NEW DELHI – From nightclubs to publishing, the decriminalization of gay sex in India is facilitating a new, multimillion dollar niche market.
As India’s gay community emerges from the closet following a court order lifting a ban on homosexual sex last year, a small group of pioneers is staking claim to the so-called pink economy that in the United States alone is worth $640 billion a year.
There are no estimates of the size of India’s gay economy, but a lucrative market for gay-focused ventures is not far from reach, given that global tourist hotspot India has 70 million homosexuals.
In New Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore, trailblazing entrepreneurs are chasing the gay business.
Since July over 15 bars across New Delhi have hosted gay events, up from just one event at one bar a week two years ago.
India’s first gay-products store, Azaad Bazaar in Mumbai, has seen a year of growth, penetrating mainstream stores across the country with its merchandise.
Queer-Ink.com, India’s first gay online bookshop, is exploring publishing titles in the next 6 to 8 months.
Manish Sharma, a gay events promoter from New Delhi, hosts regular parties attended by over 200, while Sanjay Malhotra runs India’s first gays-only travel agency, IndjaPink.
“In terms of business as well as inquiries, things have really gone up since the ruling,” said Malhotra, who spent six months interviewing the hotel managers and tour guides that his company uses to ensure all his holidays are “gay-friendly.”
But for those pioneers, a largely conservative society and ingrained social stigma presents a bigger barrier than legislation to luring gay business.
“We might be legal by law, but we’re not yet legal in the mindset,” Sharma admitted.
Aditya Bondyopadhay, a gay rights activist and lawyer who was integral to the decriminalization, is realistic about the public perception of homosexuality in India.
“Police harassment, though it has gone down drastically, is still prevalent, we have instances of male rape that still go unchallenged,” he said, adding families still pressurize gays.
For Abhijit Parua, manager of Kuki, a south Delhi bar that hosts one of Sharma’s weekly ‘BoyZone’ events, this means the current target audience is too small.
“For a week the attendance was very good. Now there is lots of competition, and people are heading elsewhere,” he said.
But gay businesses in India operate not only on the strength of the local economy but also on the goodwill and solidarity of global consumption by homosexuals.
“Every traveler that goes with IndjaPink, we want them to be able to be who they are,” said Malhotra, adding acceptance was a long way off.
“It’s in its infancy.”