Sunday, July 9, 2006
Manvendra Singh Gohil, the 40-year-old son of the erstwhile Maharajah of Rajpipla (India), was disowned by his formerly royal family for coming out as a gay man.
Homosexuality was effectively criminalized in India in 1861 under British colonial rule. The sodomy laws, which remain in force today, mandate penalties of up to 10 years in prison.
The Gohil family once ruled India’s Rajpipla principality. Although India abolished royalty when it gained independence from Britain in 1947, the Gohil clan is considered to be one of the wealthiest families in the south Asian nation.
Gohil’s mother put public notices in Gujarati language newspapers disavowing being his mother. “If any individual or organisation dares to (name me as his mother), it will invite contempt proceedings,” the statement said.
He said as an AIDS activist, he felt it was his duty to come out. Gohil claimed that India anti-gay laws hinder AIDS prevention among gay men since many are afraid to admit they are homosexual for fear of being jailed or blackmailed.
Gohil, who runs a non-profit AIDS foundation, told reporters he wasn’t interested in his family’s money. “I will not stake my claim to the property. I have found a family in the (gay) community and am happy working for the community,” he said in a Reuters interview.
UNAIDS estimated that 5.7 million Indians have been infected by the HIV virus. Gay organisations in India are currently trying to have the section of the Indian Penal Code that makes homosexuality a punishable offence nullified. Gay relationships are considered taboo in India’s mostly conservative society. A number of Indian organisations, including two HIV/AIDS prevention groups, have complained of being subjected to police raids and arrests in recent years.