September 6, 2018 (Thursday): Sandipan Kushary is both nervous and excited. The entire country is awaiting the Supreme Court’s verdict; so is he. Arnab Goswami is, as usual, screaming on top of his voice, debating whether or not India will reject IPC Section 377. But for once, Arnab is tolerable and the nation did want to know the SC’s decision. For Sandy (as he is fondly called) however, it was a moment that changed a lot of things in his life; it was also a moment when his life thus far played out in front of him, while he went live with Arnab on
the other side.

‘And it’s done!’ exclaimed Arnab as soon as the SC decriminalised homosexuality by partially striking down the colonial era provisions of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Sandy found himself emotional, like many others, but he was live on television and he had to speak. So he did.

That news clip was watched by a lot of his relatives back in his hometown. Sandy himself sent a screenshot of the show to his family WhatsApp group. “My family knew about my involvement in social work, and had seen my pictures and quotes in newspapers. Looking at one such piece, my dad had told me, ‘Someday when you talk to Arnab Goswami, it will be nice to watch’. Therefore, I took a screenshot,” shares Sandy, who was then unaware that his sexuality and orientation would soon become the topic of discussion
in the family.

Hailing from Jharkhand, Sandy had no idea he was homosexual till as late as 2015. “The word ‘gay’ was unheard of in my hometown. Though I knew I was different, I didn’t know I was gay because there was no exposure. Once I shifted to Hyderabad for studies, I came across people who told me about homosexuality. That’s when I came out to myself,” says Sandy, also confessing that he had made an anonymous Facebook account to reach out to other gay men and have a conversation. However, he adds that whenever someone suggested they meet, he was always
very apprehensive.

As he started opening up and attending some LGBTQIA+ events, he realized that there’s a community out there and that they essentially existed to support one another. Around this time, he met his partner Anil, and a month after their first Pride together in February 2015, they began dating each other. This didn’t go down well with his partner’s family when they learned about it two years later. “My partner was house arrested, taken to doctors where he was made to strip and asked very uncomfortable questions. A shock treatment was also planned, but fortunately just before that could happen, Anil managed to run away from his home in the middle of the night. He came to me. Needless to say, I received threat calls, but we took help from some senior members of the community and shifted residence. With time, we thought things would fall in to place, but my partner’s family once again house arrested him when they went to their village for a wedding. He managed to escape again and this time, he told them very frankly that he is never coming back home.”

While all of this happened in Hyderabad, Sandy’s parents knew nothing about it because Sandy had not yet told them he was gay. “Every gay person wants to come out to their family first, but it’s easier said than done. I didn’t know how to tell them, how to make them understand and convince them that being gay is natural. My parents are simple people who wouldn’t even understand what homosexuality is. I didn’t, for a long time; how could I expect them to? And even if I did, what would I tell them? That I am gay, and that it is a crime in India? However, over the last one and a half years, with the pressure of marriage building up, I had been thinking and preparing myself to tell them about myself. But before I could, the SC verdict came in and I was on TV and I had also sent them a screenshot of the same! The next thing I know, my mom and dad started calling me, asking why I was on a show that was discussing homosexuality.”

Sandy thought the striking down of IPC Section 377 would make things easy, but it didn’t. He says he was probably able to handle the many questions that poured in because he was anyway readying himself to disclose his identity to his family. But what made things difficult was a package that one of Sandy’s friends couriered his parents. “The package included all my interviews and media articles where I have spoken about myself and the community. Till date, I do not know why he did this. He outed me without my consent, and that’s the most uncomfortable thing one could do to a gay person,” says Sandy. The next time he went home, he knew he had to come clean. “A round table kind of meeting was called, with my parents, my uncle and I, where I was questioned about my sexuality. I tried to explain; while I do know they haven’t really understood it, I am glad they at least didn’t say I was wrong. What I have noticed though, ever since that discussion, is my folks avoid any conversation around homosexuality. For instance, when relatives bring up the topic of my marriage, they just say he will marry when he wants to. While it’s nice that my parents aren’t discussing my marriage anymore, they are at the same time not acknowledging the fact that I am gay. And I understand why – because they wouldn’t be able to
explain it.”

While Sandy’s mom and dad have sort of accepted him as he is, his younger brother has not. “He told me very clearly that he thinks homosexuality is unnatural and that I will never have his support. He also has not spoken to me since I came out to my family. I do feel bad about this, but there isn’t much I can do. My elder brother (cousin) however, has been quite supportive. He did ask me uncomfortable questions at first, like ‘so now you have become gay?’ (because homosexuality is no more a crime) to which I responded, ‘no one could make me gay if I wasn’t gay anyway’. I think even today, he is more comfortable in considering me a bisexual man rather than a gay man,” says Sandy, adding, “But I know who I am, and though the SC verdict on IPC Section 377 stirred up a lot of things in my life, when I look back today, I am glad I was live on TV on that historical day to declare I am gay.”

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