“I feel free” Law grad Keshav on the true meaning of India’s ruling on homosexuality

Keshav Suri, homosexuality in India
"I hope one day others in India can do the same." Keshav (left) and his husband Cyril on their wedding day in Paris.

On 6 September 2018, people the world over rejoiced in the news that India’s Supreme Court had overturned section 377 – a colonial era law that criminalised sexual acts between consenting same-sex adults. But for one SOASian in particular, the headlines marked more than one rare good news story in an avalanche of the regular tragic ones. Growing up gay in India, Keshav Suri understood first hand the damaging affects of stigma and hatred directed at the LGBTQIA+ community; for Keshav, the landmark decision represented a hard fought victory for tolerance and love.

The SOAS Law graduate, now a successful hotelier in India and the UK, spoke to SOAS Blogs about his personal journey.

You’ve been a vocal advocate of the LGBTQ+ community in India. What does the decision of the Supreme Court mean to you personally?

It has taken a while, but finally I feel free. Well, it’s not just me, but a community that has for long lived as criminals in this diverse country, India. On September 6, 2018, when the Indian Supreme Court decriminalised homosexuality, it marked the dawn of a new era, where we grasped the true meaning of freedom.

Today, the LGBTQIA+ community can walk freely in my own country, without the fear of being falsely prosecuted by some archaic law. We have embarked on the journey to equality now. Without doubt, it is a historical victory in the fight for LGBTQIA+ rights in India. But, we can’t stop here. We have only just scratched the surface.

Did growing up gay in India instil a desire to enact positive change in your home country?

As a child, I was fortunate to have gained acceptance within my family and friends. But being gay isn’t always a smooth road. I went to an all boys Catholic School in Delhi and was sneered at for my mannerisms. I was called every name in the book, and as a child, it wasn’t easy to fathom why I was being targeted. I realised there was a perception about me being gay. Inevitably, the female roles in school plays were given to me. But it didn’t bother me. Though school was tough, it helped me develop a thick skin and fight phobias.

You run a string of hotels across India and one in London – what’re your institutional values?

‘Respect for Individuals’, ‘Integrity & Honesty’, ‘Interactive yet Responsible Communication’, ‘Devotion to Duty’ and ‘Minimize Wastage’ are the core values of my Company.

We are an all-inclusive chain of hotels that values and respects individuals and their choices above all else. Our hotel is also privileged to be home to differently-abled individuals, acid attack survivors and members of the LGBTQIA+ family. We have hired about 35 transgender employees in our Group.

Where is your hotel in London? Can SOASians get a discount? 😉

The Lalit London is at the Tooley Street in South London, just a mile away from the Tower Bridge. It is a heritage building, over 120 years old.  This property is close to my heart and a personal homage to my father from my mother and us (his children).

It will be my pleasure to welcome SOASians there. Of course you will get the best rates and experiences!

I heard you recently married your partner?

Yes, I recently exchanged vows with my partner for a decade, Cyril. It was an intimate ceremony, attended by our respective families in Paris. It was special for me to seal our bond of love. I hope one day others in India can do the same.

What did you study at SOAS and what do you recall about your time at university?

When I landed at SOAS University for my second masters – LLM, I felt right at home. I met my tribe there and it opened my mind. I was ready to take on the world after that.

Professor Menski deserves a special mention as someone who simply blew my mind. I still shut my eyes and transport myself to some of his lectures every time I get stuck or feel there is a bottleneck. He was more than a mentor to me.

Do you have a favourite hotel to stay in other than one of your own?

Mandarin Oriental, they are always warm, welcoming, and treat me and my husband, Cyril, like a part of their family.

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