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The Intolerance Debate – From the Perspective of a Gay Man

Over the past 48 hours the heavens have been breathing fire on India, all hell has broken loose on this country. During a one-on-one interaction at the Ramnath Goenka Awards for journalism, Aamir Khan decided to speak his mind on the topic that has been the topmost concern now in the country – intolerance.

For those interested, watch what Aamir said here (not for the outrage-happy generation that does not read beyond headlines)

This post is not to post a defense of Aamir’s stand – that’s done and dusted; Aamir himself has issued a statement. What compelled me to write this post were some thoughts that crossed my mind while reading the vitriol against Aamir online.

I was reminded of two dates – very significant ones, for a gay man in India – 2 July, 2009 and 11 December, 2013. The former was like a day of emancipation for the LGBT community in the country, freedom 63 years after independence. The latter when the highest judicial body of the country forced many like me into tears, ending the hopes of equality for many.

Having grown up in an environment where effeminate behaviour was mocked, laughed at and called an aberration, it was a welcome relief to finally breathe in free air. After July, 2009 a silent social revolution was brewing. There was open talk about alternate sexuality. Films, for a change, were taking the subject seriously. The population at large was coming to terms with the idea that some people may have different choices.

In 1950, the Constitution that was passed vouched to protect the diversity of India. We are a nation of myriad languages, cultures, traditions. We may be Bengali, Tamil, Punjabi or Marathi – ultimately we are all Indians. Similarly, we all have different biological make-up. I am a man who seeks love (and lust, if you may) in another man. I have friends who believe they are women trapped in a man’s body. I know others who are women who seek solace in females. Needless to say, vast majority of my friends are heterosexual (like the society is).

In 2009, we were successful in dispelling the notion that majoritarianism is “normal”. Justice AP Shah (God Bless Him) chose to uphold the diversity of India instead of giving in to those sought to establish uniformity in choices. Sadly, this was all undone in 2013. After the pronouncement of the deadly blow on 11 December, 2013, most political parties, barring one or two, supported the rights of LGBT community.

The party that stood out in its vociferous opposition to alternate sexuality is currently in power and the man who was mostly giving bytes against homosexuality is sadly the Home Minister of India now. And this is why I feel insecure in India. Living in India feels like Orwell’s worst nightmares coming true. You must hail the Führer or be doomed. It is stifling.

India celebrates Unity in Diversity. Uniformity would kill the spirit of India. If I do not like a channel on TV, I would switch to another one instead of throwing a stone at the TV set in a fit of rage. My personal choices – what I wear, what I eat, who I sleep with – are best left to me. We elect governments at the age of 18, surely we can handle these trivial decisions in life.

This is my country and I refuse to live here like a criminal. Love for country does not make one a blind nationalist. A true patriot would speak out when the State commits a wrong. Differences of opinion, like different choices of sexuality, must be allowed to exist freely, without fear. Stifling the voices who refuse to be counted in the majority (and I do not mean religion here) is against the idea of India.

Although I voted against the party in power now, 31% of my countrymen did; their verdict needs to be respected. The government must respect the office it holds. With so many issues facing the country, this mindless obsession over controlling personal liberties is baffling. Few call them the fringe; sadly the fringe has taken over while the mainstream is a mute spectator.

If things go this way, I am afraid the day is not far when IPC Section 377 will be used against us ruthlessly just like POTA was once used against the religious minority. Let us hope my fears are unfounded and the leader of the nation takes over the reins with renewed zeal and lives up to the erudite speeches he makes abroad.

Homosexuality & Govt of India – Theater of the Absurd

This post was originally written for NextGenIndia.

IndiaThe historic July 2, 2009 verdict of the Delhi High Court, decriminalising homosexuality, came up for hearing in the Supreme Court last month, after being challenged by various religious bodies in the apex court. The hearing has been making headlines in the mainstream media from day one, thanks to the various goof-ups made by the government of India.

To begin with, the ministry of home affairs put its foot in the mouth over their position on Section 377 of IPC. Speaking on behalf of the MHA, the Additional Solicitor General, Mr P P Malhotra reiterated the stand (which called homosexuality immoral and against the order of Nature) that MHA had taken in the Delhi High Court. The comments drew flak from all quarters, in mainstream media and social media. The MHA was quick to do a volte-face and distance itself from the ASG’s affidavit. On the next day, the govt counsel clarified in the court that while the govt had no legal problems with decriminalising homosexuality, they have no stand on “homosexuality” par se.

The government also earned the ire of the apex court bench for “making a mockery” of the system by continuously shifting its position on the issue at hand and digressing from the core issue of IPC 377, and focussing on the prevalence of HIV among homosexuals. The government put across the view that homosexuals formed a large risk group for the spread of the human immune deficiency. The Supreme Court reprimanded the govt for the lack of fresh data and asked them to present a detailed account of how many HIV patients are there in India at present and how many of them belong to the LGBT community.

The government came up with a set of data before the apex court. They claimed, there are about 25 lakh homosexual citizens in India, 7% of whom are affected by HIV. What correlation the govt wishes to draw between sexuality and a virus borne disease, is beyond our understanding. Specially so when sexual minorities are just another HIV risk group, and heterosexuals are at as much risk of the disease as LGBT community.

That the government has clearly made this case a theatre of the absurd was apparent from the Apex Court bench’s observation that the supreme legislating body of the nation was casual in its approach towards the case of homosexuals. It pondered what stopped the Lok Sabha from enacting a law decriminalising homosexuality, despite recommendations by the Law Commission.

It seems the rap from apex court worked in waking up the government from its slumber. On Wednesday, March 21, the Attorney General submitted to the court that they had no objection to decriminalising Section 377. Continuance with such an act was against Article 21 of constitution the counsel added.

However, this is too little too late. After opposing decriminalisation at Delhi High Court, the government suddenly seems to have woken up to human rights. Why did the government wait 3 years before changing their stand on Section 377 of IPC, if they claim Delhi High Court verdict was enlightenment for them? Why did the Prime Minister of the country not censure his Health Minister for publicly claiming homosexuality was a disease bred in foreign shores?

The right to dignity of life for the LGBT community is now a few weeks away when hearings on the issue ends in Supreme Court. Till then all eyes will be on Justice G S Singhvi and Justice J S Mukhopadhyay.

[P.S. – This is a rewritten version of an article for the Gaylaxy magazine].

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