Revolution in South Asia

An Internationalist Info Project

Interview: Subash Pokharel, a Leading Gay Activist in Nepal

Posted by irisbright on March 21, 2009

Sunil B Pant, head of the blue diamond society and the first gay elected official in Nepal

Sunil B. Pant of the Blue Diamond Society and the first openly gay elected official in Nepal

Ben Peterson, of Australia, is currently traveling in Nepal, writing reports of what he learns about the revolutionary movement and the people of Nepal on his blog, Lal Salam – Revolution in the Himalayas. We will be sharing some of his reports. Posting them on Kasama does not mean we endorse his analysis. We do applaud the revolutionary enthusiasm that shines through his decision to dive right into Nepal’s revolutionary turmoil![Kasama has made minor editorial changes for clarity — mainly fixing typos and few missing words.]

Interview with Subash Pokharel, coordinator of the Blue Diamond Society

[March 17, 2009] Interview with Subash Pokharel, co-ordinator of the Blue Diamond Society conducted by Ben Peterson Lal Salam blog interviewed Subash Pokharel of the Blue Diamond Society last week. The Blue Diamond Society is the largest LGBTI (lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender and intergender people- I think that’s the correct terminology- apologies if it isn’t) rights organisation in Nepal and were good enough to speak with us about the situation in their community.

Ben Peterson: Subash Pokhrel thank you very much for meeting with me.

Subash Pokhrel: You’re welcome.

BP: Ok, so I have read allot about Nepal and it is clear that Hindu, and in particular an orthodox form of Hinduism plays a big role in the society here. Is that something that has been of a concern for people of sexual minorities?

SP: It is a religious society so, basically, One Culture, One Religion, one pattern, I think every religion is like that, but we have a diversity of religions and cultures and patterns in the society. For more than two centenaries the Hindu religion was carried out by Brahmins, the so called high castes in the society dominated. And that religion dominated in all aspects of society as well as government bodies, policy makers, decision makers, all were basically Brahmins, the Hindu based caste group. Due to the thinking, and because of this religion, they cannot imagine that certain other cultures, other groups, other genders, exist in this society. They only recognize the established, such as the male and female relationship. But while older generations feared this, slowly attitudes are changing. We are starting to come out at the front, committee groups are already raising out voice in the decision making bodies, like the present Constituent Assembly. We have a representative in the House, Sunil Babu Panta.

BP: The openly gay member of the Constituent Assembly?

SP: Yes, that is him. He has been implementing that committee. So right now we are a bit comfortable in society.

BP: Well that’s good to hear.

SP: Thank you.

BP: So you said that there has been alot and in recent times there has been increasing amount of change, and you’ve been able to open up, or there has been a lot more space for diversity…

SP: I think we are in the process of making the constitution, a new constitution, in Nepal and the process has started and we have been engaging in that process. And very good political sentiments are already in the scheme, like including out committee. In every front they are trying to include male, female and other groups. Others can be included. Some of the provisions are already there, there is already a sexual and gender minorities committee. So it’s very positive.

We are very much hopeful in two or three years at least we’ll have very inclusive legal documents, legal framework, legal mechanisms.

Though full gay rights became legalized in Nepal in November, 2008, being openly gay is still potentially dangerous. Especially for Nepali women who have come out of the closet.

BP: That’s fantastic

SP: Three years, or lets say five years, depends on how long it takes to make the constitution.

BP: So how large is the LGBTI community in Nepal? I have noticed, although I have only been here a short time, that unlike in Australia, it is very acceptable to show affection to members of the same sex, and even hold hands and hug in public. So do the lines between the communities sometimes blur?

SP:Yes, tentative time: We have to assess the fact that society will always change slowly, not abruptly.

Today’s government policies and legal framework… Until we have good legal mechanisms, there can be no change, legal binding things to the society. It’s very hard to expect that society will change without the laws being changed also. And when bad laws re-enforced this leads to discrimination. We are hoping that in the right legal framework will include the right provisions and on that basis we can advocate, lobby.

You know we are in society, are citizens the same as other citizens, so why you not accepting us?

And through this society will change. But already we are starting to extend our networks, with other organizations, like civil liberties organizations, civil society organizations, media and political parties. We have very good relations, and they are starting to understand us, slowly we are entering into society.

