When Harrish Iyer spoke for the first time on the Aamir Khan moderated show ‘Satyameva Jayate’ on national TV, I was flummoxed. This was a man who was openly narrating his story of abuse as a child by a family friend in front of his mother. It was incredible to me that he was being heard but I was in for some more surprises. He turned out to be a gay rights activist with a large following, an animal lover and a humanist too. His mother’s public matrimonial ad for a gay life partner was a historical moment in India.
I am not new to LGBT people. Queer people and transgenders are a common sight in my native state and the subcontinent of India, as is the discrimination and violence they suffer. But it was the Hite report on male and female sexuality that opened my mind to the normalcy, biology, rationale, and emotions of gay people and portrayed them as people like any other with rights. My spouse still has difficulty to comprehend how it can be a natural instinct, but it is understandable, being as he was a victim of sexual abuse himself.
The Orlando shooting brought out the LGBT issue to the mainstream again and all sorts of debate have opened up on social networking sites, the print media, living rooms and TV channels. And this at a time when homosexuality is still legally a crime in India under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which makes sex with persons of the same gender punishable by law. On 2 July 2009, in Naz Foundation v. Govt. of NCT of Delhi, the Delhi High Court had held that provision to be unconstitutional with respect to sex between consenting adults, but the Supreme Court of India overturned that ruling on 11 December 2013, stating that the court was instead deferring to Indian legislators to provide the sought-after clarity. On 2 February 2016, however, the Supreme Court agreed to reconsider its judgment, stating it would refer petitions to abolish Section 377 to a five-member constitutional bench, which would conduct a comprehensive hearing of the issue.
Religion has played a role in shaping Indian customs and traditions. While homosexuality is not explicitly mentioned in the religious texts central to Hinduism, the largest religion in India, Hinduism has taken various positions, ranging from positive to neutral or antagonistic. Rigveda, one of the four canonical sacred texts of Hinduism refers to Vikriti Evam Prakriti (Sanskrit: meaning unnatural and natural), which some scholars believe recognises homosexual / transsexual dimensions of human life, like all forms of universal diversities. Historical and literary evidence indicate that homosexuality has been prevalent across the Indian subcontinent throughout history and that homosexuals were not necessarily considered inferior in any way until about 18th century. (Ruth Vanita; Saleem Kidwai (18 October 2008). “Indian Traditions Of Love”. Tehelka. Retrieved 4 April 2014.)
It is necessary to understand and accept that people who are sexually differently oriented should be accepted in a diverse country as ours where we find an ideological spectrum of many hues. More so because any day one of our own children may come out openly and need our help, not only to understand himself or herself but to face discrimination and homophobia prevalent in society. For the sake of our children and their future, it is pertinent to create a homo-friendly and homo-acceptable environment where everyone thrives.
This is 2016 where we are pushing for animal and environmental rights, where we have started to include transgenders in our human rights and uphold the rights of the disabled as the foremost achievements, where we see the rights of senior citizens, veterans and the homeless as the pinnacle of the advancement of our civilization, where we have only now started fighting for the rights of the criminally insane, the unborn and the right to die of the terminally ill.
Like Faisal Saeed Al Mutar, activist and founder of Global Secular Humanist Movement says:
“If religions don’t modernise to accept LGBT & women’s rights, then religions need to die, not people.”
I am adding culture to the above too. We need to make a progressive culture.