Gujarat is all set to house a unique Queer Bagh. The Queer Bagh has been conceived by the first gay prince of India and perhaps the world, Manvendra Sinh Gohil. It is modelled on an American LGBTQ community centre. Talking to Vibes of India (VoI), Prince Manvendra Sinh said, “The Queer Bagh is aimed to help LGBTQ people in distress, especially vulnerable young people, including those who have run away from home or been thrown out of their homes for being LGBTQ”.
According to Manvendra, the idea first occured to his American boyfriend DeAndre Richardson. DeAndre and Manvendra met online in 2009 and they tied the knot in 2013. DeAndre was awarded the title of Duke of Hanumanteshwar by the royal family.
Rajpipla is a rich erstwhile state of South Gujarat, which was ruled by Manvendra’s ancestors. The original idea of Queer Bagh was just to be a retirement home for trans people (hijras) but it will now be a full-fledged community centre. It is poised to be India’s landmark centre for the LGBTQ community. Queer Bagh is already operational with a 10-bed dormitory for trans people.
The Queer Bagh is being set up in 15 acres of land that belongs to Manvendra. A library building has been built with donations from NRI trans lady Riya Patel. Riya also is developing an organic farm at the Queer Bagh. Manvendra and Riya are investing their own money but are also looking for donations for Queer Bagh. Donations can be made at https://www.ketto.org/fundraiser/LakshyaTrust2021
As for the retirement home idea, Manvendra says he’s open to idea of LGBTQ people leasing land in Queer Bagh and building themselves a cottage at their own expense. “But nobody has shown interest so far”.
Manvendra, the gay Prince of Rajpipla, has spent most of the pandemic in Queer Bagh, the LGBTQ community centre he is building on the banks of the Narmada. Once the site of a summer haveli of the Rajpipla royals, which played host to the likes of Lord Wellingdon (of Viceroy of India fame) and Ian Fleming (of James Bond fame), the place now has four newly constructed buildings, one of which serves as his residence.
“Structurally, 70% of the project is complete,” he says. “Many architecture students have come to see the eco-friendly structures we’ve built, including a group from Auroville,” he said.
Manvendra is currently putting the finishing touches on the campus library, which was built from a donation from Surendra Barot, an 85-year-old California-based NRI from Rajpipla, who has dedicated it to the memory of his late son Hitesh Barot. The books in the library are from Manvendra’s LGBT friends in Mumbai. “People have been generous in donating to the campus,” he says. Manvendra says, “Help is coming in both from the LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ sources. Recently, a health officer from the Gujarat government gave us a barbeque oven which has been useful. More than the gifts themselves, it is the goodwill that counts”
Situated in a picturesque area known as Hanumanteshwar, after a temple of that name located nearby, Queer Bagh will also play host to regional, national and international workshops and events once the pandemic is over. The translady Riya Patel, manager of the estate, says there’s no rush to get things up and running. She says, “We have 10 projects going on simultaneously and we’re just chipping away. Right now, our priority is to be ready for the monsoons, when floods happen.”
The 36-year-old Riya is transgender and an NRI, originally from Kheda. She had a successful business in the USA before she decided to join Manvendra in Hanumanteshwar six years ago. She is the one who is working towards turning 10 of the 15 acres of the campus into an organic farm and she has already invested a considerable amount of her own money towards making it happen.
“I’ve always had a passion for farming,” she says. “When I first got here, the land was barren and overgrown with weeds. Now we grow fruits and vegetables for our own consumption. Eventually, I want to grow enough to generate an income that will support Queer Bagh’s operations.”
Originally conceived as a retirement home for transgenders, Queer Bagh’s mission has since been broadened. Much of the credit for this goes to Manvendra’s boyfriend DeAndre, who has adopted the title of Duke of Hanumanteshwar, courtesy of a great grand-uncle of Manvendra who had a Scottish wife. He says, “We’re now using the model of the American LGBTQ community centre. Manvendra and I toured several such centres when he was in the USA, and we’re convinced this model will work in India.”
Richardson returned to the USA at the onset of the pandemic and is now busy marketing a range of made-in-India fashion products online from Florida, under the Hanumanteshwar label. He is also on the lookout for paid speaking engagements for the Prince as an additional source of income for Queer Bagh. In the past, Manvendra has been a speaker at conferences organized by American corporate majors like Microsoft, the proceeds of which have been invested in the Queer Bagh project.
In the USA, LGBTQ Community Centres focus mostly on the problems faced by young people, who are often at odds with their families run away from home. This is a major issue in India too and Manvendra plans to help this very vulnerable segment by providing them with shelter, counselling and vocational training before sending them back to the world. Queer Bagh already has a dormitory with the capacity to house ten people. Manvendra says, “It will serve as a transit house for traumatized young people till, they can find their feet. I was disinherited by my family, so I know how it feels. It can happen to anyone. It takes time to heal and regain your voice.”
The program already has its first beneficiary in Tanay Banarjee, who reached out to Manvendra all the way from Kolkata. He now lives in Hanumantheshwar with Gohil and Patel, with the responsibility of running the kitchen and taking care of Manvendra’s six dogs.
Who is Manvendra Sinh Gohil
Manvendra Sinh is the first gay prince of India and perhaps the World. He has gone through intense challenges and difficult times before acquiring international recognition. He is the editor of the gay print magazine, Fun. It is published from his palace in Rajpipla.
Manvendra was born on September 23, 1965. He is the only child of the Royal family of Rajpipla. His parents arranged a marriage with a girl in the 90’s which obviously failed. His parents were not accommodative when he tried to convince them, but accepted his gender reality only after multiple psychiatrists convinced them that their son was gay. However, the conservative Rajput royal family was clear that they wanted Manvendra to remain in a closet only. This frustrated Manvendra who came out open about his gender in 2006. As expected, it wasn’t received well by his family, community and region with his parents openly blaming him for bringing in much dishonour.
In 2006, Manvendra became an international celebrity after renowned show host Oprah Winfrey invited him over to her show. Manvendra went to the show in his traditional royal attire and won international acclaim from the LGBTQ community who came forth and applauded his honesty about his gender.
He got support from LGBTQ organisations across the world. “I risked my freedom as at that time, homosexuality was a punishable offence, often resulting in a 10-year jail sentence”, he told Oprah in the show. Till now, he has appeared three times on her show, which is an Indian record.
In 2008, Manvendra inaugurated the prestigious Gay Pride Parade in Stockholm, Sao Paulo and other places. He currently lives in Rajpipla with his partner DeAndre (right now in the US) and six dogs.