Is India ready for a new sexual awakening?

By Ritesh K Srivastava | Last Updated: Tuesday, March 24, 2009 - 00:00

Ritesh K Srivastava

Are you tired of reading serious stuff on subjects like terrorism and its impact on world community and looking for a change – and would much rather debate about a lighter subject that also has all the ingredients of an interesting read. If yes, then here is your chance to explore a subject that has fuelled a hot discussion these days.

Here, I am talking about the new sexual awakening in India… Are Indians in general becoming more tolerant and understanding of those with different sexual orientation? Thanks to the big bang release of films like Dostana starring John Abraham & Abhishek Bacchhan, My Brother Nikhil and the latest Pinu Patel Ki Tedi Mehdhi Love Story featuring ace actor Vinay Pathak, talk on gay revolution is no longer confined to the four walls.

But here, I don’t wish to say that, these flicks will, in any ways, act as a catalyst in society`s acceptance of gays, although it has made homosexuality a subject of dinner table discussion. To some extent, the producers of the films deserve kudos for setting the trend by taking up a bold subject like homosexuality, at a time, when no one would have dared to take the risk of making a film on a not-so-acceptable ‘gay relationship’.

Gay culture - a western import in India

Although, sexuality was never a subject of open discussion in traditional Indian families, gay culture has been present in India since times immemorial. The gay community, which has so far been in the closet, has just started spreading its wings in India. The mushrooming of gay clubs in various cities and the rising strength of the gay movement has kickstarted a debate whether homosexuality be recognized and respected in our country. What steps are needed to restore the honour of those who have lived in the closet for centuries mainly due to their sexual orientation?

A section of our society also fears about the negative impact of giving sexual freedom to these people and legalizing prostitution. Whether giving license to the sex workers, will end the exploitation of women involved in it… Is the traditional Indian mindset ready to accept homosexuals, lesbians and the transgenders as a part our society? Whether respecting gay rights and legalizing prostitution will bring a paradigm shift in the lives of these people?

The demands for legalizing gay marriages have become louder after a Connecticut court in the USA held that gay marriages are legal in accordance with the constitutional provisions of that country guaranteeing equality of rights to the gay couples. The court in its ruling said that the state law limiting marriage to heterosexual couples and a civil union law intended to provide all the rights and privileges of marriage to same sex couples violated the constitutional guarantees of equal protection under law.

The states of Massachusetts and California and several countries have already declared gay marriages as legal.

Gay culture has been a taboo and being gay an unthinkable thing since Victorian times. Gay culture is still seen as a western import in our country. Since times immemorial, men who have a feminine wrench in their gender identity and have an undivided inclination for the same sex, have not come out in the open. They have preferred to live a secluded life fearing their boycott from society, and persecution for showing inclination for members of the same sex. In fact India has a very long standing gay culture – Kamasutra etc also talk of it.

According to psychiatrists, more than the fear of expressing their sexuality, it is the fear of displeasing their families that keeps gays in the closet.

In our country, where patriarchal family structure is followed, the process of expressing one’s sexuality becomes much more difficult. This leads to a large migration of people with alternative sexual gender preferences into far away metropolitan cities.

The comparatively open environment in these cities helps them in distancing themselves from their immediate families and makes it easier to lead lifestyles of their choice.

Transgenders & their problems

Here, let us also take a wider look over people, who fall in different categories mainly due to their sexual preferences. Apart from homosexuals and lesbians who cannot mostly be spotted in the crowd, the other category which needs mention is the transgenders.

In the medical terms, transgenders are those who are either born as males but with predominant feminine features or born as a female but with predominant masculine features.

After undergoing surgery for the same effect, the transgenders get a new lease of life with a predominant male voice, but with all the characteristics of a female or vice versa.

However, a transgender after undergoing “sex change”, often becomes a laughing stock as is mostly not accepted by his family, far less by society. In most of the cases, he is disliked, and cursed to live a desolate life.

Notwithstanding the widespread support emerging for these people in various parts of the globe, we have often failed to realize that they are also human beings. They also have their own rights to enjoy all the privileges and freedom guaranteed to us by our Constitution.