BP: So how is your relationship with the Maoists, now that they lead the government? I have read some things that up until a few years ago, and even more recently, their cadre would pressure people not to accept queer tenants, and these sorts of things. But I have also been seeing a lot recently which would suggest a change in their policy.

SP: Yes, in principle, the Maoist culture has also been monolithic. They also believed in one culture, and one command. I think that kind of culture has influence in any kind of organization, but because we can channel our voice into their party organisations, due practically to our representative in the Constituent Assembly.

I think you would probably know about the two lesbian commandos. Rebels in the Maoists rebel group [People’s Liberation Army]. They expelled them from the cantonments. [The PLA is currently in cantonments under UN supervision as part of an ongoing peace process].

BP: No I wasn’t aware of that.

SP: After they were expelled they came to our office, and we provided them with some accommodation for one month, and we continued to explore within the Maoist organisation, later on after one month, our approaching and our relationship with the leadership meant that after one month they were able to return to the cantonments.

This is a great example of how we have been able to make them believe — We are as human as you are, we are citizens as you are. We have a very natural sexual activities. We are sexual beings. It’s not a crime. This kind of thing made them convinced.

BP: And now they have been returned to the camps?

Nepali women who have come out of the closet.  Although full gay rights were realized legally in November 2008, coming out is still incredibly risky.

Nepali women out of the closet.

SP: Yes, Yes. At least we are able to convince others. They are trying to learn. They are listening to us. This process is going on. Although all these things are happening, we are able to convince them and they are fixing the incidents.

BP: I think I will have to look into that case more.

SP: At least we can go to the certain cultural organisations and put our voice forward. This sort of environment encourages us to use our voice because the democracy is there. Democracy makes us go and ask and encourage others.

BP: So you’re with the Blue Diamond Society…

SP: Yes Yes.

BP: So what sort of activities does the Blue Diamond Society do? You mentioned before about providingaccommodation for the PLA women when they ere expelled, what sort of activities do you do besides lobbying?

SP:Well, the organisation was established in 2001. Formally an NGO, non government organisation. We have a very long struggle. First time our committee focused on HIV prevention and treatment, that kind of thing, because our committee was very alarmed by HIV. Basically through donors like Family Health International, USAID, UNAID, these organisations assisted us greatly in the area of HIV/AIDS prevention. And later on we realized that only confining to HIV related things will not take us into our different issues. We were experts on HIV because of our sexuality. We are operated by donation and government donation. We are not stranded in this city only confined to issues of HIV/AIDS, it will not resolve our whole social issues, so e started to campaign and raise our voice in the medium of human rights campaigning. By working with other group’s e were able to establish good networks with the Media, human rights organisations even the political parties. So on the basis of our human rights work and our HIV/AIDS work we have built our capacity.

BP: Has there been much risk involved in this work? In recent times in Nepal there has been widespread human rights violations, so by taking up the struggle for LGBTI rights have your brought much anger to yourself and your organisation?

SP: In previous years the committee and our people, because we have no legal protection in the law we could not plead to the police to protect us from violations. Basically our community had to rely on sex work, we had no other means of livelihood in the previous years, but now the society is able to employ more than 500 people. Blue Diamond Society now has more than 35 offices in Nepal. It’s a very good network, and we are very influential already. That sort of violence against the community was very great in previous years, but now because we have support from other organisations we are able to have confidence in our protection, and do our work, but there is still violence there.

BP: Starting in 2001 and already having 35 offices, that’s a pretty impressive effort. Do you do much work in rural areas as well, and if so, how does this differ from urban work in say Katmandu?

SP: People in our community they have too, almost all, more than95% I would say, if they are to become open about their sexuality, they are expelled from and have to get out of their family, community and even village. So it is typical that those who have been expelled from their villages tend to center around the cities. I don’t know why the community centers around the city areas, in search of employment I think. So we concentrate on city areas. People come to live there, and open up offices. Initially we had one office, but so many people came, and got in contact with the Blue Diamond Society, we encouraged them to open up more offices in their area. In that way we are able to grow. We were able to increase our HIV work and we have support in our HIV prevention work, because we are recognized and work with the government’s plan of prevention. So because of that, and the international community we have been able to open up our offices.

BP: So you are largely assisted by international organisations?

SP: Yes, and the government. Recently there has been a land mark case in the Supreme Court granting all sorts of civil rights to the LGBTI community. Slowly we are being included more in the government. There is a very small but symbolic support for our community.

