Millennium Post

Speaking of Gay rights

The gay rights issue has come at an inconvenient time for the BJP. Just when it wanted all attention to be focussed on Narendra Modi’s development agenda with its ‘progressive’ overtone, the controversy about homosexuals being criminals has revived the question of the party’s regressive ideas.

After an initial period of hesitation when the usually voluble Sushma Swaraj was cagey about spelling out the party’s position at a press conference, Rajnath Singh has set all speculation at rest by supporting the Supreme Court’s refusal to endorse the Delhi high court’s stand against the 153-year-old Victorian provision of the Indian Penal Code, which describes homosexuality as being ‘against the order of nature’.

The BJP president’s antediluvian outlook is not surprising. Only a few days ago, he had lashed out against English for making the country forget its ‘religion and culture’. His view that ‘we have lost everything in the era of modernism’ was a lamentation which encompassed all the dangerous (according to him) ideas which have infiltrated into the country from the decadent West.

Ironically, the Samajwadi Party’s Mulayam Singh had also lambasted English. Clearly, the otherwise socially antagonistic Thakur and the Yadav are on the same page where anti-Western rusticity and stifling orthodoxy are concerned. The same khap panchayat-type mentality can be seen in the comments of a Madhya Pradesh minister, Babulal Gaur, who said that ‘women in foreign countries wear jeans and T-shirts, dance with other men and even drink liquor, but that is their culture. It’s good for them but not for India where only our tradition and culture are alright’.

For the BJP and the Sangh parivar, it has been a long battle for upholding India’s own, viz. Hindu, culture since Christian ideas will entail not only a preference for jeans, T-shirts and English, but also the parliamentary form of government which is considered alien to the country’s ethos by the saffron brotherhood. On the other hand, Hindu tradition in the parivar’s view includes support for astrology and opposition to anti-superstition legislation for which the assassinated rationalist Narendra Dabholkar had waged a life-long struggle.

But for the controversy over gay rights, the BJP may have succeeded in keeping its conservative outlook in the background till after the elections. In this matter, it prefers the ‘one step forward, two steps back’ approach, for it is not sure which one will pay electoral dividends at any given time. In the 1990s,  it was the temple agenda and the demonising of Muslims which were the key cards of the BJP and the RSS.

Now, however, they have taken two steps back, relegating the temple to the back burner and inviting Muslims to attend Modi’s rallies looking like Muslims in skull caps and burqas. Rajnath Singh’s trashing of English was somewhat off-key in this respect, but the BJP chief was always known as a ‘provincial’, to quote Jaswant Singh, and might be permitted, therefore, an occasional lapse into the idiom of his native cow belt.

But, gay rights – like human rights which, the BJP thinks, are not applicable to Islamic terrorists – are a different matter. They are what is known as lifestyle choices, a phrase ominously redolent of ‘modernism’, denoting individualism, which implies a certain amount of latitude in deviating from patriarchal norms, and the concept of rights, which focusses on personal preferences at the expense of social conventions.

It is the emphasis of the Hindutva warriors on hoary customs which makes the BJP and the RSS wary of not only gay rights but women’s rights as well. To quote the BJP mahila morcha’s Mridula Sinha, ‘wife-beating is bad, but if it is done to bring the woman on proper track, it is alright… women in their own life should not take independent decisions about marriage and other things. The family should take these decisions’.

The similarity with the Taliban in the matter of suppressing women, and with fascism in the matter of preferring capital punishment and demolishing the places of worship of ‘alien’ communities (the Nazis burnt down Jewish synagogues) is obvious. But, these are aspect of its world-view which the BJP would like to keep under wraps at the moment lest any publicity about them undermines Modi’s support base in any way.

The fear may be all the greater because a sizable portion of this base supposedly comprises young people. Being young does not mean that one cannot be regressive – after all, the kar sevaks who demolished the Babri masid were young men – but the possibility of a section of the middle class and even the ‘internet Hindus’ being discomfited by the tirades against gay rights and English cannot be ruled out.

Besides, the Congress has uncharacteristically summoned courage to come out against the Supreme Court judgment presumably because it sees in the controversy a last chance to trip up Modi.

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