Sun, Feb 17, 2019 - Page 15 News List

Smaller firms opt out as India adopts inclusivity

By Annie Banerji and Hugo Greenhalgh  /  Thomson Reuters Foundation, KARNAL, India

Following India’s move in September last year to scrap a colonial-era ban on gay sex, an increasing number of corporations are opening their doors to LGBT+ people and ushering in policies to make them feel more welcome.

However, smaller firms across several industries are not racing to diversify just yet.

At a dusty roadside eatery in northern Haryana state, Babu Ram Bhoshne and six of his workers burst into laughter at the idea of hiring lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and introducing LGBT+ policies at their workplace.

“Do I want to run my business or do I want to keep worrying about these people flirting with my waiters,” the mustachioed 62-year-old said, laughing at the cash register, with pictures of Hindu gods and goddesses on the wall behind him.

“If I have kinnars [transgender women] and [gay] men walking around, I will lose all my customers. They are not ready for such things,” Bhoshne said, adding that his restaurant is most frequented by truckers, farm workers and local villagers.

Experts have said that such homophobic and transphobic comments are not surprising in India, which, despite making great economic strides, remains a largely conservative country where homosexuality and premarital sex are still frowned upon.

Most of India’s 60 million small and medium-sized enterprises — which contribute nearly 30 percent to the national GDP — are in rural areas, government data showed.

Bhoshne’s Goldy Vaishnav restaurant was one of more than a dozen small firms the Thomson Reuters Foundation visited, with most owners unaware of or uninterested in gay or trans-friendly policies, such as health insurance for same-sex couples.

Prominent LGBT+ rights activist Ashok Row Kavi said that while most firms, including those in cities and satellite towns, continue to struggle with a wide gender gap, expecting LGBT-friendly policies in smaller ones was “far-fetched.”

“There are no women in these places, so from where would you get LGBT+ [people] in? If there is an effeminate boy, he’s in big trouble, and they won’t employ trans [people] for heaven’s sake,” Kavi told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“It won’t happen until we accept that the system has gone wrong, that there is a toxic masculine atmosphere all over, and until we learn through the education system to change it,” said Kavi, chairman of Mumbai, India-based charity Humsafar Trust.

India is home to nearly 56 million LGBT+ adults, according to Paris-based Out Now Consulting, a marketing company that helps businesses target gay clients.

Yet, the LGBT+ market remains largely untapped, mainly due to discrimination.

That is why large Indian companies are rushing to change policies to include gender-neutral bathrooms, insurance for same-sex couples, leave for sex reassignment surgeries and sensitizing employees.

They are finding growing resonance after gay relationships were decriminalized in the world’s largest democracy, said Parmesh Shahani, head of the Godrej India Culture Lab, which encourages Indian companies to adopt LGBT-friendly policies.

“Corporate India has realized that whichever way you look at it — from an economic or talent perspective — everyone wants to hire millennials, and for them, being inclusive really matters; they won’t work for homophobic companies,” he said.

The World Bank has estimated that homophobia costs India US$31 billion per year.

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