According to statistics, 70% of gay Mumbaikars are married to straight women. When will Indian parents stop forcing their children to lead closeted lives? Being pressured by our homophobic society into remaining closeted is certainly a gross injustice; to resort to marriage in order to normalise sexuality is even worse.
Chances are most of us don’t remember Padma Iyer. In may 2015, she placed a traditional ad in the paper, like most Indian mothers, looking for a good spouse for her child. The only difference between her request and the dozens of other ads on the page was that her son, Harish, is gay. Harish is a child abuse survivor and he’s openly gay. (Link the highlighted line to the story of Harish Iyer http://bit.ly/1NiQ1BV) He came out in the public with his revolutionary appearance in Aamir Khan’s show- Satyamev Jayate.
“I just want a nice boy for my son,” she said.” He cannot take care of himself. He needs someone.”
It was Mid-Day that printed the ad the next day without so much of a protest. “I was very amused by the way they went about their business. They treated it like any other ad. The sales representative even haggled over the word count,” he laughs. “It was that normal. But I was half expecting them to not print it.”
Padma Iyer is the real hero of this story.
True, she wasn’t by Harish’s side during his darkest years — both admit to that. But today, by simply accepting Harish for who he is and what he does, she has become his greatest strength.
“He would visit his cousin and end up staying for months. I think he spent close to two years like that,” she recollects, looking away.
The difference was that Harish was running away from his own home.
“It never occurred to me. I regret it every day. If only I had been a little more attentive, he wouldn’t have had to go through what he did.
“I have always been a loner,” Padma says, “As a child, I was quiet and kept to myself. I didn’t think much when Harish became quieter and withdrew into a shell.”
When Harish told her about his abuse, she cried but it wasn’t until his appearance in Aamir Khan’s Satyamev Jayate that she understood the full extent of it.
“All I said was ‘Stop!’ And that was it. He never tried to abuse me again,” he recollects.
“I argued that Article 377 of the Indian Penal Code criminalises sexual activities ‘against the order of nature’. It does not technically ban same sex marriages.”
(Technically, while same sex marriage has no explicit legal sanction in India, it does not invite any punishment.)
“At first my mother asked me to keep it to myself and suggested I get married. I asked her if she would knowingly ask a girl to live a life of falsehood.” Recalls Harish.
“That was the last time she asked me to marry a woman.”
“I think my grandmother always knew (that I was gay),” Harish says. “And privately, she had no problems about it.”
In a recent development, Harish announced he had indeed met someone because of the advertisement. When he told me about it a few days before he posted it on Facebook, he sounded like a love-struck teenager.
He was already talking about getting married!
Amongst the outburst of positive reactions, several people questioned the need for an “IYER preferred” requirement in the otherwise open-minded ad.
Because of public backlash, Padma Iyer took to Facebook to clarify her stance by using her Facebook handle-
Nevertheless, what Padma Iyer is one of the very few Indian parent who support their children after they come out of the closet. She has managed to gather nearly 17000 supporters for a petition against Section 377 in a letter addressed to Honourable Mr. PS Thakur, Chief Justice of India.
Padma Iyer is a woman of substance and a parent who truly loves her child irrevocably and without any expectations.