CHENNAI: Two years ago, on September 6, when the Supreme Court ruled the draconian Article 377, which criminalised gay sex, as unconstitutional, the annulment was celebrated by the country’s LGBTQIA+ community and its allies in rainbow colours. Many went on to mark the momentous day and the month with pride parades and special events; several took the opportunity to (finally) come out of the dark closet and further spark conversations on the tabooed topics of gender and sexuality. The month, which is now etched in the chapters of history, marked a new beginning. But, it wasn’t the end of the fight. It, perhaps, was only the beginning of a long journey towards a more inclusive society. “It’s been two years since the announcement was made. But very little has changed. It takes not just people from the community but the whole society to bring about a change in the mindset. Well, at least we are not criminals anymore,” says a person from the community, who wished to remain anonymous.
“Inequality and stigma are still prevalent. Several from the community, including me, have been at the receiving end of bullying. We experienced homophobia and transphobia since the beginning of the pandemic outbreak and the subsequent lockdowns starting from March. Be it at rehabilitation centres or their own houses; be it by strangers or people from their own families — those from the community have continually faced hostility, leading to several mental health conditions. It’s unfortunate that we’ve had to hide again. We’ve perpetually lacked a channel to talk about our woes. It’s difficult when there is no one to go to,” adds the person, who identifies himself as queer.
In an attempt to provide a space for those from the community, who need support and acceptance, Aniyam Foundation in association with Dulkal Library recently launched a queer-friendly helpline — Sevigal (Ears). “Often, we find several mouths, othering those from the community. But we seldom find anyone willing to lend their ears — to listen to our challenges and anxieties. What’s more unfortunate is that there are no ears to even listen to the stories of our accomplishments and share the joy. The idea to launch a queer-friendly helpline was in the pipeline for a long time. It was a work in progress. However, the turn of events in the last few months, with increasing cases of isolation, abuse, and harassment of those from the community, drove us to launch it immediately. It was the need of the hour. We wanted to give our sevigal (ears) to the oppressed voices,” shares Alagu Jegan, founder of Aniyam Foundation, a one-year-old NGO, working for the welfare of minorities and the marginalised.
The initiative, an attempt to help people who are closeted, reclaim their lives, was launched on September 6. “We have already received over a dozen calls. The helpline is anonymous and confidential. The idea is to provide a safe space and peer-support to anyone in need. The helpline team is inclusive of those from the community and our allies,” shares Jegan.
The helpline is currently run by a team of five, who have been trained by psychologists and social groups working in the field of mental health and LGBTQIA+ welfare, to effectively and efficiently handle distress calls. “Our trainers include resource persons from Queerhythm, a Kerala-based organisation for the welfare of those from the community, psychologists and other medical professionals. The training process was multifold and included preparation in not just counseling, but also understanding and addressing issues ranging from those related to sexually transmitted diseases to conversations on socio-economic conditions,” he details.
The helpline is currently active between 3 pm and 12 am every day. Soon, a 24X7 helpline, online chat and email facilities will also be launched. “Our portal is also open to those who are not part of the spectrum. Homophobia is nothing but a choice that an individual makes but our sexuality isn’t. So, if anyone has queries about those from the community, wants to have a better understanding of the orientations to become allies, they are more than welcome to call us. But, distress calls will be our first priority. For those still inside a closet, this is a window,” he adds.
Working the phone
The helpline is currently run by a team of five, who have been trained by psychologists and social groups working in the field of mental health and LGBTQIA+ welfare, to effectively and efficiently handle distress calls.
Sevigal helpline number: 9176999974
For details, visit Instagram page: @aniyamfoundation or @dulkal2020