Manvendra Singh Gohil, India’s first openly gay Prince of Rajpipla, got candid in an interview with Agence France Press about what is happening to the volunteers at his HIV foundation when they attempt to educate men who have sex with men, and transgender women, about safer sex practices
Gohil is head of Lakshya Trust, which aims to prevent HIV by giving away condoms and providing education to India’s LGBTQ community. But, the prince complains, his workers are constantly harassed — and worse — by police.
“Some of our workers were arrested and taken to the police station where the cops themselves had forced sex with them without condoms," Gohil said. “When we started work among the MSM, we were harassed and threatened by police. We would keep condom packets in public toilets, and even hang them on trees in public parks because we did not want to stop them from having sex in toilets or behind the bushes. We just wanted them to have safe sex… People say homosexuality is a part of Western culture. It is absolutely wrong.”
India decriminalized gay sex in 2009 after a Delhi high court said the law was a violation of a person’s fundamental rights. But everything changed in 2013 when the Indian Supreme Court chose to overturn the lower court and uphold the ban on gay sex, arguing that only India's Parliament has the right to overturn the anti-gay statue S.377, not the lower court judges.
“It is the hypocrisy in our society which is refusing to accept this truth,” Gohil remarked, commenting on the widespread view that homosexuality is new to India and due to Western influence. Gohil pointed to homoerotic sculptures in ancient India temples as proof to the contrary, adding, “This motivated me to come out openly and tell the world ‘I am gay, so what? And I am proud of it’.”
According to Avert.org, there are 2.1 million people living with HIV in India, with 86,000 new diagnoses in 2015 alone, making the country home to the third highest number of HIV cases on earth. Currently there are two bills going through India's Parliament that aim to end discrimination against transgender people and those living with HIV.