In 2009, India repealed the British colonial anti-sodomy law – which had criminalized sexual acts between LGBT people - only to reverse the judgment in 2013, once again making same-sex relationships illegal.
Delhi: Communities of Belonging (The New Press, November 2016) by photographers Sunil Gupta and Charan Singh combines more than 150 photographs with first-person texts that, together, paint a portrait of the LGBT community in India today and the stigma these men and women still live under.
1. Where did you go on your last trip?
"We went to China as Sunil had been invited to exhibit his portraits of Indian LGBT people at a photography festival in a provincial town called Lianzho, a few hours to the north of Guangzhou. We stopped for a few days in Guangzhou to get a feel of a big city in China."
2. What was your favorite memory from it?
Sunil: "Mine was the view from our 27th floor hotel room that looked onto downtown skyscrapers, with the tropical mist and rain it reminded me of one of my favourite films, Blade Runner.”
Charan: "We were trying to find one of the exhibition’s venues and one of the local shopkeepers walked with us to show us the place. I was very touched."
3. Where is your favorite place to travel where you feel you can be open about your sexuality?
Sunil: "Mine is Berlin, I think after London it has the most open and easy going atmosphere for gay people. Besides it has a lot of features that I’m fond of, including: wonderful art, history and culture, a very affordable cake and coffee culture, an amazingly efficient transportation system even without the language, and some wonderful people that I’ve come to know."
Charan: "Oh Berlin is too cold. I liked Barcelona. It’s compact, walkable and sunny (mostly) and if you want a very gay holiday moment you can take a short train journey to Sitges and enjoy Mediterranean sun, sex and sand."
4. What advice would you give to a foreign LGBT traveler coming to Delhi for the first time?
"Do not come without your smart phone and dating apps, if you intend on hooking up with anybody. Although actual physical cruising sites have not disappeared as they have in the West, they are scattered all over, central parks are still active, other sites would be difficult to find and manoeuvre in as a first-time visitor. Although sodomy is a criminal offence in India, there are hardly any actual prosecutions, so most people are barely aware of the legal situation. There are no gay bars as such but there are private parties in clubs that are widely advertised on the internet. What’s great for the English-speaking traveller is that most Indians understand English so communication is not a problem."
5. Are there places in Delhi you would feel comfortable holding hands with your partner?
"Because Indians still divide socially by gender it’s not unusual to see same-sex couples holding hands so hanging out with your partner or a small group of same-sex friends is not going to raise eyebrows. However, growing awareness amongst the English-speaking elite has meant that in globalized spaces such as international hotels and restaurants, you might stand out holding hands with a same sex partner. But it would not arouse curiosity on the streets. Your foreignness alone will arouse a great deal of curiosity."
6. What is your favorite spot in Delhi?
"We both are from Delhi and grew up there so we some common interest. Our favorite spot in Delhi is a Mughal monument called Humayun’s Tomb, it’s an extraordinary precursor to the Taj Mahal, except that this one is built for an emperor. It is surrounded by a formal geometric garden that is wonderfully peaceful. Before it was given over to a foundation for its management, it had the even more wonderful carefree atmosphere of a lived-in historic site where people came to hang out. Growing up gay in Delhi it was in Sunil’s neighborhood and was a favorite cruising site."
7. What is your favorite spot to visit in India?
"If you only had time for one city and its environs, we would pick Delhi (we are in love with Delhi). It’s got history; ancient, medieval and colonial, plus lots of contemporary culture, an efficient Metro to get around it. Lots of good food from all over India and globally. Very good shopping. And a large and very active LGBT population. And it’s within day trips of Agra (home of the Taj Mahal) and Jaipur (Rajasthan, a magical India of forts and camels and handsome men and women.)"
8. Where would you recommend someone go if they wanted to see a Bollywood show? (I’m asking for a friend.)
"In Delhi, you would have to go to a satellite city called Gurgaon on the other side of the airport, so beware of traffic jams. This is Delhi’s IT and financial hub. Here you would find a venue called 'Kingdom of Dreams' which puts on the shows."
9. At what restaurant in India have you had the best meal?
"At a local chain called Nathu’s which serves a wide variety of Indian vegetarian fare to working people and middle class families at a very reasonable price under $4. The service is always polite and efficient as they have a high turnover of customers although they will let you linger. The money gets collected by an old-fashioned cashier who seems to live in a perpetual haze of incense with images and statues of the gods and goddesses associated with the creation of wealth. However, they are disappearing with the increasingly globalized taste of the middle-class and being replaced by slightly more upscale chains called, Bikanervala and Haldiram."
10. Where will you go on your next adventure?
"New York. Another city we can’t get enough of, and every time we visit it throws up new delights. And then there is Delhi all over again!"