The first public debate on homosexuality in modern India took place in
the 1920s; it was ignited by a collection of Hindi short stories entitled
Chocolate (1927) by Hindi nationalist writer Pandey Bechan Sharma
(1900–1967), better known as “Ugra,” which means “extreme,” and can,
depending on context, also mean “fierce,” “terrible,” or “intense.”1
Political Context
Ugra’s pen name reflects political conditions in India at the time he
began writing. He was in his twenties during the 1920s, when north
India was in the throes of the struggle for independence from British
rule. Like almost all writers of the time, Ugra was involved both with this
struggle and with the social-reform dimension of nationalism. Social-
reform movements advocating women’s education and rights, widow
remarriage, amd Hindu-Muslim amity, while opposing such practices
as dowry, untouchability, and child marriage had preceded nationalism
in the nineteenth century. These issues continued to both animate and
divide nationalists, since the desire for social reform was accompanied
by the desire to preserve Indian traditions, and nationalists differed on
how this dual task could best be accomplished.
While most Hindi writers were followers of Gandhi, several were
right-wing Hindu or Muslim nationalists or left-wing communists, and
Gandhians, too, were influenced by these different tendencies. Many
were critical, for different reasons, of what they saw as Gandhi’s mod-
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