Remembering Shivananda Khan, APCOM’s founder on Human Rights Day

By December 10, 2021 March 20th, 2024 Advocacy, Newsroom

Dennis Altman
2021 Shivananda Khan Award recipient
Retired professor of Politics at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia

“Shiv played a major role in the establishment of APCOM, which has become a crucial queer voice for Asia and the Pacific.”

To receive an award from APCOM is a great honour. To receive one named after Shivananda Khan is bitter sweet, because Shiv is no longer with us. He died in 2013, aged 65.

Shiv was sent to school in Britain at the age of ten and I first met him in London, where he had founded an organisation for South Asian gay men and lesbians called Shakti. At the time we met he had just moved into working on AIDS and he established the Naz Foundation which would become one of the important community-based movements in our region.

As Shiv became more aware of the complexities of sex, and the ways in which identities and behaviours varied across the countries of south Asia, he moved back to India and started to build Naz as both an advocacy and an outreach organisation. The Naz Foundation was crucial in the lawsuits that eventually led to the abolishment of Section 377 of the Indian penal code which criminalized sex between men.

One of the tributes we can pay to Shiv is to continue the fight to abandon similar laws, originally imposed by the British but retained by independent governments in many countries across Asia and the Pacific. It is a sad irony that governments which boast of their anti-colonial credentials cling to laws originating in Europe which they now claim reflect long national traditions.

Shiv played a major role in the establishment of APCOM, which has become a crucial queer voice for Asia and the Pacific, but APCOM also built on earlier organisations that brought us together across the vast half of the world in which we live. Almost twenty years ago the second ICAAP—International Conference on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific—took place in Delhi in 1992. The organisers refused to acknowledge gay men, and a small group of us met across from the official venue in a park, ironically known as one of the Delhi’s beats.

Through the various regional conferences and organisations such as APCASO and ANP+, networks developed that would enable a growing sense of solidarity amongst people with marginalised sexualities and genders across Asia. In these networks Shiv was an outstanding voice, and along with his friend and sometimes rival, Ashok Row Kavi (who was the first recipient of the Shivananda Khan Award in 2017), an inspiration for new generations of activists, not only in India but across the continent.

In the struggle for recognition and dignity, those of us who identify as sexually and gender diverse are also part of a larger struggle for human rights. It is almost universally the case that when governments become more repressive they target the most vulnerable, and often that means people like us. This is increasingly recognised in international forums like the Human Rights Council, but too often the governments from our region vote against even the mildest resolutions on sexual and gender equality.

In the past few years we have seen a wave of anti-democratic measures sweep across much of Asia, making advocacy for basic freedoms both more urgent and more difficult. As we gather to celebrate APCOM, let us also think of those sisters and brothers fighting for their very survival in countries such as Afghanistan. And let us also remember Shiv, one of the pioneers and founders of our movement.

Learn more about Dennis Altman here

Here are some of the tributes in Shiv’s memory. 

Joey Joleen Mataele

Sunil Babu Pant

J V R Prasada Rao

Manisha Dhakal

Paul Causey

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