Egos hindering Indian LGBTQ movement, says queer activist Karim Ladak

Updated: Jan 21, 2018, 15:17 IST | Shweta Shiware

Toronto-based queer activist Karim Ladak returns to the city to celebrate Pride month with his personal story of coming out

Ladak wore a rainbow poncho and dhoti during the protest at Mumbai Pride in January 2014 after the SC overrode the Delhi High Court verdict, decriminalising homosexuality
Ladak wore a rainbow poncho and dhoti during the protest at Mumbai Pride in January 2014 after the SC overrode the Delhi High Court verdict, decriminalising homosexuality

Karim Ladak may not have time on his trip to Mumbai this week to make a stop at his old Worli residence, Red Rose, but the memories from time spent there are sure to come alive. It was 1990 and Ladak was with Procter & Gamble, heading information technology. Gay bars were far from a reality, and Ladak's 1,500 sq ft home became the chosen address for house parties, a refuge for the like-minded, and a spot where parent support groups could meet. "India's first gay marriage between two men took place in my apartment. It was here that we got involved in HIV testing, and composed and launched Bombay Dost, India's first registered and legal LGBTQ magazine," he recalls, quickly adding, "The neighbours hated me! It was full dhamaal."

Ladak with friend Amandeep Khosla at his Red Rose apartment in the early nineties. Ladak says his home was the venue for wild parties and dances, at least three times a week
Ladak with friend Amandeep Khosla at his Red Rose apartment in the early nineties. Ladak says his home was the venue for wild parties and dances, at least three times a week

The man-with-many-stories returns to the city to discuss his various journeys with LGBTQ movements across the world at a discussion titled Pride Beyond Borders. Organised by the Consulate General of Canada on January 24, it is part of a series of events planned during the month-long queer celebrations of Mumbai Pride 2018. He may have travelled to 156 countries and lived in 10, but it's his personal India story that's closest to Ladak's heart. As a gay man in India, and a young boy from a family belonging to the Aga Khan sect of Shia Muslims, Ladak remembers how as a 25-year- old, he struggled to explain the term "gay" in Gujarati to his parents. "It was raining that evening in 1982. I gathered courage and walked into their bedroom at our home in Toronto, trying to find the right words to 'come out'. They understood what I wanted to say, and supported me," tells Ladak, the youngest of nine siblings. "I have 16 nieces and nephews, and four of them are members of the LGBTQ community."

Ladak with El-Farouk Khaki (far left), New Democratic Party's candidate for the House of Commons in the riding of Toronto Centre. Khaki also founded Salaam in 1991, a support group for gay Muslims
Ladak with El-Farouk Khaki (far left), New Democratic Party's candidate for the House of Commons in the riding of Toronto Centre. Khaki also founded Salaam in 1991, a support group for gay Muslims

Ladak, 60, was born in Tanzania, raised in Nairobi, and moved to Toronto in the early 1980s. All along his career in transformation and organisation development, he actively pursued community work. A member of the early wave of immigrant LGBTQ advocates in Toronto's community groups, he helped launch Khush, a social group for gay South Asian queers, and ASAAP, an organisation with the focused mandate to provide South Asian populations with HIV and AIDS related services. His time in India introduced him to rights activists Ashok Row Kavi, Suhail Abbasi and Sridhar Rangayan, the last of whom has directed Evening Shadows, a film about being queer in a conservative middle-class Indian family, which premieres in Sydney next month. Ladak is one of its co-producers.

From where he stands today, India's LGBTQ scene is different from when he championed the cause 27 years ago. "The 'we are one' sentiment has been replaced by multiple factions. Activists today seem more interested in promoting their name instead of the cause. Ego thoda zyaada hai. The real leap forward would be to fight collectively. I'd like to add though, that I'm energised by the younger generation who views this movement from a different political lens." Earlier this month, the Supreme Court gave queer people in India hope by agreeing to review Section 377 that criminalises homosexuality. But Ladak remains "very cautiously optimistic". "On one hand, there's the archaic law and a rural population that prohibits homosexuality. Then there is a segment of society that doesn't see it as a criminal offence. On the whole, India is in good shape compared to most other countries where the repercussions are severe."

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