In India Law, Lesbians don’t exist

Since it has become almost fashionable to do so, we all advocate gay rights. Gay rights, technically, should only deal with issues faced by homosexual men. However, what happens is that issues concerning lesbians also get clubbed into the same category. When we talk of gay rights, it almost becomes implied that we are talking of homosexual men and women. Are we then seeing a sort of subjugation happening with a group which claims to being subjugated by the mainstream society?

While lesbians have always been a part of the gay movement, they have played a secondary role. The gay men become the spokespersons for both the genders, which naturally results in greater awareness regarding gays than lesbians. It gets assumed that whatever problems are faced by gays, are also faced by lesbians. But it is obvious that this is a wrong assumption to make. While there is the common crisis of discrimination and marginalization, there are certain issues which women alone have to face. And obviously, there are certain issues which homosexual men alone face. For lesbian women, there is a double subjugation at play – they are women and they are homosexuals. While women are already treated as second class citizens, imagine the plight of the lesbians who get further shunned because of their different sexual orientation. This can be seen in the gay movement as well. The problems and needs of lesbians specifically tend to get ignored, and the patriarchal system ensures that they do not get a chance to speak for themselves as well. This silence speaks volumes about the plight of theirs.

The word gay is associated with several stereotypical images and ideas, like the way they act and dress. Thus, whether correct or not, we have a certain awareness of gays in our consciousness, like feminine men wearing tight, leopard prints. However, there is no real image of lesbians in our consciousness. There is not even an incorrect stereotype created of them. They are denied any kind of identity and it could just as well be that they don’t exist at all. This is another kind of silencing that we see taking place. Lesbian women cannot speak for themselves, because according to society, they don’t exist at all. Female sexuality has always been a taboo – something not to be discussed, something which is a matter of the “domestic sphere”. This new angle to female sexuality will obviously be hard to accept. Furthermore, this also punctures male supremacy as the need for the males gets rejected here. There is certain symbolic defiance which comes into play. These, coupled with several other complicated factors, often spell disaster for lesbians. Women are forcibly married off to men so as to “cure” them. They are beaten up and starved till they are forced to call themselves liars. They are suffocated by ideological discourses and glorified expectations of women as custodians of “morals, tradition and culture”, so much so that suicide seems the best option available.

If this societal silence and subjugation was not enough, consider the law. While gays at least find a mention in our great laws, lesbians are not even granted that. 377 of the Indian Penal Code makes homosexual acts between men illegal but does not technically cover lesbians, since the legal definition requires penetration. So according to our book of law, lesbians don’t even exist. However, since the section 377 creates binary opposition between natural and unnatural acts, lesbianism does fall under the category of being an unnatural act. This often gets used to harass the women. This unsaying in the law is said to have taken place due to Queen Victoria. When it was suggested to her to address female homosexuality also, she was too horrified and refused to believe that such acts between women were even possible.

Lesbians have to suffer from homophobia coupled with sexism. They must be recognized at an equal footing with gays and the homosexuals (both gays and lesbians) must be put at an equal platform as heterosexuals. Old, archaic laws must be repealed to create laws in sync with the changing times. One needn’t be a homosexual to realize how difficult it would be for the queers, the daily battle to be treated as “normal human beings”. It is time that the lihaaf put over lesbianism gets removed.

Shravya Jain

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