Unburdened, yet hugely burdened
LGBTQ community now hopes against hope for a change in social attitude towards them
The LGBTQ community feels unburdened at last. The state can no longer rule the private lives of citizens. Upholding right of privacy as fundamental, consensual unnatural sexual acts in privacy between the same gender adults are not criminalised. The Supreme Court struck down that part of the century-and-a-half-old colonial law of Section 377 of IPC, terming it as irrational, indefensible, and manifestly arbitrary. Having unnatural sex without consent of a partner, with vulnerable children and with animals, continues to be a crime. It is the recognition of the stark reality that differences exist in the sexual orientation of people. Truly it is a liberating moment for the LGBTQ people. In a liberal democracy, 'I am what I am, so take me as I am.' Unburdened of the stigma, these ostracised sections of the society can now live without fear.
The Delhi High Court had decriminalised gay sex in 2008 and Supreme Court overturned it five years later. Now the apex court has corrected itself by declaring that the Fundamental Right to live includes sexual rights and right to privacy. By negating discrimination, shunning, ostracising, and denial of civil rights based on sexual orientations, it has given a future to this community. Thus, already obliged to adhere to the International Treaties of rights of LGBT as a signatory, India joins 25 other countries where homosexuality is legal, as many other countries where it is still a crime, and a few of which even impose a death penalty for it, look on in awe.
For the LGBTQ community, suddenly the judges of Supreme Court have become their saviours and celebrities – be it Justice Indu Malhotra for her impactful apology, or be it Justice Nariman asking for sensitisation of police and public that has laid the path for India. All their efforts to allay prejudice, embrace inclusion, and ensure equal rights have finally borne fruits. Feeling free, and unburdened, they are now hoping against hope for a change in the social attitude towards them.
They can, at least, seek medical help and get it. Although there will still be issues regarding gay marriages, adoption, and inheritance that need to be addressed in future, from now on, the LGBTQ community and the rest of the society would have to learn to respect each other.
It is not easy though. The traditional majority will have qualms. Yes, for ages they have had a strong point – Order of Nature. An animal or a bird, or even a fish does not eat without hunger and does not indulge in sex at will. Nature provides them such necessity and timely opportunity for mating to maintain their progeny by procreation. We never find them breaking the course and ways prescribed by Nature.
True, humans eat even without hunger and find the desire to have sex any time. They find it in both traditional ways or by exploring innovative ways. Yet, there could also be differences among us. Many among us would accept the reality quickly. There are others, with minds unwilling and thoughts traditional, who will take time. There are people who can state that peahen can produce offsprings without mating. There are people who can believe stories that Pandavas were born only with the blessings of different gods, and the Kauravas with the blessings of Vyas, without any physical intervention of either Pandu or Dhritarashtra. Although no rational mind would accept these suggestions, it is only a matter of blind faith for people, with no questions asked. One should realise that there were doubting Thomases in India too, the Charvakas, because of whom rationality prevailed and the concept of a single Universal Soul in place of multiple gods emerged. Christianity accepted the reality of Galileo's heliocentric theory only at the end of the twentieth century – after five centuries. Rationality has to prevail at last. The Christian Protestant Churches in Europe and America are slowly coming to terms with homosexuality. The Roman Catholic Church is still struggling with it. Indian clergy is yet to take a stand.
It will help the conservatives, who look back at tradition for every matter if they have a peep into the past for a moment. None abhorred Sikhandi and Brihannala of Mahabharata. Further, erotic literature and sculptures have always been an integral part of our culture. Be it the much celebrated Kama Sutra of Vatsyayana, or be it the temple scriptures, especially of Konark and Khajuraho – all speak volumes about the promotion of eroticism. One cannot lose sight of the several unnatural ways of sex demonstrated by them. It is implicit that unconventional and unnatural sex was socially accepted. The sculptures are a celebration of the peaceful coexistence of people of different sexual orientations and the rest of the society. The very fact that these sculptures remained unmutilated is a confirmation that, even in the subsequent times, the harmony continued. It was perhaps the law of Sec 377 that prompted the society to look at them as criminals and prejudiced against them. The same society, for whom corrupt people, who are anti-social, anti-national, and real jumbo criminals are acceptable as one among them, shuns the people with different sexual preferences, although they are not criminals in the real sense, for the one foisted upon them by the colonial law. Physically they are normal, intellectually normal, yet, emotionally they are different. There are good and great human beings among them. Great intellectuals, great achievers. Only that they are born different, a fact that has been accepted even by psychologists and psychiatrists changing their earlier perception that it was abnormal behaviour, and now by the Supreme Court. Thus, for sure, we can no longer simply look at things with senses atrophied by tradition, like how the bigots are handling the cow-slaughtering matters by indulging in lynch justice.
SC has opened the gates wide. Now the numbers will explode. Hitherto dormant LGBTQ people will surface in large numbers, and quickly, whether there is social acceptance or not. It has an inherent danger. There would be people who are sane and would take all precautions. Yet, there could be many who would not. In their carefree or callous negligence in the pursuit of their emotions or passions, if they contribute to the spread of AIDS or HIV, it is dangerous. Like how we were ill-prepared and are now suddenly facing the brunt of the cybercrime, similar could be the situation here. Hotels, hospitals, hostels, brothel houses, etc., may become vulnerable. Possibly blood transfusion, syringes, towels, sanitary pads, etc., can become the medium of transmission. The legal and constitutional aspects notwithstanding, this issue will need attention. It is now for the governments to make provisions for the safeguards. In consultation with experts, the State should come out with a mandatory medical protocol. On their part, the LGBTQ community also may shed their qualms now and declare their sex boldly when they use these facilities so that others would take due care. It should be a matter of friendly give and take in an atmosphere of accommodation and concern for each other, instead of suspicion, bitterness, and hatred. By winning their due legal rights the LGBTQ community feels unburdened, but they need to shoulder the huge burden to quell any lurking fears among people. Hopefully, their initiatives would win the hearts of the others and finally help them to be one among us.
(Dr. N Dilip Kumar, IPS (retd), is a former Member of Public Grievances Commission, Delhi. The views expressed are strictly personal)