Last edited: October 31, 2004

No Place to Be Gay

Same-sex relationships continue to be viewed with prejudice, observes

The Tribune, October 17, 2004
The Tribune House, Sector 29-C, Chandigarh, India, 160030
Phone: (91-172) 2655066, Fax: (91-172) 2651291

By Seema Sachdeva

THE recent order of the Delhi High Court rejecting a public interest litigation filed by the Naaz Foundation, an NGO, challenging the Constitutional validity of Section 377 of the IPC underscores the fact that we have a long way to go before same-sex relationships as an adult choice become acceptable.

However much we keep denying such rights, the fact remains that there are gays and lesbians in our society who are increasingly coming out of the closet, refusing to be marginalised. The Gay Pride parade in Kolkata in June 2003 was a call for a right to dignity for homosexuals. The LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) film festival, the first such to be held in Mumbai last October, was a major step in asserting their self-identity.

Homosexuality is more than mere sexual desire for people of the same sex; the relationship has many other dimensions and depths, including emotional bonding. Those in such relationships are subject to irrational prejudices by a society that refuses to accept their sexual preferences. Often they have to face ostracism, besides scorn and ridicule, when they come out of the closet. The humiliating experience apart, they are also subject to pressures to go in for straight marriages. They are seen as ‘deviants’ and even as perverts who need to be cured.

While countries like Holland, Belgium and France have accorded legal sanction to same-sex marriages, India remains far behind, in a social time warp. Here homosexuality is considered a form of unnatural sex, and remains a criminal offence punishable with imprisonment up to 10 years. In the Indian context, the issue is considered too much of a taboo to be even discussed or debated upon. Instead, cultural extremists and vigilante groups have launched attacks on the phenomenon and practice. Hindutva hordes have targeted even films such as Deepa Mehta’s Fire and Karan Razdan’s Girlfriends with a crusading zeal that betrays homophobia. It just goes to show how intolerant we are of choices and relationships that have been accepted by a number of developed countries.

However, since the issue will not go away merely because the morality brigades set themselves against the phenomenon, it is time to address the issue more seriously out of concern for the rights of fellow humans.

The argument that ours is a conservative country and such issues have no place in a society like ours, has no basis either in mythology, history or even in present times. Our civilisational heritage celebrates varied forms of sexual behaviour. India gave the world its first treatise on love, Kamasutra, and our arts, architecture and archaeology abounds in evidence of diverse sexual practices. Our literature too is rich with a variety of sexual imagery. More recently, especially in the last 20 years, homosexuals have rubbed shoulders with the high and the mighty and been awarded and feted. One would have assumed that with so many achievers and celebrities being publicly acclaimed regardless of their sexual orientation, society would move towards greater acceptance.

Unfortunately, that does not seem to be happening. In the age of individual rights, sex, like religion, ought to be an individual’s private affair. It is a matter of personal liberty guaranteed by Article 21.

When an individual is considered mature enough to exercise his political choice at the age of 18, denying an adult right to choose a consenting partner of any kind does seem to be a violation of personal liberty.

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