India's only openly gay Prince, Manvendra Singh, is on a crusade against AIDS
Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil is the 39th direct descendant of the Gohil dynasty, established in 1370. Growing up in a royal family in Rajpipla, Gujarat wasn’t easy — among other things were the formality with his own mother, who, in public, was to be addressed as 'Maharani Sahiba', and the constant scrutiny he was under.
As a result, Manvendra grew up with no friends to consider his own. Hence, when he started having questions about his sexual identity in his teens, he had nobody to confide in. Assuming it was a 'phase' people grew out of, he got into an arranged marriage, as was expected of him. However, that union lasted just about 15 months. In his words, according to Catch News,
"I thought I could maybe lead a heterosexual life like others. There was an ignorance on my part about my sexuality... My wife's last words to me before she left me were, 'Don't spoil anyone else's life.' That kind of was the motivation for me to explore my sexuality. [I realised] there was nothing wrong with her, or me. Just that she was attracted to men, and so was I."
Though Manvendra realised he was homosexual, with all his past baggage, embracing the truth was not easy. That was when he met Ashok Row Kavi, who helped him accept himself and come out as gay in 2006. Furious, Manvendra's family disowned him.
In the same year, Manvendra also started an NGO — Lakshya Trust — to help create awareness about HIV. With Section 377 of the IPC intact, it takes a lot of effort to convince people to come out and talk about unprotected sex or take HIV tests. So, with the help of his NGO, he hangs condoms in places like public toilets to make sure anyone can access them without being stigmatised.
Manvendra got global recognition after being invited on Oprah Winfrey's show. When he realised that 80 percent of gay men in India are married to women, he started a special wing (part of Lakshya Trust) to fill the void created by social stigma. These women are provided with counselling and taught the importance of safe sex. He also works as an ambassador for AIDS Healthcare Foundation in India and has started a movement called Free Gay India. Talking about what can help in curbing HIV, to Homegrown, he said,
"There needs to be more sex awareness and education in India. It’s not enough to have a few NGOs carrying the entire responsibility. The government has to step up and be more proactive.”
Prince Manvendra believes that even after 70 years of independence, while the country is free, the gay population is far from it. Until they achieve liberation, he doesn't want to celebrate independence.