Wednesday was a day when people in India were probably busiest on social media. We had a lot of interesting and witty comments starting with whether one could have more than “Koffee with Karan” ( Karan Johar is a popular film maker and talk show host who is also believed to be gay) to whether it is criminal to “love”! I asked a friend if I should attempt writing gay love stories on my fiction blog. He messaged back saying he would then stop visiting my blog!
I realized that everyone including me had their own set of ideas regarding gay relationships. As an emerging social issue in India today, the educated middle class is still not very sure how to react to it. On one hand are those who support the issue very vociferously and on the other hand are people who I call “homophobes” who are virulently against anybody gay.
So where am I between these two extremes?
I wish I could answer. This is an issue where I am completely confused. Let me begin by saying that I really cannot understand love and sexual relationships between same sex people. I sometimes think that if this was an option why did nature make male and female species? But I do realize that anything that I do not understand by virtue of being part of a majority group does not necessarily make it weird! May be there are people who prefer to be with partners of the same sex..! Do they have to be necessarily classified as criminal? Is every gay person a potential pedophile? From where did we get these images?
I think much of this has to do with the colonial roots of our legal system which looked at this issue from a very “puritanical” point of view. When we look at Indian mythology we see characters like Shikhandin , who was supposedly a woman born as a man and the cause of the grandsire Bheesma’s death during the Kurukshetra war ( the great warrior refused to fight what he called a “female” and this was used as a decoy by Arjun to strike him down). But it is highly probable that Shikandin was a gay person or a transgender. Yes, he was discriminated against in terms of not being accorded the status of a warrior ! But there is a different interpretation of alternate sexuality in the section of the Mahabharata where the Pandava’s “Agyatvas” ( or exile in disguise ) is narrated. Arjun becomes “Brihannala” – a “female” dance teacher for the princess Uttara in King Virat’s court. However when the Kauravas attack it is Brihannala who leads King Virat’s army to victory. Brihannala was a transgender and a brave warrior- a positive portrayal this time!
There are also stories about how Princess Chitrangada was attracted to Arjun ( yes it is him again!) and in order to win his affections this “princess” who was supposedly a great warrior who fought and hunted like a “man” suddenly became very feminine. However this entire piece can also be interpreted as an instance of a man who was attracted to another man!
So what I am coming to say is that gay love was certainly recognized and celebrated in India. Yet, our laws today unfortunately do not recognize that simply because we draw our lessons in law from western sources.
The age of the HIV/AIDS epidemic across the world suddenly brought the issue of gay sex into focus as they were one of the vulnerable groups and classified as MSMs ( men having sex with men). The issue was opened up for discussion in our prudish society. A lot of public figures came out of what is called the “closet” and declared their different sexuality.
But there is something that keeps bothering me here is the issue of a discrimination within discrimination! This is particularly true in our country. While there is a lot of discussion on “male homosexuality” there is not as much about “female homosexuality” or lesbianism. Yes, we can say that women are generally discriminated against in our country so it is not surprising that their gay relationships should get a back seat in discussions.
Even the film “Fire” by Deepa Mehta which actually portrayed a lesbian relationship did not do justice to the issue. The message that seemed to come across was that women who are denied a normal sexual relationship with men drift towards other women. Lesbianism in our country as we know attracts some sort of vicarious interest from men! That was rather unfortunate.
Meanwhile both gays and lesbians in India undergo discrimination and stereotyping of a form that makes life very difficult to live. The effeminate portrayal of gay men and the mannish portrayal of lesbian women is only part of the problem. There are many gay people hiding behind the cloak of a heterosexual marriage simply because society refuses to accept them for what they are. A legislation like the recent one passed by the Supreme court would only help makes us more narrow minded. This is indeed a pity because we are a country that has been touted as one with many progressive legislations - around abortion, inheritance rights of women etc , never mind if they get implemented. But at least they are there for recourse should an occasion arise!
While each one of us is entitled to have our own views on homosexuality it is unfair to declare it as criminal. In a society that is slowly getting used to the idea of something that is different, this legislation is not just one ,but a hundred step backwards!