Days after the Supreme Court’s judgement that re-criminalised gay sex in December, the Bhartiya Janata Party drew the ire of the country’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community by describing homosexuality as unnatural and claiming that it was a Western import. But on the party’s home turf in Gujarat, where prime ministerial aspirant Narendra Modi has ruled for three terms, the state government has put together a slate of benefits for the state’s transgender people.

In December, Pradip Singh Jadeja, the state minister for law, science, parliamentary affairs, tourism and pilgrim development, issued a notification directing relevant state departments to help members of the transgender community overcome hurdles in obtaining housing, generating income, and securing accident insurance and a monthly pension.

"From next month, government and public hospitals in Gujarat will provide free sex-change operation for the state’s TG and hijra community,” Balakrishna Shukla, the current Member of Parliament from Vadodara, told “The option of a ‘third gender’ or ‘other’ will also be included in the official documents like passports, ration cards and election cards so that the TG community can avail of state benefits and subsidies.’’ Two transgendered people from Vadodara are expected to be the first from the community to undergo sex change operation under the scheme in April, he said.

Shukla recently vacated his Vadodara seat to allow Narendra Modi to contest the upcoming elections. He has run contrary to the BJP line to lend his support for the queer community and uphold gay rights. In 2009, while contesting his first Lok Sabha election, Shukla promised support for gay rights in return of votes from the queer community.

"The BJP as a political party does not support homosexuality,” said Shukla. “But I have supported and worked for the transgender community and addressed the issues of the gay population as a local member of parliament. The constitution of the country gives every person a right to equality, freedom of expression and personal liberty, and as an MP it is my responsibility to acknowledge the demands and issues if a certain section approaches me.’’

Last year, Shukla was given a a memorandum about the problems faced by the transgender community by Manvendra Singh Gohil, founding member of the Lakshya Trust, which works with sexual minorities, and by HIV/AIDS India Alliance, an international network. The BJP MP had a meeting in Delhi with union minister for social justice and empowerment, Kumari Selja, who issued directions on the matter to the Gujarat state government. This led to the notification in December on benefits for transgender people.

In addition to these measures, the Gujarat government also supports programmes that promote safe sex for gay men. To prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS amongst the queer community, the Gujarat government through the Gujarat AIDS Control Society has been funding community-based organisations and NGOs since 2000.

An official from the GACS, who requested anonymity, said that the Gujarat government funds 13 organisations that run programmes for the MSM (men having sex with men) community. Each NGO gets between Rs 10 lakhs to Rs 15 lakhs a year, depending on the number of vulnerable people they work with.

Gohil of the Lakshya Trust noted that there was an obvious contradiction between the BJP-led Gujarat government’s funding of NGOs that work with gay men even as the BJP views consensual relationships between people of the same sex as illegal and unnatural. Modi has maintained a staunch silence on repealing or amending Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which makes homosexuality illegal. The RSS or Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, the cadre-based organisation that forms the backbone of the BJP, staunchly opposes gay rights.

Dr Madhavbhai Dave, convenor of the human rights cell of the Gujarat unit of the BJP, said that funding health programs does not mean that the party supports homosexuality. "The funding is for treating a disease like HIV/AIDS and that is different from supporting homosexuality,” he said. “The BJP supports the Supreme Court judgement and views homosexuality is against the order of nature and therefore unnatural.’’

Despite the BJP hardline, queer people in the state have refused to be cowed down. Last October, Gujarat's first pride parade was held in Surat, followed by one in Ahmedabad in December, just before the Supreme Court judgement.

Last week, the state's queer community scored a minor victory when the Gujarat government was directed by the Ahmedabad High Court to provide tax exemption to a movie about homosexuality. The movie, Meghdhanushya: The Colour of Life, is a tale of three gay characters and their struggle for acceptance – a teenager, a young man and an aged person.

Dr Kiran Devmani, the film’s director and producer, had moved court against the Gujarat government decision not to grant Meghdhanushya 100 per cent tax exemption as it was entitled to, under the scheme to promote Gujarati language movies. As a result, the first Gujarati-language movie on homosexuality is expected to be in the theatres next month, tax free.