Section 377- “I Am What I Am. Take Me as I AM

The world had to endure highly atrocious forms of evil in the past that obstructed global progress of human civilization. From the church’s assault on personal freedom in Spain during the Middle Ages to the ghastly practice of apartheid in Africa; Human conscience has failed to protect the rights of their own neighbours. But then, with modernization, came progress which swept the world with belief systems of racial justice, feminism and tolerance of differences.

India’s ‘miniscule minority’ today finally have a reason to feel a sense of pride to have been blessed with the citizenship of a true democracy.

The LGBTQ community of India fought a herculean battle to secure their dignity among the rest. There was a major win in the past as well, however it wasn’t long-lived. But the sense of rage and betrayal from the judiciary 4 years ago, helped create more allies that joined their voices together with the victims, condemning the unexpected and horrendous judgment from the Supreme Court in 2013.

The verdict dictated by the religious right dubbed a significant population of the country devoid of fundamental rights for the way they are. If that wasn’t enough, the Supreme Court of India called the LGBTQ community as a ‘miniscule minority’ and believed that was a sufficient and justified excuse to keep them from experiencing full citizenship of the country where they were born.

Four years later, the same institution atoned for its grave inadequacy to protect the rights of all Indians. The Apex Court accepted the undeniable fact that civil liberties and personal freedom shouldn’t be at the mercy of the whims of the majority. Religious and social prejudices cannot overshadow the lives of law abiding tax-payers who do nothing to infringe upon the rights of other individuals.

Members and allies showered their support over social media and corporate giants like Facebook, Google, etc joined in to celebrate the mammoth victory in India. Top celebrities too congratulated the community and thanked the Supreme Court for rescuing one of the most oppressed group of people from further bigotry.

A law that has served more as an instrument of harassment than punishment, though the latter was not rare, should have been removed years ago. A baggage of the colonial imperial past, which the English themselves removed from their books more than 4 decades ago, couldn’t leave the law of the land. There have been several people from the community who were persecuted under this piece of Indian penal code. Majority of those were persecuted by the rampant homophobic prejudice. The scars marked by section 377 can still be seen in the testimonies of several members of the community.

Professors sacked and forced to take their own lives, children thrown out of their homes and getting fired from workplaces are some of the examples of the existence of this law.

It’s a tragic reality that majority of those who believe in the heritage of India cannot differentiate between a culture where every community had a place of acceptance from Victorian morality of the western world. But that’s what education is for.

As of now, the faith of so many people in the law and the keepers of the law have grown overwhelmingly and even though it will never be able to rectify the wrongs done by the society, it can always set an example for the future keeping the Indian Constitution as the cornerstone.

Section 377- A Christian perspective

Since the mid-1950s, social issues have a crucial part in determining the number of people in pews on Sunday mornings. Many denominations in the United States, tried to hold back on the progress of issues such as allowing African-Americans to be accepted as leaders or even as members within the congregation, one example being the Church of the Latter Day Saints. But today, segregated churches are a rare phenomenon.

Similar to this, acceptance of people from the LGBTQ community is something that many denominations are struggling with today. Many are splitting from their actual groups in order to protest or support this idea.

The United Methodist Church, USA which tends to be more on the moderate side than on any extremes has voices speaking for and against gay marriage. The denomination being the largest of the ‘Mainline Protestant’ group of church that tend to be more accepting of differences compared to the evangelical and charismatic groups of churches, will hopefully make a decision on this highly divisive issue very soon. Other churches such as the United Church of Christ, Metropolitan Community Churches, the Episcopal Church, etc. have already been accepting LGBTQ people as leaders in the church as well as bless their marriages.

But that is more about the present groups of people that have their own perspective on scripture and believe their interpretation to be more accurate compared to others. Should people who are more scriptural support the idea of two men or two women marry each other?

