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LGBTQ: ‘Straight’ forward voices of Generation Z

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Two years ago, Article 377, which prohibits all same sex activity, or so called ‘carnal intercourse against the order of nature,’ caused an uproar in the country. According to the section, same-sex activity is punishable by either life imprisonment or a 10 year imprisonment for less severe offenses.I feel Article 377 is unfair, because everyone deserves a chance to be who they are without being afraid of being jailed. Being homosexual is as normal as being heterosexual, and I think India should also work towards making it legal, and provide them with the protection they need.—Anushka Shah, 18, MumbaiI know I may sound very archaic, but I believe that homosexuality is against the order of nature, and makes people more prone to diseases such as HIV. I don’t necessarily have a problem with homosexuals, and I don’t think they should have such a severe consequence, but I don’t completely agree with the idea either.—Sharan Damodaran, 18, CochinIt is completely okay to belong to the LGBTQ community. I am actually quite disappointed that India has progressed in so many ways, but hasn’t opened itself up to abolishing this article yet. It is sad that transgenders are still considered ‘hijdas’ who walk around the road begging, but cannot just be considered human. I think Indians should really change this mindset and accept that there are gender preferences outside ‘only male’ and ‘only female’.—Aarti Khanna, DelhiThe LGBTQ issue in India is a controversial one, but for the most part I don’t agree with the article. I think it’s bizarre that they concentrate so much on homosexuals, because at the end of the day, they are two adults consenting to be in a relationship. It doesn’t really affect anyone else at all, and so I think they shouldn’t be penalized.—Rhea Chavda, 19, AhmedabadI don’t think Article 377 is fair, and people shouldn’t be imprisoned for being LGBT, but I don’t exactly agree with the idea of homosexuality. I don’t think it’s natural and it does increase the amount of sexually transmitted diseases. It does not fit in with the human anatomy, and I don’t advocate it.—Ikram Nagani, 18, PuneTo be honest, the LGBT community has fought long and hard, and after all this time, it is embarrassing that they still don’t have rights like the rest of us. I cannot understand India’s prejudice against them, because they are accepted in so many other countries. Why not here? We need to be more open.—Alizeh Mehta, 14, MumbaiI am actually quite indifferent to the concept of LGBT, but I feel people should be able to do exactly as they please. We can’t really call India a forward-thinking, free country until we can accept everyone under the umbrella of secularism. I don’t personally have any views on the community, but I just think that they shouldn’t be harmed or hindered in any way because of their sexual orientation, and this applies to all other minorities as well.—Joshua John, 17, MaduraiI think that the LGBTQ community deserve their own rights. There is no reason to be ‘homophobic’, because at the end of the day, we’re all just human. India is a developing country, and we need to be more open to newer values and change, and I think embracing the LGBTQ community is a big step in doing so.—Ananya Tuli, 19, MumbaiIndians should definitely have a broader perspective when it comes to the LGBTQ community, because we are still stuck with our orthodox mentality. If India really wants to become a superpower as our presidents and prime ministers want, we need to change our mindset.—Ravleen Kaur, 19, IndoreI am very supportive of the LGBT community, and I feel very sad that they have to fight so much for the same rights that the rest of us have. I have LGBT friends and I think at the end of the day, they are just as human as me. India really needs to give some attention to these matters, rather than only concentrating on monetary problems. The happiness of the citizens is also extremely important.—Thea Mehta, 19, Mumbai

New HIV/AIDS Bill promises confidentiality and hope, but much remains to be done

By Maya Plait

Last year, Maitri Lakra, who was diagnosed HIV-positive almost two decades ago and served as a coordinator for the Bengal Positive Network, gave the journalist Sohini Chattopadhyay a harrowing account of how patients’ HIV statuses being made public frequently affected the quality of care they received. “The hospital in Purulia did not even have a sheet covering the mattress. Vomit and shit had caked on the mattress. Nurses would walk past, but none would go near the HIV+ bed. There was a label identifying the bed as HIV+.”

This situation might change soon, with confidentiality measures on their way. The ball is finally rolling on the draft of the HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Control) Bill that has been pending since February 2014. The wait isn’t over, but on Thursday, the Union Cabinet in New Delhi approved it for passage in the winter Parliament session. If passed, it will protect the 21 lakh HIV positive people in India in several ways, including prohibiting discrimination against them by prospective healthcare and education providers. Perhaps most crucially, the Bill insists upon confidentiality and the protection of positive persons’ information — so patients won’t be forced to reveal their HIV status without consent.

