Manvendra Singh Gohil
|Manvendra Kumar Singh Gohil|
Royal portrait of Manvendra Kumar Singh
23 September 1965 |
Ajmer, Rajasthan, India
|Parents||Maharana Shri Raghubir Singhji Rajendrasinghji Sahib|
His parents attempted but failed to disinherit him after he revealed his homosexuality, and since then his relations with the family have been in question. He is the only known person of royal lineage in modern India to have publicly revealed he is gay.
In January 2008, while performing an annual ceremony in Rajpipla in honour of his great-grandfather Maharaja Vijaysinhji, Manvendra Gohil announced plans to adopt a child, saying: "I have carried out all my responsibilities as the prince so far and will continue as long as I can. I will also adopt a child soon so that all traditions continue". If the adoption proceeds, it will be the first known case of a single gay man adopting a child in India.
Manvendra was born at Ajmer, the only son of Maharana Shri Raghubir Singhji Rajendrasinghji Sahib, Maharana of Rajpipla, and his wife Maharani Rukmini Devi. Manvendra's mother was born a princess of Jaisalmer in Rajasthan. Manvendra has one sister, Minaxi Kumari, who is married into the baronial family of Chenani in Jammu and Kashmir.
In 1971, the government of India "de-recognized" the Indian princes, and Manvendra's father consequently lost the title of Maharaja and the privy purse (an annual pension) that came with it. The princes adjusted to the new socialist regime; the Rajpipla royals converted their family seat, the Rajvant Palace in Rajpipla, into a tourist resort and location for film-shooting. They also set up a second residence in Mumbai, so that their children could have a somewhat normal childhood and adjust better to the realities of their new circumstances.
Manvendra had a traditional and conservative upbringing. He was educated at Bombay Scottish School and at the Amrutben Jivanlal College of Commerce and Economics (one of the institutions in the Mithibai College campus in Vile Parle, Mumbai.
As the only son of the Maharaja of Rajpipla, Manvendra was raised with a sense of history and family dignity, in a manner that made him deeply conscious of his responsibilities, primary among which was perpetuation of the dynasty. As per Indian custom, his parents arranged a suitable match for him, and in January 1991, Manvendra married Chandrika Kumari, a princess of Jhabua state in Madhya Pradesh.
Manvendra says about his marriage, "I thought that after marriage everything will be all right, that with a wife, I will have children and become "normal" and then I will be at peace. I was struggling and striving to be "normal." I never knew and nobody told me that I was gay and [that] this itself is normal and it will not change. That this is what is called homosexuality and it is not a disease. I tremendously regret for ruining (Chandrika's) life. I feel guilty, but I simply did not know better."
The marriage remained unconsummated. Worried about this, his wife made several attempts to attract his sexual interest, but he only felt repelled by her lewd behaviour. He knew that he was at fault and not she, but he was unable to remedy the situation. He says, "It was a total disaster. A total failure. The marriage never got consummated. I realized I had done something very wrong. Now two people were suffering instead of one. Far from becoming normal, my life was more miserable."
Manvendra's wife soon began to suspect that his sexual orientation was not conforming. She opened the topic with him. Manvendra was still hoping to find a cure that would make him "normal." In the hope that maybe his wife would somehow support him and help him overcome his condition, Manvendra confided in her. However, Chandrika was not any better informed regarding homosexuality than he was, and not inclined to engage with the issue at all. She simply wanted to get out of the situation as quickly as possible. This she did by filing for divorce hardly one year after the wedding. Divorce was virtually unknown in India at that time; it was, and remains, a phenomenal taboo in decent families. Manvendra agreed to divorce by mutual consent, on the understanding that Chandrika would not reveal the issue to anyone. She agreed to this, but warned him not to ruin the life of some other clueless girl by marrying again.
Nervous breakdown and limited revelation
After his divorce in 1992, Manvendra kept his sexuality repressed, as before, and hid the matter from his family and everyone else. He told his family that he would never marry again. He started avoiding company, became aloof and increasingly distant from his family. His parents concluded that the divorce had affected him badly. They decided to keep silent for a couple of years and then try again. The years passed but Manvendra did not change. He also lost his job in a bank and did not try for another. His father persuaded him to help with management of the family's remaining estates, farms and investments. This Manvendra did in a half-hearted manner.
As Manvendra was crown prince of Rajpipla, and good-looking in his own right, proposals for marriage from other princely families were frequently received. His parents had politely declined several such proposals, on the plea that Manvendra required time to recover. Finally, they decided that nothing but remarriage would bring Manvendra out of his depression, and began pressurising him to accept a certain proposal. They repeatedly dinned into him the fact that as a prince, he should be a role-model, not a depressed person, and that he should do his duty to his family and forefathers. The joblessness, financial dependence, feeling of inadequacy, feeling of a lack of purpose or motivation, and general depression all combined to bring about a nervous breakdown in 2002. He says:
|“||It was difficult to be gay in my family. The villagers worship us and we are role models for them. My family didn't allow us to mix with ordinary or low-caste people. Our exposure to the liberal world was minimal. Only when I was hospitalized after my nervous breakdown in 2002 did my doctor inform my parents about my sexuality. All these years I was hiding my sexuality from my parents, family and people. I never liked it and I wanted to face the reality. When I came out in the open and gave an interview to a friendly journalist, my life was transformed. Now, people accept me.||”|
Manvendra's ordeal was still not over. Upon being informed by the psychiatrists that their son was gay, Manvendra's parents accepted the truth, but stipulated that this matter should not be revealed to anyone else. The strictest secrecy was enjoined upon Manvendra. Worse, they now kept an eye on him at all times and even deputed some trusted domestic staff to do likewise. After having spent a decade trying to make Manvendra more social, meet his friends and go to parties and social occasions, his parents suddenly turned to the opposite extreme and circumscribed his social life to the extent possible. As Manvendra was himself averse to society, he did not protest. Instead, he withdrew from Mumbai city and began residing full-time with his parents in the small town of Rajpipla, in the remote forest belt of Gujarat.
