No Gays Please, We’re Indians

In one of the dark days of independent India, a culturally rich and diverse country, yesterday, the Supreme Court set aside the earlier High Court verdict and made homosexuality a criminal offence. In one stroke of pen, India was sent reeling down to the Victorian era when homophobia was at its height. The archaic Section 377, included in the constitution by Lord Macaulay as part of the prevailing Victorian morality, has been upheld by the Supreme Court, which has put the onus on removing this Section in the hands of the evasive parliamentarians. Now, we know many of our ‘enlightened’ parliamentarians can wax eloquent in the talk shows about the need to decriminalise homosexuality, but would most certainly vote against it in Parliament. None of our politicians would ever have the guts or moral fibre to make our country more inclusive and modern by stopping this appalling discrimination. This bill won’t be passed in this winter session. And, with a Right Wing central government poised to take over next year, there is absolutely no possibility that this would ever happen in the near future.

If anyone who had the power or opportunity, it was the Supreme Court, who could have easily struck down this draconian 377 by quoting the more liberal Articles 21, 14 and 15 of the constitution. It wouldn’t be considered as sidestepping the executive, because, it wouldn’t be the first time Supreme Court would have breached the limit. Where the policy-makers were found lagging, the Court has pitched in and condemned them with some of the choicest words permitted in the court halls. Be it dismissing the 2G licenses or Article 356 that allows the centre to dismiss democratically elected state governments or even something as silly as using red siren lights, which is a mere nuisance and hardly a life and death matter, the Supreme Court has used its authority to curb the freedom of the governments. The Court had to intervene in limiting the use of 356, the percentage of reservations because the politicians were never going to do on their own. That’s where the role of the Courts lies: establishing and reclaiming the liberties of the people.

And history and sociology too is clearly in favour of the Court: Section 377 is an archaic, draconian law added as an afterthought by Lord Macaulay who thought a single shelf of European books is far superior to the entire Arab and Asian literature. A man with that kind of enlightened wisdom is now going to continue to control the lives of millions of gay and transgender people of India. The entire West and very many nations of Latin America have not only decriminalised homosexuality, they are actively working towards ending the discrimination. In many countries, such as the UK, it is crime to discriminate someone based on their sexual orientation.

Scientifically speaking, decriminalisation has addressed several health issues in those countries. Increased awareness and social support has led to reduction of sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS and more importantly the absence of taboo has led to reduced stress, depression and other psychological problems suffered by those people.

Historically and culturally too, India has always been celebratory at best and tolerant at worst. Vatsayana hits at homosexuality in Kama Sutra. Jayamangala, by Yashodara, an important commentary on Kama Sutra, freely discusses homosexuality. Kajuraho is a towering example of sexual plurality and diversity.

Religiously too, there are plenty of examples. Famously, Lord Ayyappa was born out of sexual union of two males. Bahuchara Devi is associated with transsexuality. When the last king of the famed Sun Dynasty Maharaja Dilipa (of which Lord Ram was born into) dies without bearing a son, Lord Siva blesses two widowed queens of the maharaja with a son. When the two women wonder how they could bear a child when they are widowed, Shiva orders them to make love to each other. When the queens ‘execute’ the order of Lord Shiva, one of them conceives a child, who becomes the Bhagirata Maharaja. The name itself refers to a child born of two vulvas (bhaga). Elsewhere, the goddess Bhagavati has a penchant for cross-dressing so much that on her festival day, hundreds of men dress as women to worship her!

The idea of homophobia is largely the product of Abrahamite religions, especially Islam and Christianity. Both religions equally abhorred different sexual orientations and when they had/have power, both treated gay people cruelly. If we were to consider that homosexuality is wrong because the Church says so, we should also close down all genetic engineering departments and ban anthropology, because, after all, God created the earth in six days. We should also pull down all the satellites, because, you see, the world is flat. If we were to believe homosexuality is bad, because the Quran says so, we should kill all the idol worshippers and ban music, because, well, Quran also says those things.

When the stacks are loaded so much against discrimination, it is shocking to hear such an illiterate verdict being delivered by the Court. Whatever drove the judges towards such a decision, they should know that they have lost a golden opportunity to make history. A positive decision could have taken India forward in its journey towards becoming more inclusive and enlightened society. This retrograde decision has pulled India back to the 19th century. It’s clear enough that our spineless politicians, aside from having ‘personal opinions’, are not going to do much. It’s now up to the people of this country to keep this debate alive, spread awareness and make ourselves more inclusive. Currently our media and films are doing exemplary job on this and we can hope that soon these voices would grow so loud that they roar at the gates of Parliament.