Homosexuality: Still CONSIDERED a crime in India
With the age-old Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code curtailed, has the attitude of Indian society to homosexuals changed? Not much, says Shobha Warrier, after having spoken to several members of the country's gay community.
It was during the British rule that Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code criminalised consensual sexual acts of adults of the same sex in private, terming it as "against the order of nature". This law continued till December 2002 when New Delhi-based NGO Naz India filed a PIL challenging the Penal Code. Seven years later, in 2009, the Delhi High Court struck down the provision holding that "it violated the fundamental right to life and liberty and the right to equality as guaranteed in the Constitution".
But Section 377 continues to apply in the case of sex involving minors and coercive sex.
With the age-old section curtailed, has the attitude of society to homosexuals changed? Not much. Except for a few high-profile people coming out in the open about their sexuality, the lives of ordinary people who are different in their sexual preference, have not changed a bit. At least that is what those I met said.
Their families still do not accept their sexual orientation, to the point of forcing them to marry and lead a bisexual life. Society ridicules and humiliates them in such a way that some even contemplate suicide for having been born different.
Babu shuffled in his seat and looked suspiciously at the recorder and asked, "Will you take my photo while I talk?" I had to assure him several times that it was only a voice recorder and not a camera. Then he looked at the photographer and asked, "Will he take my photo when I talk?" I had to tell him again that we would not take his picture without his permission.
"Sorry. I am scared. I don't want anyone in my family to know that I am a homosexual. Sometimes, I wonder what kind of life I am leading. I cannot even openly say what I want in my life. This is like killing my own identity and living as another person."
Babu is not only afraid of hurting his family but he knows that if he came out openly about his sexual orientation, he would be ostracised by society. So, he lives a life that kills his mind.
Names changed to protect privacy.
Photographs: darklama/Wikimedia Commons
'The kind of torture, humiliation and disgrace I had to go through...'
From the age of six itself, Babu was attracted to men. "I felt shy looking at other boys when young, like a girl, and I got teased badly for that. As I grew, I felt like looking at handsome men, and when I stare at some of them, they either physically abuse me or ridicule me. Initially I didn't know why I felt attracted to men. The kind of torture, humiliation and disgrace I had to go through all these years cannot be described in words."
So, Babu immersed himself in studies and performed quite well in all the examinations. Today, he is doing chartered accountancy after getting a first class masters degree in commerce, and also working and earning Rs.35,000 a month.
But is he a happy 25-year-old?
"No, I can never be happy in my life. I didn't want to be born like this. Do you think I would like to be different? But I am what I am, and what can I do about it? I do not want to hurt my widowed mother, my sister who is married and my brother. So, I will never tell them that I am gay. I think they suspect I am not normal but we have never had any discussion on the subject."
Babu feels the society in which he lives is such that it will never accept a man who has sex with men. "It is a horrifying thought for the people around me. I will be ostracised if anyone in my family or neighbourhood comes to know that I have sex with men."
Though employed and earning well, Babu contemplates committing suicide when depressed. "I have asked God, 'Why was I born like this?' I have cried in front of Him many times. And it is God that gives me strength to pass each day. I will live for some time to help my family tide over the difficulties and I am sure one day, I will commit suicide."
Image: Men celebrate the court ruling over gay sex during a rally in Mumbai July 2, 2009
Photographs: Arko Datta/Reuters
'My wife doesn't know that I go to men to satisfy my desires'
The story of 32-year-old Suresh is even more pathetic. Having had no courage to disclose his sexual preference to his mother, he agreed to marry and now is the father of a girl child. "I am a bisexual now. I cannot say how painful it is to lead such a life."
He says that there are thousands of people like him in society who are unable to hurt their families and in turn hurt themselves daily.
"My wife doesn't know that I go to men to satisfy my desires. You come to the Koovagam Festival (an annual festival of transgenders and transvestites, which takes place in Koovagam village in Villupuram, Tamil Nadu) and you will see thousands of men like me there."
(Yes, I remembered talking to a few men who were dressed like women in saris with shockingly colourful lipstick, bindi, bangles etc at Koovagam. They had told us not to photograph them as they had wives and children at home! )
It was at the age of 15 that Suresh knew he was getting attracted to men. Naturally it was followed by self-denial and withdrawal. "I didn't know why I was like this. Was it a hormone problem? Even today, I don't know. As I grew up, I got worried. Though it gave me happiness, it worried me that I was having sex with other men. For a long time, there was a conflict in my mind about whether what I was doing was right or wrong. Even today, I do not know whether it is right."
Suresh still cannot forget the way he was attacked by some goondas when he was with a man behind the bushes one night. "I still get the shivers when I think of that day. I still carry the scar on my hand. I was attacked with knives and they shouted, 'Are you not ashamed of yourself having sex with men? You are not a human being but an animal.' And it hurt me badly."
He says that the only change that has taken place in the last 20 years is that the police do not now clamp criminal cases on them. "But we are treated as criminals by both the police and society. There are 70 places in Chennai where men like us go to have sex, and the police are fully aware of these joints. Whenever we are spotted, even today the police harass us, scold us and ask us to disperse. Ten years ago, they used to tease us in very awful language. It was only because of the campaign against HIV/AIDS that the police have stopped using such language."
Photographs: Kurt Lowenstein Educational Center International Team, Germany/Wikimedia Commons
'Homosexuality is looked at as a disease by many even today'
Suresh also says that people like him are abused, both physically and mentally by people in their locality. "When I use the term 'abuse', it's not only verbal. If a man in my locality comes to know about my sexuality, he blackmails people like me by asking for free sex and money. The culture of our society is such that I cannot tell them it's my right to be what I am. Even today, this is the condition of gays in Indian society."
According to Suresh, in India people from the very rich class and the poor are more accepting about homosexuality than the middle class. In his case also, he had no courage to tell his mother and sister that he was a homosexual and that he could not marry a woman. "My family will never be able to accept it if I tell them the truth. It will also break their hearts."
Suresh is waiting for the day society accepts homosexuals "the way cats, dogs, and birds are also accepted." Today, he says, they face discrimination in families, society and even in hospitals.
"Even transgenders have more freedom in this society, but what about us? Why can't we also be accepted the way they are accepted? Though there are roughly around one lac homosexuals in Tamil Nadu alone, how many have the courage to come out in the open and say who they are? Homosexuality is looked at as a disease by many even today, when way back in 1966 itself, WHO had declared that its not a disease. I blame society for the pain we are going through and not accepting us as we are and categorising homosexuality as a crime, disease and something very wrong."
Image: A gay parade in Delhi
Photographs: Buddhika Weerasinghe/Reuters