The journalist Chirantana Bhatt came to know that the crown prince of Rajpipla was a closeted gay. It was too meaty a story to be set aside. Chirantana Bhatt approached Manvendra and convinced him that it was in the public interest to come out and tell his story to the world. She told him that this would be helpful for other young men who were struggling with their sexuality just like Manvendra had been. At first, Manvendra was uncertain but Chirantana Bhatt won his confidence.
This was in 2006, and Manvendra had gone through four years of counselling by this time. He had accepted his true nature and did not feel ashamed of it. He decided to defy his parents and make the matter public. The Prince confided his sexual orientation and the mental stress he was going through as a closeted gay man to the journalist. Chirantana Bhatt wrote it up as a phenomenal biggest breaking-news story in the local Gujarati language press.
On 14 March 2006, the story of Manvendra's coming out made headlines in India and around the world. The coming out of the closet story was published first in a regional Gujarati language daily of Bhaskar group, namely Divya Bhaskar, Vadodara Edition. It was extensively covered the next day in all other editions of Divya Bhaskar, as also in Dainik Bhaskar (Hindi language and Daily News Analysis English.
Manvendra's effigies were burnt in Rajpipla, where the traditional society was shocked. His family accused him of bringing dishonour to the clan and disowned him. His mother, in particular, issued a notice in several newspapers firstly disowning him utterly, and secondly threatening legal action against anyone who referred to her in future as his mother or referred to him as her son. Manvendra's father also initially reacted with rage to the family dishonor. After a few years, Manvendra and his father were reconciled after Maharaja Raghubir Singh said that while he could not understand why Manvendra felt the need to inflict this humiliation upon his family, he did sympathise with the misery that Manvendra had undergone as a result of his homosexuality.. Manvendra and his mother remain estranged, and in recent years, Manvendra has made disparaging comments about her in interviews to the press.
The fact that he has been disowned by his family, however, is likely to remain a symbolic act rather than a legally enforceable disinheritance, given India's modern inheritance laws.
In the media, after coming out
He was interviewed for a BBC Radio 4 documentary in April 2007, titled The Gay Prince of Rajpipla which charted his coming out as a gay man and the HIV/AIDS prevention work of his charity, The Lakshya Trust. The report examined the ground-breaking work of the Lakshya Trust in training female field workers who educate women married to MSM about safe sex practices.
The BBC report also interviewed Manvendra's father, the Maharaja of Rajpipla. He revealed his embarrassment over the widespread coverage of his son's homosexuality, and how he thought Manvendra's work in the HIV/AIDS prevention field was not suited to someone of his caste. In an updated version of the report broadcast in February 2009, the programme revealed that Manvendra's father was a guest of honour at a fundraising event for the Lakshya Trust and was beginning to accept his son's sexuality.
Manvendra appeared as a guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show on 24 October 2007. He was one of three persons featured in the show entitled 'Gay Around the World'. He expressed that he has no regrets about coming out, and that he believes the people of his state respect him for his leadership in preventing and educating on HIV/AIDS.
On his coming out, Manvendra has said:
|“||I knew that they would never accept me for who I truly am, but I also knew that I could no longer live a lie. I wanted to come out because I had gotten involved with activism and I felt it was no longer right to live in the closet. I came out as gay to a Gujarati daily because I wanted people to openly discuss homosexuality since it's a hidden affair with a lot of stigma attached.||”|
In 2000, Manvendra started the Lakshya Trust, of which he is chairman, a group dedicated to HIV/AIDS education and prevention. A registered public charitable trust, Lakshya is a community-based organisation working for HIV/AIDS prevention among men who have sex with men (MSMs). It provides counselling services, clinics for treatment of sexually transmitted infections, libraries, and condom-use promotion. Lakshya won the Civil Society Award 2006 for its contribution in preventing HIV/AIDS among homosexual men.
The trust also creates employment opportunities for gay men and support for other organisations for MSMs, and plans to open a hospice/old age home for gay men.
In 2007, Manvendra joined the Interim Governing Board of the Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health, known as APCOM, a regional coalition of MSM and HIV community-based organisations, the government sector, donors, technical experts and the UN system. He serves as India Community Representative on behalf of INFOSEM, the India MSM and HIV network. Manvendra said of this work, "APCOM is one of the best mediums to bring together different nationalities and develop linkages with others working for HIV and MSM/TG. In India, it will be an important tool to influence authorities to change thinking and broaden outlooks for the betterment of society. APCOM demonstrates the essence of unity and solidarity within diversity."
In May 2009, it was announced that there are plans to turn Prince Manvendra's life story into a major motion picture. The script will be written by a member of the erstwhile Kapurthala royal family, Prince Amarjit Singh.
Several years after his divorce in 1992, he became involved in a social network to help the LGBT community in Gujarat. Manvendra now spends his time between Gujarat and Mumbai.
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