Sep 172012
Shwetha Pai, Vishal Jaisal, Jayati Mathur, Mahesh Sindbandge and Smruthi Narayan, team members of Wajood

When Jayati Mathur was ready to declare her sexual orientation to her mother, she wasn’t sure what she would land into — trouble or a reassuring hand on her shoulder? Vishal Jaiswal found a friend and a soul keeper in his sister and her support gave him the confidence to open up to his parents. By doing so, what happened at home isn’t something that Vishal likes to recollect. With an idea to meet and solve problems of various members of the LBGT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community, Wajood was born in Hyderabad last year. In 2010, when Section 377 was legalised in India, there was hope for those with alternate preferences. With the Act being passed, they thought coming out would be easy. But that was far from true. Even now there are many Jayatis and Vishals we come across in our day-to-day lives, the only difference being that they still prefer being in the closet, for fear of being ridiculed and being discriminated against.

In a landmark judgment, when the Delhi High Court struck down the provision of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which criminalised consensual sexual acts of adults in private, holding that it violated the fundamental right of life and liberty and the right to equality as guaranteed in the Constitution, many thought it was the end of their closet days. What is the reality?

The judgement didn’t ensure freedom in its totality. In fact, the very existence of LGBT came as a shock. The general idea was, “This doesn’t happen here. We are Indians,” says a member of the LGBT community in Hyderabad.

However, the problem is not just the outside world. There was problem within. Members of LGBT community are always fighting within, about their own orientation. A feeling of confusion and hatred worsens their situation. Members of the LGBT community who have come out say that they sometimes hate themselves. “Our motive is to help these confused members and support them, since there was no dedicated group to fight their cause. As members of the group with the same sexual orientation, we knew a lot of people. But we were not doing anything to deal with our own problems,” says another member.

During one such meeting of the LGBT community, girls and boys who were present, decided to discuss their problem, which was bigger than just declaring, ‘I am gay and I am single’. “We wanted to know about the issues involving our rights, how we can stop making our parents feel guilty for us and so on,” says Vishal, one of the founder members of Wajood.

Post that meeting, a few members got together at a coffee shop in Jubilee Hills and decided to form a group to deal with the problems and work for their rights.

“We were a group of seven to eight members. And the discussions and brainstorming helped us come up with Wajood. This was in November last year; and after checking on the availability of the name, we registered ourselves in the beginning of this year,” explains Jayati Mathur, another member of Wajood and a supporter of the LGBT community.

Having worked and travelled to various places in the country and abroad, Jayati had a fairly good idea of how to take the community ahead and make it active. As they flagged off Wajood, they realised the biggest hurdle was to overcome the problem of breaking the news to parents. “Neither could we be insensitive towards their feelings nor could we be suffocated by leading a different life,” says Jayati, adding that her mother’s support made her all the more confident and she felt the need to extend a helping hand to others.

“When I opened up to my mother, she said ‘I knew about it’ and didn’t see it as a problem. I felt empowered. That support makes a lot of difference because until then you feel the world is against you,” says Jayati.

Jayati and her group at Wajood, which includes professionals from various fields, feel that supporting each other can prevent people from resorting to extreme steps. “When we are coming to terms with our orientation, we are emotionally weak, confused, angry and puzzled. It is a tsunami of emotions and it is all bottled up,” explains Shwetha Pai, a software professional and a member of Wajood.

How do members of Wajood ensure that they are not mistaken for a dating community? “The work we do is far from being a dating group. With counsellors, spiritual talks and Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) practitioners, our work is serious,” says Vishal.

To give an idea of what they deal with, Vishal says, “Jayati met this transgender on the outskirts of Hyderabad. She cleans public toilets for a living and does odd jobs like stitching clothes and cleaning houses to earn for herself, her father and brother. Despite all that she does for them, she is brutally beaten by the two because of the transgender factor. So, we are looking to empower such people with certain skill sets which will make them independent and appreciate themselves,” explains Jayati.

Prabalika M. Borah

PHOTO: Shwetha Pai, Vishal Jaisal, Jayati Mathur, Mahesh Sindbandge and Smruthi Narayan, team members of Wajood