MUMBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Outspoken Indian gay rights activist Harish Iyer is used to fighting for equal rights but over the last month he has turned into a messenger of love.
He is the host of “Gaydio”, the first radio show dedicated to lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) issues in India, where homosexuality is a taboo and gay sex can be punished with up to 10 years in jail.
“As an activist, it is in my DNA to stand up for a cause,” Iyer, 38, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“You hear heart-warming love stories during your activism, but you are busy being the savior. But on this show, I look at the softer side.”
India’s penal code bans “sex against the order of nature”, which is widely interpreted as homosexual sex, and transgender people face widespread discrimination even though the Supreme Court has enshrined a person’s right to identify as transgender.
The weekly show on commercial radio channel Ishq, which means love in Urdu, was launched in mid-July and is aired every Sunday in the cities of Mumbai, New Delhi and Kolkata.
Iyer’s guests on the two-hour Sunday show included a Sikh-Muslim male couple who spoke about how they met, their coming-out experience and still going strong after 12 years.
In another episode, a mother spoke with her son’s ex-boyfriend and in the latest airing, a heterosexual man and his transgender wife shared their story.
Iyer, who hit headlines in 2015 when his mother posted a “groom wanted” matrimonial advertisement in a leading English-language newspaper, said people on his show have shared their stories openly.
“The unique religion, caste, gender and familial bonds in these stories are part of the narrative,” Iyer said.
There is no official data on the LGBT population in India, but the government estimates there are 2.5 million gay people, reflecting those who have declared their sexuality to the health ministry.
Campaigners say real numbers are far higher as many individuals conceal their identity fearing discrimination in a country where most marriages still take place within the boundaries of caste and religion.
Shivangini Jajoria, national operations head at Ishq, said the radio station wants to break down boundaries and feature all kind of relationships.
“When the Muslim and Sikh couple shared their coming out story, it made it easier for others to come out,” said Jajoria. “People are also understanding the LGBTQ community better through these stories.”