India’s gays and lesbians could hope for some sort of justice only if parliament passes a law decriminalising homosexuality.
The other day, I was walking on a Chennai street when a few youngsters were teasing a couple of boys from Manipur – for the way they looked. In fact, this happens quite often in various parts of India.
The Bollywood actor, Danny Denzongpa, who hails from the country’s north-east and who has been playing screen villain, said recently that he had been the butt of jokes for years. “I have been humiliated and taunted in the most disgraceful fashion,” he averred.
The actor’s statement came in the wake of a 19-year-old youth from Arunachal Pradesh in the north-eastern part of India being beaten to death in New Delhi. The son of a congressman, the teenager broke a glass in anger after he had been ridiculed by a shopkeeper. Several men then pounced on him and beat him up with rods. The boy died later in a hospital.
If Indians seem to have an aversion for north-easterners, because of their physical features, there is also a deep-rooted dislike for those with a different sexual preference. I am talking about gay men and lesbian women.
Shockingly, the Indian judiciary is also anti-homosexuality. Some weeks ago, two judges of the Supreme Court refused to decriminalise homosexuality after a petition to review Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code had been filed. This section makes homosexuality a criminal offence and hence punishable.
And this, in this day and age, when some countries have even begun legalising same sex marriages.
One of India’s most celebrated novelist, Vikram Seth – who himself is gay – regretted at the recent Kolkata Literary Meet that “The law is the foreign law. It’s homophobia that came into India (from outside), not homosexuality.”
The day Seth spoke, his mother, Leila Seth, wrote a column in The Times of India lambasting the court ruling. “We know that (my children) are hard-working and affectionate people, who are trying to do some good in the world,” penned Seth. “But our eldest, Vikram, is now a criminal, an un-apprehended felon. This is because like many millions of other Indians, he is gay.”
Interestingly, Narendra Modi, certainly India’s star politician today, is known to be a modernist. But Modi, Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) prime ministerial candidate, has been silent on Section 377. His Twitter account – where he is prolific – does not have a line on this section or the latest judgment.
The BJP as a party though supports Section 377.
In the final analysis, it may be said that while the Indian Constitution guarantees every citizen fundamental rights, including the right to love, Section 377 stops some – homosexuals in this case – from demonstrating their affection.
India’s gays and lesbians could hope for some sort of justice only if parliament passes a law decriminalising homosexuality. This appears like a long shot now — with political parties busy preparing for the upcoming federal elections.
Gautaman Bhaskaran is India Editor of FMT, and Chennai-based author, columnist and movie critic. He may be emailed at[email protected]