Monday, July 6, 2009

HOMOSEXUALITY: DECRIMINALISATION VS PROMOTION

On July 02, 2009, the Delhi High Court ruled that private homosexual sex between consenting adults could not be treated as a criminal act under Section 377 of the IPC. Ever since then, there has been a lot of debate in the media about whether gays should be treated just as heterosexuals are and whether India is ready to accept same sex couples.

Predictably, Muslim and Christian leaders have taken the view that being gay is unnatural and does not have the approval of God. Sikh clerics have also spoken out against it. Hindus do not have any central authority that can give a clear ruling applicable to all sects and sub-sects, but Baba Ram Dev has said that homosexuals are ill and should do pranayam to rid themselves of this "abnormality". (Update July 08: He is filing a petition in the Supreme Court challenging the judgment of the High Court today). There are others who say that homosexuality is not frowned upon by Hinduism. The dominant view, however, is that while sexual relations between females were there even during the times of the Epics, male homosexuality was unknown in India till the arrival of Muslim invaders.

Little wonder then that this exclusively human sexual orientation that has always been almost universally condemned by religions as unnatural and frowned upon by society as abnormal, was legally classified as a criminal activity in India by the British 149 years back. Societies across the world, particularly in the West, have dramatically changed in the last century and a half. The hold of the Church has also eroded dramatically during this period, thanks to an almost rebellious attitude that makes people want do everything that is prohibited, the impulse being that it must be damn good and, therefore, must be indulged in.

The decriminalisation of homosexuality in India has come as a huge relief to ordinary gays, particularly male, who have been living for long not only with social disapproval but also fear of law.

In a very interesting and illuminating discussion on CNN-IBN on July 5, 2009, it was refreshing to see Sagarika Ghose getting Muslim Personal Law Board Member Kamal Farooqi and Dominic Emmanuel, spokesperson of the Delhi Catholic Archdiocese, around to toning down their opposition to the High Court judgment by accepting that although their religions did not allow homosexuality, gays should not be treated as criminals for what they do in the privacy of their homes. Madhu Kishwar, in fact, went to the extent of saying that the judges had done our judiciary proud "because they have shown that Indian constitution allows endless expansion of notion of freedom".

The other important aspects that Ghose got the panel involved in discussing included the elitist nature of homosexuality in India, the fear that this is "a slippery slope down to moral chaos" and the fact that public display of gay pride is offensive to conventional moral values of Indian families. The consensus was that homosexuality should be in tune with India's morals and should not flaunt itself or be exhibitionist.

The same issue was addressed in NDTV's "We the People" program on July 5, 2009. At the end of it, Dominic Emmanuel could not stop himself from saying that straight Indians watching the program would start thinking that they were the ones who were queer! In that one sentence, he laid bare the concealed truth that the program was not about objectively discussing homosexuality but about aggressively promoting it as a hip and superior Western lifestyle statement that modern young Indians should embrace.

This was in stark contrast to the balanced manner in which the issue was discussed in the program on CNN-IBN. What got Emmanuel energised to say what he did was perhaps the statement of a carefully chosen lady participant who very proudly informed India that she was a mother who had had a number of same sex relationships and that her daughter too was doing the same. That was not only flaunting homosexuality, it was striking at the very roots of widely accepted family values: it was irresponsibly pushing a deviant style statement into the bedrooms of conventionally married couples.

That is why perhaps there is much apprehensions in many quarters that their children who are otherwise straight will be almost compelled to experiment with homosexuality due to the subtle pressure that is already beginning to be put on them. It is generally accepted that homosexuality is the result of hormonal imbalance. Over that physical condition people have little choice, and such people need to be respected and accepted for what they are.

But, when some individuals start pushing, directly or indirectly, their imbalances into people who are balanced, as a smart thing that should be done by them too, then it is equally an intrusion into the personal lives of the vast majority of Indians who are not hormonally inclined to be gay.

This is the one unwelcome fallout of the judgment that we will be forced to deal and live with as a society. Perhaps a law to prevent promotion of homosexuality is also needed to balance the much needed relief given by Delhi High Court by decriminalising it.