Friday, July 3, 2009
You probably heard about the landmark, historical case about decriminalizing the Indian Penal Code (IPC) Section 377. Where “India becomes the 127th country to take the guilt out of homosexuality,” according to The Times of India.
IPC Sec. 377 itself is a tricky law to tackle. I first heard about the gay rights movement and how Sec. 377 is a farce in an LGBT Film Festival in Kolkata a couple of years ago. Sec. 377 didn't just criminalize homosexuality, it criminalized penetration of any kind that was “unnatural” more specifically, penile penetration. That leaves out abuse by other means sexually (to children, non consensual etc.), it also left out the fact that 'hetrosexual sex', if it's not “natural” is criminalized. Sec. 377 is used throughout India by cops to pick up any suspicious couples, be it opposite sex or same sex to get bakshish or bribe money. It's a law that cops use to bully people into giving money. Once the bribe is given, you're let go. It's not like in the west back in the days when people would be arrested, jailed or assaulted. India has a different take on this all together.
India culturally, is very fluid. There are whole colonies of hijaras or transvestites/hermaphrodites throughout India. The way Indians view sexuality is different. The first thing that shocked me when I came here was seeing men hold hands in public. It doesn't make them “gay”, they cry and laugh and that's a cultural norm. It made me uncomfortable because I was conditioned differently. They also wear large flower prints, which I as a woman won't ever wear. The 'shiny shirt syndrome' is also rampant. Men and women have very fluid gender roles in India. The experience of coming out varies by family but it doesn't usually end up in psychotherapy or death. The Hindu scriptures themselves contain accounts of homosexuality. The ancient Kamasutra texts were believed to contain 'gay sex' as well, until the British came. That was also when they enacted Sec. 377.
For some in India, this is all about reversing what the west imposed and going back to the Hindu heritage. For others it is about India joining the 21st century. India is on the road to progress and prosperity. The government projects the economy to grow at 7% for FY10. It is a nuclear power, it's the world largest democracy, and it is trying desperately to be liberal just like Europe and America. So it is only natural to have liberal laws that allow folks to have their sexual freedom. I was talking to my friend Zaid Al Baset, who is a sociologist and a lecturer at Kolkata's prestigious St. Xavier's college two days ago about Sec. 377. I told him how some might see it as a trendy thing to do for India to decriminalize homosexuality. For the past two years, I've seen that it's been cool to be queer and folks are more open than when I first came here seven years ago. There is also a new generation, a more affluent and liberal young people enrolled in colleges. This generation tends to be more out going and accepting compared to the stay-at-home folks two generations ago. Zaid agreed with me about the trend. He's been studying literature and films that cover the subject of homosexuality and there has been a new wave that explores the subjects in the Indian popular culture. Even two days ago we both doubted the decriminalization. I told him that nobody wants to be remembered as the administration or the legal body that made “homos legal”. I was wrong.
This is only the beginning. There are religious groups – mostly Christian and Islamic, which are already objecting to the ruling and would be taking the case to the Supreme Court. It will be interesting to see what India does in terms of gay marriage and so on. And what would happen in practice in terms of health care and taking care of children? Zaid suspects that it'll be another couple of decades until India legalizes gay marriage. Then again, it might arrive a lot faster, too.
Photo by: lighttripper