According to Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), framed in 1860, ‘‘Whosoever has carnal intercourse voluntarily against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or imprisonment for a term which may extend to 10 years, and shall be liable to fine.’’ This, in simple words, translates to homosexuality being a crime in India.
Ironically, the British, who had drafted section 377 of the IPC themselves, have repealed this law from the UK in 1967, but we continue to believe it to be of relevance in today’s day and age.
I personally fail to understand how and why one’s sexual orientation can be a cause for punishment. Aren’t all of us supposed to be equals before law, regardless of where we stem from, whether we’re moral or immoral? Then how long is it going to be before we can rid ourselves of such archaic and illogical laws and “live and let live”, in the least?
It is common knowledge that literature drawn from Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, and modern fiction traditions testify to the presence of same-sex love in various forms. Ancient texts such as the Manu Smriti, Arthashastra, Kamasutra, Upanishads and Puranas refer to homosexuality. Stories of Muslim Nawabs and Hindu noblemen with habits such as maintaining a harem full of young boys also point towards the existence of the notion of same sex relationships. Despite all the arguments to the contrary, the Court considers it to be a law and order problem. How something so private disrupts public peace, is beyond my comprehension.
I don’t know how we can justify branding people as “queer” and “aberration”, just because they love their own kind. Medically, evidence points to homosexuality being a function of biology. It is not a ‘curable’ phenomenon, contrary to how it is perceived in society. It is not something that can be controlled or changed by will.
The National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) estimates that there are about 2.5 million male homosexuals in India. What’s more is that a majority of gay men are married to women, mostly because they cannot be open about their sexual preference. This leads to bisexual behavior and is a cause for concern for the NACO, as this puts women and children in danger of getting infected with the HIV. Section 377 of the IPC is a constraint in establishing communication and spreading awareness among the gay population, as they remain largely invisible and marginalized.
According to a study conducted for the period from 2001 to 2006, an estimated 45 gay couples killed themselves across India. And before the ‘last resort’, homosexuals are treated unfairly; they form the butt of many jokes; they are beaten, harassed and looked down upon every single day of their lives. They live in constant fear of rejection from society, and even try to keep their sexuality under wraps by entering into marriages with members of the opposite sex. The pressure and isolation is immense, considering the number of male-female relationships that the minority gay population witnesses all around.
Today, homosexuality is recognized across the globe, with the Netherlands being the first country to permit marriage for gay and lesbian couples. Events such as Mardi Gras in Sydney, Midsumma in Melbourne, Gay and Lesbian Pride in Johannesburg, Women’s Celebration Week in Greece, and the Gay and the Lesbian Film Festival in Lisbon celebrate the quintessence of being homosexual.
India has largely remained in denial and protest, but the urban youth is slowly coming around. On June 29, 2008, four Indian cities (Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata and Puducherry) celebrated Gay Pride Parades for the first time. About 2000 people turned out in these nationwide parades. Mumbai held its “Queer Pride” march on 16th August 2008. I hope that such pride parades can be organized peacefully in many more cities in the future.
Social acceptance for the homosexual community will still take time, but scrapping obsolete laws will be a halting, but seminal step in that direction. Also the self appointed moral police in the country needs to take a break.