It was 1985 when Darvesh Singh Yadavendra saw the movie Ram Teri Ganga Maili and liked it as much as the next person. However, he experienced something that made him realise that he was different.
“Everybody was talking about how attractive and gorgeous the actress Mandakini was in the movie. But for me, there was nothing like that. I was not feeling about her like other male friends. That is when I realised something is different about me,” said Darvesh. He was 12 at the time.
That was Darvesh’s first realisation of his queer sexuality; however, he did not know anything about homosexuality or the LGBTQ community. It was in 1992 that he came across an article about the Ashok Row Kavi’s coming out, and first came across common LGBTQ+ terminology. He said he could relate to Ashok.
“After reading the article, I felt an urge of meeting Ashok, I wanted to have someone I can talk to and share my feelings with. However, it was not possible as I was young. Moreover, who will meet you based on just one newspaper article cutting?” said Darvesh, who hails from a village in Raebareilly, Uttar Pradesh.
Darvesh went to Hyderabad for further studies, and also to explore his homosexuality to understand himself better. “It was less for studies and more about exploring homosexuality and myself better. Because I belong to a very small city where there is no support system of the community and also no resources to grab information on the same,” said Darvesh.
In Hyderabad, he met a lot of people from the LGBTQ community, as well as read about homosexuality. “At the age of about 15-year-old, I was sure that I was queer as I explored the subject and my own sexuality,” added Darvesh.
It may sound easy that he left his native small city, went to Hyderabad and got to know himself better, but there was something inevitable and life-changing moment in Darvesh’s way. Marriage proposals were pouring in. Hailing from a small city and a conservative family, marriage at a relatively early age is practised. He needed to save himself from heterosexual marriage.
“I needed to come out to my female cousin who understood me very well. She also helped me to refuse every proposal that was coming to my parents. After a couple of marriage proposals were refused by her (the cousin), my parents doubted. When they realized that we were refusing the proposals one after another to delay the marriage purposely, they came across a girl and forced me to get married. That is when I had to come out to them, which was my last resort to save myself from heterosexual marriage,” told Darvesh.
The repercussion of coming out is not easy to deal with, especially in small cities two decades ago. “My relationship with my parents was affected. We did not speak for almost a decade. It was devastating, but I had no choice but to accept the situation.”
He had been living away from home from a very young age. He completed his schooling in Kanpur and then went to Hyderabad for college. He holds a postgraduate degree in Business Administration.
Darvesh started his career with banks and then moved to MNCs for some time. He worked in the corporate sector for three years from 2000 to 2003. He later shifted to the NGO sector and started working with non-profits working for the LGBTQ community. “I was working and living my own life, but I had that urge of doing something for community people, so I moved to the social sector to work for the queer community.” He worked for one of the leading non-profits that work for the queer community for 5 years. He does not wish to disclose the NGO’s name.
He then started his own non-profit, Pahal Foundation, in 2006 in Faridabad.
While working in the social sector in big cities, he realised that queer communities had a support system as well as resources. “However, in small cities like Kanpur, Lucknow, and such other cities, we don’t find support systems and resources. That is why I started an NGO and began my work.”
But it hasn’t just been all work for Darvesh. He has been in four relationships, with all of them ending on a good note. “I have always been very clear about what [I] wanted from a relationship. So the breakups were mutual and did not hurt. However, I felt the loneliness when any relationship ended,” said Darvesh. He thinks people should be very clear in their relationships to avoid heartbreaking consequences.
In 2016, Darvesh created an informal group called Awadh Queer Pride (AQP) in Lucknow to start a support system for the LGBTQ community there. The group has been working towards awareness not only in Lucknow but across Uttar Pradesh.
This year marked the sixth pride walk in Lucknow, queer film screening, portrait exhibition of trans* people (TRANScending Beautiful), and a flashmob. The first pride walk in Lucknow was held in the month of April 2017. The event was very well received by the community, society, and the media.
Following the event, AQP received innumerable requests from people living in smaller and nearby towns about counselling, support systems, and crisis intervention. AQP organised several sessions on sexuality and gender in various colleges, institutions, and universities.
“Although there was not much awareness about the subject in Lucknow, people here have been open to it. We have not faced much resistance in Lucknow per se,” said Darvesh. AQP has a team of seven volunteers.
Darvesh believes that although people are becoming more aware of the community, there is a long way to go. He has a little advice for the community people, especially queers living in small cities. “Get to know yourself first. Find a support system and make yourself aware of the community as much as possible.”