These people have been facing all sorts of problems and humiliation from their own fellow human beings. The first and foremost is the lack of acceptance; even refusing to acknowledge that they should be treated as human beings. It is a pity that the overt homosexuals, lesbians or transgenders are not allowed to mingle freely in society.

For transgenders, it is difficult to pursue education, practice a profession of their choice, and do any business of interest. As the result, they are often forced to become sex workers or live on the mercy of donations they seek on festivals.

Transgenders have recently come forward seeking recognition from the government as well as civic amenities like separate public lavatories, as has been provided in the western countries like US, granting of loans by the banks, etc.

Legalizing homosexuality

Homosexuality is considered ‘illegal’ in India and Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code makes "unnatural" sexual acts as a punishable offence. This has further prevented the gay community in India to be completely open about their sexual preferences. The fear of law has made the homosexuals unidentifiable and unblended in our society.

However, the issue has found some support from Union Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss, who strongly favours decriminalization of homosexuality.

National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) chief S. Rajendra Babu has also lent his support to the Union Health Minister by saying that the NHRC not only supports gay rights but is also in favour of legalising prostitution.

"If two adults want to be together, then why should anyone have a problem? The commission, in this regard, has a broad outlook," former Chief Justice of India Babu said in an interview. Coming out in strong support of legalising prostitution, Babu said such an initiative will protect women instead of exploiting them.

Recently, a lawyer representing gay activists, pleaded in the Delhi High Court to decriminalise gay sex in private among consenting adults. He also cited existing laws in various countries including Canada, South Africa and Cyprus in support of his submissions. However, his views were countered by Additional Solicitor General P.P. Malhotra, who told the court that gay sex was "against the order of nature", and that Western values could not be blindly aped in India.

The changing scenario

However, the scenario is fast changing and leaving behind Mumbai, which was once the breeding ground of gay revolution, other cities such as Delhi have emerged as the most happening gay centers in the country. Despite their exclusion from society, the gay population in India is growing and is estimated at 15 million at present.

There are certain professions, where gays have not only got recognition but have also reached the peak of success. It’s no longer a secret that many of India’s top fashion designers who are openly gay. Besides, there is a small army of male stylists and models, make-up men, photographers and hairdressers who date each other and work together happily in the glamour world.

All this points towards a fact that a gay is slowly moving from seclusion towards exhibitionism. The IT revolution in India has brought the closeted Indian gay community closer and it no longer feels as alienated as it did before.

As mentioned above, Mumbai, which is the hub of media, fashion, industry and trade, has also been the base for India`s growing gay community. The emerging gay culture here has provided hundreds of gays an opportunity to come out of an existence of suffocation and fear amidst hope of starting a more acceptable life.

The gay community has become more visible mainly due to the efforts of various Non Governmental Organizations, which have become mouthpiece of Lesbians, Gays, Bi-sexuals and Transexuals. These NGOs have now grown into full-fledged gay support groups in cities like Calcutta, Hyderabad, Goa, Gujarat and Maharashtra. Gays are now bidding goodbye to the existing pigeonholes and have started forming gay-clubs in cities like Chennai and Mumbai.

Some sociologists believe that more than workplace or families, the pressure on gays is more evident in peer groups where they are expected to follow set heterosexual patterns and get married. In most of the cases, gay men buckle under pressure and go ahead and make themselves and their partners miserable.

Conclusion

The government appears to be in a denial mode on this issue. As of now, the political class and the bureaucrats hardly recognize the fact that India has an expanding gay community too, because they are yet not a visible vote-bank.

In spite of the existence of a pro-gay lobby in India, some gay activists feel that their dream of getting homosexuality legalized is still a far cry.

They accuse the government for not lending a hand of support to them or even to acknowledge the presence of the gay community.

Here, I can not exactly say whether homosexuals would be respected in the same manner as the other “normal couples”? Will they be tolerated or accepted by our society for whatever they are or want to be. Or whether, their community will get legal validation as their tribe increases. Will they ever be able to come out of the shadowy tag of their identity and legal status? At this juncture, the gay community also does not have an answer to this question.

What is certain is that a legal sanction would save them from open condemnation and harassment at the hands of heterosexuals. But only time will tell what in fact is the stake they are fighting for and what is the society gifting them by legalizing homosexual marriages?



First Published: Tuesday, August 30, 2011 - 15:54
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