Straighter Woes

“Why is it that, as a culture, we are more comfortable seeing two men holding guns than holding hands?” asks Ernest Gaines in all fairness. Just the very mention of the word irks disgusted looks and shakes of heads. “It is unnatural!” is a common excuse among anti-homosexuality people. Sexual relations are only meant for procreation, claim some hotly. It’s a heavy debate, and while simply touching the surface, one might argue that if it were unnatural, homosexuality wouldn’t be common sexual behaviour among animals, would it? And if marriage and sexual behaviour was meant only for procreation, childless couples wouldn’t exist, would they?

Some cite religion as an excuse. Evidence of homosexual behaviour has been found in several religious texts, including, The Kama Sutra, The Bhagwad Gita and the Rig Veda. Christianity has a mixed interpretation on homosexuality. Acceptance of homosexuality has found several takers among Liberal Islamic groups.

Even today, when India prides itself in being the world’s largest democracy, a 19th century British law makes homosexuality in India illegal. Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code criminalizes homosexuality, making it a legal offence, with punishment ranging from 10 years to lifelong imprisonment. Such a law legalizes inhuman treatment in the name of punishment given to practitioners of homosexuality. The kind of discrimination and stigma towards homosexuality is shared by the media and the general public. They, in turn, contract this homophobia to the media.

Statistics show that there are an increasing number of reports on lesbian suicides. The social pressures and social ostracizing drive several young women to take their lives, as their parents either arrange their marriage with another man, or forcibly separate the women from their partners. It’s a very tragic tale of young, budding lives.

While awareness about homosexuality is on the increase, it’s restricted to the metros and big cities in India, and only among elitist groups. The way to combat ignorance, and spread understanding and awareness of the phenomena was led by the 1996 Deepa Mehta’s film Fire. The film made waves while inviting a whole gamut of protests from right wing politicians. “Girlfriend”, a Bollywood film was another attempt to address issues of lesbian and gay relationships in public forums in India.

While, the western world has increasingly opened up its mind to accepting homosexuality as a way of life, we in India have a long way to go. Naz Foundation in Delhi, that works on gender issues filed the PIL in 2001, seeking to declare section 377, IPC as ignorant to the right to equality (Article 14), right to freedom (Article 19) and right to life and liberty (Article 21) of the Constitution. The Centre rejected the petition saying that homosexuality cannot be legalized in India as the society disproves of it.

Hamsini Ravi

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