The Indian Homophobia Diaries: Will we overcome it?

The Trump White House is a hot-cake right now for all the wrong reasons including a public investigation against the President and his campaign for probable collusion with Russia in the recent presidential elections but a small but significant gaffe went relatively unnoticed by many. The Prime Minister of Luxembourg Xavier Bettel is openly gay and during the NATO summit in which President Trump took part in, the White House omitted the name of the partner of the Mr. Bettel in the official portrait of the leaders’ other halves taken alongside Queen Matilde of Belgium.

The NATO other halves photo

Whatever the Trump administration did or did not do, here in India, a serious question arises. Will India recognise the first gentleman of Luxembourg if they were on an official visit to India?

Sixty-six years after adopting one of the world’s most liberal constitutions, India is being convulsed by a searing debate over a colonial-era provision in its penal code, Section 377, which criminalizes “whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman, or animal.” Beyond forcing millions of gay men and women to live in fear and secrecy, Section 377 has undermined HIV-prevention efforts and contributed to depression and suicides. The average Indian may live in a world where every bit of data ever produced is at his fingertip and yet his thoughts are laced with homophobia.

Homophobia in India is difficult to describe. It is not the type of homophobia people usually think of: outright violence or discrimination against homosexuals. In Indian society, the existence of homosexuality is simply not acknowledged, so that type of homophobia generally is unseen. They do not understand homosexuality, they do not see homosexuals, and, therefore, they do not exist.

The issue is not one of sex, but of freedom. By giving the state the authority to control what Indian adults do, consensually, Section 377 violates the constitutional rights to dignity, privacy, and equality enshrined in Articles 14, 15, and 21, respectively. As the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen has observe, “The criminalization of gay behavior goes not only against fundamental human rights, but it also works sharply against the enhancement of human freedoms in terms of which the progress of human civilization can be judged.”

In the period after a liberal Delhi High Court struck down Section 377 in 2009, the heavens did not fall; Indian society did not collapse. Yet bigots petitioned to reverse that decision, ultimately succeeding in turning back the clock for gay rights in India in 2013, when the Supreme Court overturned the High Court’s decision.

Like many Indians felt at the time, the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling is antithetical to India’s commitment to pluralism and democracy, which provides for the embrace of a multitude of identities, including those based on sexual orientation.

To understand this concept of thinking, I had to investigate why it exists in our general society, and trace the origin: I had to look at where this sort of ignorance stemmed from.

Consulting my parent’s generation, I learned that they, in fact, did not even know that being attracted to the same-sex was an actual possibility. This is a mindset that is so difficult to fathom, even for me who grew up knowing that I was only attracted to my own sex.

I realized that sexuality, as a whole, was not understood by them.  After too many generations of arranged, even underage, marriages, they simply do not understand what attraction really means, whether it be to the opposite, or to the same-sex. So their homophobia was somewhat justified. They have never stepped outside the confines of societal norms to really think about it without bias.

We all acknowledge that “love comes after marriage” in India, but how it is still such a well accepted concept for our society, simply blows my mind.

Throwing same-sex love into a culture that is just being introduced to love-marriage as a whole, is too early for them to start understanding, yet too late for the acceleration of the rest of the world; too late for the generations being born into a world that is still caught up in an aging society, unwilling to change.

Frankly, we are born in a world ruled by people who will soon die off, leaving our lives half fulfilled. The rest of the world is changing, so what is the delay? Culture?

I know India is desperately trying to hold on to this culture where the social caste you belong to is still a requirement for marriage. But, sooner than later, the newer society will not be convinced by all of its “righteousness”. We have the internet and media now. Despite censorship, we are not a communist country, and the war against religion is in its decline. There are fewer excuses by the day, and we now have access to see how the rest of the world is improving. Education is readily available for the ignorant, and it is only the society built on a dying culture that is holding us back.

Now that this culture is clearly pushing the innocent further and further, it is also starting to hit limits. The injustices coming to light have started to burst our shiny bubbles, leaving behind black marks which are too loud for people to not see anymore, no matter which way they turn their heads. Each instance may not have any direct impact, but they are starting to have a spotlight cast down on each of them: the media. The more and more people stand up and relentlessly raise their voice against the silence, the more it will bring us closer to change.

It is not that people here don’t want to change their views. Generally, people are becoming more open-minded as society as a whole is becoming more mature. Even, the very conservative and orthodox  Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh(RSS), the ideological mentor of the current ruling party of India has softened its views on homosexuality saying that ‘Homosexuality shouldn’t be considered a crime as long as it doesn’t affect the lives of others in the society,’ a position which the BJP refuses to take for reasons best known to them.

There is no question that to build a truly democratic and plural India, we must collectively fight against laws and policies that abuse human rights and limit fundamental freedom and the time to do it, is NOW.

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