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Indian prince turning his pink palace into a centre for at-risk LGBT+ people.


Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil might have grown up in a vast and opulent rococo palace in prosperous Gujarat with servants but, his life has not been free of problems. The Indian prince, who is the son and probable heir of the Maharaja of Rajpipla in Gujarat in western India, was forced to shroud his sexuality from public view for years.

Marrying a princess of Jhabua State in Madhya Pradesh in 1991, Prince Manvendra, could no longer live a lie, unable to endure the secrecy. Until one day when he eventually confided in his wife about his sexual orientation.

Fortunately, his wife kept her promise to never divulge his sexuality. Like many in India – where sex between people of the same gender is punishable by law – the 52-year-old kept his homosexuality a secret from everyone for many years after the divorce.

But this was not easy and in 2002 Prince Manvendra had a nervous breakdown and found himself in hospital. It was there that his psychiatrist told his parents he was gay. This did not go down well and his parents insisted his sexuality must be kept a secret. They tried to “cure” him with both medical and religious measures. When that didn’t work, his parents brought out public notices saying they wanted to publicly disown him and disinherit him from the ancestral property.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 4: (EUROPE AND AUSTRALASIA OUT) Openly gay Crown Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil of the state of Rajpipla in Gujarat, India makes a visit to Australia to raise awareness about HIV prevention and to campaign for changes to laws that criminalise homosexuality in many Asia Pacific countries. (Photo by Renee Nowytarger/Newspix/Getty Images)

“Parents blackmail their children and force them to get married to the opposite sex. People in the community tell me their mothers have threatened to kill themselves if they are gay. They do not want their mother to jump into a well, so they are pressured to get married.”

If this was not bad enough the prince’s life was thrown into yet further disarray and chaos after he publicly came out as gay. The revelation was not only breaking news all over India but also grabbed headlines worldwide. In his home state of Rajpipla, effigies of the prince were burned, and people called for him to be robbed of his title and ostracised.

“Coming out in India is very difficult. There is so much stigma. Society doesn’t allow parents to accept it,” the prince, who is the first and only openly gay royal in India, tells The Independent.

“I need to rescue these people who have been rendered homeless otherwise they will die, commit suicide, or get depressed.

”Prince Manvendra is not talking in vague, nebulous terms and actually has a solution in mind. The royal is going so far as to transform his 15-acre pink palace into a centre for vulnerable LGBT+ people.

The centre aims to deliver clinical services, financial support and skills training for young LGBT+ people so they are able to become financially independent from their families. He will run the centre with his community-based organisation The Lakshya Trust which he started to support gay men and educate people about the prevention of HIV/Aids.

“There are two aims. One is social empowerment and the other is economic empowerment,” he explains. “The idea is to teach people how to become self-reliant, so they can earn their own living based on their skills and talents. There is a lot of discrimination which the community faces, so we want people to feel confident.”

The royal, who says he has been thinking about the idea for 15 years, also plans to use the centre to offer free safe-sex seminars to young LGBT+ people across India and run workshops with parents who have accepted their children’s sexuality. He is constructing more buildings to house visitors to the centre who will be able to stay in shared accommodation.

The aptness of the palace being pink is not lost on Prince Manvendra. “Our city is called the pink city of Gujarat and most of the buildings are painted pink,” he explains. “It has been pink for almost 300 years now and I always say maybe one of my ancestors painted it pink because they knew one of their relatives would like it.”

Prince Manvendra is so appreciative of Mr Singh’s decision to help with funding he has named the centre after him – it will be called Hanumanteshwar Amar 1927. Mr Singh, who divides his time between India and London, describes the prince as his “mentor” and explains their ancestors were great friends.

The royal said homelessness is a massive problem in the LGBT+ community in India. “People in India are so attached to their parents they are not able to live without them. When they try and come out parents do not understand and disown their children and throw them out of the home. The children don’t know where to go and are homeless,” he said.

“I need to rescue these people who have been rendered homeless otherwise they will die, commit suicide, or get depressed.”

Prince Manvendra is not talking in vague, nebulous terms and actually has a solution in mind. The royal is going so far as to transform his 15-acre pink palace into a centre for vulnerable LGBT+ people.

The centre aims to deliver clinical services, financial support and skills training for young LGBT+ people so they are able to become financially independent from their families. He will run the centre with his community-based organisation The Lakshya Trust which he started to support gay men and educate people about the prevention of HIV/Aids.

“There are two aims. One is social empowerment and the other is economic empowerment,” he explains. “The idea is to teach people how to become self-reliant so they can earn their own living based on their skills and talents. There is a lot of discrimination which the community faces so we want people to feel confident.”

The royal, who says he has been thinking about the idea for 15 years, also plans to use the centre to offer free safe-sex seminars to young LGBT+ people across India and run workshops with parents who have accepted their children’s sexuality. He is constructing more buildings to house visitors to the centre who will be able to stay in shared accommodation.

Mr Singh, who runs a feminist art gallery near Kings Cross in London called Amar Gallery currently showing Guerrilla Girls artwork, was driven out of India at the age of just 20 after he spoke out about supporting gay rights – though he himself is heterosexual. The activist, who is the main funder and support of Prince Manvendra’s LGBT centre, runs a grassroots network of activists in India that confronts the oppression of the LGBT+ community and women through education.

“We work on advocacy for LGBT+ and women’s rights,” Mr Singh says. “It makes me so angry the police in some townships are beating gay men and people for handing out condoms, and girls as young as four being forced into prostitution”.

“We connected a decade ago and he has been a champion for LGBT+ rights since I have known him. I consider him as an ally,” Prince Manvendra chips in.

By:   Maya Oppenheim

 


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