Did India socially regress by a couple of centuries in the last one week ?


As I look back at the last one week in India , I am both incredibly proud of what we have accomplished as a country – and incredibly sad and angry at how much is left to be done to bring India socially forward from 1800s to 2013 .

Let me get the awful stuff off my chest first . Supreme Court ruled that consensual sex is criminal , if the parties involve are of the same gender . Essentially they upheld a law that was made in mid 1800s under British rule and over turned the high court verdict that decriminalized this . Supreme Court took a very narrow view of the matter – essentially , they kicked it to the legislature to amend the law .

India is a free country – so why does the government think it is constitutional to get into the sex life of its citizens ? Essentially this law also negates the possibility of gay marriages . It is a gross violation of citizens’ fundamental rights for government to decide who they can have consensual sex with and who they can marry . Life imprisonment apparently is the punishment for gay sex. I can’t believe we have to deal with this in 2013 .

Congress party has made its stance clear that they oppose the judgment . BJP seems to be in support of the judgment – which is not a surprise given the party has limited secular credentials . Not sure where AAP stands on this . But essentially – this means the legislative route will take a while since there is no broad base support to pass legislation smoothly . There are legal options the government can file – including a curative petition . I hope they do that quickly .

I am rudely surprised I did not see the President and Prime minister of India making a comment on this SC verdict .

What was most appalling for me was the reaction I saw in Social media . People who should know better came out in BIG support of the Supreme Court ruling . Broadly their argument was
1. It is unnatural and god doesn’t approve
2. Only a minority of people are gay and rules should not be bent for their benefit

How do these people get to judge what god likes or doesn’t like ? Why didn’t the rest of us get that memo ? India has a clear distinction between church and state – so why is religion even brought into this discussion ? And why is there no similar extreme outrage when people cheat in their marriage and sleep around with others ?

Also – if minority rights don’t matter , why are politicians dead worried about religious minorities at election time ? Would they stop having reservations for education , jobs etc based on religion and caste ? Clearly the answer is NO . So why is being a minority being used against only gay people ? Gay people have all the same responsibilities in India as other citizens – so why should they alone have less rights ?

I got so worked up seeing the social media conversations that I unfollowed and unfriended a bunch of people . I cannot believe these folks could stoop to such a low level .

Political parties have a lot to answer for – this arcane law has been around for ages . When the HC overturned the law – and the appeal went to SC, why didn’t the government start a parallel legislative effort to erase this from the law books ? Clearly they are worried about how the voters will react in next election . So they tried to play it safe and thought they can leave this alone for judiciary to deal with . Judiciary inexplicably issued this terrible judgment as a result .

This is just a reflection of the larger social outlook in India . Being gay is still not a socially accepted thing in India – large part of the population still think it is a sin of some sort , and they react in terrible ways . The way to change this is only via education – over a long period of time . But in the short term – there is no excuse for not pursuing legal and legislative options right away .

Please don’t forget – Gay people are people too ! Live and let live

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17 thoughts on “Did India socially regress by a couple of centuries in the last one week ?

  1. The problem, Luke, is that the religious extremists will be successful every time as long as they keep painting it with the brush that that’s exactly what “we gays” are doing: “forcing our beliefs on others.” Especially when they implicate that “it” will be taught to children.
    As soon as we come out to show people what our families look like – and that we want the same things others have – safety, dignity, a chance to work and to make a better life for our children – in essence, that we are the same as “you” – we gradually have had the hard conversations that made the difference. To be the “other,” the “minority” asking for the rights is nearly impossible – which is why it’s so important to show how we are in many ways all the same. Allies and friends make all the difference. As I said to you Vijay, because of your example you’re helping your colleagues and friends, many living in silence, hold their heads a bit higher today.
    I’ve been in the middle of the fight in the US since 2004 – and it’s both painful to see the sort of sweeping gains we’ve fought to realize this year not be enjoyed globally, and hopeful: may this be the beginning of the fight that makes the difference.
    Thanks for dedicating your incredible week after TechEd for these words.

  2. “In the Kremlin, in the parliament, in the courts, in the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church, and on television there reigns a disdainful and intimidating unanimity: homosexuals are a threat to morality, to the family, and to the state… [...] this year alone, they have documented hundreds of acts of violence, including murders, against gay men and women; workplace discrimination; and hateful (and sanctioned) rhetoric in the official media.”
    http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/comment/2013/12/gay-rights-and-putins-olympics.html

  3. Proud of you for this couragous blog! I think you are completely right that politicians hoped that they can just punt it by letting the judiciary do the dirty work, and indeed, most of the outrage outside of India is targetted at the SC. But judges do what they do: They issue a ruling based on facts, and the facts seem to be indisputed that there is a 200 year old law in place that should be there in the first place.

    It’s crazy that on the one side India is so proud of its freedom and independence, but then politicians have done nothing to remove even the most archaic artefacts of the past. That’s the despicable part, not that the judges issued a ruling.

    The situation is fortunately a little bit more clear in the US where the Supreme Count has at least issued a ruling that states that the federal government has no right to interfere with whatever the individual states decide. That makes changes a bit more easy in the US because now each state can decide on its policies, instead of going through a possibly decade long debate on the federal level.

  4. There have been far many areas where judiciary and legislature have played footsie. And since there is no clear consensus on this issue it would be a while till any law emerges. And this is one of the issues where we are caught in a time warp.

