Gays: legally accepted, but still socially handicapped? [Debate]

July 2 is an important day for India. In the year 2009, Justice A P Shah of the Delhi High Court decriminalized homosexuality and termed Article 377 of the IPC as a violation the Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The case, fought by NAZ foundation under the umbrella of “Voices against 377”has given a new direction to the mathematics of social ethics and morality in India.

The nextGen India team was curious to know if things have changed for the LGBT community in the past two years. We proposed the question “Gays – legally accepted, socially handicapped?” to our panel on the eve of the anniversary of decriminalization of homosexuality in India, in our nextGen Debates edition of July 1.

The panel comprised of the who’s who of LGBT community. We had the editor in chief of Gaylaxy Magazine, Sukhdeep Singh. He was joined by Mr Pawan Dhall, the president of NGO SAATHI which works for LGBT community and HIV patients in India. We also had young lawyer and activist Manish and freelance writer for web contents, Rohan (who belongs to the LGBT community).

While Sukhdeep was very optimistic about social acceptance of gays in India, in his opening statement, Mr Pawan Dhall chose the middle ground. Rohan opined that Indian society was still homophobic and the “queer” were still victims of discrimination.

The debate began on the usual note of homosexuality being “unnatural”. The notion was rubbished off by Sukhdeep with scientific evidence as well as references from religious texts which were contrary to what a vested section of the society claim about homosexuality being an abnormal disease. Mr Pawan Dhall however said that instead of locking horns with homophobic elements, LGBT crowd must mend bridges with them and build castles of trust by spreading awareness. Rohan put the blame on media, saying it shared the foremost blame for creating misconceptions about gays and reinforcing them into the public psyche by refusing to portray the whole community, and bringing only chosen few into the limelight.

This gave a new direction to the debate – perceptions of gays and how to change them kept the panel busy. Sukhdeep opined that the media was indeed guilty as charged but in the recent past, the same media has made amends to how it perceives homosexuality. He referred to popular episodes of talk shows hosted by celebrity journalists and the latest “twist” in the tale in a daily soap on a popular entertainment channel.

Mr Pawan Dhall took up the strings from there and added the English media is ambivalent to gays while the vernacular press was guilty of being homophobic. Manish echoed Mr Dhall, the amount of panel discussions and talk shows the English media held during the Delhi High Court case, was a cause of cheer, he interjected.

Mr Dhall steered the debate to a new direction by posing a question to the panelists – “what potential do you see in the Delhi High Court ruling to bring about the change we all want?” he asked. The panel was unanimous with the thought that the high court ruling had brought the matter out of the closet into the open and people were not shying away from discussing sexuality in public.

On that note, the moderator asked the panel about the differences among the community members themselves – how they perceived it and how could they sustain a fight for rights if groups within the community could not see eye to eye with each other. Manish explained that there are natural divides that exist among the rest of society as well. Sukhdeep added to what Manish said, “During the independence struggle. Weren’t there different groups? Some like Gandhi. Some like Azad. Some like Bose? It is but natural that people will believe the methods should be different. What matters is the goal.”

Mr Pawan Dhall took a different stand on this. He opined that the beneficiaries of the Delhi High Court ruling were hijras and kothis while the middle class was still warped in its psyche. Also, language barrier divided the community, the English speaking elite sniggers at the poorer sections. But he added such is the Indian society as a whole and there was no reason to blame only LGBT community for it. Rohan however felt that there was a need to unify all sections of LGBT crowd.

Towards the end of the debate the question of religion vs homosexuality was taken up. It is well known that representatives of almost all leading religious groups have filed petitions against the Delhi High Court verdict in the Supreme Court. The panel however was not bathed in hatred for the religious leaders (save Baba Ramdev, who it seems has attained a dubious distinction among everyone in the queer community). Sukhdeep said certain fringe elements were misrepresenting religious texts and brain washing people to homophobia, Hindusim is the most accepting of homosexuality.

On that note, Manish also added that we will soon find non-conservative sections interpreting the religious texts liberally. Like the numerous churches around the world that accept homosexuals and solemnise same-sex marriages. Mr Pawan Dhall opined that faith and organised religion were two different entities and often the two are confused. Faith has no place for hatred. However, sometimes organised religion channelizes faith to further their causes. Those examples are a minority, he believed. The section closed on the note that many inhumane practices could be successfully abolished by law and social engagement, LGBT acceptance in society too could be done that way, and efforts were on.

The debate came to a close with closing comments from all panellists. The closing remarks from Mr Pawan Dhall summed up the whole idea of the debate – “It’s time we utilized the DHC ruling to put foward the case for social inclusion of LGBT people – right from ration cards to same-sex marriages”.

Like always, the audience was enthusiastic in its participation. There were many interesting points raised by the members along with insightful opinions expressed. Some of them are listed here –

Aagan: Acceptance is about social attitude towards gays. The discrimination one faces. for being a homosexual. It is a silent ostracisation

SonalRuhi: Decriminalisation has no meaning, unless discrimination or lack of acceptance by society is criminalised specifically.

DA: I think its naive to debate the extent of legal or social acceptance for “gays” (and LGTBKHQ… more broadly) without taking into consideration the immense differences of class and social privilege within LGBT communities; as Oishik Sircar points out it is ironic that Section 377 has been most commonly debated as an anti-Gay law when the ones who bear the brunt of such legal discriminations are most commonly visible lower class sections like Hijras, Kothis, Aravanis, transgenders etc. rather than middle or upper-middle class gay men.

@t1_ha (hameed azar): There’s nothing unnatural between gays and gay orientation haas existed for long enough and now with ample resources and internet, knowing about gays and what they do. So people calling it unnatural are merely trying to be biased and not ready to accept another orientation!!

Tarun: Being Gay in India is a stereotype even after Article 377.

piyush Gupta: Being gay is not a issue with those who are not, but if we call our society a free one,we will have to allow it. The hurdle is our traditional mindset which will not allow it till it’s last breath.

@forver_tarun : I dont have any special kind of feelings against LGBTs but just like any other human being they also have a right to choose the way they how to live their life.
@siddharth3: Gay Marriage is legal in India’s neighbourhood: in Nepal. Time to learn something from them.

@Dhruva_Mathur : Being gay is not a crime and shud b treated that way. Religious organisation must not meddle in state affairs.

@SophiaBush : Homosexuality is found in over 450 species on earth. Homophobia is found in only one. Which seems unnatural now?

Onir,film-maker (@IamOnir) : Being Gay is India is like being in disguise constantly.

Tushar Gandhi (great grandson of Mahatma Gandhi) : I am ambivalent towards being gay in India. I neither hug Gays nor bash them.

Queer Coolie : It isn’t nearly about defamation of LGBTs is it ? It is about recognition of rights and allowances for all human beings. And in a democracy, there will always be those who are allowed to speak against a minority and vice versa.

@IndianMetroGAY: What we really need now is to make our parents and society understand that being homosexual is not adversity of any kind.