For those who doubted the presence of rampant homophobia and homophobic practices among Indian institutions, the harassment and subsequent arrest of 23-year-old Sanjit Mondal prove it beyond a doubt. Sanjit, who was walking home from his friend’s house, was picked up and bound by policemen, taken to the station where he was bet and humiliated, had his phone searched through, and subjected to humiliation by the police. He was denied his basic right to a phone call and had to spend a night behind bars. Upon the arrival of a lawyer, the police revealed that he was arrested due to his feminine looks, which ‘suggested’ that he was soliciting prostitution (Nag). Historically, social norms and customs have stressed procreative sex and socially stable unions like marriage. Especially in ancient India, homosexual relations have never been viewed as deviant, let alone outlawed. It became a criminal offence under the British Raj. With the start of British colonization, the destruction of the images of homosexual expression and sexual expression, in general, became more systematic.
The influence of imperialist Britain took the form of repression and domination on Indian sexuality. This is also reflected in the statutes that were drafted and adopted in India during that period of time, such as Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (Tiwari, p.15).
The British took a hostile attitude to the culturally prevalent norms in India. Over the last thousand years, people have described homosexuality as a terrible sin and a mental illness (Mondimore). This hostile and taboo attitude has perpetuated over the years, holding great influence over institutions and society at large. On 6 September 2018, the Court ruled unanimously in Navtej Singh Johar v Union of India that Section 377 was unconstitutional. Although many would speculate that this would result in a paradigm shift, such was not the case. There is still rampant discrimination against homosexuals who are rejected by their families and disowned and ostracized by society. Merely the abolishment of Article 377 is not sufficient to create a healthy environment to allow the LGBTQIA+ community to flourish in India. This is mainly due to a combination of cultural and religious misconceptions, a deep-rooted patriarchal mindset, and sociological intolerance for members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
“The word “homosexuality” did not exist prior to 1869 when it appeared in a pamphlet that took the form of an open letter to the German minister of Justice”. (Mondimore, 1996, p.3) “The pamphlet’s author, Karl Maria Kertbeny, was one of the several writers and jurists who were beginning to develop the concept of sexual orientation, the idea that an individual’s sexual attraction to persons of the same sex was an inherent and unchanging part of their personality was radically new” (Mondimore, 1996, p.3). Homosexuality has meant different things to different people at different points in time. “Social constructionists like Michel Foucault, Lillian Faderman, David Halperin among others have argued that the categories of homosexuality and heterosexuality evolved only in the late 19th century”. (Tiwari, p.2).
Homosexuality essentially refers to sexual interest and attraction to members of one’s own sex (Britannica, 2018). For a long period of time, cultures such as Greek and Latin could not even find words to describe homosexuality as the range of categories that society had of sexual orientation varied across cultures (Mondimore, 1996, p.3). Hence, it can be deduced that there was minimal awareness about the concept of homosexuality. Even after awareness began to spread, people weren’t ready to accept homosexuality as a reality. Over the last thousand years, people have described homosexuality as a terrible sin and a mental illness (Mondimore, 1996, p.2).
HOMOSEXUALITY IN INDIA
The issue of homosexuality in India has always been controversial (Tiwari, p.1). “Same-sex relationships have existed for ages in India and are not an alien concept, we see Hindu festivals and sex which celebrate homosexual acts, the description of sodomy Kam Sutra, the court customs of Babar, references to women loving women in the Mahabharata and Ramayana, and description of Tantric initiation rites which evoked the idea of universal bisexuality in human personality are discussed widely in Indian society” (Tiwari, p.2). Other writings such as Rig Veda tended to support same-sex pairs; however, Hindu law goes against these ideas, which are present in the epic and puranic stories. “During the medieval period, homoerotic were mentioned in a non-pejorative way, Homoerotism got ‘official patronage’ with the Arab-Persian –Islamic cultural invention into the subcontinent” (Tiwari, p.13). After this period, the British colonised India, and the destruction of the images of social expression and sexual expression became more systematic. The influence of the British took the form of repression and domination; this is also reflected in the statutes that were drafted and adopted in India during that period of time, such as Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (Tiwari, p.15). The post-independence period brought home the concept of freedom of expression, equality, and liberty, and a Constitution for India; however, while the makers of the constitution said that there would be no discrimination on the basis of sex, they restricted the meaning of sex to simply male or female and hence, sexual minorities suffered (Tiwari, p.16). After long years of fighting for the rights of homosexuals, the Supreme Court of India decriminalised homosexuality in 2018. However, even with section 377 being repealed, homosexuals continue to face discrimination in Indian society due to the mindset which has been prevalent for a thousand years. They are even rejected by their families and ostracised by society due to the deep-rooted culture that is present. Thus, it can be said that while legislations have a positive impact on such issues, any real substantive change will only take place when the attitude of society changes in general to become more accepting of various identities.
