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Ashok Row Kavi was born in Mumbai on June 1, 1947. He graduated with honors in Chemistry from the University of Bombay. Later, he dropped out of engineering college. Due to his early difficulty in dealing with his homosexuality, he enrolled as a Hindu monk in the Ramakrishna Mission and studied theology. He has also studied at the International School of Journalism, Berlin, Germany.
In a journalism career spanning 18 years, he worked in various newspapers and magazines, including India’s largest circulated newspaper ‘Malayala Manorama’ (as Western India Bureau-Chief), ‘Sunday Mail’ and ‘The Daily’. For six years he was also senior reporter covering Science and Technology in ‘The Indian Express’ group of newspapers. His career as a journalist began in 1974 with The Indian Express and was the chief reporter with the Free Press Journal from 1984 to 1989.
In 1971, he started India's first Playboy clone, Debonair, with friend Anthony Van Braband and later in 1990, he founded Bombay Dost, Mumbai's first gay magazine. He was a representative at the International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam and served as chairman of the Second International Congress on AIDS.
Although he retired from journalism in 1990, he has worked at providing a formal platform for homosexuals –- people usually left out of mainstream life in a socially conservative India –- become actively involved in public life and institutions through media, advocacy, cooperation and community-building.
Row Kavi was the first person (and for a long time the only person) to openly talk about homosexuality and gay rights in India. His first coming out interview appeared in Savvy magazine in 1986. Incidentally, his mother, Shobha Row Kavi, too gave an interview to the same magazine; it was the first time that a mother spoke about her son’s homosexuality to the Indian media.
At the present, he is founder-chairperson of the Humsafar Trust, a male sexual health NGO, which also agitates for the legal emancipation of homosexuality in India. The trust’s work comprises community work, outreach into the gay and MSM groups, advocacy on gender and sexuality issues concerning sexual minorities and research into sexuality and gender issues. Besides running several intervention programs (funded by national and international organizations and many private donors) for HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections in Mumbai and Goa, Row Kavi and the trust have been lobbying with policy making bodies as well as supporting similar upcoming groups across the country.
In 1998, Row Kavi received a fellowship to design model questionnaires in the MSM sector at the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies (CAPS), University of California, San Francisco. Row Kavi has been a participant in various international and national fora, including the ICAAPs and the International HIV/AIDS Conferences, where he has made at least five oral presentations. As head of Humsafar, he has also organized the first ‘Looking into the Next Millennium’ conference of 32 MSM NGOs in Mumbai in May 2001 and co-organized the first ILGA-Asia conference in Mumbai in October 2002.
Row Kavi has been a regular contributor to newspapers, magazines and journals around the world, on homosexuality, gay rights and issues around HIV/AIDS.
Row Kavi is also NGO representative, Executive Committee, Mumbai District AIDS Control Society (MDACS); member, Technical Resource Group, Targeted Interventions, National AIDS Control Organization (NACO); visiting faculty at Mumbai’s Tata Institute of Social Sciences, the department of Clinical Psychology of the University of Mumbai, Nirmala Niketan, and the International Institute of Population Studies.
- Interview with Ashok Row Kavi from Indiatimes.com from February 6, 2004, where he says, "The interesting thing is that I came out as a gay man in the Ramakrishna Mission where I was studying to be a monk and my counselor there, Swami Harshananda, thought it was no big deal. In fact, he drove me out saying -- this is not a place you can hide your homosexuality, go and fight for what you think is right."
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