Manoj Sunanda, a 29-year old LGBTQ rights activist and short film maker from Pune is a perfect example of someone who upholds his beliefs for his counterparts to see and believe in.
Identifying as an androgynous male, Manoj came to terms with his sexuality pretty early at a young age of thirteen. However, he only started coming out to people about three years ago.
Having been a part of more than 14 LGBTQ events and pride parades, Manoj regards them as being “very helpful for the community, now just for people who are attending, but also people who witness these marches as they help to spread awareness and satiate their curiosity about LGBTQ. In fact, a lot of heterosexual people attend these events to support their friends and relatives, which is commendable”
This curiosity about the LGBTQ community amongst people is what he has had to face more than homophobia.
“I came out to my colleagues, and then subsequently to my friends and family. I can fortunately say that everyone was very supportive and I didn’t face any discrimination as such. However, what I did come across was a lot of curiosity. People came up to me and asked if I could explain to them what being androgynous exactly meant.”
A lot of times people are wary to accept something for lack of proper knowledge about it. Maybe if we satisfied this curiosity, we could put an end to homophobia once and for all.
‘Homophobia’ per se, also stems from the fact that our government brands it a crime to be homosexual and engage in intercourse that isn’t meant for reproduction, Manoj believes.
“What the law does, above anything, is create fear in the minds of people. There have been times when I was walking with my friend at midnight and a cop stopped us and started questioning us because a regressive law vests in him the authority to do so. Striking down the law will mark the first step towards changing people’s mindset and creating a more acceptable society.”
To satisfy his own curiosity and put an end to the numerous questions that plagued him when he first came to terms with his sexuality, he remembers reading all the material he found in books, magazines, the Internet and every other possible source of information.
“Educating myself was important before I could seek to educate other people about it.”
Being an active supporter of the LGBTQ movement, he expresses dismay over the direction in which the movement is heading in India. He finds that the greatest challenge posed to the Indian LGBTQ community arises from within the community itself.
“There is widespread discrimination, casteism and judgement even within the LGBTQ community. People are forgetting to look at the bigger picture which is making this a directionless journey. There is a lot of transphobia, biphobia, homophobia even within the community. There was a time when I, myself was uncomfortable to go and talk to a transgender, but once I started interacting with them, I got over it. I believe that if we are in the pursuit of a common goal, we must first be united amongst ourselves.”
It is admirable how easily Manoj makes you understand his point of view, which is exactly what he stands for. However, the most important piece of wisdom that I take back from my conversation with him is when he says, “Getting your rights isn’t what’s most important, what’s most important is how you learn from the struggle”