Every Sunday the pullouts of Indian newspapers are filled with incredibly ambitious people seeking life partners mostly out of their league. What you don't see every day are advertisements welcoming matches between gay men and women because of the taboo surrounding homosexuality.
A decades-old law bans sex between men in India.
So when Mumbai-based gay rights activist Harish Iyer's mother, like millions of other Indian moms, decided to take the traditional route to finding him a match, they approached several newspapers to put in a gay 'groom wanted' ad. Most newspapers turned Iyer down, stating that it was not possible to place such an ad on legal grounds.
In December 2013, the Supreme Court reversed a lower court order decriminalizing homosexuality, dealing a blow to gay rights movement in India.
The ad eventually appeared in Mumbai-based Mid-Day. It read: "Seeking 25-40, well placed, animal loving, vegetarian groom for my son 36, 5 11' who works with an NGO caste no bar (though Iyer preferred)". Iyers are an upper-caste community of Tamil Brahmins.
Those last three words wouldn't be out of place normally--our newspapers are afterall full of matrimonial adverts for educated people seeking alliances from people from the same caste and sub-caste, reminding us how pervasive and deep are the ancient fault lines in modern India.
But it somewhat stands out in an ad that would otherwise be remembered for its progressiveness. Never before has an Indian mother placed a newspaper classified ad for a groom for her son. It would have been a lot better if the ad had stopped at 'caste no bar'. Because caste, much like gender and sexual preferences, is the basis of so much discrimination and injustice in our country, and it jars a bit when a social comment that seeks one kind of equality fails to embrace others.
Iyer clarified in a series of messages to HuffPost India.
"My Mom would be happy if it was a Dalit Muslim yet vegetarian and animal loving guy. But she would love it if he happens to come from a familiar territory that she knows about. So, not really caste discrimination. It's like you (author) saying that I would love people from any caste as an alliance, but I would love to enjoy machher jhol (fish curry, a Bengali staple) with him if he was Bengali," Iyer said.
He also responded to a Twitter thread:
— harish iyer (@hiyer) May 19, 2015
Happily, Iyer's mom has already received two responses.