Friday, 1 October 2010

Visit of Nepalese MP and struggle for 'Third Gender' in Nepal

Beauty and Brains - 2 min trailer from Catherine Donaldson on Vimeo.

With a very busy week this week, and a lot of it to do with the NHS because of my new role as Chair of the London Ambulance Service Patients Forum, one thing that I was determined to see was the film 'Beauty and Brains'  at Birkbeck College about the struggle in Nepal for the rights of the so called 'third gender', which has been led by the out gay Communist MP, Sunil Pant. Sunil and I have been in contact for nearly a year now and I keep an eye on developments in Nepal.

The film, which will be showing at the Paris Gay Film Festival soon and also in New Zealand (it has already been shown in New York) is a vivid and gripping account of a traditional society where men who identify themselves as a 'third gender' struggle for their rights. Nepal, unlike the Islamic states, has no strong religious block and the dominant Hindu and Buddhist religious authorities have not led homophobic or transgenderphobic attacks in the same way as religious authorities in Christian or Muslim countries. Sunil explained after the film during a q and a that the concept of sexuality is a alien one in South Asia, so many can understand that someone is third gender but not thaty they are gay or lesbian. The director of the film related how one British gay man speaking with the Methis as the third gender people are called, was completely culturally lost, when they explained that they were not gay, and indeed many of them are heterosexual. But many of them have been ostracised by their families and were it not for the efforts of the Blue Diamond Society, which Sunil founded, and which also does tremendous work in the field of HIV/AIDS, they would be reduced to begging or prostitution. Indeed, Sunil explained that many of them have ended up as sex workers and some have even been sent by their families to India to work there as indentured prostitutes and one gave a heart rending account of how he had been raped in India by his employer as a 15 year old.

After the film I went with Sunil and the director, Catherine Donaldson, for a drink and she regaled us with stories of Nepal. One was about an incident where she went with several of the Mehtis over the open border to India, which Nepalese citizens can do but not others. On being threatened with arrest as a UK citizen, the Mehtis rounded on the Nepalese border guards and their Indian counterparts and threatened to expose them as having slept with them to their wives, or in some cases threatened to never have sex with them again. This did the trick and the director was released with a mild caution.

Sunil also told us how he had been elected by accident, having registered his name with a small leftwing party. All of the other candidates were deemed ineligible by the Electoral Commission because of irregularities over their addresses etc and Sunil found himself completely unexpectantly in the Nepalese parliament. He is very interested in environmental issues and is considering establishing a Green Party in Nepal with the support of the LGBT and transgender community there. He was en route to visit some gay MPs in Ireland and was having a reception the following night after the film in London with Peter Tatchell as a guest speaker. I am putting Sunil in touch with the Global Greens and he is certainly very concerned not just about human rights in Nepal but also about environmental degradation in this very poor but beautiful country. The film has an inspiring ending in that it shows one Mehti who comes out in his village on his return from Kathmandu and is accepted by his family and is applauded at his university by fellow students after addressing them . Things are really improving there and I hope to visit this beautiful and fascinating country some day. Sunil and Catherine were also wonderful people to meet and I will continue to support the campaign in Nepal as much as I can as a member of the Green Party's international committee and an LGBT activist.

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