It is puzzling why India’s Supreme Court today upheld Sect 377 of the Indian Penal code which criminalizes homosexuality. After all the Supreme Court should be the only authority that should be able to decide on laws/issues relating to individual’s human rights. But it has turned this task over to the government! But more puzzling is that the same court, indeed the same Judge, Justice Singhvi, in 2012 observed that traditionally homosexuality was not an offense (legal or social) in India before the British decided to impose a new law in India in 1860 criminalizing it. [see this]. So Justice Singhivi’s ruling actually is contrary to his earlier line of reasoning. This is why I think this decision was made under political pressure! And now after all the public uproar politicians and the government are scrambling to distance themselves from the ruling! Reminds me of the government move to push for the bill to allow criminals in government!
Indeed while researching for my book Sex and Power, I was amazed at the normalcy with which both homosexuality and homosexual acts between individuals (regardless of their sexuality), was treated in ancient India. It is depicted on temples walls, in art, in poetry and literature. In fact, the Kama Sutras, that are indeed the world’s first research based anthologies on love-making had entire chapters dedicated to various positions of lesbian love-making!
So the intolerance towards homosexuality in India is that much more surprising. It has no religious, cultural or historical basis! Yet, I remember in high school attending the wedding of an under-age classmate (she was 17), whose parents thought marriage to a man at such a tender age would perhaps “cure” her of her natural inclinations toward girls. I remember our classmates giggling as they tried to get a glimpse of the ‘groom’ and nudging and asking each other if it was “a boy or a girl?”
Indian author, Vikram Seth, whose ‘A Suitable Boy,’ was an internationally best-selling book has only recently (in his 50s!) talked more openly about his homosexuality. His mother, Leila Seth, who was also a Judge in India, and is a rare example of how she has supported her son in being himself, explained why this was so. She said because “It was a criminal offence then. I worried for him. I thought he is a young man and somebody could misuse it… I remember reading a book called The Well of Loneliness about two lesbians and I remember it moved me…I read it at 17 and I thought how lonely a person must be if you can’t share his love with other people.”
And Leila Seth is not alone. In the photo above from a gay pride parade in Delhi, a Punjabi grandmother proudly holds a banner declaring her love and pride in her gay grandson. She doesn’t just tolerate him! She loves him and embraces him for everything that he is — including his homosexuality! In fact I got to see this grandmother, whose name is Rani Sharma with her grandson Sambhav (who I think is standing behind her in this photo, when he was younger) speaking out passionately on NDTV, very angry with this ruling. [Watch her and Virkram Seth speak out in a TV interview here] This photo above is among my top 10 favorite pictures on The 50 Million Missing’s flickr group. It is one of those pictures that stays in my head as a snap-shot of what Indians can become! And I want to thank Ramesh Lalwani for sharing it with us, as indeed all the other marvelous photos he has sent to The 50 Million Missing Campaign on flickr.