In 1861, the British created Article 377 of the Indian Penal Code, criminalizing homosexual behavior. A century and a half later, our attempts to get rid of this archaic law have come to a naught. Most of my friends on social networks have had something to say about the situation, and very few of them have found the Supreme Court’s decision reinstating the anti-sodomy law deplorable. Some who find the decision correct are from a generation before me, who don’t surprise me that much, but there are many who are from my generation and some from the next generation – so called millennials. I do find myself to be the lone liberal in this group of conservatives, but there is a good thing to this — the conversation has started and it will only help bring facts to life and inform people and open their eyes. At least that is what I hope. I have myself had my share of reservations about homosexuals, so I cannot fault the naysayers completely. But as I have read up and got more information about the issues involved, my opinion has evolved into full acceptance of homosexual people. I hope the Indian public and policy makers keep an open mind, get informed and rethink their opinions.
I have not had time to watch the debates on the issue on Indian TV in recent days. However, people on social networks have been complaining about media’s “outcry against the SC decision”, therefore I assume the opponents of Article 377 have got some kind of a platform there. On social networks, however, supporters of the article seem to be having a field day. Following these conversations has brought forward a number of prejudices, preconceptions and misconceptions that people have about gay people. Since most of these people have a logical and scientific bent of mind, I hope for some change of hearts.
In this post, I will try to debunk 7 major myths that Indian people have about homosexuality.
1. Homosexuality causes AIDS
Yes, I have heard some people say this. But, as we all know this cannot be farther from the truth. AIDS is caused by transmission of the HIV virus which can be transmitted by many methods one of which is promiscuous unprotected sex, be it heterosexual or homosexual. Yes, anal sex (man-man or man-woman) is understood to increase the possibility of transmission of the virus. Hence among AIDS victims, MSM are in a greater percentage. However, if a homosexual couple is healthy and committed to each other, and has no exposure to the virus, there is no reason for their sex acts to cause or spread AIDS. So, if your worry is spread of AIDS, be an opponent of unprotected promiscuous sex, not of homosexuality itself. Encourage commitments in same sex relationships, not their criminalization.
2. Homosexuality is a mental illness
Yes, people claiming to be psychologists have told me that. However, American Psychiatry Association (APA) says it isn’t so. Now this association is not some club of western culture, but a group of educated physicians who have reached this conclusion after detailed research and studies. Forty years ago APA removed homosexuality from the list of mental disorders in their DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is considered a reference standard by psychiatrists and psychologists the world over). If you haven’t removed it from your list, it may be time to do so now. Even Indian Psychiatry Association has some interesting articles on the issue on their website, all indicating the same thing – that homosexuality is not a disease and nobody becomes gay of their free will. Who in the world would want to be a social outcast on purpose?
3. Homosexuality is unnatural
OK, what do you mean by unnatural? Something not happening in nature, or not intended by God? If you believe in God, then possibly this is how God made them (homosexual people), therefore who are we to judge them and not accept them as part of the society? There are 1500 species in nature who commit homosexual acts. If your argument is that sex between same gender does not produce children, then tell me what is the prime purpose of sex — expression of mutual love, enjoyment, or procreation? Out of all the sexual acts you have committed, how many have been with the purpose of procreation? Moreover, sex is not all that relationships are based on. Just like us, homosexual couples also have multidimensional relationships and sex is just one of those dimensions. If you don’t believe in God, then I expect you would not have such prejudices in the first place. If you do, I would like to hear from you in the comments box below.