Taking the six primary clobber passages into consideration, perhaps it could be said that the Bible sees same sex behaviour in conflict with religion. Study of scriptures in Koine Greek and Hebrew however, seems to emancipate these clobber passages from being homophobic in anyway. That is something not many conservatives are comfortable with as it contradicts their understanding of their faith.

That upon a deeper study of the scripture would give a picture of the faith that contradicts the character of Jesus himself.

A rebel, who challenged the religious authorities for their hypocrisy, embraced the outcasts, had murderers as his disciples and forgave those who went against their religious ethics from being killed by a mob of people.

That is Jesus, who personally was completely silent on the issue of homosexuality but had a lot to say against religious leaders who in their hatred and disgust of other for not behaving like themselves, were blinded to their own arrogance.

Reading Leviticus 18:22 and Romans 1:24-30 in English would make you see homosexual acts as a sin and reading 1 Timothy 2:12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34 would make you feel that Women should never exercise authority over a man but submit to his authority. Which are why, for the fear of being called archaic, many evangelical churches in India now ignores the sexism in the Bible while promoting the homophobia that they perceive in the scriptures.

It’s a sad scenario where most of the followers of Jesus can’t stand up for people who are persecuted wrongly but instead add fuel to the fire for their entertainment.

I personally feel no reason as to why one cannot be devoted to his faith as well as stand up for people who are in need. I will not be condemning the fringe groups of the Indian Christians that stood for a law that criminalizes the lives of up to 50 million people, as they too have a right to speak their opinion.

However, when those opinions are taken seriously while making laws that govern the lives of people in a country, an obligation arises to speak against them.

Passages from the scripture point mainly towards a deep sense of sacrificial love for one another instead of persecuting people who might not similar to the rest. One of them is as follows:

 Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying,

Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

This is the first and great commandment.

And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

  • Matthew 22:35-40

And what kind of love would one be promoting when they cannot see their neighbours as human beings but criminals and lesser human beings for being in existence?

Being gay and Christian isn’t contradictory, Loving Jesus but failing to love all people however is.

Queer in Europe expectation vs reality

I would love to give you that story. The story where I moved to Great Britain and life was perfect. The story where I moved to Great Britain and the sky cleared up, my skin cleared up and I sprouted a thousand wings. The story where I moved to Great Britain and queerphobia faded like a distant bad dream. But this story is not that story. This story is the truth. It is honest. It is one I have always looked away from. Are you ready?

 

Wait. Let’s rewind for a second. Who was I before I left? It’s making me cringe a little bit to say this but “the party don’t start till I walk in.” That’s who I was. Vivacious, funny and a bit what they call, “crazy”. I would touch an exposed electrical wire to see if it was live. My first heartbreak was accelerated by the fact that my boyfriend refused to climb a tree with me in the middle of the road. Yes, I know.

 

At the same time, I was living in lies. I was folding in bits of myself, away from discovery. I have always known I am queer. I have been dreaming of both men and women since I was a kid. But I didn’t know how to hold that truth in my arms. I would always find some half-truth to cover it with. Until I didn’t.
Yes, I came out even before I left. To that first boyfriend. To my sister. To best friends from boarding school. None of those times were easy or particularly pleasant. But I tried. I wanted to be my whole self. And in that the UK helped enormously. I can’t deny that.

 

In my very first year, I joined the university’s LGBT+ Society. Almost immediately, I became the International Student Representative. It was going to be a great year, I thought. Alas, it was one of the worst years of my life.

 

You see, when we imagine life abroad, we miss out on a crucial aspect of that experience for people like us: race. We have heard about racism on TV and social media. We seem to be adequately aware of what it means, right? No. We do not know how racism feels or even how it works. We do not know how racism can reside in a wide-eyed stare that makes you recoil. We do not know racism resides in the distance of an arm’s length that makes you shrink. Racism, like the British weather, is a cold you can feel in your bones. A cloud casting its shadow wherever you go. A hand that wipes your name off your mouth.

