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MATTER OF PRIDE

Tim Cook could be the first openly gay CEO to be hosted by Modi in a homophobic India

By Manu Balachandran

When Apple CEO Tim Cook meets Narendra Modi in New Delhi on May 21, it would make him the first openly gay CEO to be hosted by the Indian prime minister.

To be clear, this isn’t the first time Modi is meeting Cook. The two met in the US last year during Modi’s visit to the Silicon Valley, where same-sex marriages are legal. But in India, homosexuality is an offence punishable by up to life imprisonment. For years, lawmakers have discussed decriminalising homosexuality. Yet, nobody really has the courage, or the will, to do away with the 155-year-old colonial era law.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been vociferous in its disapproval of  homosexuality. “We support Section 377 (the law) because we believe that homosexuality is (an) unnatural act that cannot be supported,” India’s current home minister and former president of the BJP, Rajnath Singh, said in 2013.

Earlier this year, however, India’s supreme court said it will reexamine the ban on gay sex.

It’s all about business

But it may be easy to overcome ideological differences if you are hosting the CEO of world’s most valuable company.

Modi is keen to have business leaders from around the world invest in the country and bring more manufacturing jobs to India. Apple’s manufacturing partner Foxconn has already announced investments worth some $5 billion to set up a facility in India.

This is also a crucial visit for Cook, who publicly acknowledged his sexual orientation in an article in 2014. The 55-year-old CEO is coming to Asia at a time when growth for Apple is slowing down in China, the tech giant’s second-largest market globally. On the other hand, Apple saw a massive 56% increase in sales in India. The company wants a bigger share of the world’s second largest smartphone market, but it is hamstrung by regulations in India. Cook may be hoping to win over the Indian government during his visit and ease Apple’s journey in India.

Gay in startup India

But being gay in corporate India is still tough.

Last year, according to a report by the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, and Biz Divas, a diversity and inclusion consulting firm, as many as 98% of companies surveyed said that they have not taken any concrete steps to make their workplace lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT)-friendly—or hire people from the community.

But some of India’s startups have come out in support of the LGBT community. Last year, e-commerce company Myntra featured a lesbian couple in its advertisement, which has since been watched over 2.7 million times on YouTube.

Perhaps Cook could inspire more Indian entrepreneurs to make the country’s work places more LGBT-friendly.