Representational image. ReutersRepresentational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Why is confidentiality so important to people with HIV? Meena Seshu, the founder of Sampada Grameen Mahila Sanstha (SANGRAM), an organisation that works on HIV prevention, draws attention to the critical importance of the bill’s confidentiality clause: “Confidentiality was part of the National Aids Control Organisation’s objectives, but their targeted intervention programs routinely disclosed information about patients and made things very messy. All this while, we could only fight it at the policy level, but now that it’s a law, it sends the message to hospitals and establishments that now we can take them to court.”

The bill prohibits unfair treatment and the denial of services to HIV patients or their caretakers. It also prohibits HIV testing as a pre-requisite for obtaining employment, healthcare or education, and mandates that the central and state governments make provisions to provide anti-retroviral therapy. “The main feature of this bill is that it is anti-discrimination and recognises the right to equality for HIV patients. For the first time, the bill also covers the private sector,” says Raman Chawla, a member of the HIV and Law Team at Lawyers Collective, a Delhi-based organisation that has campaigned for the Bill and first drafted it a decade ago, in 2006.

The informed consent clause is also a move in the right direction. The bill states that, “No person shall be compelled to disclose his HIV status except with his informed consent, and if required by a court order,” and formal mechanisms are apparently to be put in place to make sure that HIV-affected people’s data is protected by healthcare establishments following testing, treatment or clinical research. An individual known as an ‘ombudsman’ will be appointed the task of inquiring into violations of the Act and is entitled to take action.

A few aspects remain up in the air though. A press note released by the Lawyer’s Collective points to a lack of clarity about whether the new bill contains provisions for free or complete treatment of the patients, which has been a longstanding concern for HIV-affected groups. The 2014 Bill stipulated that the state government provide HIV treatment “as far as possible” — vague phrasing that leaves too much room for negligence — and networks have been demanding that this be changed.

An HIV activist who did not wish to be named spoke about how there is very little focus on women’s needs within HIV programmes. “The prevention programme does not look at how women’s bodies are different from men. We are told to avoid having babies, but otherwise the main prevention methods provided are condoms. There is also very little focus on the culture that discourages women from joining the prevention programme; they see the prevention methods as physically invasive.”

Sexual violence heightens the risk of HIV transmission and the infection travelling from mothers to children during pregnancy or breastfeeding are factors that deserve more attention. A Unicef report states that only 23 percent of pregnant women living with HIV undertook anti-retroviral treatment in 2009 because of factors like social customs and family restrictions. It is crucial, then, that complications that impact women specifically are raised, particularly given the massive proportion of HIV-affected women: figures from 2015 provided by UNAIDS estimated that 39.5 percent (7,90,000 of 20,00,000) of HIV-affected adults in India were women and that this was a growing proportion, while two years ago it was reported that HIV prevalence for women who inject drugs was almost double that of men.

The ball is finally rolling on the draft of the HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Control) Bill that has been pending since February 2014

Although activists expressed their satisfaction about the bill becoming the subject of active discussions, L Ramakrishnan, the vice-president of SAATHI (Solidarity and Action against the HIV Infection in India) said that from a first reading, it appeared that there was a “colossal lacuna” in the definition of a ‘protected person’ according to the bill. It still refers to an individual who is either living with HIV or residing with an HIV-affected person in the present or the past, and these are the people who are entitled to anti-discrimination, informed consent and other rights.

Ramakrishan says that the bill must include provisions for the protection of people who are most vulnerable to contracting the disease as well, such as people frequently using contaminated injection equipment. “The feedback we have received is that the definition should include vulnerable people, what is known as the most-at-risk population (MARP), which would include transgender women, men who have sex with men, women who sell sex and people who inject drugs.” Punitive laws like Section 377, which criminalise their actions already, mean that there is very little protection for these groups. They are also already more prone to contracting diseases like Hepatitis C.

Kousalya Periasamy, founder of the grassroots network Positive Women Network and incidentally the first woman in India to announce that she was HIV-positive, was unequivocal in her scepticism about the Bill’s emphasis on anti-discrimination. “It’s not at all useful to us. What is the point of giving us these policies without treatment and health rights? They have to reword the treatment clause to make it compulsory. It’s been a long time coming, and we are unhappy.” Kousalya also expressed her dissatisfaction with the change of the minimum age of a person who can get tested for HIV to 18 years, saying it should be kept at 14 years.

