Hinduism LGBTQ and Hinduism
Ruth Vanita, Kashish Dua
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 May 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0255


This entry deals with the period from the late 20th century to the present, during which LGBTQ movements developed. For earlier periods, including Hindu scriptures, legal, medical, and erotic treatises, literature, and art, see the separate Oxford Bibliographies article Homoeroticism in Hinduism. The majority of LGBTQ Hindus live in India and Nepal; there are also many, belonging to various ethnicities, in other countries. Some LGBTQ Hindus identify as such; many do not use these terms. Several traditional M-to-F transgender communities use Indian-language terms (hijṛā, aravani, etc.). From 1994 onward, a series of petitions demanded the abolition of the anti-sodomy law (Section 377 Indian Penal Code) introduced by the British in 1861. The law prohibited certain sex acts but was applied almost exclusively to same-sex relations. Hindus were divided on the issue. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies, who espouse various versions of Hindu nationalism, were divided on decriminalization up to 2013, as were all major political parties; thus, BJP Home Minister Rajnath Singh supported criminalization while BJP Finance Minister Arun Jaitley opposed it. In 2016, Dattatreya Hosabale, senior leader of the BJP’s ally, the Hindu organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the world’s largest volunteer organization, stated that homosexuality should be decriminalized. In 2018, the BJP government decided not to defend the law, which the Congress Party government had earlier defended; the Supreme Court then overturned it. Nepal decriminalized homosexuality in 2007. In 2014, the Supreme Court declared transgender people a third gender, gave them the right to self-identify their gender, and directed the government to give them reservations in educational institutions and jobs. Most Hindus are familiar with the concept of the third gender, which appears in ancient texts; therefore there was not much Hindu opposition to this judgment. The debate on equal rights for LGBTQ continues, around such questions as marriage equality. In 2021, several lawsuits were filed, asking for marriage equality, including amendment of Hindu marriage law. Over the last two decades, many middle- and upper-class Hindu weddings have taken place in India and other countries, including among celebrities. From 1987 onward, hundreds of same-sex weddings, mostly between young, low-income, non-English-speaking Hindu women who had no connection to any movement, have been reported in the Indian press. LGBTQ activists, Hindus and others, are divided on these questions and on whether Hinduism is a help or hindrance to equality. Pro-BJP Hindu LGBTQ activists like Row Kavi face opposition both from left-wing queer activists and from extreme right-wing Hindus. Row Kavi’s group, Rainbow Hindus, was shut down by extreme right-wing Hindus, and in 2020, left-wing activists compelled him to distance himself from Humsafar, the major LGBTQ organization he founded in 1994. Conversely, extreme-right BJP leader Subramanian Swamy reiterated in 2020 that homosexuality is a genetic disorder.

General Overviews

Devi 1977 was a pioneering attempt to study Indian homosexuals’ lives in social and religious contexts. The author interviewed an important Hindu priest who highlights Hinduism’s view of gender and sexuality as fluid, and all attachments as results of former lifetimes. Trikone, published 1986–2014 from San Francisco, was an LGBT magazine for South Asians, founded by gay male couple Ashok Jethanandani and Arvind Kumar (Arvind’s mother, a Hindu guru, presided over their wedding). Several issues contained articles about aspects of Hinduism; a special issue in 1996 was the first to examine the relationship between Hinduism and homosexuality. Vanita and Kidwai 2000 is a groundbreaking, scholarly overview of attitudes to LGBT in Hindu texts, and provides translations of texts written in a dozen languages, classical and modern, over a period of more than 2,000 years. Vanita’s introductions to ancient and medieval materials in the Sanskritic tradition examine various Hindu approaches, and the introduction to modern materials looks at modern Hindus’ reception of these approaches, ranging from embarrassment to delight, and also at the modern movement’s reception of and debates around Hindu ideas. Johnson 2020 offers a brief, nonscholarly introduction to Indic religions’, including Hinduism’s, approach to LGBTQ. Saria 2021 studies religious syncretism in hijṛās’ lives in rural Odisha, eastern India. In cities, hijṛās are often either Hindu or Muslim with some hybrid practices; in rural areas, this hybridity may be more pronounced. Balaji 2017 focuses on how the Internet is transforming Hindu and homosexual networks, and considers the overlap between them. Wilhelm 2003 was an attempt, from the theological viewpoint of one exclusive Hindu sect (Gaudiya Vaishnava, organized as ISKCON and popularly known as Hare Krishna), to conceptualize all non-heterosexual sexualities and gender variants as a “third sex.” The sect, which has grown exponentially worldwide in recent years, has increasingly come around to accepting Wilhelm’s view, which, however, is not accepted by many Hindus who view themselves as gay or lesbian women and men, and not as a third sex.

