Mumbai Metro: A boon for city's gay men

Aug 27, 2014, 08:37 IST | Vikram Phukan

Never mind the newly-designated ladies compartment in the Metro, the transport arm is acting as facilitator for meetings between gay men who never crossed the East-West divide

The first leg of the Mumbai Metro, being only a short ride across from Versova to Ghatkopar, was expected to make only a small dent on the migratory patterns of the city’s denizens, but its respectable daily intake of passengers has made it one of Mumbai’s important arteries fairly quickly.

A new kind of interconnectedness has also descended upon suburban dwellers. For instance, good ol’ fishing village Versova, is now a hot weekend destination for those who have hitherto been ‘across the pond’. Till very recently, the East-West divide in Andheri has been an immutable factor in the gay dating scene, a deal-breaker, if you will.

A decade ago, a gay man would furtively travel from across city limits to only fleetingly meet what could be (but most likely, not) a significant other. Travelling far away also meant a greater degree of anonymity.

Now, thanks to nifty apps on mobile devices, casual sex is much more readily available, and being ‘spotted’ in the company of strange men is no longer such a bother. Therefore, convenience becomes all important in the tick-off list. Even if the man on the other side is a real catch, he must be located within a radius of just five kilometres.

The egregious bottle-necking of traffic around Andheri station, meant that crossing over has always been anathema to this increasingly indolent breed. Negotiations would break down once the offending co-ordinates were disclosed. Of course, such ‘location prejudice’ manifests itself across the city.

For example, townies can never condescend to travel northwards, Lokhandwala seems to be surrounded by an impenetrable glass wall, and Mira Road is on another planet altogether. So the metro service (with its 21-minute ‘in a jiffy’ commute) has been connecting the dots and allowing entire circles of men to finally intersect (like in those Venn diagrams).

The queer rights gals
Other kinds of parallel cultures have also unwittingly been brought together. Stage actor Nishi Doshi, known for her work in stage musicals, talks of a July 2 encounter that was particularly memorable. Returning from back-to-back rehearsals, she met an interesting group of women who had just disembarked from the metro, after a round of protesting which involved sloganeering and leafleting, and also singing.

The ice was broken when a member of this impromptu troupe recognised Doshi from one of her shows, and drew her into their clique. “They were a bunch of very warm, fun loving and inquisitive women of all age groups,” recalls Doshi. She found their demeanour to be ‘different’, yet intriguing.

To put the protest in context, one must only go so far back at 2009, when the landmark, and regretfully no more extant, Delhi High Court ruling was delivered on July 2. After last year’s retrograde Supreme Court ruling, one of the rallying cries that really struck a chord was ‘No Going Back’.

The girls were queer rights activists and wore black T-shirts strikingly emblazoned with a crossed-out 377. The number 377, refers to Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalises consensual sex between same sex adults.

They belonged to a collective called Hum Aazaadiyon Ke Haq Mein and while keeping alive the agitation against Section 377 remains a primary plank, they also protest against all social practices that infringes upon the freedoms that should be guaranteed to each citizen.

This includes the prevalence of Khap panchayats, the rising spectre of moral policing, and more tellingly for Indian women who continue to be severely cloistered, baap se azaadi, parivar ki jakad se azaadi. Myriad forms of activism have joined forces on this platform that is still in its infancy. One of its co-founders is lawyer Lara Jesani, who is a stringent online advocate for abolishing the death penalty.

We can sing...
Metro personnel weren’t quite ready for such a protest. One of the collective’s members, children’s writer Shalini Mahajan wrote on the Facebook page for the event, “Reliance personnel are trying to stop the protest. They are not allowing us to distribute pamphlets... but we can sing!”

Several videos of young women belting out numbers to the steady strumming of a guitar proliferated online, with the nonplussed metro workers an incongruous part of the mêlée. Other passengers seemed bemused. An announcement was made over the public address system requesting the protesters to not litter the metro.

The pamphlets were dangerous not for what they purportedly contained, but for their potential to clutter up the pristine environs of this freshly minted transit system. However later, when attempting to board the metro for a second round of protests, several armed guards arrived at the scene and refused to even allow them entry.

“We stoutly argued that we had a right to enter. (They complied but) we were escorted by these guards. As you can see, we refused to be silenced and continued to sing vociferously!” wrote Mahajan, in a later update.

Mainstream and alternative
Curious about what they were there for and what their T-shirts signified, Doshi shyly kept her questions to herself although she did take time to Google them later. She signs off, “Sometimes I really feel like getting to know how they think, what they feel, how do they perceive the world differently.

Had they all not worn those T-shirts and hung out together, I would have never guessed who they were. It was such a great time, those 10 minutes of chatting with them.” The intersection between the mainstream and the alternative is littered with such heart-warming incidents.

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