Mar 202013
University in India

Campuses, which are supposed to be safe havens for students, are nothing short of hell-holes for LGBT folk, who admit that they are ostracised, abused and sometimes, even beaten up by their peers in city colleges. TOI speaks to students who belong to LGBT community.

On the surface, Javed has it all. He is a brilliant final year engineering student, who hangs out with his friends and champions social issues. He was recently spotted at the ‘One Billion Rising’ event, supporting the cause of women’s empowerment, laughing and having a good time with his friends. But beneath the smiles, there’s a fact that haunts Javed even in the company of his friends — he is a homosexual, who is not willing to reveal his true self to even his peers, except a few close friends. “Deep down, I know they feel my sexual orientation isn’t right. I get negative vibes from them. Plus, if I were open about it, my college won’t tolerate it,” he says.

The sad truth is that students of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community who struggle to get acceptance from society and parents are not even comfortable around their own peers. The campus, which is usually a safe haven for all other students, who are busy living their lives with pride, is nothing less than a hell hole for LGBT students. In fact, the recent death of the EFLU student Mudassir Kamran, which has given rise to many speculations, one being that he committed suicide due to the stigma and discrimination he faced on campus as a homosexual, only highlights how brutal a college environment can be. When Hyderabad Times spoke to students, who belong to the LGBT community, we found out that students are ostracised, abused, and sometimes, even beaten up by peers on campus!

Petrified of peers
LGBT students in engineering colleges and even arts colleges admit they lead a life of isolation and are often mistreated by their own peers. Swaroop, an engineering college student, says, “When a few students learnt of my sexual orientation, they would pass derogatory remarks like, ‘This is the guy who sleeps with men’.” Swaroop’s tales of horror doesn’t end there. He reveals that he was even sexually abused by classmates. “Sometimes, drunk classmates would turn up at my flat, abuse me and go away,” he says.

While Swaroop was at least able to confide to a few close friends, there are many, who don’t even receive that support, once they are out of the closet. Sunil (name changed on request), an engineering student, says, “After I disclosed my truth to a really close friend of mine whom I trusted dearly, I was shocked with her reaction. She was not only unsupportive, but also told the entire class. Everyone started making fun of me, making obscene gestures and passing rude comments. I stopped going to college for a long time after that.”

Those who go to minority colleges claim they are petrified at the thought of anybody in college finding out about their sexual orientation because the campus culture is more conservative. Feroze, a student in a minority college on the outskirts of the city, says that a couple of friends got a hint of his orientation, after he ‘liked’ certain pages on a social networking site. After that, it was a nightmarish experience for almost a semester. “They’d say things like ‘People like you should be burnt alive, you are shaming us’. I stopped talking to everybody in my class after that.”

No dialogue on sexuality on campus
Shockingly, professors of prestigious educational institutions in the city too play a big part in terrorising the students. At a liberal arts university, a professor once asked a student who came out of the closet — “So, it’s fashionable to be gay, nowadays, isn’t it?” In another instance, when a student presented his research proposal on gay literature to a panel of professors, one of them commented, “Let’s talk about your gay sex life”, prompting everyone on the panel to laugh.

What’s worse, in 2011, there were reports of a few engineering campuses near Gandipet expelling students from college on the basis of their sexual orientation. This attitude while shocking, is not surprising. With sex education itself a taboo in most educational institutions, committees or bodies to address issues of the LGBT community on every campus seem like a pipe dream. While few colleges like HCU, NIFT and St. Francis Degree College of Women have bodies to address sexual harassment issues or have counsellors to help students, there have been no reported cases of harassment against LGBT students. This is perhaps a reflection of the hesitation of students to even discuss their problem. Andy Silveira, pursuing his PhD at EFLU, has been trying to create more sensitisation towards LGBT community on campus by conducting movie screenings and discussions. “People don’t want to discuss sexuality in educational institutions, and that is the primary reason why it’s not just the LGBT community, but also women, who find themselves facing so many issues.”Andy reveals that when he started conducting movie screenings and discussions on this issue, people from outside of campus would turn up for the events, but only a handful students would actually attend them. “Often, we would find our posters torn down. Once when we had a screening of a movie to create awareness on issues faced by lesbians, we were surprised and heartened to see a huge turnout. But when there was a kissing scene between the lesbian couple in the film, I heard people hooting and giggling. And that’s when I realised why they turned up — just for the cheap thrills!” says Andy.

This homophobia on campus can lead to depression and isolation of vulnerable students, feels Prakash Kona, a professor at EFLU. “Homophobia is predominant on campuses and there is very little done to address the issue. It is sad, but every educational institute across the board is shallow on that level. Students end up feeling isolated and depressed.”

Fighting for a change
As part of this battle against a narrow mindset on campuses, the protests at EFLU over the recent death of student Mudassir Kamran, have still not died down. Graffiti and posters with slogans like ‘We are not straight, get that right’ dot the campus. Jayathi Mathur, one of the founding members of Wajood, an NGO that is trying to bring about sensitisation towards the LGBT community, plans to approach schools and colleges now. “Lack of sensitivity in dealing with LGBT students is one of the reasons why many drop out or end up taking extreme steps.” The organisation plans to launch booklets with comics to teach students not to be biased based on gender and orientation. Knowing that there will be resistance to the idea of having discussions on sexual orientations in institutions, Jayathi says they are ready to fight the odds. “We’re already prepared for the initial ‘no’, but we want to eventually educate the college staff and authorities about our cause. Sexual orientation might be just 1% of our existence, but despite that, like in the case of Mudassir Kamran if proven true, it will be unfortunate if students end up losing their lives,” she says.

Javed too, on the other hand, is hopeful of helping create a safe environment for LGBT students on campuses. “I am planning to create a forum wherein students across various colleges in the city can come together and address the issues,” he says.