India and Sec377: Progression and Regression

Vada Voices

In December 2013, in the space of one morning, the basic civil rights of India’s LGBT community were destroyed. The panjandrums of the Supreme Court overturned a 2009 decision by the Delhi High Court that Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which makes consensual sexual acts between adults of the same gender illegal, was unconstitutional.

In the ensuing days many of India’s largest cities, from Mumbai to Kolkata, Bangalore to Delhi erupted in a day of rage, with LGBT people, human rights activists and supporters protesting outside government buildings.

From the various comments made against the Supreme Court’s decision, acclaimed novelist Vikram Seth summed up the sheer injustice of it all, when he said to India Today, “Of all the cruelties that we as human beings can visit on one another, one of the cruellest is to say:

“’You shall not love or make love with the person you love, not because of excessive youth or because of unwillingness, but because he or she comes from a different religion, a different caste, the same village, the same gender.

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“’You may say you love each other, that you are happy with each other, that you give each other solace and courage and delight, but your love disgusts me. It runs counter to custom, it is an offence in law, it is against the order of nature, it brings dishonour to our family, it will dilute our blood, it will bring about kali-yuga, it will corrupt everyone around you, and it is an abomination in the sight of the Lord. It must be forbidden.’”

On the reverse side, supporters of the decision came out in jubilant force, conjuring up every hackneyed and pseudo-scientific reason as to why the legalisation of homosexuality was and would be a corrupting force on India’s youth. But as the graph below shows, acknowledging the existence of 13% of a population that consists of over a billion would hardly be “a corrupting force”.

india section 377

When in Doubt Blame Foreigners

Along with the usual suspects of homophobic politicians, social commentators and professors, there were several high-profile Swamis, Imams and Gurus, most notably Baba Ramdev, who saw this as the perfect opportunity to promote himself as India’s go-to-guy for “curing” gays of their “wicked disease”.

The main reason Ramdev and his ilk supported the decision, is because homosexuality is a “foreign import”, the same tired excuse for oppression of sexual minorities used across Africa, Russia and the Middle East. The glaringly obvious fact is that homosexuality is no more a foreign import within the borders of India than the mango or the tiger.

As we’ve seen before, homophobes will latch on to any myth in order to promulgate their prejudices, but to see these high-profile Indians use this excuse of foreign influences as their foundation argument is simply pathetic.

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Section 377 is a colonial law, constructed and implemented by the British in the mid-19th Century. So, the fact of the matter is, homophobia is the foreign import not homosexuality.

India go gay 4 a day

The Bigots End Game

So here we are: a new year begins and India’s LGBT community are back to square one, the bigots have got their way and everything is as it should be, well not so, because there’s a new generation of Indian’s who are demanding that their voices be heard.

This generation is one of the first who have, on the whole, done away with archaic prejudices towards gay people, and much of the older generation’s scare tactics and misinformation have fallen on deaf ears.

As Sandip Roy remarked in First Post, “The gays have done the impossible – they have made Sonia Gandhi, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Chetan Bhagat sound like each other. When India’s biggest English-language mass market author, the head of the ruling party who rarely talks to the media, and one of the country’s biggest spiritual gurus all speak out, pretty much in unison against the same Supreme Court judgement, it’s clear that something has shifted in India. And shifted profoundly.”

In the last 15 to 20 years, India has progressed, both socially and economically, at a rapid speed, and the older generation, seeing the world they once knew crumble and replaced, are basically scared stiff, so are clinging on to distorted versions of Hindu society and family values, which were never real to begin with.

However, the overwhelming support which the LGBT community has amongst media and political elites, along with a growing mass of young, forward thinking, ordinary Indians cannot be dismissed. 10, even 5, years ago, the pro-gay voices would not have been as loud as they are now. Sec377 is a mere blip and progression, not regression will win out in time.

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As one commentator put it: “gay men and women aren’t asking you to invite them to tea; they just want you to recognise their basic human rights.”


Cartoon credit: Satish Archarya

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