Ashok Rowkavi is providing a formal platform for gays and lesbians to claim their place in political and social arenas. He encourages gays and lesbians to become proactively involved in public life and institutions through media, advocacy, cooperation and community-building.
Ashok pioneered the visibility and acceptance of sexual minorities in India through programs that highlights the communities’ existence and the dangers they face in the society. He united and organized this marginalized group into a vocal community with a common identity, to build pressure on political and social forces in the country for social acceptance. In 1990, Ashok started "Bombay Dost," a first-of-its-kind publication that focussed exclusively on issues confronting the LGBT. This magazine became the platform that mobilised the LGBT community around India to share common challenges and make friends, taking away the sense of isolation and disempowerment they felt. It spun out articles to reduce stigma associated with being LGBT and shared resources for homosexual AIDS education. The magazine inspired gay people across the country to set up community-based organisations for the LGBT people.
Owing to a huge response expressing psycho-social concerns and need for HIV outreach, Ashok started the Humsafar Trust to take on specific services for the community. Through social gatherings, outreach programs, counseling and legal education, he informs the community of their rights and government benefits. Humsafar Trust fosters and mentors rational attitudes towards sex, sexuality and gender through rational discourses and discussions amongst critical stakeholders like media groups, politicians, law-makers, police, health delivery personnel, and educators. These discussions along with media campaigns and sensitization efforts focus on removing and reducing stigma and discrimination associated with non-heterosexual sexual activity. The organization leverages its relationships with hospitals, medical colleges and institutes of social work, IITs and IIMs to embed education about sex, sexuality and gender into their curricula and develop educational policies. The organization also trains and works with counsellors on disseminating impartial sex education.
The Humsafar Trust is the convener of the Integrated Network for Sexual Minorities (INFOSEM), a registered network for sexual minorities across India that registers LGBT communities as self-help groups to utilise government programs and has nearly 200 members of registered CBOs from over 25 States. The network along with the Health Ministry is developing a national strategy to curb HIV and STIs among LGBT sexworkers. Ashok is also part of the group of activists who have been fighting against the decriminalization of the LGBT communities in India and successfully spearheaded the eight year legal battle against Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Section 377 is an archaic law that discriminates against people based on their sexuality. In 2009, the Delhi High Court decided to repeal Section 377 of the IPC, a hefty feat considering the LGBT community existed in the shadows well into the 1990’s. Despite the Supreme Court of India’s decision to uphold Section 377 in 2013, which re-criminalized same-sex intercourse, Ashok along with other activists continue to fight for its repeal.
The Humsafar Trust and the Bombay Dost have been key to improving mental health and decreasing STIs among the community. The organisation has successfully advocated for social entitlements and recognition from institutions such as the election commission, the health, social welfare and justice ministries. The community now receives benefits under the Backward Classes quota in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra along with ration cards, passports, driving licenses as third gender across the country. Ashok now plans to introduce world’s model HIV prevention programs for MSMs and transgenders.
Note: This was updated in February, 2014. Read on for the ELECTION profile