In today’s episode, Rajan travels to India to meet with the world’s very first openly gay royal figure, Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil who uses his status and privilege for good and is an active and powerful voice for the LGBTQ community in India.
When news broke about the prince’s sexual preference in 2006, reactions were polarising. People from his hometown burned effigies of him, while others praised his courage. Being faced with surgery and shock therapy through to being hauled off to spiritual and religious guides to rid him of his homosexuality, this is the untold story of hidden India.
Join us as he talks to us about his experience coming out, conversion therapy, India’s homo-social behaviour and a deeper look into the expectations of society, including a challenge by Baba Ram Dev!
Are you from the LGBTQ community and have you had any challenging experiences? Share your comments below.
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About Manvendra Singh Gohil:
He was born in Ajmer, the only son of Maharana Shri Raghubir Singhji Rajendrasinghji Sahib, Maharana of Rajpipla, and his wife Maharani Rukmini Devi. He has one sister, Minaxi Kumari, who is married into the princely family of Chenani in Jammu and Kashmir.
In 1971, the government of India “de-recognized” the Indian princes, and Manvendra’s father consequently lost the official title of Maharaja and the privy purse (an annual pension) that came with it. The princes adjusted to the new socialist regime; the Rajpipla royals converted their family seat, the Rajvant Palace in Rajpipla, into a tourist resort and location for film-shooting. They also set up a second residence in Mumbai. He was educated at Bombay Scottish School and at the Amrutben Jivanlal College of Commerce and Economics (one of the institutions in the Mithibai College campus in Vile Parle, Mumbai.
His parents arranged marriage, and in January 1991, he married Chandrika Kumari, a princess of Jhabua State in Madhya Pradesh. Manvendra says about his marriage:
“I thought that after marriage everything will be all right, that with a wife, I will have children and become “normal” and then I will be at peace. I was struggling and striving to be “normal.” I never knew and nobody told me that I was gay and [that] this itself is normal and it will not change. That this is what is called homosexuality and it is not a disease. I tremendously regret for ruining (Chandrika’s) life. I feel guilty, but I simply did not know better.”
The marriage remained unconsummated. He says, “It was a total disaster. A total failure. The marriage never got consummated. I realized I had done something very wrong. Now two people were suffering instead of one. Far from becoming normal, my life was more miserable.”
His wife filed for divorce after just over a year of marriage. Although further requests for marriage were received, he declined them. He suffered a nervous breakdown in 2002. He says:
It was difficult to be gay in my family. The villagers worship us and we are role models for them. My family didn’t allow us to mix with ordinary or low-caste people. Our exposure to the liberal world was minimal. Only when I was hospitalized after my nervous breakdown in 2002 did my doctor inform my parents about my sexuality. All these years I was hiding my sexuality from my parents, family and people. I never liked it and I wanted to face the reality. When I came out in the open and gave an interview to a friendly journalist, my life was transformed. Now, people accept me.
Upon being informed by the psychiatrists that their son was gay, Manvendra’s parents accepted the truth, but stipulated that this matter should not be revealed to anyone else. He left Mumbai and began living full-time with his parents in the small town of Rajpipla.
In 2005, Chirantana Bhatt, a young journalist from Vadodara Gujarat approached Manvendra. He confided his sexual orientation and the mental stress he was going through as a closeted gay man to the journalist. On 14 March 2006, the story of his coming out made headlines. The “coming out” story was first published in the Vadodara edition of Divya Bhaskar, a regional Gujarati language daily of the Bhaskar media group. It was covered the next day in all other editions of Bhaskar groups language newspapers like Dainik Bhaskar (Hindi language) and Daily News Analysis (DNA), an English newspaper. Soon the news appeared in other English and vernacular newspapers across the country, and became a story that they followed up in their gossip and society pages for several weeks afterward. Manvendra’s effigies were burnt in Rajpipla, where people were shocked. Manavendra was jeered and heckled when he made a public appearance in the town. His family accused him of bringing dishonor and disowned him soon after.
He appeared as a guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show on 24 October 2007. He was one of three persons featured in the show entitled ‘Gay Around the World’.
I knew that they would never accept me for who I truly am, but I also knew that I could no longer live a lie. I wanted to come out because I had gotten involved with activism and I felt it was no longer right to live in the closet. I came out as gay to a Gujarati daily because I wanted people to openly discuss homosexuality since it’s a hidden affair with a lot of stigma attached.
He inaugurated the Euro Pride gay festival in Stockholm, Sweden, on 25 July 2008.
He featured in a BBC Television series, Undercover Princes, screened on BBC Three in the UK in January 2009 which documented his search for a British boyfriend in Brighton.
Since July 2010, he has served as editor of the gay male-centric print magazine Fun, which is published in Rajpipla.
In July 2013, Manvendra married an American gay man named DeAndre (Cecil) Richardson (née Hilton), a Macy’s cosmetics counter employee, hailing from Albany, Oregon in Seattle, Washington. After meeting Manvendra’s parents, his new father in-law allegedly gave him the “title” of Duke of Hanumanteshwar.
About the Global Indian Series:
My name is Rajan Nazran Chief explorer for the Global Indian Series, the official platform for people of Indian origin (PIO), because let’s face it, we are everywhere!
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Special thank you to TAIZU for the music
Presenter – Rajan Nazran
Producer –Global Indian Series/NazranRoth
Guest – Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil
Art Design – Vanisha Patel
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