A helpline for lesbians has been started by the Indian Community Welfare Organisation (ICWO) in Chennai.
The helpline, which is run by special lesbian counsellors and volunteers, gets several calls from women who are confused about their sexuality, and are scared of the stigma attached to lesbians. They also respond to various queries, issues, doubts, concerns and misconceptions held by people about homosexuality.
Talking about Indian society's poor acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities, Ankith, a counsellor, at ICWO, stressed on the need for creating awareness in society about the same.
"In this country, we do not respect lesbians. We are not ready to accept them as people. The lesbians are not ready to come out due to society and also they feel shy and scared. We are taking steps to spread awareness about lesbians among the people, he said.
Legalising homosexuality has had little impact on the deeply entrenched homophobia in the society, which leads parents of homosexuals to force them into arranged marriages, in order to avoid humiliation and marginalisation from mainstream society.
Bridget Jankovsky, an intern at ICWO from U.S., said that awareness created by non-governmental organisations (NGOs), help lines and volunteers can raise the status of lesbians in society.
"I think this help line is really important to bring awareness and education to the people, and to be a support system for the lesbian population, that faces so much stigma on a regular basis," Jankovsky said.
When asked about the threats and misconceptions against the organization as a whole, the founder of ICWO, Hariharan said that they faced a lot of anger from people who sometimes called in to express their homophobia.
"We get a lot of phone calls, registering the anger on this service. Some people say they cannot tolerate this type of support, which comes officially in the media, and I respect this. Everyone has a right to express their view," Hariharan said.
In the past few years, India has seen a growth in awareness and activism by various NGOs to educate society about the LGBT community and create understanding and acceptance in society.
This help line, run by volunteers, is helping in providing relief to the lesbians, and plans to expand by getting more volunteers and a better system for dispensation of information.
The help line functions from 3 p.m. to 5.30 p.m. from Monday to Saturday. It has been scheduled to function till August 31 and based on the response the functioning of the help line may further extend.