Priest's murder exposes a world of gay hatred

Homophobia: The killing of a devout Hindu man, forced to keep his sexuality secret, reveals plight of homosexuals outcast by black and Asian communities
Click to follow

Harish Purohit, 42, a married man and devout Hindu priest in Leicester, was found murdered last week. By all accounts, he was much loved by his family and enormously respected by his community.

Harish Purohit, 42, a married man and devout Hindu priest in Leicester, was found murdered last week. By all accounts, he was much loved by his family and enormously respected by his community.

But he also had a secret life. By night he socialised with gay and bisexual men in local gay venues. His young widow, Anjana, is suddenly having to cope with this as well as the shock of the brutal killing. Mr Purohit was not being hypocritical. This is what most Asian and black gay people have to do because of rank prejudice against and ignorance about homosexuality.

White gays also face rejection and discrimination but they can be themselves more easily because most are not part of cohesive communities. Whether Mr Purohit was himself gay is not the issue. He must have felt that if he openly mixed with gay men he would be ostracised and condemned. And he was right to fear this.

When I wrote a column about the campaign to keep Section 28, a deluge of letters from black and Asian Britons, followed. Some were outpourings from homosexuals experiencing intolerable pressures. Others were from homophobic people who had no sense of the usual codes of verbal restraint which you now see even among the rabid right.

Gay people were "the Devil's children", "deviants", "an abomination, products of the debauched, Godless West". A Mr Anoop Patel said that he "wished these poisonous monsters a terrible afterlife". A Mr Singh advocated castration and forced "retraining of the mind, body and soul". Tony, a black boxing coach, announced that gays were the damned which is why the footballer Justin Fashanu "that sinful pervert" had committed suicide. What they said about Aids cannot be repeated. They riled against the films My Beautiful Laundrette and East is East where one son turns out to be gay ("No true Pakistani can be bloody gay").

Manjit Roopra of the Naz Project which works to educate South Asian communities about HIV, says black and Asian homophobia comes coated with that pietistic paste of self-righteousness promoted by many community leaders, Hindu, Sikh, black Christian, Jewish and Muslim. "We cry racism when it hits us in the face yet we oppress gay people in our own communities," he says.

Shariffa, a pharmacist who was educated at a private school and to university, comes from a middle-class British Muslim family. Her mother is a lawyer. When she turned 22, the family told her to choose her own husband, but to make sure he was a Muslim. A year later, she told them she was in love, but with a woman. She was packed off to Karachi and there a young uncle raped and burnt her on her breast with an iron, telling her he was "saving her". She was so traumatised she has been unable to contact her partner and lives alone, acutely depressed and unemployed.

Suresh, a part-time model, was thrown out of the house when he announced his homosexuality. The only son in a very traditional Gujarati family which owns a supermarket chain, he says: "I found it almost amusing because they were weeping and cursing the day they came to this country. They were not going to get the dutiful bride and dowry or the grandsons. Tough shit I thought."

Then his mother tried to kill herself and ended up in a coma: "They accused me of being a killer. I turned to drink and became addicted to Valium." Four years on, the family refuses to respond to his monthly letters.

Ali, who works at the Naz project, has chosen not to see his Muslim family for 14 years. At 21, Ali tried to stay within the fold and got married. But he soon left, having made sure everyone knew the marriage was not consummated. Why has he cut himself off? Is it shame? Not really he says. It is more a sense of responsibility. His sisters might not find husbands: "It took my family so long to feel safe... What right do I have to kick all that to the ground? I miss them a lot, but this is what I have chosen."

Richard, a black musician, used to love dancing until one night, in a club, a black gang beat him up for being a "faggot". They crushed his ankle, leaving him with a limp: "What was hard was that the black brothers were doing this to one of their own. They just saw me chatting up this mixed-race guy who is openly gay and they thought they would teach us a lesson." Richard was brought up on the infamous Broadwater Farm estate in Tottenham, north London. He described how he created an aggressive macho persona to protect himself.

Research by Big Up, the only British organisation for black gay men, found that more than half of those interviewed felt isolated from their own community. Research by Naz among south Asians replicates these findings.

The homophobia has other, deeper roots. Black men have responded with masculinity to a long history of systematic emasculation. For Rudolf, a black teacher in Manchester: "Whites are gays because they have been feminised. They are failures, fairies who have to bugger each other for comfort. Black men are real men." Religion is used to justify these prejudices. Rudolf is an ardent gospel singer.

The Rev Christian Weaver, of the Pilgrim Church in Nottingham, believes that, hard though it is, all religious institutions must lead people away from homophobia. "Everyone must be treated with respect and have the right not to be maltreated. I would stand with gay people on a picket line on these issues," he says.

For victims of racism, furthering the line and community cohesion is a defence against annihilation, even among liberal Jews. Gay Asian men often marry and produce children and lead a promiscuous under-life, subjecting their wives to terrible physical dangers.

Rajinder, a businessman, says: "I told my wife I was gay after our marriage. Now I am HIV positive and although she is not, I feel like a thief who stole the life of a lovely young woman." Rani is HIV positive and her gay husband died of Aids after three years of marriage. It took days to find a priest for the funeral.

Stars such as the actors Meera Syal and Art Malik are getting involved in campaigns to change these practices and the shocking death of Mr Purohit has finally brought the subject out into the open, something that is welcomed by Naz and others.