New Delhi: Rajkumar Suman looks troubled. The question has left the 30-year-old Delhi journalist visibly upset.
“If that happens, I will have my son treated for it,” he says. “It is curable, you know.”
Homosexuality, for Suman, is a psychiatric disorder. Were his son to develop this “problem”, Suman would have a doctor attend to him.
Suman says he first heard of same-sex relationships in school. His take on them — “unnatural and against Indian culture” — has not changed.
As we sip the tea in his one-room apartment in Dwarka, Delhi, he elaborates on how he could not extend the same hospitality to someone who claimed to be lesbian or gay.
“I haven’t confronted one and definitely have not discriminated against them,” he says. “But I will not be friends with a homosexual person or have him or her walk into my home and interact freely with my family.”
Despite the Delhi High Court’s recent reading down of Article 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which classifies homosexuality as a criminal offence, a recent HT-CNN-IBN survey found that a majority of respondents shared Suman’s views.
According to the survey, 62 per cent — across age groups, regions and religions — think homosexuality is a disease that can be cured through counselling and therapy. Eighty per cent of those surveyed think same-sex relationships are against Indian culture and over 90 per cent of all respondents say they have no gay friends (the figure was slightly lower in western India, at 87 per cent).
Nine out of every ten respondents said they would not give their house on rent to a gay or lesbian couple.
Social commentator and senior journalist Kalpana Sharma put these findings down to the Indians’ cagey attitudes towards sexuality.
“We don’t even discuss sex, let alone homosexuality,” she says. “The middle class in India is in denial. Parents don’t want to believe that their children are having pre-marital sex, children aren’t encouraged to ask questions.”
While she maintains that all-boy and all-girl boarding schools are rife with homosexual activity, Sharma says that most schools turn a blind eye to it too.
“No one discusses it,” she says.
The Delhi High Court ruling and the slew of petitions that followed have forced many Indians to acknowledge the existence of homosexuality and seek ways of incorporating it into the ideological frames through which they view their world.
Kavita Balaramanan (34), a TV scriptwriter and mother of two from Navi Mumbai, rationalises homosexuality as an “inner confusion — a condition that passes as people grow up”.
“Men are intended to be with women and vice versa,” she says. “The fact that we can procreate that way is proof enough. If somebody swings the other way, it’s probably because of some misguidance. I think this can be cured with therapy and counselling.”
Despite numerous sexually ambiguous references in historical Indian texts, not to mention the sculptures that adorn the temples of Khajuraho, others interviewed by HT spoke of homosexuality’s detrimental effect on Indian culture.
“In the West, it may be okay to go about announcing that you’re gay,” says 52-year-old Swati Apte, a homeopathic doctor who practices in Thane, near Mumbai. “But Indians are conservative and orthodox… at least my generation is.”
Those in the Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transsexual community are flummoxed by the visceral and often bigoted responses that the issue of gay rights elicits.
“There are bigger evils in this country that need the kind of attention the gay community is currently getting,” says Rishi Raj, a 27-year-old celebrity stylist based in Delhi.
Originally from Allahabad, Rishi came out to his parents when he was 16 and says they were extremely supportive.
“I fail to understand how a homosexual man who is happy with his partner and is a law-abiding citizen can be a threat to society,” he adds.
But for Suman, the journalist from Dwarka, “crossing the line is unacceptable”. As he sees us to the door, we catch a glimpse of his mother playing with his son. “Would you mind if we also got her opinion?” we ask.
The troubled look resurfaces. “Please, keep her out of this.”