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Queer India “on paper” – decriminalization, recognition and visibility of sexual diversity

Michiel Baas (Max Planck Institute, Halle, Germany)

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

ISSN: 2040-7149

Article publication date: 29 April 2021



Taking as a point of departure the edited collection Yaraana (1999), ostensibly the first mainstream publication on gay writing from India, the purpose of this article is to trace the way Indian authors have dealt with the growing visibility of nonnormative sexualities. It suggests that from the start this debate has centered on a dyad between local and culturally specific sexual identities vs its globalized opposite, which is held to threaten regionally specific expressions. The continuing struggle for recognition and equality is revealing for a growing divide between those whose sexuality can rely on growing representation in Indian popular media, and those who feel increasingly marginalized.


This article revisits important texts that were published and publicly accessible in India from 1999 onwards. All the text considered and discussed were accessible outside academic networks and thus, available in mainstream bookstores, produced by Indian authors or long-term residents and available in English. Considering the vast language diversity of India as well as the complexity of gaining access to locally published materials, the analysis does not include texts that are only available in a vernacular language. Besides this, the article benefits from the direct input of key activists and scholars from India working on this topic.


Even if homosexuality has now been decriminalized in India, what emerges from the writing is a concern that globally hegemonic expressions of alternate sexualities might impact, homogenize and eventually eradicate locally specific expressions. Considering socioeconomic equality in India, this raises serious questions about those whose precarious positions may see them further marginalized because of this.


While there have been various overviews and analyses of the fight for decriminalization of homosexuality in India, so far there has not been an analysis how this benefited from a growing awareness and discussion in popularly accessible texts. This analysis also raises concerns that the fight for decriminalization might have negative consequences for those in marginalized positions.



The author would like to thank Brinda Bose, Pawan Dhall, Ashok Row Kavi, Shals Mahajan, Sandip Roy and Ruth Vanita for their invaluable input and comments on earlier versions of this paper.


Baas, M. (2021), "Queer India “on paper” – decriminalization, recognition and visibility of sexual diversity", Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.



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