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At IIT-Bombay, LGBTs now have a Saathi

in INDIA, 04/08/2011

Started by a group of students, faculty and alumni, Saathi is a home for LGBTQ community residing in IIT Bombay and is meant to be a “safe space” for people coming to terms with themselves and their sexuality.

*Sometimes men love women, sometimes men love men

*Sometimes women love men, sometimes women love other women

*Is homosexuality an illness? No

*Is homosexuality a lifestyle choice? No

*Can homosexuality be cured? No

This was part of a presentation on “sexual orientation” that freshers at IIT Bombay were given by Saathi, probably the first-ever institute backed-campus support group in India for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQ) people”.

Started by a group of students, faculty and alumni, Saathi is a home for LGBTQ community residing in IIT Bombay and is meant to be a “safe space” for people coming to terms with themselves and their sexuality.

“Similar efforts in this direction were made earlier at IIT-B, but nothing took off till now. Though Section 377 was struck down by the Delhi High Court on July 2, 2009, finally acknowledging that homosexuality is normal, few jokes were passed around regarding it. But there was a spurt of momentum when few of us decided that something must be done and aggressively lobbied for it. It’s one-of-its kind effort in India,” said Harishchandra Ramadas, the first open gay student of IIT-B and co-founder of Saathi. Ramdas will graduate from IIT Bombay this year, but will support the group while pursuing further studies abroad.

In a write-up titled Gay @ IITB: Out and About for IIT Bombay’s newsletter Insight, Ramadas narrates how he had to seek “refuge in the institute library all through my first year, avoiding nearly all social contact. I wanted to get a good CPI (score), flee this god-forsaken country (as I then considered it), and begin life afresh in some liberal, tolerant western nation”.

Launched in July, Saathi already has 40 members and is being supported by the IIT-B administration. “LGBTQ is a community that the country has been indifferent to for far too long. Many kids are coming to terms with their sexuality and it’s important for such a group to come forward, empathise with them and ensure they aren’t lonely. Saathi is a fine example of a legacy of change and freedom in the mindsets. We’ll give them as much support as possible,” said IIT-B PRO Jaya Joshi.

The first step was the launch of Saathi website www.saathi-iitb.org and a Google group for interaction. The group recently had a meeting to chart out their future course of action. While people can interact via the online forum, Saathi will have mentors to guide LGBTQ people.

One must be 13 years of age to join the Google group and 18 years to attend any meets. Members can choose to remain anonymous. “We plan to establish our group on the lines of the women’s cell once we garner more support. We have got permission from the director’s office to put up posters on the institute’s notice boards, and post about Saathi on the official students’ mailing list. We’ll reachout to other institutes too. With this initiative, we want to set an example and hope others will follow suit,” said Nivvedan, co-founder and second year student of computer science and engineering.

The various cultural activities on campus will be encouraged to gradually take up LGBTQ rights’ issues. “We want to develop the website as a central portal for future activities and as a repository of useful information,” added Ramadas.

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