The homosexual community has faced constant discrimination and ridicule from society, and this is an issue that still persists. The main reason this issue is still present is due to homophobia which is the fear or hatred of homosexuality; homophobia is reinforced in present times due to the moral, religious, and political beliefs of a dominant group. As we have seen above, homosexuality was regarded as deviant behaviour, and this was also one of the reasons for discrimination to take place. It was observed that homosexuals weren’t able to fit into a certain set of roles to play, which is why they were excluded from society. Marginalisation and social exclusion are some of the biggest problems faced by the homosexual community where they are not accepted by society, they are stigmatised and only receive a negative type of attitude. Moreover, we see how the family as an institution also has a great role to play as most homosexuals are rejected from their families upon confiding with them; this has a negative impact on their self-esteem and leads them to a place of isolation. Hence, we see that the inability of homosexuals to fit into the pre-determined roles which society has set and the exclusion that takes place due to this has an adverse impact on them. Apart from this, the discrimination they face also results in their inability to access various resources that are available to heterosexuals. Charles Tilly speaks about how exploitation can occur in society, where one group prohibits the other groups from accessing resources and brings them under their control. While this was seen in the reading of “Modes of Exploitation” in the case of coloured people being excluded by the colonisers, in society at present times, homosexuals are also excluded by the heterosexuals where the latter can be perceived as the powerholders who collectively decide to make resources inaccessible to homosexuals. Due to this, homosexuals are unable to find jobs or sources of livelihood for themselves, they don’t receive what they’re entitled to, and categorical exclusion takes place. These are some of the practices that have remained for years, and to counter them, the homosexual manifesto was written, which fights for the rights of the homosexuals.
The aim of this manifesto was to ensure that homosexuals were accepted in society and to stop any discrimination against them. It stated that “All laws banning homosexual activity will be revoked, instead legislations will be passed which engenders love between men” (Nigro SA, 2016). These collective efforts have played a major role in ensuring that the LGBTQ community gets what they deserve. This spread to India as well, where various movements took place which propagated the rights of this community.
MOVEMENTS AND LEGALITIES
One of the iconic movements which have taken place for the rights of homosexuals was the Gay Rights movement. “The Gay rights movement also called the homosexual rights movement or gay liberation movement is a civil rights movement that advocates equal rights for gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender persons seeking to eliminate sodomy laws barring homosexual acts between consenting adults and calls for an end to discrimination against homosexuals” (Britannica, 2020). This movement took place during the end of the 19th century, and various organisations were formed that propagated the rights of homosexuals. In India as well, movements started to take place, which eventually turned into legislations being enforced which supported homosexuals. If someone had to pinpoint an exact day for when the movement began in India, it would be on 11th August 1992, when the first known protest was held outside the police headquarters in the ITO area of Delhi. This protest sparked off when the police started to pick up men from Central Park in Connaught Place due to suspicion of homosexuality, after this; in 1994, ABVA filed a Public interest Litigation in the Delhi HC challenging the constitutional validity of section 377, and this was one of the first legal protests for the rights of the homosexual community. The next attempt to repeal section 377 was in 2001 by the Naz Foundation on the grounds that it violated articles 14, 15, 19, 21 of the Indian Constitution. In 2009, the Delhi High court ruled that section 377 cannot be used to punish sex between two consulting adults as it violated articles 14 and 21 of the constitution. However, the Supreme Court of India reversed this decision in 2013 in the Suresh Koushal judgement as people filed petitions under the belief that decriminalising homosexuality would be detrimental to the institution of marriage. This was a setback in the fight for the rights of homosexuals, but the community did not give up, and several other petitions were filed for this movement. On 6th September 2018, during the verdict of the Navtej Singh Johar&Ors v. Union of India case, the Supreme Court of India unanimously decriminalised all consensual sex among adults in private, including gay sex; this was a milestone judgement for the history of homosexuality in India.
We can thus say that the concept of homosexuality has evolved greatly in the past years, and various factors have contributed to this. Firstly, society’s mindset towards homosexuality has always been in flux and still is to this date. Homosexuality was considered a mental illness and a sin at one point in time and now has become an institution itself, with more and more people propagating for the rights of the community and spreading awareness about the reality of homosexuality. Various studies have also shown the evolution of homosexuality from a sociologist’s point of view in describing how the social norms around it changed, how people have tried to explain the origin of homosexuality, and what the present thought process related to it is like. The silver lining of this dark cloud of history surrounding homosexuality is that the community has finally started to fight for its rights, and positive results have originated from such movements. We can even take the example of India to show how society’s perception of homosexuals has changed and that even after numerous successes, we still have a long way to go. In conclusion, it is now time that acceptance of homosexuality becomes present throughout the world, and no further discrimination takes place; only then will the manifesto of homosexuality become a reality and make the world a better place for the entire human society.
- Nag, Jayatri. “Even After Supreme Court’S Judgment On Section 377, Violence Against Queer Individuals Continues”. Mumbai Mirror, 2020, https://mumbaimirror.indiatimes.com/news/india/even-after-supreme-courts-judgment-on-section-377-violence-against-queer-individuals-continues/articleshow/77171267.cms.
- Tiwari, Nityanand. “Homosexuality In India: Review Of Literatures”. SSRN Electronic Journal, 2019, p. 13., Accessed 30 Nov 2020
- Mondimore, Francis Mark. A Natural History Of Homosexuality. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011.
- Britannica, 2018. Homosexuality.
- Britannica, 2020. Gay Rights Movement.
- Nigro SA (2016) THE HOMOSEXUAL MANIFESTO—as to Congress in 1987 and implemented by the Entropic U. S. Supreme Court in 2015. J Psychol Clin Psychiatry 6(1)
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