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Editor Minal Hajratwala (left) and editor Shobhna Kumar: releasing an anthology of stories about being gay and lesbian in India. Photograph: Sylvia Rowley
Gay-rights literature takes off in India

in INDIA, 01/11/2012

Queer writing was published in India before section 377 of the Indian penal code – a colonial law banning homosexuality – was overturned in 2009. But the tone of these new stories is very different says Kumar, who began her company Queer Ink by posting imported gay novels to customers in brown paper envelopes. "After 377, writers feel a lot more empowered to write their stories – even if some remain anonymous," she explains. "They're saying: 'I'm here, I'm queer, and there's nothing wrong with that.' They are not victims."

A transgender Sikh comes to terms with a vagina, a Maharashtrian motorcycling champion tells of her hidden sexuality, and an unwitting lesbian is drawn into the Mumbai underworld.

Until three years ago, homosexuality was illegal in India and stories like these about the lives of queer Indians remained largely untold. Now, emboldened by legal recognition and a growing gay-rights movement, queer Indians are starting to speak up. Threats from religious activists against Salman Rushdie prompted him to pull out of India's biggest literature festival earlier this year but the event's first panel on queer writing barely raised an eyebrow.

Since then an anthology of queer erotica has hit the shelves, HarperCollins India has published a novel with a gay protagonist, and this month sees the release of Out! Stories from the New Queer India, an anthology of 30 contemporary stories about being queer and Indian from publisher Shobhna Kumar and editor Minal Hajratwala, both lesbians of Indian descent. "For 20 years since I came out I've been reading every single thing I can get my hands on that's queer and Indian, even marginally so, you know even just a hint of queer in there," laughs Hajratwala, who lives in the US.

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