Gandhiji once said, “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” Today the LGBTI (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Inter-sex) community in India is not just being pushed back into the closet, they are being attacked. From suicides in Chennai to a doctor being extorted by young boys posing as same sex lovers in Bangalore, to an effeminate boy being flogged in Delhi, intolerance towards LGBTI persons has taken on a violent hue.
There was brief respite when the Delhi HC judgment of 2009 decriminalised the community by reading down Article 377, a law made in 1860, which criminalises sex between consenting adults of the same sex or those whose gender is non-normative. This clashed with the idea of personal liberty. However, the SC upheld Article 377 by stating that the work of a court is to interpret and enforce a law, not to create a new one. The apex court has now passed the buck to legislators and Article 377 is currently in a limbo.
In a democracy, everyone has a right to equal opportunity and respectable life. That is the vision of an equitable society that forms government through ballot. Unfortunately, the current vision of this community is coloured by prejudice. I have often wondered why ‘hijras’ are so pushy and loud—whether while begging or dancing and singing at celebrations. Their loudness masks their vulnerability—they have to be aggressive to counter the lewd jokes, prejudices and violence unleashed on them.
Unfortunately, we have labelled the LGBTI community miniscule and continue to ignore its rights and liberties. Regressive statements abound from politicians and gurus, and only a few young leaders willing to address the grievances of the LGBT community.
RSS’ stand on the matter is well known. Its leaders have gone on to defend the law which criminalises LGBT people. In this scenario, however, appears a ray of light: Recently, RSS spokesperson Ram Madhav said criminalisation of gays is debatable. This shows that even the most rigid elements need to take cognizance of direction in which the world is moving.
In Australia, Norrie, an androgynous person, won the right to be recognised as neither ‘male’ nor ‘female.’ A couple of weeks later, our Supreme Court recognised ‘transgenders’ as a constitutional category. This will change the forms that have categories only for male and female.
The world is getting sensitive to minority rights, however small the minority may be. And this is what is to be human—to respect each other, not discriminate on the basis of gender, orientation, or any divisive ideology.
A few weeks ago, even the UK made gay marriage legal. The PM hailed it as a step that will make all people equal, whether ‘gay or straight.’ We should learn from this, and at least decriminalise consensual gay relationships.
Even though there’s been change in these years, it’s a far cry from a rights-oriented discourse. Youngsters at parties may be open about being gay or lesbian, but the sniggering and whispering still happens, yet there is much more acceptance and less guilt about being the way one is. I feel a little uncomfortable at such public display, owing to my prejudices, but I understand that one has to adapt and respect everyone’s right to freedom of expression.
The change has not come about overnight. It is a result of organised efforts of various LGBT groups worldwide. We need to be more sensitive towards individual choices, and steer clear of stereotypes. It is easy to be judgmental and brand people, and difficult to try and understand them.
I believe that if any relationship between two adults is consensual, it should be nobody’s business. It is heartening to see people from LGBTI community still protesting for their rights. After all, we do not want to join ranks with Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia in this matter, do we?
Follow her on Twitter @ArchanaDalmia
Dalmia is chairperson of Grievance Cell, All India Congress Committee