Alternative sexuality may still be a topic discussed only in whispers in Chennai, but the number of city women calling up the first helpline for lesbians in the country has been going up considerably.
The lesbian helpline (044-65515742) run by Indian Community Welfare Organisation (ICWO) in the city gets, on an average, more than a call every day. Last year the line got 400 calls, up from 150 calls in 2010. In 2009,the year when itwasestablished, the helpline got around 100 calls.
Most of the calls are from women who are either in dilemma over accepting their sexual orientation or those facing insult and harassment for having spoken it out. “Constant fights at home, especially with the men, are a common complaint from women who callup tosaythey are lesbians,” says A J Hariharan of ICWO. “We organise counselling and group discussions to support such people.”
Some women call with querieson whether itis rightor wrong to have physical intimacy with another woman. “We don’thave answerson morality, butwe requestthem tocomefor the meetings where they can share their experiences with other lesbians and probably find answers,” saysHariharan.
Nirmala (name changed), a lesbian who works for the helpline, says many lesbians call when they are forced to marry aman of her parent’schoice.
“Some are on the verge of suicide,” she says. ICWO set up the facility after two married women committed suicide by setting themselves ablaze near Sathangadu in North Chennai in May 2008. The incident took place after one of the women’s husband opposed to their relationship.
“Lesbians are forced to keep their relationships under wraps. There would be many more who would call for help, if they knew the number,” said Nirmala (namechanged), a lesbian who works with ICWO, which is holding a meeting on January 29 to expand the activities.