Meet Rohan Pujari, putting the Indian LGBT community on the spotlight

As India is growing in importance and is constantly in the spotlight for its technological and financial developments, it has also been endlessly criticized for its treatment of women, forced marriages and overall social close-minded individuals. As it is to be expected, the same happens with the LGBT community, who have been left behind and victimized for the name and sake of conservative “values”.
  • In 2013, India announced the controversial decision to restore the illegality of homosexual relations four years after they were decriminalized. Prince Manvedra Singh of Rajpipla called for an end to homophobic legislation that criminalizes and discriminates against the country’s homosexual population. He is gay himself and has been speaking on behalf of LGBTQ rights for years.
  • Just last July, it was established that gay, lesbian and trans people will not be able to donate blood in India. This decision was made by the National AIDS Control Organization (NACO). A few days ago, on the occasion of the celebration of Blood Donor Day in India said that everyone could donate blood.

 

But in the past years, there have been beams of light shining in all directions in favor of human rights (LGBTQ rights) in India. With many people speaking up and opposing the repression of government and old ideas, India has also been making fast progress in the last couple of years.
  • A 29-year-old transgender woman became the first transgender judge in India. Her name is Joyita Mondal Mahi, who has been known for defending the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and those living with HIV. In her new office, she has pledged to work on the basis of justice.
  • The Indian Minister of Health revived hope among the country’s LGBT community when asked about his views on gay rights and the decriminalization of consenting gay sexual acts among adults. Dr. Harsh Vardhan said that everyone has human rights and that it is the government’s job to protect them.

Another look into the future

Urvi Shah, a young 23-year-old businesswoman, is challenging the social and legal norms that govern India in the matter of homosexuality. The woman launched the International Gay and Lesbian Marriage Bureau (IAGM) in 2015, an agency that helps homosexuals to partner on a regional and international level; The aim is for people to establish stable relationships and even to marry.

Meeting Rohan

With the Pride Parades being a worldwide affair, and the new wave of millennials having open eyes to diversity, India has also been opening its doors to welcome all kinds of people. Recently, on the Mr. Gay World International Competition, Rohan Pujari rose as one of the main figures of the show.

With a slender, but well-toned figure, Rohan comes from Arnala Beach, a fishing village right outside of Mumbai. He is 30 years old and he says he is exactly where he wants to be. Hailing from a humble background, he loves the beach and nature, small pleasures found in simple life, and has now become the image of the fight for human rights. Rohan works today with The Humsafar Trust (HST) which is India’s first registered LGBTQ organization.

How did you handle opening up  as gay in the Indian society?

 Opening out or coming out is a constructive process. People take ages to come out to their loved ones;  it requires a lot of guts to come out, especially in India. People from the LGBTQ who come from rural areas have a harder time, definitely.  The opinion in small cities and a metropolis like Mumbai are very different when it comes to gay people. Where I come from, my sexuality had not yet been accepted, and people that surround me in the village are not sensitized yet about Gender sexuality and LGBTQ issues in General. For them, “gay” still means feminine and with girly manners, as well as transgender. Keeping a beard is masculine and to them, masculine cannot be GAY – I’m trying to break that stereotype. 

“Where I come from, my sexuality has not been accepted till date.”

When did you decide you would be the face of LGBT equality in India?

In 2013, when I started working with The Humsafar Trust which is Indias Biggest and Oldest LGBTQ community-based Organization. I started working as the Internet Outreach Coordinator; later in the Advocacy Department.  The environment at the office was for gay rights, and I was dealing with activists and volunteers all the time; I decided it was not only my right but my duty to speak up for the voiceless. 
I faced a lot of bullying and homophobia in High School and College, so I decided it had been enough: something had to be done and I started advocating for the LGBT community all over India.

How was it to compete for Mr. India Gay?

On top of everything, it was a HUGE challenge. I gave it my full dedication and hard work because I had never done anything like that before. I had only a few months to prepare and I still had a lot to work on: My English was not good, my public speaking skills were poor and I had no idea about how much work styling and grooming is. On top, I had to work on my charisma and my body, which also played a big role in the competition. My friends and coworkers helped me get my personality and English skills up to speed, while I worked on my body. I went from 92 kgs to 67 kgs in a few months and I set myself to win it.

I ended up being the 1st Runner Up and I was proud of myself and my accomplishments. Although I did not win, it opened a lot of doors for me. I will continue working to achieve equal rights for everyone in my country. 

 What can you teach others in India about sexual preferences?
 
Sexual preferences are different for everyone. I don’t trust this word at all. You cannot force yourself to be something you don’t want to be when there is a whole spectrum out there. Love is love: we spread love, we give love, we share love. Love has no gender and no identity. No caste, race or religion. We are humans meant to take care of each other, and we should love and respect who we are.
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“Love is love: we spread love, we give love, we share love. Love has no gender and no identity.”

If you could share a message with Indian people, what would it be?

 Growing up, no one I knew was out or open about their sexuality. Whether it is a small fishing village like Arnala or a large city like Mumbai, I want people to know that LGBT communities exist all over this country. I have taken it upon myself to speak openly and honestly about LGBTQ issues in my community and in India. I hope that you will support me in my journey to show the many faces of LGBTQ in India. There’s no point in trying to silence some voices, we were created equal.

And if you have issues or are struggling with your sexuality, a disease or simply want more information, you can find Rohan in the Humsafar Trust offices.

 

 

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