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The problem is not homosexuality

August 23, 2004

The ability of small but resourceful interest groups to manipulate the media and public debate is among the less appetising features of a democracy. This month, the country, and Delhi in particular, has witnessed a determined effort by well-connected gay activists and rent-a-cause liberals to turn perversity into victimhood.

In the backdrop of a grisly double-murder in a posh South Delhi colony, a campaign of intimidation has been mounted to force both the police and media into meekly acquiescing to bizarre notions of political correctness.

At one level, the seemingly ritual killing of USAID worker Pushkin Chandra and his so-called 'companion' Kuldeep is a plain crime story that can, at best, arouse fleeting local interest. Yet, it was apparent from the outset that this was more than just another murder. The Pushkin story grabbed popular interest because of what it revealed about the seamy underside of what passes for alternative sexuality in Delhi.

The issue was never the right of individuals to pursue their sexual preferences. Nor did it centre on the apparent violations of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which outlaws homosexuality.

Despite this law, what people get up to in the privacy of the bedroom is of little interest to most people other than pseudo-sociologists and voyeurs. Contrary to what indignant activists would have us believe, there is neither a moral police in existence nor is society fundamentally intolerant of gays.

There are enough openly gay couples who dot the society pages of our newspapers. They may be considered somewhat odd and, at times, bohemian, but we haven't heard of cases of gay-bashing. Indeed, so great is the lure of the Pink Rupee, that many restaurants and bars have begun to discreetly organise Gay Evenings for this neglected clientele. As such, the accusations of a witch-hunt of gays levelled by activists are somewhat far-fetched and self-serving.

What the Pushkin case suggests, however, is that there is another dimension of gay life which is both sordid and verges on the criminal. There is nothing remotely normal about well-heeled gays routinely picking up young boys from deprived backgrounds for the purposes of sexual gratification.

These are exploitative relationships that would be greeted with social disdain if it involved a man and a woman. What would our reaction be to a rich man who takes a vulnerable woman from a neighbouring slum as his occasional companion? We would perceive it as a crude power relationship based on lust. Is there any reason to view it differently just because it centres on two or more males? Nor is there any reason to put a stamp of approval on reckless promiscuity, just because it involves gays.

Secondly, there is growing global concern over paedophilia and child pornography. Earlier this month, Tehelka conducted an investigation on a child pornography network that was being run by some Europeans in Goa. This is a problem that has assumed alarming proportions in popular tourist destinations like Kerala and Sri Lanka, not to speak of Thailand. Last week, London's Daily Telegraph revealed that street shelters for young boys in Mumbai run by a British charity had become centres of sexual abuse. It led to the actress Felicity Kendal withdrawing her patronage from the organisation.

The Delhi police apparently found stacks of a particular variety of pornographic literature in Pushkin's flat. This in turn triggered inquiries over whether he was just a consumer of pornography or something more. In the West, people are routinely arrested for downloading child pornography from the internet. Why should the Delhi police be accused of harassing the entire gay community if it probes deeper into Pushkin's hidden fascinations, if only to understand the motives behind his murder?

Finally, the Pushkin case has brought into the open a nexus between employees of international aid agencies and the gay underworld. Of particular concern to many is the possibility of the lavishly funded anti-AIDS campaign being misused to create a gay network. It would certainly seem that some of the do-gooder foreigners ostensibly involved in improving the plight of natives see India as just a convenient place to buy cheap sex with poor slum kids.

The Pushkin case has served to open our eyes to a grim facet of gay life that many people don't want to acknowledge. Courtesy the steady degeneration of liberalism and the systematic assault on family values, ordinary, decent people are wary of speaking out against the perversions in the gay community lest it be construed as intolerance. They are further intimidated by the aggressive support extended to alternative lifestyles by the presiding deities of culture.

So widespread is the new gay evangelism, that during the contrived controversy over Deepa Mehta's film Fire, there were loud claims of homosexuality and lesbianism being part of the Indian 'heritage,' a claim that angered many Hindu activists.

It is not necessary to comment on every piece of fanciful theology or attempts to win fame through notoriety. Nor is it necessary to claim everything that has a history -- and there is no doubt that homosexuality and lesbianism had a shadowy presence over the ages -- as heritage. Yet, that is precisely what is being done in the name of freedom and enlightenment.

The problem is not homosexuality but our changing perceptions of it. What was hitherto a fringe tendency has been given an extraordinary licence. There is a growing climate of moral laxity that has led to countries like India becoming new receptacles for what can best be called criminal deviancy. Gay criminality isn't the whole problem but it is certainly part of the problem and the Pushkin murder was an example of that.

It is a problem that should agitate society as a whole. And that includes gays who see their sexuality as a purely private matter and not either as a badge of superiority or a proselytising cause.

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Swapan Dasgupta

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