Harish Iyer

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Harish Iyer
Harish iyer.jpeg
BornHarish Padma Vishwanath Iyer
(1979-04-16) 16 April 1979 (age 43)
Barrackpore, West Bengal, India
  • Columnist
  • activist
  • blogger
Alma materSIES High School
Guru Nanak Khalsa College
St. Xavier's College, Mumbai

Harish Iyer, also known as "Aham",[1] hiyer and "Harrish Iyer" (born 16 April 1979) is an Indian equal rights activist. Iyer engages in advocacy for a number of causes,[2][3] including promoting the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, children, women, animals, and survivors of child sexual abuse.[4]

Harish Iyer was also one of the most vocal proponents of the decriminalization of homosexuality in India. He has engaged in several awareness campaigns about the impact of the decision, and condemned the ruling via media advocacy. He has written articles and letters on the subject and appeared on top national television news shows to highlight the plight of the LGBT community in India in wake of the decision.[5][6] He was one of the people to move the Indian Supreme Court to decriminalize homosexuality. In June 2018, he filed an Impleadement Application in the 377 case.[7] In August 2018, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) appointed Iyer to the Core Group on LGBTI issues. This is the first group set up to look into concerns and challenges of the community, in a bid to harmonise existing laws with the needs of the community.[8]

Media advocacy[edit]

Iyer was featured on Indian movie star Aamir Khan's talk show Satyamev Jayate in an episode on the issue of child sexual abuse. In the show, he gave a frank and detailed account of his horrific experiences of childhood sexual abuse.[9] Prior to Satyamev Jayate, he was seen in the panel of NDTV's popular talk show We the People, which is anchored by Barkha Dutt, and in Richa Anirudh's Hindi talk show Zindagi Live. British actor Stephen Fry elatedly tweeted "You're a hell of a guy!" after interviewing Harish for his BBC2 documentary "OUT THERE".[10] In 2016, Iyer and his family starred with Elliot Page in his web series Gaycation.[11]

In March 2015, Harish wrote a moving eulogy to his dear friend and Kolkata Park Street rape survivor Suzette Jordan after she succumbed to meningoencephalitis. Harish and Suzette had grown close after meeting at the Tehelka THiNK conference in Goa in 2014. Harish's letter raised several questions about the manner in which Suzette's trial was progressing and the indignities that she was subject to in court. He called for greater sensitivity in dealing with rape cases.[12]


Iyer routinely uses social media (blogs, Facebook and Twitter) to campaign for causes dear to him. He is best known for turning his personal blog as a helpline during the 26/11 Terror Attacks.[13] Iyer later organised an animal aided therapy workshop along with Animal Angels in Mumbai to help citizens recuperate.[14]

In 2009, Iyer and Shobhaa De initiated a campaign called S.I.T.A. (Sensitivity in True Action) Sena campaign to condemn the attack on women in a Bangalore pub by the right wing socio-political group Sri Ram Sene.[15] Through the campaign they urged women to arm themselves with whistles and blow it on eve teasers.[16] In August 2013, when the news of the gang-rape of a young photojournalist was published, in keeping with his quirky protests, Iyer marched on Mumbai's streets wearing bright red lipstick with a placard that read "Don't look at my lipstick. Listen to me".[17]

In 2014, he appeared in a PETA ad campaign encouraging consumers to go vegetarian.[18]

In popular culture[edit]

His life inspired two films, director Onir's I Am and Judhajit Bagchi and Ranadeep Bhattacharyya directed Amen. In I Am, Actor Sanjay Suri plays Abhimanyu, a child sexual abuse survivor, the character inspired by Harish's life[19] and that of Hyderabad-based fashion designer Ganesh Nallari. In Amen, actor Karan Mehra plays Harry (Harish Iyer),[20] a young man who is confident about his sexuality but still has the ghosts of his childhood memories of sexual abuse haunting him.

A book by Payal Shah Karwa called The Bad Touch featuring the biographic account of Iyer has been published.[21]

Amazon's Westland has signed up Harish Iyer for his autobiography titled "SON RISE".[22]

Awards and accolades[edit]

  • Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited, an Indian government owned firm, recognised Harish Iyer with the Energising Bharat award in the year 2016 for his work in the field of women's empowerment. The award was handed over by the petroleum minister of India Dharmendra Pradhan.[23]
  • The Guardian, the British national daily named Iyer in the list of the 100 most influential LGBT people in the world. He is listed at number 71, and was the only Indian national ever in this list.[24]
  • Pink Pages has named Iyer as one of India's seven most influential gay and lesbian people[25]
  • Iyer is one of the ten individuals to be awarded the Zindagi Live Awards for his work in creating awareness on child sexual abuse.[26]

Harish Iyer has spoken many times at TEDx, an independently organised TED conference, including TEDxMasala on the topic "What if we had the culture of speaking about sex",[27] then at TEDx Gitam University on the topic "Rising From The Ashes : From Abuse To Hope".[28] and at TEDx XLRI, Jamshedpur.

