Is #India’s Supreme Court Decision to Ban #Gay #Rights More #Political than #Ethical?

photo by Ramesh Lalwani

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 PowerI 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.

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Does Goddess Worship in India Have a Feminist Underpinning?

Does the worship of goddesses in India have a feminist under-pinning?  This is one of the questions I was looking at while researching for my book Sex and Power.

The answer to my question I found, was both ‘Yes’ and ‘No.’  I discovered that there were two main streams of religious thought that had completely different origins and were diametrically opposite in how they viewed women, feminine sexuality and power.  One of them, based in the tradition of the Vedas, was extremely patriarchal in its leanings, and even though it had goddesses, like Sarawati for instance, it regarded them as passive, inert manifestations whose sole aim was to nurture and sustain the men.

The other stream of religious thought was that of the Shaktas. These were worshippers of ‘Shakti’ which is the female personification of power as a concept.   Below is an excerpt from Sex and Power on the feminist underpinning of the Shakta philosophy.

At the very core of the Shakta philosophy lay the seeds of a feminist rebellion. The Shakta goddesses revolutionized the concept of the feminine in India, turning the [earlier] Vedic male version of it upside down. These goddesses… (more…)

The Feast of Love! India’s Forgotten Valentine

The Sex and Power Discussion Blog

Unknown to many, the festival of Holi is actually a celebration of  India’s ancient Valentine’s Day!

It was called ‘The Festival of The Love God,’ and was celebrated to coincide with the arrival of Spring (symbolic of lust and life) just as the western Valentine’s Day is!

Below is an excerpt from my book Sex and Power on this festival:

rati kama redKama, the love god, was [evoked]…in the celebratory tribal songs of the Holi festival…[along] with his consort Rati (sexual pleasure).  His return to life…would be celebrated (each year) during Holi, which coincides with the spring season, [a symbolism of]..rejuvenation and fertility. 

The celebrations were called ‘Mojin Kama’ (Playing with Desire), [also referred to as ‘The Feast of Love’] and entailed songs with erotic lyrics and dances with unabashedly sexual gestures…as people jubilantly doused each other with perfumed water and coloured powders…The sacred text Shaiva Agama instructed that the Feast…

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India Uptight over Erotica in Hinduism?

The Sex and Power Discussion Blog

This week in Delhi an exhibition on nudity in art was forcibly shut down by Hindu fundamentalist groups who took offense! Paintings in another gallery in Bangalore were also forcibly removed because the same groups found the nude portrayals of goddesses objectionable!

It is exactly this sort of public response to nudity, sex and sexuality in India today that I question in my book Sex and Power.

Below is an excerpt from the introduction of my book.

Languorously sensual and of exquisite form, men and women in stone on ancient khajuraho1Indian temple walls engage in explicit and imaginative love-making, in an array of intriguing poses…A man caresses his delighted lover’s naked breasts with a lotus bud…[Another] kneels before his lover and performs cunnilingus…One couple prefers intercourse in the standing position…[while] another couple in coitus understandably requires assistance…the man below…balanced on his head, the woman…on top held in position by…

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Why India’s View on Sex and Sexuality is Deadly!

The question that led to the writing of my book Sex and Power was, why is India with its erotic history, so neurotic about sex today?  See “India Uptight over Erotica in Hinduism?

Yet, there are two other factors I observed over the course of my research.  Firstly, there continues to be an underlying sexuality to the practice of Hinduism, which Indians seems bizarrely blind to, and in denial of even as they practice it!

Secondly, modern India has the most extreme form of cultural tolerance for various types of sexually deviant social behavior – like sex-trafficking in the form of marriage!  As I tried to understand why this was so, a theory from Freud explained it quite clearly, and also made a projection.  As I searched further, I realized that Freud was right!  The biggest shocker for me was making the connection that the female genocide in India today is a direct result of India’s confounded, perverted social attitude to sex and sexuality!

Below is an excerpt from the last section of my book.

lingam yonijpgThe lingam-yoni which continues to be worshipped by millions in India is perhaps one of the most blatant sexual allusions in Hinduism. It is not just the terminology, the actual use of the words ‘penis’ (lingam) and ‘vagina’(yoni), but it is the representation as well, the idol (bearing) a likeness (to) the respective anatomies…an unambiguous portrayal of sexual intercourse. Yet, surprisingly, most Indians will vehemently deny (more…)

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