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Happy to be gay - customised holidays, clothes and more

New Delhi: T-shirts with witty one-liners, an e-bookstore and a dedicated gay travel boutique - customised products have become increasingly popular among India`s gay community looking at new ways to assert its identity a year after the Delhi High Court decriminalised homosexuality.

Sanjay Malhotra founded Indjapink, India`s first dedicated online gay travel boutique, nearly two years back and has catered to around 500 high-end foreign and Indian tourists.

The Delhi-based firm organises special tours to holiday spots in Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and Kerala among others and charges approximately $200 (over Rs.9,000) a day.

Asked if the July 2, 2009, Delhi High Court verdict had resulted in more customers for him, Malhotra replied in the affirmative.

"Yes, definitely it has. The Indian queer community is free from discrimination and India is an inviting place now. The verdict has improved India`s image and we should use this tourism potential," the 40-year-old told reporters.

"The industry has a lot of potential to grow and, in a couple of years, business will grow big time. Look at Thailand and Indonesia, which have profited so much by catering to this market segment.

"And Indonesia, despite being a Muslim-dominated country, has specialised queer travel bookings options, so we thought it is the right time to start," Malhotra added.

Another entrepreneur like Malhotra is Simran, who started Azaad Bazaar, India`s first LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bi-sexual Transgender) Pride Store in Mumbai. Founded in February 2009, the response the outlet gets is great.

"There was a gap in the market and we stepped in to fill that gap. If we would have not done this, then someone else would have," Simran told reporters from Mumbai.

Her favourite T-shirt, which she says defines her personality, is with the tag-line "Haan Hoo! Toh?" (Yes I am! So?).

But she describes her brand as "straight friendly".

"The response to our store is fabulous and you will be surprised to know that 50 percent customers we have are from the non-LGBT," Simran said

Azaad Bazaar in Bandra offers customised accessories, mugs and T-shirts with witty one liners like `Maa Ki Laadli`, `Jalebii High` and `Pink Sheep of the Family`.

Shaggy, a 24-year-old gay media professional, says that the availability of such merchandise in the market gives them a form of expression.

"We are seeing a spurt of marketing and merchandising of products labelled and directed towards LGBT clients because today there is a ready market with young people who are dying to come out with their identities," he said.

Merchandise apart, the literature too is catching up.

Social activist Shobhna S. Kumar is the brain behind Queer-INK, an e-store catering to the gay community that launched Friday, exactly a year after the verdict decriminalising homosexuality.

"I got the idea for this after I personally experienced the lack of availability of books on queer issues in India. Even if they are there in a mainstream book store, queer people hesitate to buy it," said Kumar, director of queer-ink.com.

And a year on, more and more `pink parties` are now celebrated openly at clubs and restaurants.

"It has become more commercialised. Now there are many more restaurants and lounge bars that have opened up for the community to socialise," said Ranjit Monga, documentary filmmaker and media consultant.

"These parties are a mixture of fun and networking. It will grow as there are so many young people around these days," he added.

IANS

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