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Ruling baffles LGBT community in Assam

Guwahati, Dec. 11: As grey as their world may seem from the outside, Assam’s LGBT community says it quite in black and white: the Supreme Court’s ruling criminalising homosexuality will only push their community more indoors than they have been.

Thousands of kilometres away from home, in Kochi, where Neelima works (name changed to protect privacy and because he prefers to be addressed as a lady), her monthly income is about Rs 3.5 lakh a month as a freelance make-up artist, the empowered working woman.

“I use my money to help my two brothers through college. One is doing an MCA and I pay about Rs 50,000 for his expenses,” Neelima says. That taken care of, the remaining money goes into savings and buying her saris (some 200 adorn her closet), and her mekhela sadors, she has 25 sets of those. “I am the complete Assamese woman. I do what I do and let me tell you my love for a man is something no one and no law will take away.”

Somewhere down her 26 years of life, within which Neelima moved from Nagaon in Assam to Kerala as a make-up artist, the young boy had gone from gay to woman. “And why does the court have issues? Do you know, my parents, my brothers and my sisters have never had a problem with what I am and want to be,” she says. Neelima has so far been the make-up artist in 20 South Indian movies and 200-plus commercials.

“The ruling is unfortunate and pushes this community back,” says Akashitora, actor, television anchor and writer whose package of three books Nixiddho (meaning prohibited) stands out as a document on the LGBT community in Assam. “And it is the Supreme Court that has ruled that living-in is not a crime. So why criminalise homosexual relationships?”

The hurt, though, is apparent. “So what will the government do now? Kill all the gays and queens (the feminine among the community)?” asks Deepika, 45, a lesbian, who had a relationship for six years with a young woman who has a baby. “I go from Guwahati every few months to meet her in Tezpur,” she says.

“Her husband abuses her. I am her biggest emotional support and she is mine. Just how do you think anyone will do away with the love and emotional bond we share?” Deepika, who is a physical instructor, asks.

In a city such as Guwahati, that has rarely had issues with its diversity, its LGBT community’s response to the apex court’s ruling today was rather muted, with no gatherings or protest rallies to mark the day.

Phone calls, though, were answered with consternation.

“This won’t make a difference to my life,” said Jyotirmoy Kashyap, a Guwahatian who has settled in Delhi and is a television serial director.

“Legalising homosexuality would have given us more freedom but no one can stop us from loving someone,” Kashyap, who is gay, says. And would he have wanted to get married to his partner should the law have allowed it? “Oh well, I know hundreds of straight men who bitch about gays but sleep with them. I don’t want to demean the term,” he says.

And will Guwahati’s gay-friendly bars keep out the community from its precincts? “Not at all,” says a nightclub owner, whose establishment has kept its doors open to gays and cross-dressers. “How can I debar them so long as they don’t create a nuisance in my bar? But what will now happen is that in smaller towns and cities, law enforcing agencies will now target gays.”

(Some names have been changed to protect their identities)