While persons from the LGBTQIA+ community fight inequality and discrimination in every sphere of their lives on a daily basis, something as basic as right to shelter has long been an issue for them. Here’s a group in Hyderabad, Habitat Inc, which is trying to make a difference by providing them with co-living and dignified spaces
HYDERABAD: The Supreme Court may have decriminalised Article 377 three years ago, but as a society we are way behind when it comes to wholeheartedly accepting the LGBTQIA+ community. While persons from the community fight inequality and discrimination in every sphere of their lives on a daily basis, something as basic as right to shelter has long been an issue for them.
The hurdles that they have to face while searching for a house are unimaginable — most often owners refuse to rent their homes, and even if they do, they jack up the price to an unaffordable rate. What’s shocking is that many assume that the persons from the community must be involved in sex rackets.
For instance, Jayant, a.k.a Jojo, a documentation manager, is out-and-proud gay. He found a place on rent, but after an arduous search. “It was difficult for me to find a place on rent as the owners thought that other folks from the community might visit often, which could be a problem. After looking at 20-25 houses, I finally found one,” he says.
But, here’s a group in Hyderabad, which is trying to make a difference and set an example. Three friends — Ankith Narayan, Murari Kumar Raja and Parataj James — got together to launch Habitat Inc., through which they aim to provide co-living spaces to persons from the community. Ankith, an architect and entrepreneur, was venturing into the real estate business and was looking to launch a new line of co-living spaces.
“We wanted to narrow down our niche. I learnt about the difficulties that the LGBTQIA+ community faces while looking for a house on rent. I have a lot of friends from the community, who have found it extremely difficult to get a place. There is an urgent need to bridge this gap between the community and the rest of the society,” he says.
With this thought, the three friends came up with Habitat Inc. “It is not restricted to people from the community. We offer co-living spaces to allies too. I am not from the community, I am an ally. Murari, who is also an architect and the third partner, is from the community,” he says.
When the three friends got down to researching about the issue, they found that the community was unable to find a basic, livable accommodation, let alone a luxurious one. “The closest thing I could find to what we are doing was the Gay Housing Assistant Resource (GHAR). It is a portal where people can list a property, it does not offer co-living spaces. We want to go a step forward,” he says.
This is a first of its kind in India, he says as he compares the society with that of Europe. “I lived in Europe for a couple of years. When I was in Barcelona, I could see that the city had progressed a lot in terms of being open to accepting LGBTQIA+ persons. When I returned to India, it was just the opposite. We need to shatter the stereotype and stigma,” he says. In fact, Jayant says Hyderabad today is like what Bengaluru used to be 15 years ago. “Today, Bengaluru is more accepting. The only way to move ahead is by creating awareness through events,” he says.
With the real estate in Hyderabad booming and the city expanding rapidly, the community is bound to grow. The people and police have slowly started to support it, he says. “We could see that Hyderabad was a good place to kick-start our initiative. If all goes well, we want to expand to other cities as well. Hyderabad is way better than others cities when it comes to accepting the LQBTQIA+ community. But when we go around looking for properties and inform the owners that it is for the community, they back out. It gets difficult sometimes. Out of 100 owners that we have approached, only five have accepted this concept.”
Manvi (name changed), a transgender and a techie, has been single and lives with her pet dogs. “Because of my choices, I had to leave my parents’ house. When I started looking for accommodation, people were not comfortable letting out their space to me. I don’t know what the exact reason is. I am not accepted, even doctors treat me differently,” she says.
But things were not as tough for 29-year-old Varsha Alimchandani, the author of Spots on the Mirror. “I was not treated differently because I had not revealed my orientation. I feared rejection. I could not have made it interpretable to people around me that I belong to this community. This was not a positive environment, in fact, it was worse to not be able to be myself. It is extremely challenging to not only get a place, but also be able to live peacefully,” she says.
She compares this situation with the discrimination and atrocious laws that women faced for centuries. “Ever since I came out, I have had very few friends who have supported me and are proud of me. At the same time, there were friends who had distanced themselves from me,” she says. But, Varsha is glad that Habitat Inc. is taking the initiative towards making the society inclusive and kind. She says it is time that co-living spaces follow their example and create a safer and kinder world.