Gay rights rule change sets up cultural battle in conservative India

Vastavam web: When R. Balaji, a 30-year-old gay man from India’s IT hub Bengaluru, comes up for white-collar job interviews, recruiters are initially enthusiastic. It’s only when they notice his résumé includes work at an LGBT magazine they go cold, he said.

His struggles to find a job show the difficulties LGBT Indians have faced for years, and many still expect to face, despite a landmark ruling by the Supreme Court that decriminalised homosexuality on Thursday. India’s government, a broadly right-wing, Hindu nationalist coalition led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, has indicated it will support the Supreme Court in its ruling, but will oppose any attempts by activists to push for further rights. Gay people in India are currently not allowed to marry, adopt children or inherit their partner’s wealth should they die.

Vyjayanti Vasanta Mogli, a longtime employee at a leading IT services firm, said she was forced out of her company after she felt emboldened to “come out” as a transgender woman to her bosses after a 2014 Supreme Court ruling that allowed trans people to identify as male, female or a third gender. Mogli, who has been trying to find a job for months, says leading American and European companies based in India routinely invite her to deliver talks about diversity and inclusion, but always shy away from hiring her as a full-time employee. She declined to name the companies as it would affect her employment prospects.

Avinash Kumar, the head of marketing at consumer goods company Patanjali – one of India’s largest private sector employers – told Reuters via text message the idea of rights for gay employees at the company was a “nonsensical question”. Mumbai-based conglomerate Godrej has long offered partners of LGBT employees benefits like health insurance despite Section 377, said Parmesh Shahani, head of the Godrej India Culture Lab, that encourages Indian companies to adopt LGBT-friendly policies. “So many companies have been using Section 377 as a figleaf to cover their own homophobia,” he said. “Now we’ll see who really cares.”