  • Balaji, Murali, ed. Digital Hinduism: Dharma and Discourse in the Age of New Media. Minneapolis: Lexington Books, 2017.

    A useful introduction by the editor places in context an essay, “Creating Spaces for Progressive Voices in Hinduism: My Experience with the Queer Hindu Blogosphere,” by Shikhandi (a pseudonym), an American gay Hindu blogger. The essay highlights the significance of cyberspace for the negotiation of LGBTQ Hindu identities and discusses the author’s experience of some LGBTQ people’s Hinduphobia and some Hindus’ homophobia.

  • Devi, Shakuntala. The World of Homosexuals. Delhi: Vikas Publishing, 1977.

    This pioneering book, arguing for decriminalization of homosexuality, was written by a world-record-holding woman mathematician who was married to a homosexual man. The book is the first to contain interviews with gay and bisexual Hindu men; it also contains an important interview Devi conducted with the head priest of a major Hindu temple, Srirangam, in South India.

  • Johnson, Jerry, ed. I Am Divine, So Are You: How Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism and Hinduism Affirm the Dignity of Queer Identities and Sexualities. Introduction by Devdutt Pattanaik. New Delhi: Harper Collins, 2020.

    Popular introduction to Indic religions’ views of LGBTQ issues. This book is nonscholarly (for example, it wrongly translates napuṃsaka as “queer”) but is useful for the general reader. The appendix outlines a procedure (which the authors term “non-authoritative”) to conduct a same-sex wedding based on Indic religious, mainly Hindu, rituals.

  • Saria, Vaibhav. Hijras, Lovers, Brothers: Surviving Sex and Poverty in Rural India. New York: Fordham University Press, 2021.

    DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823294701.001.0001

    Ethnographic study based on two years spent with a group of hijṛās (traditional Indian community of M-to-F transgender people). Explores the syncretism between Hinduism and Islam in the lives of hijṛās in rural Odisha, a state in eastern India.

  • Special Issue: Hinduism and Homosexuality. Trikone Magazine 11.3 (July 1996).

    Pioneering attempt to explore the connection between LGBTQ and Hinduism. Includes coming-out stories by Hindus in India and other countries, analyses of Hindu texts, and interviews with Hindu gurus.

  • Vanita, Ruth, and Saleem Kidwai. Same-Sex Love in India: A Literary History. New Delhi: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2000.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-349-62183-5

    Extracts from and analyses of ancient and medieval Hindu devotional, medical, literary, legal, and erotic treatises. Showcases Hindu views of gender variance and same-sex desire. The introduction to modern materials analyzes how modern homophobia, introduced during British rule, changed dominant Hindu attitudes. Modern translations of ancient texts, such as the Kamasutra, reveal increasingly censorious attitudes toward same-sex sexualities. An updated edition appeared from Penguin India in 2008.

  • Wilhelm, Amara Das. Tritiya-Prakriti: People of the Third Sex. Philadelphia: Xlibris, 2003.

    The author, a white American Hindu priest of ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) and founder of GALVA-108 (Gay and Lesbian Vaishnava Association), argues that all LGBT people constitute a third sex. Although the argument is dubious, applying more to transgender than to other groups, the book is important because it has influenced ISKCON, an increasingly powerful Hindu organization worldwide, to change its initially hostile view of LGBTQ people.

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