b. 1952 Psychiatrist G
Shonali Bose b. 1965 Indian Film Director B
Dutee Chand b. 1996 Indian Athlete L
Benjamin Daimary b. 2000 Indian Actor G
Bobby Darling b. 1974 Actress and Television Personality T
Dr Prasad Raj Dandekar b.? Radio Oncologist G[138]
Tista Das b. 1978 Actress and Trans Rights Activist T
Gazal Dhaliwal b. 1982 Screenwriter T
Pawan Dhall b. ? Queer activist, archivist, researcher and writer G[139]
Sidharth Dube b. 1961 Memorist G[140]
Pablo Ganguli b. 1983 Director G[141]
Siddhartha Gautam 1964-1992 lawyer, AIDs Activist G
Sonal Giani b. 1987 Movie Actress and Senior Technical Advisor Diversity & Inclusion at IPPF South Asia Region B
Amrita Sher-Gil 1913-1941 Painter B
Menaka Guruswamy b. 1974 Senior Advocate L
Manvendra Singh Gohil b. 1965 LGBT and AIDS Activist G
Abhik Ghosh b. 1964 Chemist G
Harish Iyer b. 1979 Columnist,activist,blogger G
Navtej Johar b. 1959 an Indian Sangeet Natak Akademi award-winning Bharatnatyam exponent and choreographer. G
Arundhati Katju b. 1982 Lawyer L
Anurag Kalia b. ? IIT Graduate and Software Engineer G[142]
Firdaus Kanga b. 1960 Indian Writer G
Ashok Row Kavi b. 1947 Indian journalist and LGBT rights activist G
Bhupen Khakhar 1934-2003 Indian Painter G
Saleem Kidwai 1951-2021 Medieval historian, Professor G
Bindumadhav Khire b. ? Social Worker, Short Fiction Writer G
Shobhna S. Kumar b. ? Publisher Queer Ink.com, the first online bookstore L
Agniva Lahiri 1979-2016 Indian LGBT social activist
Gopi Shankar Madurai b. 1991 Indian equal rights and Indigenous rights activis I
Leena Manimekalai b. 1980 Indian filmmaker, poet and an actor. B
Saikat Majumdar b.? Novelist
Shabnam Mausi b. 1955 Member of the Madhya Pradesh Legislative Assembly Born (I), T
Hoshang Merchant b. 1947 Indian Poet G
Joyita Mondal b. ? Member of a judicial panel of a civil court and a social worker T
Onir b. 1969 Indian film and TV director, editor, screenwriter and producer G
Akkai Padmashali b. ? Transgender Activist and motivational speaker. T
Devdutt Pattanaik b. 1970 Mythologist, Historian G
Radhika Piramal b. 1994 Executive vice chairperson, VIP Industries L
Aishwarya Rutuparna Pradhan b. 1983 Civil Servant T
Padmini Prakash b.? News Anchor T
Vasu Primlani b.? Comic Artist L
R. Raj Rao b. 1955 Novelist G
Sridhar Rangayan b. 1962 Gay rights Activist and Filmmaker G
Sharif D Rangnekar b. ? Author, Public Relations Consultants Association of India (PRCAI). G
Apsara Reddy b. ? Indian Politician T
A. Revathi b. ? Author T
Wendell Rodricks 1960-2020 Fashion Designer and Author G
Anwesh Sahoo b. 1995 Indian artist, blogger, writer, model, actor and a TEDx speaker. He won Mr Gay World 2016. G
Gauri Sawant b.? Social Worker T
Nibedita Sen b. ? Author and nominee of Hugo Award Q
Vikram Seth b. 1952 Novelist B
Chayanika Shah b. 1970 Educator L
Parmesh Shahani b. ? Head, Godrej India Culture Lab G[143]
Parvez Sharma b. 1976 Filmmaker G
Aneesh Sheth b. 1982 Actress T
Pragati Singh b. ? Doctor A
Kalki Subramaniam b. ? Activist T
Keshav Suri b. 1985 Executive director of The Lalit Suri Hospitality Group, Businessman G[144]
Manil Suri b. 1959 Author G
Ruth Vanita b. 1955 Historian L
Rose Venkatesan b. 1980 Talk Show Host T
Living Smile Vidya b. ? Actor and Director T
Riyad Vinci Wadia 1967-2003 Filmmaker known for short film BOMgAY G
Gautam Yadav b.? Queer Activist G[145]

Timeline

Date Event Reference
1200 BC - 600 BC The Hindu medical journal Sushruta Samhita documents homosexuality and attempts to explain the cause of homosexuality in a neutral/scientific manner. [146][147]
900 BC to 700 BC The Brahmana describes an instance of same-sex relations among Hindu deities: On the nights of the new moon, Mitra injects his semen into Varuna to start the moon cycle, with the favour returned upon the full moon. [148]
500 BC The Hindu epic of Ramayana describes Hanuman witnessing two homosexuals engaged in intimacy on the island of Lanka. [149][150][151]
[600 BC to] 100 BC The Pali canon is written, inscribing the words of Gautama Buddha stating that sexual relations, whether of homosexual or of heterosexual nature, is forbidden in the monastic code, and states that any acts of soft homosexual sex (such as masturbation and interfumeral sex) does not entail a punishment but must be confessed to the monastery. These codes apply to monks only and not to the general population. The Pali Canon was largely written in Sri Lanka but based on the words of Buddha in India. [152][153]
200 BC The Nāradasmṛti is written in South India and declares homosexuality to be unchangeable and forbid homosexuals from marrying a partner of the opposite sex. The Nāradasmṛti lists fourteen types of panda (men who are impotent with women); among these are the mukhebhaga (men who have oral sex with other men), the sevyaka (men who are sexually enjoyed by other men) and the irshyaka (the voyeur who watches other men engaging in sex).
200s The Kama Sutra is written describing various homosexual acts positively. [154]
300s Tamil Sangam literature refers to relationships between two men and explores the lives of trans women in the Aravan cult in Koovagam village in Tamil Nadu. [155]
885 Khajuraho temples are built depicting numerous statues engaging homosexual sex on the walls of its temples [156]
1500s During the Mughal Empire, a number of the pre-existing Delhi Sultanate laws were combined into the Fatawa-e-Alamgiri, mandating several types of punishments for homosexuality, up to stoning to death for a Muslim. [40]
1500s The Goa Inquisition by the Portuguese criminalizes male homosexual sex throughout Portuguese India. [157]
1791 Homosexuality was decriminalised in the French Indian territories of Pondicherry [45][46]
1861 The colonial government of British India impose Section 377 criminalizing all homosexual sex throughout British India. [157]
1871 The British labeled the hijra population as a "criminal tribe" [158]
09/2018 The Supreme Court of India repeals colonial-era law criminalizing homosexual sex [159]
08/2022 The Supreme Court of India provides LGBTQ with family rights and live-in couple rights equal to that of married couples [160]
01/2023 The leader of the far-right Hindu Nationalist RSS advocates in favor of LGBTQ rights [161]

See also

References

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