Prince's Secret Tears Royal Family Apart, Shocks His Nation

Indian prince's secret leads to the queen disowning him, riots in the streets.

July 2, 2007 — -- Manvendra Singh Gohil grew up in a bubble of prestige and privilege, surrounded by hangers-on who treated him so reverentially that he was 15 years old before he crossed a street by himself.

"I was born with a golden spoon," Singh Gohil, who is now 41 years old, said. "A very luxurious lifestyle…at one point we had almost 22 servants for us. Even for a sip from a glass of water, it was the servants who got it for me."

Singh Gohil was leading a life of luxury, but he was also living a lie -- hiding a secret so taboo that it caused riots in the streets of India.

Singh Gohil is a prince, the son of the maharajah -- Indian royalty from a dynasty that is more than 600 years old. Today, though India is a democracy, the Singh Gohils are still honored as if they ruled the land. In fact, the day ABC News met with the king and the prince, they were attending a town ceremony honoring their family.

'Falling Apart'

Singh Gohil's path in life was typical of the Indian elite: A good student, he was sent to boarding schools, took lavish vacations with his family, and went to college to study business and law. He eventually entered an arranged marriage with a beautiful Indian princess, one that marked the union of two prominent royal Indian families.

When asked to describe his marriage, Singh Gohil said, "[It was] the worst decision of my life. It was a total disaster, total failure. I never had any sexual or physical attraction towards her. Nothing worked. The marriage never got consummated. I realized that I had done something very wrong."

After 15 disastrous months of matrimony, Singh Gohil divorced his wife and took her parting words to heart.

"The last time when she met me, she told me, 'I'm giving you a piece of advice. Please don't spoil another girl's life,'" he recalled. "That short and sweet thing hit me directly at my heart and I decided I'm not going to get married again."

But in keeping with Indian tradition, the king and queen of Rajpipla decided it was time to find their only son another wife. Singh Gohil was reluctant to remarry, but had no one to share his feelings with, and said, "I was suddenly feeling as if I [was] falling apart."

It was the beginning of a complete nervous breakdown. Singh Gohil wound up in the hospital, where he began opening up to a therapist about a lifelong secret he had been harboring since childhood.

"[When] I was growing up, I would always get attracted towards males," he said.

Sharing His Secret

"My grandmother had actually sponsored this young boy, who was orphaned at an early age to educate him and be as a companion to me," Singh Gohil said. "We started experimenting with each other. I liked playing with him, playing [with] his body. He also used to play with my body."

Singh Gohil was eventually introduced to Ashok Row Kavi, a former reporter who made waves in 1986 by becoming the first openly gay man in India. For many years, he was the only person in the entire country to speak openly about homosexuality.

After becoming close friends, Row Kavi convinced Singh Gohil that his sexual orientation was nothing to be ashamed of.

"I told him just live your life as honestly as possible without hurting too many people," he said. "You just live quietly and honestly and do what you think is right."

Singh Gohil took his friend's advice and last March, gave an interview to a local Gujarati newspaper, outing himself as a homosexual.

"I knew I was ready to face the worst situation," he said. "They cut out pictures from the newspaper where my interview was published and they put it in the bonfire. They declared me dead."

'Even a Prince Can Be Gay'

Homosexuality is against the law in India, and can be penalized with ten years to life in jail. Singh Gohil has become both the voice and face of those persecuted for their sexual orientation. Not only has the Prince publicly fallen from grace, but his mother has publicly disowned him, and his place as the next King of Rajpipla was in jeopardy.

As the only son of the current King and Queen, Singh Gohil is the only heir to the throne. His father, King Ragubir Gohil Singh said that, "It's not natural. Anything which is not natural, is not something which you can't procreate, you can't have children because it is not something which one is meant for. Otherwise there'll be no life on this earth."

Though his coming out was met with disappointment and outrage, Singh Gohil has adopted a noble cause, educating people about homosexuality and HIV/AIDS prevention.

"I came out in the newspapers openly that I'm gay and basically [because] I wanted to show to the world that even a prince can be gay," he said. "I wanted people to discuss homosexuality, which was always considered a taboo and a stigma… it's been existing in India but no one talked about it."

Raising Awareness

Gay activists estimate that 80 percent of gay Indian men are married to women, and argue that the widespread denial of homosexuality inhibits education of safe sex practices, resulting in a rise in HIV and AIDS in the gay population.

"This is high time we talk about HIV [and] homosexuality," said Singh Gohil. "Unless we talk, there will be no awareness and it will start spreading and it will be too late…it will [get] out control."

Singh Gohil created Lakshya, a grassroots gay-outreach organization centered around counseling gay men and teaching safe sex practices. The organization is still in the early stages of development.

"There is a lack of awareness," Manvendra explained. "The purpose of my coming out openly is for a cause, for a good cause, for the control of HIV/AIDS."

The prince who would be king is now dedicating all of his time and energy into gay activism. His future is uncertain, but Singh Gohil said that if he ever does take his place on the throne, it would be on his own terms, as the first openly gay Indian royal of the 21st century.