BP: So we mentioned the new constitution being written earlier. What are your hopes for the new Constitution and the “New Nepal”?

SP: It is in the discussion process, and the Supreme Court has ordered the government to form one committee, a study committee, so they will research the needs of our community and the international norms and make recommendations for the constituent assembly. It is in the discussion phase. But all of our rights have been committed too.

BP: So as you say it is an ongoing process, but is there any already noticeable difference in the attitudes of people? Is there more acceptance then there was a few years ago?

SP: Ultimately attitudes are changing. Our public based programs are bringing more people into contact with the LGBTI community. The antagonisms between our community and society as whole is starting to slowly lessen, but even in developed nations things are not perfect and ideal.

BP: Yes Australia is an example of that.

SP: I do not know the situation in your country, but it is very hard for some elements in society to recognize and accept our rights.

5 Responses to “Interview: Subash Pokharel, a Leading Gay Activist in Nepal”

  1. Green Red said

    Once again thanks a lot Ben Paterson for contribution.

    Knowing the truth is the best and it is good to know that society is generaly accepting all sexual variations and, party is getting better on that. This is something many dont’t see that all struggles don’t only succed through the pipe of gun. And great to know there is an open gay fellow in the CA. Of course, seeing a – eh – red star or diamond developed out of the Blue one would be a possible progressive next step that is, up to the party and movement itself.

    I have heard that at times, girls,women are trafficed in India for prostitution. So apparently the party will have a large agenda for Women, GLBTs liberation and trying to elevate them in social occupations and …

    Keep serving the Red Hello cause!

  2. Green Red said

    One more thing comrade,

    in SWP’s Militant May 12, such thing was said:

    They also weld anti-working-class moral strictures to the probusiness policies. Prachanda has advocated banning alcohol, gambling, and “vulgar” literature from India and the United States. Last year CPN(M) cadre in Kathmandu warned homeowners not to rent rooms to gays and lesbians, claiming homosexuality is “a by-product of capitalism.”

    How much of that is true or, has there been changes?

    I’m not only talking about gays/lesbian’s freedom. Also alcohol, gambling … and is it like ban them thoroughly or…?

  3. for gambling- yes that was banned. it was an issue with problem gamblers gambling away families incomes. It largely came from the womans movement. It, from my take, wasnt so much a moral thing as a reaction to a problem, and a logical solution. i am not sure why teh SWP would oppose that

    for alcohol- the Maoists never banned alcohol outright in the countryside that had under their control.They did ban the commercial sale of alcohol, and alcohol imports, but people were allowed to brew their own and drink in their homes and during cultural festivals. Drunken disturbances and drunken wife beating, which was a serious problem however was not tolerated. Again this came out of the womens movement, and even tho i am a drinker myself, i do not know why the SWP would oppose this out of hand.

    As for the immoral western and hindi films/music ect. Well, they are incredibly sexist, and it makes perfect sense to me to resist cultural imperialism. Again, i dont see why the swp would think this is a negative or anti-working class.

    I will say that the maoists are not perfect. I do think they dont have the right line on sexual relations, they are very strong on marriages. But i think this is a symptom of their background ain a third world country that hasnt had the sexual revolution, and at any rate, by liberting women, and drastically reducing sexism, and then having active talk about how sex should be easy as a drink of water and then if the revolution provides better health care and access to contraception, then this will follow.

  4. […] Comments Ben Peterson on Interview: Subash Pokharel, a …Stefandav on Ben Peterson: First Impression…Stefandav on Sharp polemics between […]

  5. Green Red said

    Thanks a lot Ben,

    Long live the women revolutionary movement who keeps men away from spending family income on gambling and getting drunk and beating their wife at home. There must be a line between wants and needs of people. Sometimes wants are only bits of out of lines like bits of luxuary car, dresses and funnitures but when it gets on wastings tons of it in gambling and getting high, drunk and beating wife, children (or including banging something on man’s head!) it surely is inhumane.

    But re “maoists on marriage” thing, for example, studying about People’s War Group (now a part of Maoist party of India) I ran into the fact that for example women were referred to as Sister in the group. Some had husbands in far places (same applies in Philippine CP,) and also they had this saying that rather not make children when your are a guerrila. I can imagine for what reasons they had to act as such.

    But after guerrillas getting in Katmandu there was lots of marriages and re uniting as well. I appreciate more inputs on matter from other readers.

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