Given his oratory skills and his ability to emote, Iyer finds a mention in the list of fiery motivational speakers in India.[29]

Iyer spoke at Tehelka's THiNK conference for the year 2013. Other prominent speakers at the same event included Robert De Niro, Amitabh Bachchan, A R Rahman, Shekhar Kapur, Girish Karnad and Medha Patkar.[30] He is also the recipient of the 2015 Karmaveer Puraskar. [31]


Harish catapulted into the spotlight in May 2015 when his mother Padma Iyer placed what may be India's first gay matrimonial advertisement.[32] While many top Indian newspapers refused to carry the advertisement, it was finally carried by MidDay.[33] The ad attracted a lot of controversy for mentioning "Iyer preferred" (Iyer being a caste as well as the activist's last name). Both Harish and Padma received a lot of flak online and were accused of encouraging caste-based discrimination.[34] However, they later clarified that the allegedly objectionable preference was mentioned "in jest" only to show how similar an LGBT matrimonial ad could be to an ad for a heterosexual alliance.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Coming Out Is A Process Not An Impulsive Decision". An Indian Gay Interview. gaysifamily. 20 October 2010. Retrieved 1 December 2012.
  2. ^ "Harish Iyer's introduction on Pink Pages". Pink-Pages.co.in. Retrieved 1 December 2012.
  3. ^ "Gender is but a biological accident". Harish Iyer was a columnist with tehelka. Tehelka. Archived from the original on 29 October 2012. Retrieved 1 December 2012.
  4. ^ Bhamgara, Kaizad. "Fighting For Gay Pride". Burrp. Archived from the original on 5 March 2014. Retrieved 1 November 2011.
  5. ^ "Being Gay in India - India Real Time - WSJ". Blogs.wsj.com. 11 December 2013. Retrieved 18 November 2016.
  6. ^ "What's illegal about love, your lordships?". Ndtv.com. 11 December 2013. Retrieved 18 November 2016.
  7. ^ "SC to start hearing petitions to read down Section 377". cjp.org.in. 9 July 2018. Retrieved 9 July 2018.
  8. ^ "NHRC sets up LGBTI Core Group Ropes in activist Harish Iyer". cjp.org.in. 14 August 2018. Retrieved 14 August 2018.
  9. ^ M Singh, L Romal (15 May 2012). "I feel like a star already". DNA. Retrieved 15 May 2012.
  10. ^ Stephen Fry (2 March 2013). "You're a hell of a guy!". tweet. @stephenfry. Retrieved 20 April 2013.
  11. ^ Suktara Ghosh (20 September 2016). "'Gaycation' Gives A Peek Into The Life Of Indian Queers". thequint. Retrieved 18 November 2016.
  12. ^ Harish Iyer (13 March 2013). "India killed Suzette Jordan, writes activist Harish Iyer in moving tribute". Dnaindia.com. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
  13. ^ Whiteman, Hilary (28 November 2008). "Blogging in the wake of terror". CNN.
  14. ^ Utpat, Aditi (21 December 2008). "Animal therapy to help 26/11 victims recuperate". The Times of India. Archived from the original on 28 September 2011.
  15. ^ Somaiyaji, Gurudarshan (1 March 2009). "Now, Sita Sena to counter Rama Sene". DNA (Daily News & Analysis).
  16. ^ Paul, Aditya (20 April 2009). "Blow whistle on eve-teasers, literally, blogger tells women". The Indian Express. Retrieved 26 August 2013.
  17. ^ Chang, Arlene (23 August 2013). "Mumbai gangrape: It's time to reclaim our city, say protesters". FirstPost.com. Retrieved 26 August 2013.
  18. ^ "LGBT Activist Harish Iyer Shares His Love for Cocks in Cheeky New PETA Video Archived 30 June 2014 at the Wayback Machine," The India Republic, 26 June 2014.
  19. ^ "Onir Dares Film World". smashits.com. Archived from the original on 29 July 2013. Retrieved 1 December 2012.
  20. ^ "Karan Mehra bases his role as a homosexual on activist Harish Iyer". Mid Day. Retrieved 23 October 2012.
  21. ^ "Speak up about child sexual abuse". www.mid-day.com. 24 February 2014. Retrieved 25 May 2022.
  22. ^ "LGBT activist Harish Iyer to come out with memoir next year".
  23. ^ "Winners' Citations". OPEN Magazine. 12 February 2016. Retrieved 18 November 2016.
  24. ^ "The 100 most influential LGBT people of 2013". The Guardian. London. 29 June 2013. Archived from the original on 2 July 2013. Retrieved 29 June 2013.
  25. ^ "The Solid Seven: India's most influential Gays & Lesbians". Pink Pages. Retrieved 21 July 2012.
  26. ^ "Zindagi Live Awards". CNN IBN. Archived from the original on 29 October 2011. Retrieved 1 December 2011.
  27. ^ "What if we had a culture of speaking about sex?: Harish Iyer at TEDxMasala". YouTube. 12 February 2013. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
  28. ^ "Rising from the ashes: From abuse to hope: Harish Iyer at TEDxGITAMUniversity". YouTube. 24 March 2013. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
  29. ^ "8 Fiery Motivational Speakers In India". Topyaps.com. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
  30. ^ Davidson, Kumam (30 October 2013). "Activist Harish Iyer To Speak at Tehelka's Think Conference". Gaylaxy.com. Retrieved 3 November 2013.
  31. ^ Joshi, Pranav (21 November 2014). "Equal Rights Activist Harish Iyer wins Rex Karamveer Global Fellowship Award". DNAINDIA.com. Retrieved 25 September 2015.
  32. ^ Pandey, Vikas (20 May 2015). "Harrish Iyer: Indian matrimonial ad seeks 'groom' for gay activist". BBC News. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
  33. ^ "I'm Gay, My Ma Placed An Ad Looking for a Groom For Me by Harish Iyer". Ndtv.com. 20 May 2015. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
  34. ^ Waghmore, Suryakant (30 May 2015). "Prejudice disguised as politeness". The Hindu. Retrieved 16 September 2016.