India criminalises homosexuality; sexual intercourse between two consenting adults of the same sex is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and/or heavy fines.
India criminalises homosexuality; sexual intercourse between two consenting adults of the same sex is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and/or heavy fines. LGBT people are largely marginalised and discriminated against in terms of employment and opportunity. While India seems regressive and backward, individual families (like my own) provide a beacon of hope with progressive attitudes and acceptance of gay people. While the state still tries to set up clinics to ‘cure’ homosexuality, my family has accepted my gay aunt and this acceptance reflects a major attitude shift that was nearly unthinkable 10 years ago.
The change seen in the Indian mentality about LGBT people is hard to notice and even harder to catalyse, because it’s happening behind closed doors within families and small communities. While a portion of India is still opposed to homosexuality and are in favour of its criminalisation, there are progressive pockets that fight to allow members of the LGBT community to be accepted and respected members of society. The legal attitude towards LGBT rights is at odds with the social attitude, but perhaps this is what is needed to reform the country’s anti LGBT laws.
Over the past two decades, the clear trend of regression of laws and rejection of LGBT people by the courts stands in stark contrast to my family’s gradual acceptance of my aunt’s sexual orientation.
In 2009, the Indian government repealed Section 377 of the Indian penal code that criminalised sexual activity between same sex adults. The entire country rejoiced, and all the liberals thought that India was finally becoming more progressive. At the same time, my aunt came out to my entire family. After the initial shock, her parents responded by saying that while they want her to be happy, they would not visit her home in Boston anymore. They ‘accepted’ it, but this still meant that they wanted to keep the younger members of the family in the dark.
In 2013, Section 377 was reinstated and homosexuality was once again a criminal offence. Everyone was shocked that the extreme religious groups had won and actually succeeded in persuading the court that homosexual intercourse was unnatural and religious verses forbade it. Simultaneously, four years after the ‘big reveal,’ my grandparents had become more understanding and lifted their self-imposed travel ban. They even agreed to go on vacation with my aunt and her girlfriend – as long as it was not in India. My aunt’s siblings were completely accepting of her orientation and supported her throughout.
In 2015, Leo Varadkar, the then minister of health in Ireland and the son of an Indian doctor, came out as homosexual and claimed his orientation was part of his character. Indians take his success in the Ireland government as a personal one, and are excited to see a man of Indian origin be open about his sexuality and not be penalised for it. At the same time in 2015, an Indian politician in Goa moved to make medical clinics for gay people to rid them of the apparent disease of homosexuality. In 2015, my parents and sister, grandparents, aunt and her girlfriend went to Spain for a vacation. My 76-year-old grandparents took a couple of days to warm up to Claudia but overcame their reservations and eventually ended up having a spice eating competition to prove that Indians could eat spicier food than Italians.
This year, 2017, no legal progress has been made in the courts of India. The same bills and petitions to decriminalise homosexuality routinely get rejected from the parliament, activists and a handful of forward thinking politicians remain disappointed in their quest to allow LGBT people basic rights. But on the other hand, my aunt and Claudia went to Bombay for a two-week vacation and were shown off and flaunted in front of all my grandparents’ rummy and kitty friends, as their daughter and proudly – her girlfriend.
Progress may not necessarily be made one law at a time, maybe it’s made one family at a time.
Hindustan Times, July 5, 2017