Putting rights issues through the looking glass. Not seeking answers, just some food for thought to see whether things could be any different!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Get Over It: Homosexuality exists in India

The homosexual community in India can breathe a sigh of relief as the Supreme Court passed an order last week asking the Delhi High Court to reconsider the issue of decriminalising homosexuality in India.

The Delhi High Court has been asked by the apex court to review the controversial Section 377 of the outdated Indian Penal Code which criminalises sexual intercourse against the order of nature.

The PIL was filed by Naz Foundation, an AIDS awareness group at the Delhi High Court in 2004 which was rejected on the grounds that Naz Foundation did not have a locus standi in the matter and that a mere academic challenge on the constitutionality question is not tenable. The Supreme Court however, after a lot of contemplation has decided that the matter be examined on merits by the High Court.

This is indeed a huge step forward towards acceptance of homosexuality in India. What is surprisingly positive is the change in the Indian government's stand on the issue. The same Indian government which until a few months ago had argued that India is not ready for homosexuality as if it is a new expensive technology has reconsidered its stand by revealing before the court that the law on homosexuality be reviewed given the changing social norms.

The Indian government has been living in denial on several rights issues like casteism and racism, indigenous peoples and now, homosexuality while it is amply clear to all and sundry that these practices exist.

The Indian society is gradually beginning to accept homosexuals and other alternative sexuals and this is reflected in our Hindi movies. While it needed a sensational movie like Fire to bring the issue of lesbianism into focus, it has gradually increased awareness and acceptance on the issue, at least in urban India and that, according to me, is not a bad start.

Kal Ho Na Ho, an outright Bollywood commercial movie explored the issue of homosexuality, in a light mood and mocked the average Indian reaction towards homosexuals, through the character of Kantaben.It also revealed that men want to look good too! A few other movies in recent times have also explored the issue of male bonding. One movie made a sleaze fest out of "Girlfriend". But to me, all this represents acceptance at some level.

More and more people are coming out of the closet, in limited circles, especially in the entertainment and fashion circuits. I donot think a Bobby Darling or a Sylvie could have made it big in their respective fields, even ten years ago. So, at some level we are noticing and not ignoring them.

It is difficult for me to fully accept that GLBTs exist. In fact, I saw a man in woman's clothes with a fancy handbag and designer chappals with two kids calling him Mummy at a Delhi market the other day. I was shocked and for a second, I thought that this cannot be real. But just because I donot know about something does not mean that it does not exist. I am yet to meet a homosexual person in real life and may be, that is because the homosexual community still lives a clandestine existence.

The prejudice against homosexuals even in the so called educated Indian media is so stark that we, as average readers are led on to believe things that aren't necessarily true. Take the Pushkin murder case for example. The news media was flooded with reports on this case and it was misreported as a gay murder. Many of us, including me, were initially led to believe that Pushkin was murdered because of his sexual orientation. Further reading enlightened me and I understood that the media was just taking away from the crime aspect of the issue and focussing more on Pushkin's promiscuity because it makes hot news.

I also fail to understand the homosexual community's claim that they are victimised because of their sexual preferences or choices. While I understand that they are victimised because of their alternative sexuality, I do not believe that homosexuality is a matter of choice at all. It is biological, as I understand it. So, no one is choosing to be homosexual, so to speak while they may be forced to live a dual life because of the social stigma attached. I remember reading a story where a man claiming to be homosexual married another man for the experience and abandoned him a few days later. There are a lot of such dubious people out there and the homosexual community should distinguish themselves.

They need to stake their claim for equal rights in a different manner. While acceptance is key, they should peg their stance in this regard differently to uphold their own self esteem.

It is anybody's case that decriminalisation is the first step towards societal recognition of homosexuality in India. It is also important that homosexuality be legalised because of the serious health implications that staying in the closet encompasses. Unless, there is decriminalisation, lesser people will come out and this will remain in the underworld. The social stigma attached shall lead to instability of homosexual relationships which will further lead to promiscuity and subsequent sexual health hazards. In India, where HIV/AIDS is a growing problem, this cannot be allowed to happen. While NAZ's argument is more from a sexual health perspective than from a homosexual rights perspective, this case may well be the foundation for a homosexual rights regime in India.