Sometime in 1986 when India’s first HIV/AIDS cases started tumbling out of the hospitals and
panic started pulsating in society, groups of gay men met in private parties, in hotel rooms and
even in parks wondering what was in store for them.
Opinions varied. A majority of men thought HIV/AIDS would never be a problem because “it
was mostly a disease that affected only poor people and hence would not affect or infect us
middle class gay men”. Some said we did not have the “kind of gay men who went to parties
and had sex” and some thought it was a “problem only for men who went to female prostitutes”.
All this was mostly speculation because nobody exactly knew what HIV was and how it was
transmitted. Was it a common Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) like syphilis or was it
something new? In any case, in mid 1989, I was sent to the 5th International AIDS Conference in
Montreal by a research group as a delegate to ‘observe’ and was horrified at what I saw. ACTUP
had just started and they were screaming and shouting at the various sessions saying
inadequate funding for community work was making them vulnerable. By then, the new disease
had been firmly named as HIV though first it was called GRID (Gay Related Immunity
Deficiency Syndrome. However, as many gay men were also married to women, there was every
possibility that infected gay men might transmit it to their female partners.
By 1990, it was clear that gay men and Men-Having-Sex-With-Men (MSM), were one of the
main “risk groups”. My core competency was journalism and I thought the best way out was to
start a gay newsletter. However, my small group was averse to doing anything illegal so I went
to Delhi to ‘register both the title of the newsletter and to allow us to send the publication
through the postal services; it was an obscure colonial law mean to keep close tabs on
publications and newspapers.
So Bombay Dost was started as India’s first registered and legal newsletters for a readership of
people who didn’t know they existed. When the first issue was being composed and paginated,
the computer operator would ask Suhail Abbasi, designing the magazine and editing the Hindi
section, what the hell the word homosexual meant. Besides, the fact that he was one himself,
Suhail had problems explaining. So it was an exploration trip for all of us. Because we were
afraid of the consequences, the first issue did not publish the registration number of the
newsletter or even the address from where it was printed.
And we had money to print exactly 650 copies, a minimum figure that would cost us around Rs.
Eight per copy. So we sent them out with great fanfare calling ourselves people of “alternative
sexuality” and hiding under the umbrella of a “sexual minority”. Neatly every newspaper
covered our birth with great fanfare even though our office was a “Business centre” that received
mail and had exactly one small stool for visitors to sit in front of a severe-looking secretary. We
dreamt of making money from the classified columns and assured due confidentiality and help in
connecting to other “people of alternative sexuality”. After sending a few hundred into our
networks in Delhi, Kolkata and Bangalore, we forgot all about it due to the exciting parties to
announce the magazine in Bombay.
Nearly, a month later, a frantic Mrs. D’Souza, in-charge of the Business centre, phoned and said
there were “a few hundred letters” waiting for us and more came in every day. There was
actually something like 2,500 letters waiting to be answered.
And so started a movement with a magazine that became iconic for the community.
Bombay Dost taught Indian male and female homosexuals how to understand their identity and
connect to people like them. In fact an organization in Bangalore started a group called Good As
You (GAY) and Kolkatta set up Counsel Club to discuss issues of sexual minorities
Bombay Dost ran articles on how to go and get post boxes in the local post office so you could
keep our mail from falling into your parents’ hands. It taught you how to approach others who
were like us and how to avoid trouble. And most important, it published the first article by
India’s top criminal lawyer Shrikant Bhatt, who taught criminal law at the Government Law
College in South Bombay, what exactly Section 377 of the IPC meant for homosexuals in India.
It even ran an agony aunt colomn that still continues called ‘Papa passion’.
The magazine was the community’s first effort to find a voice for itself amidst the clamor and
cacophony of India’s noisy democracy and it succeeded beyond anybody’s wildest dreams. But
dreams also create problems in the real world when you cannot make them a firm reality
Today in 2013, Bombay Dost has been resurrected again after a small spell of a comatose state
because we cannot attract funding as an openly gay magazine.. It’s also because it is caught in a
vicious cycle of lack of funding, irregular publication that feeds the uncertainty which advertisers
Maybe, a day will arrive when we finally manage to get over that gap and establish ourselves as
a firm regular news magazine that genuinely becomes a consistent and clear voice of the LGBT
communities in India.
do not appreciate.