This immoral law must go and we must drop our hypocrisy on homosexuality
One thing we Indians are extremely good at is detaching ourselves from misery, injustice and conflict. We go about our lives as if India`s big problems don’t exist. I am not judging us. It is the only way to cope in a country with so much misery and inequality.
Another thing we are good at is not discussing any problems that have a sexual angle. This is the reason why we still don’t have reasoned, nuanced and rational debates on crimes against women and why many of us think sex education is a terrible thing.
In all this denial and hypocrisy we have buried and accepted a gross injustice that affects millions of Indians and clubs our nation with some of the most backward, regressive regimes in the world. It is the issue of gay rights, or the infamous Section 377, that still exists in our law books and criminalises homosexuality. This, despite oodles of scientific evidence in the past decade about the existence of homosexuality as natural, despite almost all medical and scientific experts believing that there is nothing ‘abnormal’ or ‘incorrect’ about being gay.
How many people does it affect? Well, homosexual populations are around 8% across the world (another data point to show that this is indeed a natural, consistent occurrence, not caused by cultural or societal factors). We make 100 million Indians criminals and go about our daily lives as if their concerns are irrelevant to us. To me, this is nothing short of a collective sin.
Why is this happening? What can be done about it? And why should we, the selfish, acche-din GDP-growth seeking Indians care?
Homosexuality is a complex issue, with science unfortunately not being the only basis on which people have an opinion on it. There are religious, moral, political and legal standpoints involved. However one thing is screamingly clear — there is enough reason to not criminalise homosexuality from any of these standpoints.
Scientific evidence shows homosexuality exists in nature. From a religious point of view the orthodox stance is anti-homosexuality, but many denominations of several religions accept or are neutral towards it. In Hindu religion the stance ranges from positive to neutral to antagonistic. Rig Veda says ‘Vikruti Evam Prakriti’ (perversity/ diversity is what nature is all about, or what seems unnatural is also natural).
Morally, while you may argue that men and women are supposed to be attracted to each other and everything else is immoral, isn’t it also immoral to take away someone’s free will? Isn’t it immoral to call it a perversion without listening to the gay point of view? Isn’t it immoral to force a gay person to marry someone of the opposite sex and make him or her live a fake life? Isn’t it immoral to crush the gay movement simply because they are a minority?
Accepting gay rights is only being sensitive to the genuine needs of a discriminated community. On that note, i would have one suggestion for the gay community. We live in a conservative country that needs to change, but change happens slowly. Any breakthrough in gay rights should not spill out on the streets, in the form of Western inspired gay parades or anything that presents being gay as being somewhat fashionable or cool. While you have the right to do so, please note that we have to nudge a conservative, almost hostile society towards change. If we freak them out, they will only withdraw further.
Politically, there are a lot of conservative voters who vote for BJP. While many BJP seniors are pro-decriminalisation they cannot be public about it, lest opponents take political advantage of it. However, conservative BJP voters are also the most loyal BJP voters. While a section of them may be upset with the move, they really have no choice to vote for anyone else at the moment.
Which brings us to the last standpoint of legality. Section 377 is not an Indian law but an inheritance of British law. The same law, with the same section number existed in over 40 colonies of the British empire. Most of them have junked it or modified it to decriminalise homosexuality. We have held on to it as if it is part of India’s cultural heritage, whereas it is nothing but a relic of an unscientific, Victorian past.
Of course, the final question is this. Why should the selfish, non-homosexual, growth-seeking Indian care? Well, we should. Countries where minority rights are protected, moral viewpoints are more modern and liberal, and laws change with the times to reflect global best practices and scientific discoveries, tend to do better in terms of income growth. Most developed and free nations of the world accept homosexuality, as they should.
If we want to be one of them one day, it is time to start behaving like we belong in the modern world. Strong minority rights are evidence of justice in society. It shows even the powerless are heard and protected. With justice comes a higher sense of investor confidence, which in turn leads to higher economic growth. So, gay or not, we need to do this. We need to remove Section 377. We need to move ahead in the world.