By Nita Bhalla
NEW DELHI, May 20 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A 57-year-old mother has placed India's first gay matrimonial advertisement, seeking a groom for her son, but it was not an easy task in a country where homosexuality is illegal, said her son on Wednesday.
Mumbai resident Padma Iyer hit the headlines when her advertisement appeared in a daily newspaper on Tuesday - mimicking the style of traditional matrimonials placed by parents which fill the pages of India's newspapers.
"Seeking 25-40, well-placed, animal-loving, vegetarian GROOM for my SON (36, 5'11") who works with an NGO," said the advertisement in the Mumbai tabloid Mid-Day.
News reports about the advert went viral on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook, with many users commending Iyer for breaking taboos in the largely conservative country.
Homosexuality was re-criminalised in India in 2013 in a decision by the Supreme Court that shocked human rights groups and prompted the United Nations to call it a "significant step backwards for India".
Under a 155-year-old British colonial law called Section 377, "carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal" - widely interpreted to refer to gay sex - is punishable by up to 10 years in jail.
Iyer's son, Harish, who is a prominent human rights activist, said the matrimonial was prompted by the normal wish any mother has to see her son settle down. He has already received six responses to the advert.
However, he added, it was a challenge to find a newspaper to publish it.
In an opinion piece, Iyer said he was angry when the advert was rejected by two newspapers - the country's most popular national English daily The Times of India and the Mumbai tabloid DNA - over legal issues.
The Hindustan Times, another major English daily, did not respond to his email to place the advert on behalf on his mother, he added.
"I feel it's time we accept that we are biased and try and change our outlook," he wrote on the NDTV website.
Many of the country's sexual minorities - especially transgender people who are more visible - live on fringes of society, are forced into sex work, and face discrimination in employment and basic services such as health and education.
In 2009, the Delhi High Court ruled that Section 377 violated constitutional guarantees for equality, privacy and freedom of expression, ending the ban on same sex relationships and sparking a new era in openness about homosexuality.
But the decision was challenged by religious groups, and the Supreme Court threw out that decision four years later saying that only parliament could change Section 377.
Activists say that since the ban on gay sex was reinstated 17 months ago, there has been a surge in reports of gangs, as well as the police, intimidating, harassing, raping, blackmailing and extorting money from lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
There are no official figures on the number of cases. Most go unreported, say activists, as victims are too scared to report crimes to the police fearing Section 377 will be used against them.
(Reporting by Nita Bhalla, editing by Alex Whiting)