 

The UK welcomed me with a racist flatmate who laughed every time I spoke. Because of my Indian accent, get it? Sometimes, she would have friends over and they would laugh at me together. So, I lost my words. My social anxiety rocketed upwards. I wouldn’t go to the kitchen in fear of people. I dropped 10 kgs. That’s a diet plan for you.

 

Yes, yes, I know. You’re here for my queer story, not my race story. But can you really separate the two? I am a queer brown woman. And my experiences are coloured by all three. When discrimination holds your throat in its fist, can you tell which fingers belong to race, which to gender and which to queerness?

 

One day, I returned to the flat all happy after painting a closet with the LGBT+ society. My all-white all-British flatmates, surprised by my unusual perkiness, asked where I had been. I told them. Their faces emptied like plates. They had no clue what “LGBT+” stood for. I told them. Silence. The bully was the only one to respond, with a halting “O-kay..?” I had come out without realising it was going to matter. A few weeks later, one of the girls felt it necessary to explain to me that on Facebook she is in a relationship with another girl in the flat, but it’s a joke and they’re just good friends. “We’re not gay,” she clarified.

 

I do not know if I found a community in the LGBT+ Society. I was one of two people of colour there, in an international university with students from around the globe. Maybe I could have done something about it. But I was a fresher in a foreign land – fast losing my sense of self, with no idea of how to be, how to function. And those in charge didn’t notice the lack of inclusivity or brushed it off as someone else’s inconvenience.

 

And yet, the Society added a bit of rainbow to my otherwise greying life. It showed me that hey, queer people exist. In hordes. All kinds of queer people. All of L, G, B, T and more. And they can live openly. That made all the difference. So, I emptied my secret onto this page of an LGBT+ Indian blog, and came out to every single person I knew. It was only the beginning.

 

To this day, I watch young queer students of colour arrive in the country and thank white audiences for accepting them. They talk emotionally about how they are persecuted back home and here, they are not. And the white people in the audience applaud themselves for being welcoming, for saving queer people of colour automatically as they set foot on their soil. Meanwhile, queer people of colour are refused entry to queer clubs for not looking “queer enough”. Queer asylum seekers humiliate themselves to prove their queerness to the Home Office. And people of colour – queer or not – waste away in detention centres. As I’m writing this, there are detainees starving themselves to be treated like humans.

I too – in that first year – saw the rainbow flag unfurl atop my university and believed myself saved. If there was something that did save me that year, it was meeting Lubna. That’s another story for another time.

 

“Do you realise that your statement will push so many people who struggle with their identity back into stuffy closets?”

India, largest democracy in the world doesn’t want to give some rights to a certain community that they deserve. America is on its way to be great again and we are stepping back from being great. LGBT community is always in the news or in the most controversial topics in India and many other countries in the world. But comments by the Bollywood director Karan Johar in a recent interview and some lines from his autobiography have again got the LGBT community and the director himself to the headlines.

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Image source: bollywoodlife.com

The director have attempted in the past to bring topics like homosexuality to mainstream by movies Dostana(2008) which he produced in which two guys falsely claim to the landlord that they are gay in order to get the house for rent.

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Image source : abhishekbachchan.org

Karan Johar mentions in his book that he’ll be put to death if he openly declares his sexuality. For a long time fans were unaware of his sexuality and marriage as he was getting older and not getting married. People were assuming that Karan could be gay but he cleared that in his book. Our country have terrible law, article 377 of Indian Penal Code. The law was made by the British in 1860 which states,’Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.’ Well, the British were smart enough to decriminalize homosexuality in 1960’s and here we are still fight over what two consenting adults do in private in a closed room which doesn’t do any harm to them or the society.

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Image source : indianexpress.com

Laws like this doesn’t allow people to come out of the closet something similar happened to Karan Johar. It took so many years for him to openly discuss the topic with the society. Who knows that there are hundreds and thousands like him out there, crushed under the burden of expectations of the parents, family and society. Is this really making us the largest democracy of the world in reality?