  5. Hi Vijay,
    Thanks for the excellent post and the honest expression of your thoughts. I am tempted to share something that was my first and closest encounter with a mother who had a homosexual son. It was a 5 hr flight to Utah and I got chatting with a middle aged couple sitting beside me. As time passed the lady became very comfortable with me and it seemed like there was something bothering her so deeply that she wanted to just talk to someone about it and I listened. She was very proud of her children who were all doing well for themslves but when she came to talking about her youngest son she broke down and I could feel a myriad of emotions trickling down her cheeks. It was evident that somewhere her son being homosexual had impacted her entire life, as if that made her an unequal in the society, she was worried about him and his future. Wasn’t the origin of society to make its members feel safe and supported?

    Sensitivity to others have just remained bookish knowledge and not translated into practice.

    It is a regression of human values that continues to happen in India and the wisdom of the Vedas and Upanishads get depleted. It irks me whenever I visit now as it literally seems that people don’t speak the same language, there is disparity of all sorts.

    Every small action matters and that’s what we need to do in our own spaces, that’s what you have done with your blog, fueled the sensitivity of everyone who has read it and I hope at least those folks will ensure they don’t support this carnage of humanity.

    Take care,
    Jyoti

  6. Thanks for this; it’s important that people – whether we feel like we have an influence or not – speak up when we see something wrong.

    I can’t understand (and I mean that literally, it’s not hyperbole) people who want to interfere in someone else’s life when neither party benefit. For example, I can see the point (even if I disagree with the natural justice) if you decided to kick someone out of their house so you could take it, but wilfull interference just for the sake of it ? Making an effort to ruin someone elses life, when there is no benefit to anyone else ? Just don’t get it.

    As for the religious aspects, I’m part way through a re read of the Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut. One of the major institutions / characters is The Church of God the Utterly Indifferent, which has only one rule….
    “Take Care of the People, and God Almighty Will Take Care of Himself.”.

    Seems to me to be the basis of a good spiritual life.

  7. Hi Vijay,

    I’m a friend and colleague of Moya’s, and your blog came to my attention due to a comment she posted on Twitter several weeks ago. I read your opinion with particular interest because in 2012 I spent four months working in Bombay for one of Mukesh Ambani’s companies.

    I found India to be one of the most difficult countries in the world for people to be openly gay. It seems to me to be a rare thing to hear an Indian person speak up about the unjust treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons. I commend you for voicing what appears to me to be an otherwise unpopular position in India. My gay friends in India warn me that the recent court ruling is likely to result in police extortion of perceived gay persons, as well as possible violent organised reprisals against perceived gay people, similar to what happened in the Gujarat riots against other minorities.

    While working in India last year, I felt it was necessary to conceal my sexuality in order that I would be judged solely on the basis of my job performance instead of someone’s prejudiced opinion of my ‘gay lifestyle’ clouding their opinion of me. My concerns were rooted in stories like these that I will briefly share with you. (I was also advised to remain closeted by Indian gay people who said I was likely to be mistreated at work if the truth were known.)

    One university-educated colleague from Pune told me over dinner, “Hijras [transgendered persons] work in Tata’s steel mills because they possess magical, superhuman strength and can work with the molten metal without getting burned.” It didn’t occur to this colleague that the more likely explanation than ‘magic’ was that Hijras worked in Tata steel mills because there were no better job opportunities for them in Indian society. Hijiras seem to be the new Dalits under the unofficial-yet-still-real caste system. They are a category of person trapped at the bottom of society’s hierarchy. A Hijira working in an Indian steel mill, where safety protocols are lax and worker protections are non-existent, would be regarded as disposable and unprotected in the eyes of a steel mill foreman.

    The same colleague also told a story about how he wouldn’t share an auto rickshaw with a Hijra, “because these people have all kinds of diseases and can cast spells on you.” Similar superstitions and prejudices were voiced by other team members, including another university-educated, Westernised colleague from Kerala who told me one day at lunch, “I think these gay people who request a sex change are as crazy as a man who thinks he is a horse. Should we give me a man who thinks he is a horse a surgery to turn him into one?” he asked with ridicule in his tone, implying that gender-reassignment surgery was a symptom of mental illness rather than an accepted medical condition.

    Oddly enough, I never raised the subject of gay issues in India, but I found some Indians liked to raise the subject with me, perhaps hoping to find a sympathetic ear or validation of their own prejudice (since they did not know I was gay). I politely argued back with them when they would raise the topic of gay issues. I don’t think I changed anyone’s mind, but I do think I surprised a few people by responding to their prejudice by asking questions like, “can you explain to me the logical, rational basis for the opinion you just shared?” Most of the time they would be flabbergasted and it would turn into a dithering emotional argument on their part, one they could not win with reason or intellect.

    It just so happened that when I returned from working in India, SAP translated its It Gets Better video into 13 languages in September 2012. The video talks about the suicide of one employee’s gay son and focuses on the idea that life will get better for despairing LGBT youth as they get older. One of my gay Indian friends in Mumbai sanity-checked the Hindi translations for us. I’m not sure if this Hindi-translated video will ever get shared with Indian LGBT people who could benefit from seeing the story told in Hindi, but we tried to do our part to get the story out in as many languages as possible. In the wake of the Indian Supreme Court ruling, it seems that it was prescient to get Hindi translations. Sadly, the friend who helped validate the translations is too afraid to share it on Indian social media, fearing reprisals or extortion by the Mumbai police.

    (Link may only default to Hindi from Indian IP addresses – manually change captions to Hindi on YouTube if interested):

    • Hi Grant

      I am so glad you took time to post this comment . I can only apologize for the behavior of my fellow Indians . There is a serious lack of awareness there on LGBT issues – and it is not improving much. The society is so used to a view handed down over generations that it clouds the judgement of even well educated and otherwise reasonable people

      I can say for sure that if I never lived outside India, my perspective would possibly have been just the same as the folks who shared their views with you while you visited .

      It’s just such an unjust law that got upheld by SC in India . I hope the legislature has the guts to get this right quickly

      Cheers
      Vijay

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