When Worlds Collide
What would you do if you couldn’t be true to yourself or your loved ones?
Sadly, this is a privilege that so many people take for granted. Yet for millions of people across the planet, having to hide a piece of themselves for a myriad of reasons is an everyday reality.
Perhaps the most common example of this is homosexuality. Still stigmatized and criminalized across the planet, LGBT people are at risk every day of losing their lives whether from their own government and families or from strangers who disagree with their lifestyle, or at least what those strangers assume their lifestyle to be.
For countless individuals from traditional or religiously-devout families, coming out can be even harder, and as they grow older, they have to weigh the price of being true to themselves and finding happiness or staying closeted to appease their families, often withdrawing from those they think love them most.
For Rishi Agarwal, a gay man from a traditional Indian family, the decision to come out came with serious consequences, but when he told his parents, he was in for the surprise—and the love—of his life.
You’ve never seen a big, fat, Indian wedding like this!
LGBT Rights in India
While India is comparatively advanced in terms of gender rights, it is still a difficult place to live as a gay person.
Across the Indian subcontinent, in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India, a transgender collective known as the hijras or khwaja sira are legally recognized as a third gender by the government. While the Semitic Arabic root hjr- means “leaving one’s tribe,” this community has been recognized since antiquity, lobbying for rights since the 20th century until gaining legal status; in India, this happened in 2014.
Sadly, homosexuality is illegal in India. Stemming from British colonial law, there is a stigma in Indian society against gay sex and marriage, and while homosexuality was briefly legalized in 2009, the Indian government later backtracked and criminalized it once again in 2012.
While same-sex marriage remains illegal in India, and while homosexuality is shunned within some factions of contemporary Hindu society, it remains a hotbed issue with plenty of pride events occurring around the country each year.
For Rishi Agarwal, a Canadian man born to a traditional Indian family, coming out was a matter of acceptance or banishment, even life or death.
“It was a tough time for me,” the 35-year-old accountant told Scroll.in. “My parents were social butterflies, and in that time frame we were attending about 15 to 20 weddings in a year. I was very happy for my family friends. But it also struck home inside, the feeling that I am never going to have this– marry a person I love, and share that with my family and friends. It was hard to accept that was the reality.”
But after meeting somebody special in Vancouver, far from his parents’ home, he came to the realization that there was only one thing he could do.
“It was the first time I held someone’s hand in public,” said Agarwal. “Even though my parents had a large social circle of family and friends, it did not extend to Vancouver. So I was able to try something new. And that person gave me his heart, through poetry. He gave me a card. It touched me, but I threw it away in the garbage. I cried the entire way on the five-hour flight back. And in that moment I knew that no matter what other people feel, whatever the reaction of my parents, they have to know.”