Well, according to article 377, any type of unnatural sex is considered crime. This includes anal sex, oral sex and basically any any sex other than penile-vaginal sex. The question is who had decided what is natural and what is unnatural? The arguments made by the homophobes are, god made the laws of nature. Well, these people believe in many unnatural (fictional) things which they claim to be supernatural, so they don’t stand a chance in the debate.

LGBT community is fighting for equal rights, not special rights like marriage and equal status in society.

Feature image source : delhidailynews.com

2nd Delhi International Queer Theatre & Film Festival Kicks Off This Weekend

The 2nd Delhi International Queer Theatre & Film Festival (DIQTFF) will be conducted on Dec 10 & 11. The festival organised by LGBT youth support group Harmless Hugs & Love Matters is considered to be one of the biggest LGBT theatre & film festivals in North India.

Out of 200 submissions received, the two day event will screen around 15 selected national & international films. The line-up also includes a photography exhibition on LGBTQ issues and 6 Queer Plays offering striking reflection of gender diversity.

During a conversation with The MatchBox,  Mr. Harsh Agarwal, president, Harmless Hugs , said “that the purpose of the theatre and film fest is to create a safe space for the LGBT community to watch inclusive LGBT films on the big screen with no shame, guilt or anxiety,  it is  emotional and a huge goose-bump raising experience; and for the mainstream audience a window to understand LGBT people better, by dispelling myths and misconceptions they may have.”

Mr Agarwal added “With section 377 still in place, they face lot of difficulty in hosting this festival annually. Financial support is needed to make this an every year affair. Our effort has always been to make it a sustainable festival, where everybody seems involved, making this a festival of the masses irrespective of their genders, and not just of a community.”

 

Star attraction

This year, the biggest highlight is going to be the presence of Piyush Mishra who will be the Chief Gust at the festival on Dec 11th.

Piyush Mishra,An award-winning actor, lyricist and also singer, Mishra has worn many hats. But speaking for and with the LGBT community would be a first for him.

Mishra will be heard addressing the audience and sharing some nazmein to pay his respects to the community.

 

I Step on Air – Performance (English)

Oxana Chi and Layla Zami ,German-French queer couple who present their story through performing arts.

I Step on Air is a dance-theatre-music performance inspired by the Afro-German activist May Ayim that the couple performs with the use of dramatic expression, innovative live-music, and witty but empowering text.

 

 Schedule

 

LGBTQ – They are one of us!

If you talk to academicians or literature veterans they will tell you that the era of feminism in literature has gone. It is time for the literary world to now focus its attention to this neglected, stigmatized class of people who are fighting for their basic human rights and taking a stand against their oppression in the ‘respected’ society – the LGBTQ. In fact literature enthusiasts would opine that there is already so much being written, spoken and debated on this topic that anything you say on it is stale news. Yet, it is one thing to be spoken about and legalized while another to imbibe this into the society to make their day to day life easier.

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The stigma is so much so that we don’t even allow them to be themselves out in public. They need to hide their identities lest they should be ostracized. India is particularly still behind when it comes to social acceptance of homosexual and bisexual people. I have had two distinct experiences in this regard that speak for themselves.

 

UNITED KINGDOM:

Image Source : Wikimedia.org

This is when I was in UK for my Masters. One of our professors, an expert in Magazine Publishing, was once taking a class on some Editorial aspects of publishing. We were used to her being absolutely vocal and vibrant in the class. Today she was speaking on the importance of being consciously vigilant about gender assumptions while writing mails, especially to authors and subject matter experts. ‘Sometimes some names can be misleading because they can belong to a man as well as a woman. Don’t make assumptions especially if the person is from another nationality because then you are entirely clueless about the norm in that country and also what could be offensive in that culture’. 

