Thursday, October 02, 2008

Being Gay is no Gay Matter

Recently, the Union Home Ministry submitted to the Delhi High Court that “Homosexuality is a social vice and the state has the power to contain it. Decriminalizing homosexuality may create breach of peace. If it is allowed, the evils of AIDS would further spread and harm the people. It would lead to a big health hazard and degrade moral values of society”.

Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, enacted by the British in the late nineteenth century, criminalizes what it calls, ‘sexual offences against the order of nature’. It does not clearly elucidate what comprises “against the order of nature” but same sex relationship is considered under its ambit in India.

The Union Health Ministry, however, has a difference of opinion and wants to scrap this act. Is homosexuality against the laws of nature? Just wonder if some people sitting in Delhi have decided that it is unnatural and so, it should be banned. Of course, there are many people who believe that this is unhealthy and needs to be treated.

Definitions of social vices are very subjective and there is no clear cut consensus on the vices that require to be controlled by the Government (if they ever needed to be). But our custodians of culture have decided that homosexuality is a definite no-no. I wonder if there are any statistics to prove that gay hood is a threat to the society in any way. If homosexuality is a social vice, then what makes heterosexuality any less holy?

The argument that legalizing homosexuality will lead to AIDS and other STDs is flawed. Banning it has lead to the situation of gays not finding an outlet to meet partners, except in dark shady corners, another type of ghettoisation. The fact that this is not legal has led to a sense of palpable sense of fear and a lack of a safety. There is no legal or medical help/counselling available to these people which makes matters worse.

What is the basis to determine what is natural sex and what is not and who determines this? There are probably many gays and lesbians in our midst who are hiding their sexual orientation because of the fear of being ridiculed and harassed. We have been brought upto believe that only opposite sex relationships are in sync with nature; possibly because marriage was linked only to procreation (Actually, with the levels of sex education in India, sex itself is dirty, so forget the question of homo vs hetero).

Why is homosexuality a social vice that needs to be banned? How different is it from hetero anyway? Funny, that the government thinks that homosexuality leads to AIDS while hetero is fine. Condemning any form of behaviour which is not in tune with our perception of what is right is pretty easy. It may not be easy to digest the idea that people of the same sex can actually co-habitate, because of years of conditioning. It is important to at least empathize with the plight of people who cannot express their love lest they are harmed by society.

Being a homosexual does not mean you are a pervert or you are promiscuous (neither of these qualify to be termed as “criminal activities” anyway). If sex is a natural expression, can the government intervene and tell us what is natural and what is not? If it is natural, then you don’t actually need anyone to tell you that, right? It should come to all of us naturally….

Definitions of morality are culture specific and do not have any universal sanction. Morality policed by society and laws no longer remains “natural”. If two consenting adults are involved, does the government have any locus standi to intervene and tell them how to behave?

There is also the peril of pushing Indian society into an increasing state of intolerance, where there is only one set of beliefs that is culturally acceptable, therefore legally sanctioned, and anything that goes against it has to be suppressed and criminalized -all justified in the name of culture.

Media and society perceptions weigh heavily against them making it difficult to express their true nature. After all, who would want to suffer the ignominy of being featured in the exclusive 24 hour broadcasts by TV Channels? Imagine a parent accepting the fact that his son is not actually want to get married to a girl; how scandalous. Society standards require you to marry a person of another sex only and so, many probably live "happy married" lives, supressing their "natural" instincts.

In Brokeback Mountain, Ang Lee beautifully portrays the relationship between two men and their intense love. I did feel uncomfortable watching them kiss (I went with a male friend to the movie) but I realize that maybe I could not fully fathom their relationship because of my concept of love. Now, maybe there is more maturity, and I appreciate the fact that the movie broke new ground in looking at love just the way it was and keeping gender equations out of it.

While writing this, I wondered how I would react to the situation if someone in my friend circle is a gay. And then I realize that there could possibly be a gay in our circle but we have never known and would never know. Why would the poor guy ever admit and fear being ostracized by the rest of the group? Same sex relationship would have the same kind of vagaries, fallacies as well as beauty of a man-woman relationship.

Would a day come when the law and society looks at people as individuals who can take decisions in life themselves and not be coerced or conned into believing that there is somebody else sitting within our midst who can judge what is right and what is wrong for us? We are all responsible for our lives, so why let someone else decide what we need to do or don’t need to do?

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