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The women-only events in Mumbai, formerly
known as Bombay, India’s most populous city, are
organised over an email forum called Symphony
in Pink and are extremely modest compared
to those available in Australia. Once a month,
there is a cricket match on the beach, an all day
lunch and tea party in a hotel lobby, an overnight
farmhouse party, or a group visit to the cinema.
All the women know each other, except for a
Due to the shortness of my stay in India, I only
managed to attend an overnight farmhouse party.
By farmhouse, they meant a detached house in
the middle of nowhere, preferably near a beach.
They hired the house and its caretakers, who
moonlighted as cooks. Booze was BYO, as was
music. Getting to the house was an odyssey.
Shruti and Minu, my hostesses, led the way from
an outlying train station by auto rickshaw deep
into a dark, lonely, forest, with minimal signage.
After two or three hours of aimlessly wandering
down a country road, we rang the organisers,
who came to find us by car. Once at the house,
we were coolly received by a dozen women,
mostly butch, reclining on plastic chairs while they
tucked into freshly cooked prawns and chicken.
After an hour or so of eating and drinking,
the bravest suggested we take a dip in the
pool. Bedlam ensued. Not everyone had brought
swimmers. Some of the girls went in shorts and
t-shirts. I wrapped myself in a sarong, from which
some of the girls tried to separate me. The rough
and tumble could have been straight out of a
rock gig at a live music venue in Australia. Except
for one little difference: most of the femmes in
attendance were married…to men.
Here is where the divide starts. Social expectations
in India are patriarchal and entrenched. Unless a
woman is financially independent, she is married
off as soon as she reaches her early twenties. The
only out lesbians are middle-class or upper class
professionals who can afford to walk out on their
The privileges afforded women in these strata
are evident from the support available to them.
Humjinsi Collective is a lesbian support group with
a helpline aimed squarely at middle-class women.
It recognises that it can’t reach the lower classes,
because they may not even be able to read or
write, which would prevent them from reading any
of the outreach material Humjinsi supplies.
In fact, Symphony in Pink, Humjinsi Collective,
Lesbians and Bisexuals in Action [LABIA] and
Sappho are organisations formed by and targeting
only middle class women. They co-operate with
each other and there is often an overlap in
membership. Symphony in Pink, particularly, is
limited to women with access to the internet.
Humjinsi advertise in newspapers, magazines and
flyers in tertiary institutions. They are based in the
India Centre for Human Rights in Bombay. Their
helpline operates only twice a week, three hours
at a time, due to the small number of volunteers
available to take calls. They refer women to
counsellors, listen to them and provide support
information on where to meet other women.
Humjinsi also has a resource library stocking
books, films and magazines on lesbian and
bisexual topics. They publish leaflets, articles
in human rights journals and books to raise
awareness on the plight of queer women in India.
They visit college and university campuses to
educate students about LGBT issues in India.
They network with other LGBT organisations to
pool resources and agitate on behalf of the LGBT
community against s377 of the Indian Penal
code, which makes homosexuality a crime. They
also provide women with a vocabulary for creating
The labels we take for granted in the West are
completely new to queer women in India. Living
in an environment devoid of queer literature,
discourse, television programming, or social
interaction with other queer women, they are
afraid of their feelings. They ring Humjinsi not
knowing what to do about it. Their parents
often ring as well, thinking it is a disease which
needs to be cured. A lot of the time, they feel
One woman wrote in to Symphony in Pink, telling
THE MUMBAI LESBIAN SCENE IS TINY. IT’S A SURPRISE IT EVEN EXISTS,
BUT IT IS ALIVE AND GROWING, EVEN WITHOUT ANY WOMEN’S ONLY
VENUES. PATRICIA M. ESCALON REPORTS.
“The only out
or upper class
afford to walk
out on their
MUMBAI FAST FACTS
Symphony In Pink
How to get to Mumbai
Qantas flies to Mumbai from Brisbane
More info on Mumbai
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