 

This was my first experience outside India studying with students from multiple nationalities and what she was saying made complete sense to me. Sometimes names are quite difficult to filter out as female or male. A mistake in identification can be a massive blunder and deal breaker at times. As she continued she highlighted the fact that special attention should be given to the LGBT community as their preferred gender might be different from their biological/physiological gender. Especially the lesbian/gay people do not appear any different from any other person of the same biological gender and so it would be very difficult to tell. Just as we thought she had made her point, she added, ‘ A live example is myself. I’ve been married to my wife for 5 years now and I have faced all that LGBT is fighting for today.’ She continued speaking about herself but I was pretty taken aback by this revelation. I wasn’t used to having the LGBT community declare themselves openly, leave alone declaring yourself in front of a class that you are teaching. But she was bold and confident and the entire class applauded her candid admission and also cheered her for doing so.

mvtyhne

This experience speaks volumes about how the psyche of my fellow students in the Masters was much open to the gender reality and how I was still in the preliminary stages of witnessing this change in a public setting. This was the first ever tryst I had with a homosexual woman and this was followed up by several in our class who chose to speak up after this incident. This opened an entirely new way of thinking for me.

 

INDIA:

Image Source : Wikimedia.org

A couple of years later, while I was travelling in the ladies compartment of the Delhi metro one day, I saw a girl in the compartment who was sneaking looks at me from time to time. I was talking to another friend of mine and thought I was speaking too loudly in the heat of the discussion, so I lowered my voice a little. But the girl didn’t stop looking around at me. I didn’t think much of it and got off at my metro station. I did not notice that the girl had gotten off at the same metro station and was walking behind me.

 

When I swiped my metro card and was walking out I heard a voice call out to me… ‘Excuse me…’ she said.

 

I turned around and saw the same girl walking up to me. I stopped and waited for her to approach. ‘Yeah?’ I asked.

 

‘Can I talk to you for a minute?’ she asked in a very polite and anxious tone.

 

‘Yeah … ‘ I responded again wondering what it was. Did she need directions? Did she overhear my conversation with my friend and was she going to take it up with me

 

She walked up to me and saw me standing… ‘Shall we walk while I’m talking to you?’ she sounded very awkward this time.

 

‘Sure!’ I said and started walking down the stairs. She started walking with me. I was looking at her now impatiently. The silence was making me awkward. My mind was running places – Does she need directions? Has something wrong happened to her? Have I said something wrong in the metro?

 

She finally spoke up – ‘Look, you are very beautiful! And  I’m not straight… So … I was wondering…’

 

Had it been my two-year younger self before I went to UK, I would have panicked in such a situation not knowing how to respond. The fear of unknown creeps in when a situation never dealt with before crops up in your face. But now I was not the naive me… I did not stop, I did not show shock on my face. I just looked back at her and told her ‘Sorry, I am straight.’ 

 

She slowed in her tracks. ‘Ohh Alright…Just wanted to ask.’

 

‘Yeah, no problem!’ I said and continued walking. By now she had stopped walking down the stairs. I figured she had only gotten off the metro because I got off.

 

‘Don’t worry about it.’ she called out from behind me knowing that someone approaching you like that on the streets can be awkward and a cause of worry in a country like India.

 

‘Ohh no, that is fine!’ I said and smiled back at her.

 

‘But you are really very beautiful!’ she smiled back and called out louder this time. I was almost at the bottom of the stairs.

 

I turned around and said ‘Thank you!’ before I walked out of the metro station and she went back up to take the next metro.

 

If you noticed carefully, she was scared to be candid about how she felt because being gay/lesbian is a taboo in the society here. She was unsure of how I would react. She was also very aware that if the LGBT open up in front of people they may intimidate them. She was careful to mention that I should not worry about what happened. This only goes to show that our society is still to become LGBT friendly and we need to understand that the best way to respond to them if you find out is to be just as normal as you would be with any heterosexual person. Too much positive or negative reaction would only hamper the chances of them being themselves. This may have been reinforced through several articles and papers but making this a reality will take every individual to be sensitive and aware about them being a inherent part of our society. They are among st us and one of us.

