LGBT rights restored: Why we should all celebrate India’s new independence

Featured Image: World Nomads

On the 6th of September 2018, assumably around a hundred million people in the world’s largest democracy woke up to a long-deserved freedom. Even if you are someone who didn’t pay attention to LGBTQ+ rights until now, you could not have avoided coming across pieces of news and discussions on social media or real-time conversations about this historic verdict. But how did you react? Were you ecstatic like a large section of people, were you disgusted like another large section of people, or did you continue to be indifferent? The reason I am writing this article is because I am proud to be among the first category of humans I mentioned above, and I think it is my responsibility to explain the reason for the same to the other two categories. I don’t claim to change opinions or uproot prejudices overnight. The law didn’t change overnight – it took 157 long years, and I believe that human mindsets and preconceived notions aren’t half as flexible. But, I’ll try to answer some basic questions that might have popped up in the naturally curious minds.

Before moving on, here’s an overview of some terminologies that might be helpful for the future:

lgbtqia-for-tinaSource: PantherNOW

1. Why is it NOT unnatural?

So here’s what Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code stated:

“Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.”

Now the question is, who decided what the “order of nature” is? Hundreds of animal species have been studied and observed to exhibit homosexual behaviour – be it penguins, geese, elephants, giraffes or even lions. So for a moment, keeping romanticism aside, let us look at what actual Science says:

 

You cannot imprison someone because of their genetic construction, can you?

 

2. Why is it a big deal?

Why make a big issue out of this, you ask? Precisely to convey the message that it is NOT a big deal. A person’s sexuality is PART of his or her identity, and does not define him or her. This might be easier to understand if you think of straight people, or ‘normal’ people as some might (sadly) put it. You know your friend has a partner of the opposite sex, and that’s fine. You don’t go about thinking about that aspect of their life, and you just accept them as understandable human beings, going about their regular jobs. But now you see an effeminate man with some make-up on, or a woman kissing another woman, and you start imagining things. You find it difficult to digest the fact that these people can be doctors, engineers, architects, scientists, hair-stylists and government employees as well. Even worse, oftentimes they are not granted jobs just for this one part of their individuality or fired because their ‘secret’ gets exposed to their uncomfortable and narrow-minded colleagues.

So why talking about it is important? Because it isn’t supposed to be a big deal.

 

3. Why it took so long?

Here’s a nice animated video about the history of the Indian LGBT+ community (from last year, so doesn’t cover the verdict from few days ago, but helpful nonetheless):

Contrary to widespread belief, homosexuality is NOT a western concept. In fact, the law against it was imposed by the British colonisers in 1861, who conveniently changed the law for the better in their own country in 1967.

An excerpt from a paper in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry tells us how alternate sexualities were accepted and even celebrated in ancient India:

“Early Buddhist and Hindu periods covered in ancient texts such as Manusmriti, Arthashastra, and Kamasutra refer to same sex attraction and behavior. The Buddhist tradition, as indicated in the pillar caves of Karle (50-75 CE), shows two bare-breasted women embracing each other. In Hindu scriptures, for example, Bhagiratha is born from the union of two women. Shikhandi changes gender and Ardhnarishwar(half-man, half-woman) are described. Ayyappa (dual gendered god) is worshipped and honoured by hijras. Several sculptures and carvings in Khajuraho depict same sex behavior, including mutual fellatio and orgiastic scenes. The God Ayyappa was born of intercourse between Shiva and Vishnu when the latter temporarily assumed the form of a beautiful seductive woman-Mohini. A number of 14th century texts in Sanskrit and Bengali (including Krittivasa Ramayana) narrate how King Bhagiratha was born of the union between two women blessed by Lord Shiva.”

So basically, our aversion to the whole concept is more of a result of colonial hangover (also the reason why this article is in English, and not one of the many beautiful Indian languages) mixed with lack of the ability to think out of the box. This went on and on for decades, convincing many people that homosexuality is a disease, and if not, is a potential source of other diseases. Because if the law criminalises something, it must have a point, right? Even if it was made almost two centuries ago by people who were not particularly well-known to have thought about the common good of Indian society in general.

As this tweet beautifully summarises, this is how India is decolonising:

4. Why do I care when I am straight?

Unfortunately, people ask what is my jubiliation about when I am a happily straight person. Now comes the romantic part. My answer is: because I believe in love and I believe in equal rights, for the most basic things you can imagine – to be able to live in a society without judgement, to be able to rent an apartment where one likes, to be able to do a job that does not care who one is sleeping with, to have the law on one’s side under all circumstances. If I can have all these rights as a straight person, so should my friends who aren’t. Again, if it is hard to imagine or put yourself in the shoes of others, just think why you should fight for women’s rights even if you are a man. Makes sense now?

15977923_770072809808450_3441949858735664822_nA very meaningful dialogue from Aligarh (2016), based on the true story of a professor suspended from his job because of his sexual orientation

5. What is our responsibility?

Now that the law is on our side (I say “our”, not “their”. That’s what it’s all about.), the next entities who will be responsible to make life easier for us are our families and the society. We need to have healthy discussions about what all this means, the implications, the consequences, the naturalness, and about sexual health in general. Friends need to be understanding, families need to be accepting, doctors need to be rightly educated, schools and workplaces should stop discriminating, and the media needs to deliver more and more positive messages.

A small note for parents:

What would you do if your children come out to you? It will be difficult, we get that. We know it will break your heart to some extent, but remember that you can’t change or “cure” them. What you can change is how you react. What you can do is extend your arms of acceptance. Because as mentioned before, this defines only a part of them. They can still be everything you want them to be – a person with a decent job, a happy family and even the parent to your grandchildren (because hey, Science rocks, and so does adoption!). So rather than depriving them of the love they very well deserve and hiding yourself from the society, embrace the new and brave person your children have become.

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