The current prince of Rajpipla in Gujarat is in the centre of a storm over his sexual preferences. Manvendra, the son of Rajpipla's maharaja and heritage hotelier Raghuvirsinh Gohil and Maharani Rukminidevi has publicly declared his alternative sexuality. He has also disclosed that he has been running an NGO called Lakshya since 1998 from Vadodara, 90 km from Rajpipla, with a view to spreading awareness about aids among the gay community of Gujarat. In doing so, he became the first-ever member of an erstwhile Indian royalty to go public about being gay. But he is not the first homosexual in an Indian royal family.
| PICTURE SPEAK |
|HARSH VERDICT: Vijay Vilas Palace (above); Prince Manvendra |
Manvendra's bold but controversial step has cost him dear. His stunned parents have disinherited him from the ancestral property. A notice issued by his mother, the former princess of Jaisalmer, states: "Manvendra is involved in activities unacceptable to the society. Hence he ceases to have rights as a son over family property. Nobody should refer to my name as Manvendra's mother. If any individual or organisation does so he will invite contempt proceedings." Another notice issued by father Raghuvirsinh states, "The power of attorney given to Manvendra Sinh in December 2002 about family properties in Gujarat and Maharashtra stands cancelled. None should deal with him about these properties." On being contacted, a spokesman of the Palace said the parents did not wish to speak to the media.
Manvendra is remarkably cool about the step taken by his parents. "I am relieved. I will not stake claim to the property. I have no regrets. I have found a family in the (gay) community and will continue my activism and fight for my rights." According to Manvendra, he sensed his sexual orientation when he was just 12 years old. He resisted his parents' attempts to get him married, but his high-profile mother prevailed upon him to marry into the royal family of Jhabua in Madhya Pradesh. It resulted in a divorce a year later in 1992. Manvendra apologised to his former wife in court for not being able to consummate the marriage. Though Manvendra says he told his parents about his sexual orientation only in 2002 after he had a nervous breakdown and had to consult a psychiatrist, most believe that the parents had known about it for long, almost since his marriage failed.
That Manvendra is gay has been an open secret for almost a decade now. But when he went public recently in an interview with a local Gujarati daily there was furore in the town. A group of local Rajput boys, claiming it a shame on the community, held demonstrations against him. Significantly, since 2002 Manvendra has mostly been staying at the family farmhouse near Rajpipla instead of at the family residence, Vijay Vilas Palace. By then, he had plunged into the gay movement, thanks to Lakshya, which he co-founded in 1998. Lakshya has got three aids prevention projects from the National aids Control Organisation, and was involved in the making of a gay film titled Emotionally Yours shot in Rajpipla last year. Manvendra played one of the four gay characters in the film. Lakshya has also solemnised several gay marriages and is now conducting research to find out references to homosexuality in Indian scriptures.
Says gay guru Ashok Row Kavi: "Manvendra's mother has been unfair to him. He has never hidden his sexual orientation. He doesn't deserve this treatment. The gay movement in India has come of age and needs to be looked at from a new perspective. Gays now take out an annual pride march in Kolkata and form an integral part of the anti-aids movement."
A debate has already begun in the non-gay community over the treatment being meted out to Manvendra by his parents. Some feel that his mother has been too harsh on him and that her legal step to disinherit him of ancestral property won't stand in a court of law. Manvendra might declare that he will abide by his parents' decision, but with the gay community urging him to stand firm on his property rights, a battle royale could be on the cards.
-By Uday Mahurkar