Feature Image :- wgss.yale.edu

Everthing about Transgender Persons Bill!

The Union Cabinet has passed the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill on Friday. India has been undergoing a transformation ever since Laxmi Narayan Tripathi brought about a revolution in the lives of the Hijra community by becoming a global icon for the transgender people. The Indian community of transgenders or Hijra or Khwajah Sarah as we call them, is one of the oldest transgender community known to the world with a strength of approximately 5 lac persons as per 2011 Census.

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Image source: oneindia.com

What is Gender? What is Sex? This is a question that the whole world is currently trying to answer. So I looked up the WHO website to find out how these terms have been defined- http://apps.who.int/gender/whatisgender/en/

“Sex” refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women.

“Gender” refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women.

Anyone would notice how outdated these statements are today. Sex as a biological and physiological characteristic now includes the entire LGBT community. Lesbians, Gay, Bisexuals and Transgenders today are struggling to form a respectable identity all over the world and these definitions are an ugly proof of how the world is still unable to accept this community as one of their own. They are still considered exceptions to the rule. Anyone who falls outside of these definitions is an aberration.

The bill passed by the cabinet aims at social, economic and educational empowerment of the transgender persons and will benefit in mitigating the stigma, discrimination and abuse against this marginalised section and integrate them into the mainstream. Let’s take a look at what reforms have been proposed and why –

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Image source: cdn29.elitedaily.com

WHAT:
The legislation provides up to two years imprisonment for atrocities against members of the community (a minimum being of 6 months). It suggested amending the Indian Penal Code to include sexual crimes against the community.

WHY:
Transgenders have been ill treated for ages in India. They are ostracized from the society as soon as they are discovered and it is a matter of shame for the mainstream to have a transgender amongst them. Forcing a transgender into bonded labour, pushing them to leave their home and beg, snatching their land away from them, forcibly removing their clothes and pushing them into prostitution, police violence against them, rapes on transgenders and many such offences have gone unnoticed for years in India. This legislation will provide them a legal protection and a channel to raise their voices against atrocities.

WHAT:
The Bill states that no trans child can be separated from their parents unless ordered by a court.

WHY:
The hatred towards transgenders is so deep rooted in India that as soon as a child is found to be transgendered, the society either ostracizes the entire family from the community or forces the parents of the child to disown the child. The child is thrown out of the community at a very young age and sometimes picked up by the Hijra community and raised with them. If the Hijra community does not find the child, the child may have to face the horrors of rape and prostitution at a very young age. The new legislation will act as a guard against such crimes.

WHAT:
The Bill proposed the establishment of a National Council of Transgender Persons.This Council will advice the government regarding the issues faced by the community and ensure that transgender persons are accepted within the fold of society and have access to the same resources and opportunities as other members of the society.

WHY:
The transgender community due to its social exclusion has been facing lack of proper education, healthcare and basic human rights that should be available to any individual. They are denied these rights by common man out of sheer disrespect and disregard for them. With the help of the National Council of Transgender Persons the government proposes to start schemes to provide them scholarships, textbooks, hostel accommodation, healthcare facilities, etc.

WHAT:
The Bill recognizes that the transgender community is a backward community and should be included among the OBC category if the child is not already in the SC/ST category.

WHY:
‘Reservation’ has become a piece of cake these days in India with every other community whether big or small wanting to have their share in it. On the other hand those communities that really are socially and economically backward still remain neglected under the daunting shadows of the overgrowing aggressive deceptively backward communities. With this backdrop, recognizing the transgenders as backward and ensuring reservations for them in the educational and professional sector will drive the movement of social acceptance across the country.

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Image source: cloudfront.net

But the question still remains that despite all the legal bindings and reforms will the Indian society open its arms to accept this community as one of their own? Time will tell!

Feature Image source: http://s3.india.com/