India’s pink industry keeps pace with growth in West

By Rohit Vaid, IANS,

New Delhi: A niche market spanning clothing and fashion accessories, tourism and media targeted at the lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender (LGBT) community is fast growing in India, with entrepreneurs wanting to cash in on its purchasing power.

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“The pink industry over here is growing as fast as in the West. With economic growth and huge amounts of dispensable incomes with young Queer people, you see new customized products,” said Robert Wintemute, professor at King’s College, London, who has studied sexual minorities across the world.

According to Wintemute, this Indian niche market of customized goods is likely to see the same trend witnessed in the West. And India is soon likely to be a hub for gay tourists and other commercial activities.

“Look at the booming Queer tourism industry in Southeast Asia, where governments are now supportive of attracting these tourists for economic reasons. I feel in a couple of years India will also emerge as a destination,” Wintemute told IANS in an interview.

In comparison to the billion-dollar business in the West, the Indian industry is small in size but would scale up, helped to a large extent by the revocation of the archaic Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code last year by the Delhi High Court which de-criminalised homosexuality.

“Queer people do prefer to come to places where they don’t have a fear of being persecuted and where people are friendly, and India is one such place,” said Wintemute.

Based on the 2001 census, the health and family welfare ministry says five percent of the country’s sexually active men (532 million) are gay. This puts the number of gay men at 17.3 million.

The actual number could be more than double the figure, according to the Humsafar Trust, an NGO working in collaboration with the National AIDS Control Organisation.

As society opens up, companies which have prior experience in targeting niche customers like single mothers or working couples would innovate and advertise about new products, said Wintemute.

“We can see more advertisements, especially in the metros, where you have ads on readymade food for working couples and so on.”

Levi’s recent ad campaign featured two female models cosying up to each other.

India currently is witnessing a boom in the niche gay business with products ranging from customized clothing and accessories lines to seven gay magazines, a dedicated Queer travel agency, an e-book store for Queer-based literature and a happening party circuit.

Event management companies like Salvation Star and Whitenights Fiesta organise these parties on order.

India’s first dedicated online gay travel boutique, IndjaPink, was set up nearly two years ago. It caters to around 500 high-end foreign and Indian tourists.

“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,” said Sanjay Malhotra, founder of the boutique.

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.

Simran, another entrepreneur who started Azaad Bazaar, India’s first LGBT Pride Store in Mumbai in 2009, said the response has been great.

“Companies and enterprises are immune to discrimination as they just look at the customers, and money is money. It’s as good as a straight person or a Queer,” added Wintemute.

(Rohit Vaid can be contacted at [email protected])