A chat with Keshav Suri can be quite an eye opener – be it him talking about love in a difficult world or how his hospitality company wants to set an example by supporting and enabling the marginalised from the LGBTQ+ community. Respected and admired by people of a diverse age group, one cannot deny his efforts in making the world more tolerant towards the community, whether it’s by actively employing its members for The LaLiT Suri Hospitality Group or taking up initiatives on behalf of the Keshav Suri Foundation.
Taking his goal a step forward, The Lalit Group has recently become the first hotel chain globally to have all its hotels accredited by the International LGBTQ+ Travel Association's (IGLTA) programme. And this in itself is a massive achievement and a big step towards change in hospitality across the world and even more so in India. Talking about the accreditation, Suri says, “To achieve this milestone, The Lalit undertook a transformative journey rooted in inclusivity. The process began over a decade ago when we recognised the imperative need for safe spaces and conversations around diverse gender identities within the hospitality industry, particularly in India, where traditional norms have often shaped the landscape.”
The group’s commitment to inclusivity gained momentum when a writ petition was filed to challenge Section 377, a significant legal hurdle inhibiting LGBTQ+ rights. The advocacy, supported by a dedicated team equally passionate about societal change, brought attention to the various initiatives they had undertaken. The subsequent landmark decision to repeal Section 377 marked a pivotal moment, instilling newfound confidence and opening doors to freedom previously denied. “The accreditation process with IGLTA is a rigorous yet rewarding journey. It involves a comprehensive evaluation of our hotels' practices, policies, and overall atmosphere to ensure alignment with principles of diversity, equity, and inclusivity. The emphasis lies not only on providing a welcoming environment for LGBTQ+ travellers but also on actively promoting and fostering these values within the broader hospitality community,” Suri further adds.
This accreditation is not merely a recognition; it signifies a commitment to continuous improvement and advocacy for a more inclusive and diverse world.
Suri has always been a spokesperson for the LGBTQIA++ community, human rights, people with disabilities, but he admits that despite the progress made, there remain significant challenges and setbacks that warrant attention. “I firmly believe in the power of the mind and its ability to drive change. When one is determined to pursue a goal passionately, the challenges encountered along the way become insignificant. My journey towards creating an egalitarian world commenced with the internal transformation of my team. I focused on sensitising them, establishing a safe space, and ensuring equity within our own ranks.”
As the scope of the group’s mission expanded, and through Keshav Suri Foundation, he and his team are now dedicated to sensitising the entire nation and fostering a more inclusive environment for our community members. “Now that we have a bigger responsibility to convince 1.4 billion people of India, it’s important that we come together and take our message of inclusion across country. I firmly believe that our community and organisations collectively will transform challenges into opportunities for growth and achievement. Our collective efforts are geared towards contributing to a more inclusive and equitable world, and we are steadfast in our pursuit of that goal,” he adds.
With that we come to DEI (diversity, equality and inclusion), one of the core philosophies of his company. “DEI is in our DNA at The LaLiT. It revolves around embracing, empowering, and mainstreaming marginalised communities at various intersections in India. This ethos aligns with the mission of our foundation, where the imperative is to advocate for equity as a means to foster equality, thereby ensuring inclusion for those who have historically been denied it,” Suri says.
LaLiT’s DEI team comprises nearly 200 LGBTQIA+ members and approximately 150 individuals with disability. This includes people with speech and hearing impairments, visual impairments, autism, Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy, learning difficulties, and acid attack warriors.
Same-sex couples in India, generally speaking, of course, unless they come from illustrious families, rarely get to come out and talk about their stories and struggles. Given that the Keshav Suri Foundation actually works in empowering the marginalised that belong to the LGBTQIA+ community, he has witnessed much of it himself. But does he see change in the horizon? “While speaking generally, it is evident that same-sex couples in India find it challenging to openly share their stories and struggles. In the context of the Keshav Suri Foundation's work in empowering marginalised individuals within the LGBTQIA+ community, we know of the challenges and situations our community succumb to. I personally recognise my privilege and I am thankful for the unwavering support of my family. In turn, I am committed to extending similar support and assistance to my community, aiming to empower them to their fullest potential. Notably, there has been a significant transformation in the corporate world's stance towards the LGBTQIA+ community, with many organisations actively advocating for their well-being. While societal attitudes have not completely evolved, there is undeniable improvement. The landscape is changing, and steps are being taken towards fostering inclusivity, though there is still work to be done to eradicate deep-seated discrimination and ensure a more equitable and accepting society,” he says.
Drawing from his personal journey, Suri says that he’s learned that fostering a healthy relationship requires embracing one another without judgment. Being there for your loved ones, offering support when needed, and accepting them unconditionally are crucial elements. “These values contribute to the most fulfilling and nurturing relationships. Fortunately, I have found this in my husband - Cyril, friends, family, and my chosen family – comprising my team and community. It underscores the significance of genuine acceptance and support in creating meaningful connections,” he says.
And finally, what does love really mean to him, and Suri could not have summed it up better. “To me, love is synonymous with freedom and acceptance devoid of judgment. It is a profound connection that doesn't require anything other than the presence of each other. This simplicity is what renders love beautiful and enduring,” he concludes.