Civic Action

Q&A With Pallav Patankar

July 23, 2019  • Aspen Global Leadership Network

2016 ACTION PLEDGE: I will intensify my dialogue on LGBT rights with politicians, bureaucrats, and corporations to improve inclusion in the social landscape in India by 2020.

Pallav knew when he made his pledge that his commitment and work for the LGBT cause would extend beyond 2020. It was something he would take on for the rest of his life. Having worked in the LGBT rights space for 26 years, Pallav had seen great strides made, but knew India had a long way to go. Since taking his pledge, the country has achieved a major milestone in the fight for LGBT rights. Section 377, a law that effectively criminalized LGBT peoples and prevented them from loving one another freely, was struck down. As someone who worked to bring this about, Pallav knew this was a major victory that brought visibility, humanity, and dignity to the LGBT community in India. He is now looking to the future to see what more he can do to advance the rights of LGBT people.

What broad changes, other than 377 being struck down, have you seen in India since beginning your pledge?

I think the difference that I have seen in the past ten years is people say, ‘It’s not such a big thing, what are we being so bigoted about?’ Ten years ago I would have seen politicians saying, ‘This is abnormal and against Indian culture.’ When I was eighteen years old, there was only one man who would speak about these issues and everyone thought there was only one gay man in all of India. But today a prime minister is more careful in his or her discussions about LGBT people because we built up that voice and we have leadership within the LGBT community.

What has your role been in building up that voice?

In the past ten years of me being actively involved with Humsafar Trust, I’ve been going and talking with the politicians directly, interacting with the bureaucracy, and interacting with the police saying I represent myself as a gay man — really putting an honest face to the phrase gay man and saying, “I’m not talking about someone imaginary out there; I’m talking about myself here.” That makes all the difference. I think normalizing one’s existence in society and saying, ‘This is just one part of who I am,’ has built a lot of support within the Indian community.

Have you had any major changes since making your Action Pledge?

About a year into my pledge, in 2017, I stepped out of my organization, the Humsafar Trust. For eight years I worked at an organization that works in the LGBT space, but I felt that this limited my whole understanding of integrating with the mainstream community. So, two years ago I made a conscious shift to continue working in the LGBT space in my personal capacity, but in my professional capacity, I now work in a public health space. I think that was important for me from a diversity and inclusion perspective to bridge that gap and round myself out so that I could bring LGBT issues into mainstream conversation.

How has being a part of the AGLN and the Kamalnayan Bajaj Fellowship (KBF) helped in your effort to achieve your pledge?

The AGLN network and the Kamalnayan Bajaj network have allowed me to amplify my work by giving me new platforms to speak about the whole LGBT space. Last year, I was a moderator for KBF’s student leadership program and I could speak to students about my own sexuality and my own struggles. It was great to have that connection and have them asking me questions about how I overcame my own challenges. Thanks to the network, I’ve also been able to integrate into the corporate diversity and inclusion conversation in India by leveraging my connections and speaking to people to reiterate that my sexuality has got nothing to do with my capability.

What are you hopeful for?

With section 377 struck down, I hope our future is bright. I hope to see more men and women co-habit and live their lives happily without fear, while still being able to be productive, contributing citizens of this country.