4. Homosexuality is a Western malaise, and against our culture
If you ask me, I’d say it is the Article 377 that is a Western malaise, not homosexuality. This law was created by the British in 1861, and its inspiration must have been the Western prejudices not Indian culture. Now the British have left, but left us with their laws. Back in Britain they have even legalized gay marriage, but we are still wedded to their laws. In Hinduism, homosexuality is not as explicitly condemned as it is in Islam and Christianity. Hindu mythology has characters like Ardhanarishvara and Shikhandi. Khajuraho and other ancient temples are full of sculptures depicting homosexuality (see this page). What I want to say is that in ancient India many aspects of male-female sexuality were possible. On the other hand, in some Muslim countries, it is a crime even to talk about homosexuality. Even in Western countries, while gays are gaining more acceptance, custodians of “culture” are crying foul. So, whom do we want to emulate in India? Or do we want to keep our laws secular and not inspired by religious dogma? It is not a matter of aping the West, as some make it out to be. It is a matter of doing the right thing. Now if you would rather talk about Indian culture, let us talk about the practice of Sati, untouchability, casteism, etc. Are we not trying to get rid of all these evils? Then why not get rid of our prejudices against homosexuals too?
5. The number of homosexuals is negligible
This argument is used to justify that homosexuals do not need specific laws to protect their interests. This argument is faulty on many levels. Will you make laws discriminating against people who are blind, deaf, or left-handed if their numbers are small? Secondly, their numbers seems low particularly because they have to keep themselves hidden to escape social ridicule. Granted their numbers are much much smaller than those of heterosexuals, but they are not as negligible as Ahmedinejad claimed to be in Iran. In your school, in your office, in the train you ride, you may have come across people who are living double lives because they cannot come out. OK, let’s leave homosexuals aside and talk about hijras. Why does our society force them to live secluded lives and almost beg for their survival? Why can they not work in offices, schools? Are they responsible for their plight? Nobody wants to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender of their free will, nor can they change their sexual identity even if they wished to. Try to be in their shoes — what if you or I were in their place?
6. Same sex marriage reduces the sanctity of marriage
Well, this argument is not that common yet in India, because we are still stuck in criminalization of homosexual relationships. Same sex marriage is still a far cry from reality. However, as same sex marriage becomes more acceptable in the West, Christian fundamentalists keep complaining that this is changing the definition of marriage. Another faulty argument. It is not changing the definition of marriage for you. You can still marry whom you want and nobody is forcing gay marriage on you. But if gays are getting married to each other, how is that impacting you? How does someone else getting his right make the rights you have lesser? If you force a gay person into matrimony with a straight person, two lives will be ruined. In India, we may have countless such couples. So, we have no right to snatch others’ rights, particularly when their rights do not harm us.
7. If you allow homosexuality, what is next – sex with animals?
Lots of people talk about the “slippery slope” to incest and bestiality. But there is no logical reason to be afraid of that. First of all, advocates of rights for homosexuals talk about consensual sex, which is not possible in case of bestiality. Either way, laws should only concern themselves with rapes and forcible sexual encounters, and not define who one can have consensual sex with. On the other hand, if religious reasons are used to guide our laws, many other laws infringing on our personal freedom can be made.
Anyway, there is no end to arguments and counter-arguments. What I am trying to say is that people who are against rights for homosexuals are on the wrong side of time. Future generations will fight these laws and sooner or later these draconian laws will end, just as Sati practice and untouchability ended. Also pay attention to the fact that the Supreme Court has not basically justified the law, but has said that the law needs to be changed by legislation. This is technically correct, but there is not much hope from the Parliament here. The highest court in the land has lost an opportunity to correct a historical wrong.
To some extent, one can be thankful that such laws are not enforced as strictly as they are in Muslim countries. But still, the existence of such laws means that the Police can keep asking for bribes for yet another act which should be legal. It also means that LGBT people will keep facing problems in getting jobs, housing, getting married, adopting kids, and so on.
With this hope that in near future all LGBT people will get full rights, I sign off and welcome your responses.
Oh, one more thing. Even though Article 377 is considered an anti-homosexuality law, it does not meet even that objective properly. It only outlaws sodomy, which means on one hand it does not outlaw lesbian relationships, and on the other hand it does outlaw anal sex between legally married man and woman, which carries a ten year imprisonment as punishment. Therefore, it is not just a matter of annulling this ridiculous law, but of ending the discrimination against homosexuals as a whole. Yes, in our society PDA makes many people uncomfortable; therefore both types of couples should limit their intimate acts to the privacy of their homes and bedrooms. Our conventional society deserves at least this concession.