On September 6, 2018, the Supreme Court made a groundbreaking ruling that partially invalidated the barbaric and outdated Section 377, effectively decriminalizing homosexuality in India. Since then, the entire nation has been celebrating the victory of love and labeling it as an “Azadi (freedom) movement.” The credit for this long-awaited verdict goes to prominent personalities who have advocated for the freedom and equality of the LGBTQ+ community. Among the many unsung heroes, Ashok Row Kavi stands out as a gay rights activist who publicly revealed his sexual orientation in India for the first time back in 1984.
“I wished you had died before coming to this world,” my mother said when she learned about my sexuality, said Row Kavi. With zero support from his near and dear ones to horrifically eye-witnessing fringe outfits ready to blacken his face —the ’80s version of being “rejected,” .
Ashok Row Kavi was honored as ‘Amma’ of the LGBTQ+ community, dragged through rough terrain for the rights of all those homosexuals who longed for a voice to speak for them. With time he has emerged victorious, being a proud gay man who led the way for the LGBTQIA community to be open with defiance.
“I won’t grieve for what happened to me or what they did to me.“I feel good that I battled for it without considering how it will affect society.” Row Kavi stated.
He described it as a struggle for equal rights and dignity, adding, “It wasn’t easy. However, I battled because it is our constitutional right as citizens of this nation to live and love as we please.”
Ashok’s two-fold approach had proven to be efficient. He began by encouraging a sense of belonging and self-worth among Indian homosexuals through a controversial and groundbreaking magazine called “Bombay Dost.” After that, he launched a political and AIDS awareness NGO meant to save lives and foster widespread acceptance of homosexuality called ‘Humsafar Trust.’
As a young man, Ashok Row Kavi was a journalist for publications like Indian Express, Malayala Manorama, The Free Press Journal, and Sunday Mail. Later on, he quit his job to become an activist. In an interview with The Logical Indian, Row Kavi said, ‘People like me end up becoming activists since no one else does the work to fight for the cause. Thus it is up to us to do so.’ He earned fame for his AIDS/HIV outreach programs in the 1990s and 2000s for homosexual men, who benefited greatly from these programs and received a new lease on life.
He currently serves as an NGO representative at the Executive Committee of the Mumbai District AIDS Control Society (MDACS), member of the Technical Resource Group for Targeted Interventions of the National AIDS Control Organization, and as a member of the Scientific Committees of the ICMR and NARI. He was also invited to lecture at the Indian Institute of Population Studies. Kavi is currently a co-founder of the Mumbai Seenagers, a loose association of the city’s elderly gay and bisexual population.
Unsung heroes like Row Kavi in the 80s are rare when everyone preferred to glue in orthodox societal clauses by accepting odds. Ashok’s vision for a nation where homosexuality should be a fundamental right, and homosexuals can breathe
rather than quit or take life, is halfway achieved. He believes he will celebrate the triumph only when society agrees with the Supreme court’s judgment and congratulates homosexual couples rather than mocking them from behind.