India HIV/AIDS Alliance remembers the life and achievements of Shivananda Khan, one of South Asia’s leading activists who left an indelible mark on the global LGBT rights movement and did so much to expand the HIV response for sexual minorities all over the world. The following remembrance and poem were written by Alliance India staff members who worked closely with Shiv over the years.
A remembrance by Shaleen Rakesh
In the summer of 2000, I was invited as a guest speaker at one of India’s first national gay conferences in Hyderabad. The event was organised by a man I had heard much about, Shivananda Khan. Holding a regional conference of this scale was not an easy task in those days. I met several activists there for the first time, people who are leaders of the movement today like Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, Vijay Nair, and Sunil Menon, among many others. Shiv was his usual dramatic self: cracking quips with elan, cigarette in hand, a perfect blend of ice and fire.
Shiv and I bonded from the start. He told me to be bold and chart my own course. Sometimes he would look at me with a long stare and say I was meant to be an activist. He said he never saw me happier than when I put on the activist hat. Shiv was the conduit for funding from the UK Lotteries Commission that supported the programme I headed at the Naz Foundation (India) Trust working with men who have sex with men and transgenders. I used to joke with Shiv that the British put in place Section 377, a colonial law against homosexuality, and now British money was funding efforts to have it revoked!
I will never forget the hours we spent together at Hotel Samrat in New Delhi, where Shiv, the author Jeremy Seabrook, and I would have long conversations on the nature of gay identity in India and alternative pathways to freedom. In Shiv, I had a soulmate with whom I could speak intelligently of repression and its costs.
Shiv’s contributions to the queer movement are too many to count. Though he had a global influence, the focus of his life’s work was always South Asia. In recognition of his efforts, he was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 2005, perhaps an ironic if deserved reward for someone who had worked so hard to achieve freedom for sexual minorities in a post-colonial world.
To a fellow activist and my dear friend, a final goodbye.
Remembering Shivananda Khan
A poem by Yadavendra Singh
Though the sun was shining bright
The winds were blowing hot
Yet it felt like a cold and silent night
Night of December
‘Coz you were no more amongst us
Us – Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transgenders, Hijras,
We all want to thank you – yet again
You shall continue to inspire generations to come
With your charisma, your leadership
Your vision, your zeal
None can ever have this cut healed
Today we remember you – with our eyes closed, with our breath silent
We are sad but we won’t shed a tear
As we have a long way to clear
And we all want to thank you – yet again.