They met each other at a mutual friend’s party. After spending some time with each other, they became friends. With time, the nature of their feelings changed. They started loving each other. The physical and emotional intimacy was just like in case of any other couple. They madly loved each other. However, they were certain that their love will not be approved; their families will never let that union happen. You might be surprised to know that their families didn’t hate each other. Instead, they were on very friendly terms. There were no financial differences. The couple knew that revealing their love to their families will only lead to extreme social stigma and shame. The families will kill them for bringing disgrace in the society. The couple decided to end their lives, for they preferred dying at each other’s side rather than living without each other. And they did. What went wrong? Why did the society not accept their love? Because they were two men, in love with each other. When love between two persons of opposite sex faces so much resistance in our society, what hope does the love between two persons of the same sex have?

In India, a discussion on any form of sexuality is very rare and looked down upon. Homosexuality brings out extreme and polarised opinions.  Our society cannot accept a relationship between two persons of the same sex because on a subconscious level, marriage is the most basic lens through which a romantic relationship is made to pass. At the same time, a marriage which cannot bear children is not considered a marriage at all. Possibility of marriage and reproduction are the most “obvious” criteria on the basis of which a romantic relationship is judged. Because a homosexual couple cannot naturally bear children, the relationship is considered unnatural. In fact, sex only for the purpose of reproduction is considered natural.  Sex for pleasure or intimacy is a taboo in our society.

When a person identifies himself as homosexual, all hell breaks loose. He (or she) is shunned from the society. The social stigma attached to homosexuality is excruciating. We need to understand that it is very difficult for a homosexual person to first accept his real identity (sexuality) and then come out to his family and society. He faces extreme stress, pressure and even depression. The family finds difficult to understand what he is saying because homosexuality is not even a possibility in our mind-set. The entire family is made to feel ashamed and stay quiet. The person concerned is invisiblized.

So, why does a person “become” homosexual? As of now, medical science is still looking for reasons. There are various factors like trauma, some horrific incident, choice, genetics etc but scientific causes are not yet ascertained. However, one thing is very clear – Homosexuality is not a disease or mental disorder. It is not something which can be cured. In fact, it is not something to be cured. It is just an extension of personality. It is just like being a left-hander. Left-handers are relatively less in number, why a person is left-hander is not scientifically known, but there is nothing unnatural about being left-handed. There were some cultures and civilisations which considered left-handers as inauspicious or unhealthy. Now we know that’s not true. When will we realize the same about homosexuality?

Even though no religious text says anything against homosexuality, all religious leaders condemn homosexuality directly or indirectly. Some of them even support death sentences for homosexuals. Our religious leaders, usually divisive and always seen insulting each other’s religious beliefs, are united against homosexuality. Oh the irony! Should I be happy or sad?

Historical literary evidences indicate that homosexuality has been prevalent across the Indian subcontinent throughout the history, and that homosexuals were not considered inferior in any way until about 18th century. Contrary to some beliefs that it is a western concept or is imported into India and is devaluing our culture, homosexuality is an integral part of our culture. The carvings of Khujaraho temples and Kamasutra by Vatsyayana depicting homosexual acts clearly reinforce this fact.

Section 377 of Indian Penal Code criminalises any sexual act “against the order of nature”. Our judicial system interprets this section in such a way that sex between two persons of the same gender is considered punishable by law, attracting maximum punishment of life imprisonment. The Supreme Court has clearly said, in a verdict in 2013, that this section violates Article 14, 15 and 21 of the Indian Constitution, and had asked central government to frame laws providing more clarity on this issue. Obviously, our central government does not want to offend the religious leaders and hence, is not interested in framing laws to decriminalise homosexual acts. It must be noted that there are hardly any convictions under this section, but this section is grossly misused by police and other govt agencies to harass HIV/AIDS prevention efforts, sex workers, homosexuals and activists. Section 377 acts as an obstacle on the way of eradication of AIDS. When you criminalise any behaviour, you increase the chances of it going underground. Let me draw your attention towards the absurdness and ambiguity of this section. What is the meaning of “against the order of nature”? Who decides what is natural or unnatural? As discussed earlier, only the sex for the sole purpose of reproduction is considered natural. So, basically, this section criminalises oral sex, sex using contraceptives, anal sex etc, even if it is between two consenting heterosexual adults! Some people even consider “woman on top” position to be unnatural. So, that’s a crime? How can any sexual act between two consenting adults in a private place be unnatural or a crime? There are 2.5 million gay people in India, as per govt figures submitted to the Supreme Court in 2012. This number is based on self-declaration by individuals to the Ministry of Health. Needless to say, the actual figure will be a lot higher as declaring yourself to be homosexual involves shame and social stigma. According to a popular gay dating website, on which 18 lakhs men are registered from across the world, 1.4 lakhs of its members are from India, far more than US (around 46000) and UK (around 41000). How can something involving so many be unnatural? Apart from Section 377, there are various laws discriminating against homosexuals. Same-sex marriages are not legal in India. Homosexuals cannot adopt children, serve in military etc. Lesbians cannot access IVF while commercial surrogacy for gay couples is prohibited.

Now we know the situation in India. Is the situation outside India any different? In some countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Nigeria, Sudan etc, homosexuality is punishable by death. It is pretty obvious that most of these countries are in Asia or Africa and have terrible records on human rights, poverty and development. On the other hand, countries like Argentina, Brazil, Belgium, Canada, France, Denmark, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, US, England etc allow same-sex marriages. In some countries like Russia and Australia, homosexual acts are legal but with some restrictions. Actually, Russia is a strange case. Even though homosexual acts are legal, Vladimir Putin passed many anti-gay laws a few years ago, which are resulting in torture and extreme exploitation of homosexuals in the country. One fact needs to be highlighted here – countries open to homosexuality have low HIV rates.

In India, there are some positive signs. As we speak, Supreme Court is considering the validity of Section 377. In many cities, gay rights parades are being conducted every year to bring out awareness among the masses. But a lot needs to be done. We need to talk about and discuss sexuality. The stereotypes of gays in our movies and mind-set must go. We need to be logical, scientific and empathic in our outlook towards homosexuality. Queers (an umbrella term for sexual and gender minorities that are not heterosexual, i.e. LGBTIQ people) need to be integrated in our society and treated with respect, dignity and equality.

Love is a powerful force. It knows no boundaries. Let’s not stand between two lovers, irrespective of their castes, religions or gender. To be able to express my love for and spend my life with that special someone are my basic, fundamental rights. If that someone belongs to the same sex as me, so be it.

Published by Ankit Pareek