We made history a few days ago. Celebration broke across the nation. It was no longer a punishable offence to be gay in India. Congratulations to all my friends who witnessed this new order in new India
Supreme Court reviewed its own four-year-old verdict of criminalizing consensual sexual relationship in private between adults of the same gender. Well, if it’s mutual, it should not matter whether it is between people of the same gender or another gender.
Considering that not everybody has the same view. The apex court asserted that the government and media must create awareness so that people embrace this change.
As gay sex was criminalised by law, there were celebrities who have been criticized by Indian gay community for not ‘formally’ coming out and then there are the famous and fearless five who convinced the supreme court that the right to privacy and the protection of sexual orientation is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Indian Constitution.
About three years ago, a popular Bollywood filmmaker had joked about his sexual orientation on YouTube. He was banned because of “obscenity”. We all are a witness to it that if cinema and television have tried to challenge the way we live, makers have been prosecuted or even denied release on account of liberalism – particularly when it came to the depiction of sexuality. This was in sharp contrast from the liberal depictions in ancient forms of art and literature.
It reminded me of an article by an Indian author Devdutt Pattanaik published in ‘Debonair’ magazine. Devdutt said ‘to find out if homosexuality or same-sex intercourse existed in India, and in what form, we have to turn to three sources: images on temple walls, sacred narratives and ancient law books. He says that on the walls and gateways of Hindu temples such as Puri, Khajuraho and Tanjore, we find women erotically embracing other women or men displaying their genitals to others. Apart from this, the Indian epics and chronicles are full of stories allowing women to have sex with women and men to have sex with men. For example, Hanuman is said to have seen Rakshasa women kissing and embracing those women who have been kissed and embraced by Ravana. And, then there are stories of women turning into men and men turning into women like that of Shikhandini, Drupada’s daughter in the Mahabharata. Shikandini is raised as a man, and his father even gets him a ‘wife’. When the wife discovers the truth on the wedding night, all hell breaks loose; her father threatens to destroy Drupada’s kingdom. Yaksha saves the day by allowing Shikhandini to use his manhood for a night and perform his husbandly duties. Reference, but not approval, to homosexual conduct, does occur in many Dharamashastras and Kamasutra too. Temple imagery, sacred narratives and religious scriptures strengthen my belief that homosexual activities in some form did exist in ancient India.
As I extended my research, I found the acceptability and understanding of these relationships across cultures and eras. In fact, the American classification of mental disorders listed homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1968. Five years later, it was addressed as ‘sexual orientation disturbance’, and after nineteen years in 1987, homosexuality completely fell out of the classification of disorders. In today’s time, gays are encouraged to accept their sexual orientation, and 67% of Americans support same-sex marriage. Most of the approximately two dozen countries around the world that allow same-sex marriage are in Europe. If you observe closely, you will understand this acceptance is primarily based on three factors: the strength of democracy, economy and the religious context of the place where people live. And, based on these parameters, homosexuality finds broad approval in North America, the European Union and many parts of Latin America. There is widespread rejection in Muslim Nations, Africa and parts of Asia.
I believe the global support that the LGBT community received in the last decade has encouraged them to come out of the proverbial closet gradually. People suddenly discovered that they had a gay brother or son or neighbor or close colleague, which started shaping up the public perception and supporting the social changes. In India, the judiciary has done its duty, and now we must do ours.
Stay tuned for more thoughts on this post from me.