Struggles of the LGBT Community in India
Struggles of the LGBT Community in India
By Guest Blogger Sitara Sankar
A group of gay men, after attending an awareness and health workshop on same-sex behavior, were on their way home when they were brutally assaulted by street urchins with hockey sticks. Many of them suffered from grave injuries and had to be hospitalized. The coordinator of the workshop, Shaleen Rakesh, one of the most renowned Gay Rights Activists India, knew who the assailants were but could not approach the police; the reason being that in case a complaint was formally registered, it would be the attacked gays who would have to face the wrath of law, rather than their brutal attackers. To add to the pity, the local police were infamous for their arrests and torture of Gay Group Outreach Workers. Hence complaining to them, would also draw their ire towards him. In his words, “In a country where the law brands you as a criminal, how can you talk about rights?”
Imminent Fear leading to Unreported Crimes
NGOs and HealthCare Personnel who routinely come in contact with the LGBT Community, come to know of harrowing incidents that most of them have encountered. From being raped, beaten and extorted, to being outcasted by their own family members, it’s an arduous journey for an average Indian who has sexual behavior that is ‘deviant’ from the ‘traditional framework’. The biggest hassle of course is the fact that most crimes against the LBGT Community go unreported, because of the fear of getting further hounded by the ‘law-providers’. Being forced to be secretive about their sexual tendencies, they are much more vulnerable to STDs, and AIDs in particular. In a 2006 study conducted by the National Aids Control Organization, gay men were found to be eight times more likely to contract HIV.
Not all is dark and desolate for the LGBT Community in India. There has been a definite shift in perceptions over the past decade. Particularly in metropolitan cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore and Chennai, a number of activists have lobbied for Gay Rights. From depiction of gay characters in Bollywood Movies, to interview of gays and their family on prime-time television, and Gay-Pride Parades demanding the annulment of Section 377, the issues of homosexual discrimination have been taken up vehemently by many.
NGOs like the ‘Naz Foundation’ and the ‘Humsafar Trust’ have been running Crisis Management Cells to come the rescue of victims of sexual abuse and hate crimes. However, these advancements are representative of just a minuscule minority of India. Across rural areas and small towns where majority of the population resides, homosexuality is still unacceptable. Shaleen Rakesh for instance, has categorically said that he has been fortunate to have liberal-minded parents who accepted him for what he was. This is not true for most LGBT people in India.
Leading Double Lives has become a norm
With the decriminalization of homosexuality in 2009, there were many closeted gays who decided to be upfront about their sexuality. The reversal of the verdict in 2013 has not just shattered the aspirations of the LGBT Community; it has lead to widespread fear amongst those who dared to defy society and come out in the open just four years back. The fear of being alienated and rebuked forces a sizeable chunk of gay men and women to lead double lives.
Despite all its modern-day advancements, traditional Indian Society holds a linear belief that in order to ‘prove his manhood’, a man needs to marry and father a child. Similarly, a woman might have a fabulous career, but she’s considered ‘incomplete’ till she gets married and gives birth to a child. In such a situation, the very existence of homosexuality preferences is denied, and countless men and women lead double lives after marriage, keeping their same-sex relationships under the wraps.
Persecution and Prosecution under Section 377
While the actual number of arrests and prosecutions under Section 377 are very limited, the persecution of LBGT Community Members by different sections of society is a widespread phenomenon. In fact, the number of cases of harassment, threats and blackmail of gays after the reinstatement of Section 377 in 2013, has massively increased. Gays are under the constant receiving end of threats that their ‘wrongful sexual activities’ will be reported to the police. In many cases, it is public servants who initiate these extortion threats, and activists who try to extend support, are in turn harassed.
A recent bizarre case in Bangalore, where a wife filed a case of Section 377 (Unnatural Sex) against her husband, when she caught him in a compromising state with another man, created an uproar for the sheer hypocrisy of the law. A number of activists spoke about how the wife deserved justice, but filing a lawsuit on the grounds of ‘unnatural sex’ that can lead to life imprisonment was definitely a gross misuse of the archaic law. And when its intense parental and societal pressure that forces gay people to get married to heterosexual spouses, is it really fair to indict a person on such grounds?
A Breath of Respite for the Transgender Community
For a transgender in India, it is quite routine to be subjected to jeering, lewd comments and sexual harassment. Being forced to live amongst the marginalized fringes of society, most of them make a living by begging for alms and invoking a ‘special power’ to bless newly-weds for martial happiness and barren couples with children (as per a traditional Indian belief), for which they get paid. In 2014, the Supreme Court officially provided them with legal recognition as the ‘third sex’ and a number of welfare schemes have been initiated to provide them with education and unemployment, particularly in the Indian State of Tamil Nadu.
Constitutional Morality versus Personal Liberty
In this long-stretched debate between a form of morality that has been forcibly imposed by the constitution of the world’s largest democracy, the championing of Gay Rights is not just about legalizing homosexual behavior. It’s about giving them the right to live with dignity and freedom, instead of being persecuted as second-class citizens in their own country. The LGBT Community stands by a hope of a better India, where personal liberty will emerge triumphant over imposed morality.
QUEER SENSE is authored by Bryce B. Summers, Ph.D. who is a psychologist and author. Please help change attitudes to acceptance whether it is domestic, or abroad, by contributing to a crowd funding campaign. Help make this book happen!
Queer Sense is a theory that fosters awareness on how culture shapes attitude development through social models, emotional connections to social models, aka attachment, and use of language with one’s models.