The Cabinet approved amendments to the draft law on Wednesday, but hasn’t yet specified what these are. Next, the bill makes its way to the Rajya Sabha. The good news as far as HIV activists are concerned, is that although there remains much to be done, the process has begun.

The Ladies Finger (TLF) is a leading online women’s magazine delivering fresh and witty perspectives on politics, culture, health, sex, work and everything in between.

The new HIV/AIDS Bill is great, but ineffective when the vulnerable are criminals under other laws

After years of deliberating on the Human Immunodeficiency Virus and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS) (Prevention and Control) Bill, 2014, the Union Cabinet has finally approved it, with amendments, on Wednesday in a meeting that was chaired by Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. The Bill is a long-awaited legislation that seeks to end societal stigma and discrimination of people living with HIV (PLHIVs) and ensure their right to privacy.

The Bill takes a human-rights approach to public health, and makes antiretroviral treatment a legal right of HIV/AIDS patients. This would mean that it is now obligatory for the Central and State governments to provide for anti-retroviral therapy (ART) and arrange for the management of risk reduction of vulnerable populations. The legislation prohibits arbitrary and discriminatory acts by the state against PLHIVs and their families. The HIV/AIDS Bill, therefore, has the foundations of civil liberties at its centre, providing for positive and negative obligations for the State towards approximately 21 lakh PLHIVs in India.

Populations who are most vulnerable to HIV/AIDS are female sex workers (FSWs), men who have sex with men (MSMs), transgenders and intravenous drug-users. The Bill seeks to protect these high-risk groups from discrimination, both through administration of treatment for their infections as well as improving their access to welfare schemes and services. Any discrimination or unfair treatment against PLHIVs and their families in their employment, education, healthcare and provision of insurance is prohibited; they also cannot be banned from housing or renting property and from standing for public or private office. Moreover, by bringing in legal accountability in the treatment and care of the PLHIVs, the Bill also mandates for a formal mechanism to probe on complaints of violations of the Act. Most importantly, it seeks to safeguard the privacy of the PLHIVs by stating that no HIV test, medical treatment, or research will be conducted on a person without his/her informed consent.

The Bill also makes it mandatory for institutions and establishments keeping records of PLHIVs to adopt data protection measures. By providing for a progressionist approach that safeguards the human rights of the affected, while simultaneously providing for risk and vulnerability reduction, that has its roots in social and economic justice, the Bill is an example of sound affirmative action.

Representational image. AFPRepresentational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

However, will the adoption of this Bill be action enough for a bias-free environment for the people living with HIV and their families? While the Bill mandates for prevention of HIV/AIDS, will it be able to protect those who are most vulnerable to infections, namely the high-risk groups (intravenous drug-users, FSWs, MSMs, and transgendered individuals)? Moreover, the Bill does not elucidate on the legal dissonance between its provisions of non-discrimination and other acts and case-law that discriminate against sex-workers, homosexuals and transgenders.

For example, the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act, 1956, that, despite its silence on the legality of sex-workers, is used by law enforcement to criminalize, punish and prosecute female sex workers. Moreover, the LGBTQI population also faces egregious human rights violations by the State and law enforcement; the Supreme Court judgment in Suresh Kumar Koushal v. Naz Foundation sought to reinstate the archaic Section 377 of the IPC, thereby validating the criminalizing treatment of the State towards the LGBTQI community. By not safeguarding the rights of sex-workers, MSMs and transgenders, the State continues to push them into further victimhood. How does the HIV/AIDS Bill, then, epitomise the clauses on anti-discrimination of the PLHIVs, when the most vulnerable continue to live, in the fringes of society, their identities, governed by morality, but still unprotected by any legislation?

The HIV/AIDSs is, by all means, a cause for revelry within the communities as well as for advocates for the vulnerable. However, in my opinion, the HIV/AIDS Bill cannot be isolated from all the other issues currently tabled in the Parliament and the Supreme Court – the passing of an Anti-Trafficking Bill that does not incriminate all sex-workers; the ratifying of the Transgender Persons Bill, 2016 that provides for a comprehensive understanding of the transgender identity; the five-judge Constitution Bench that will decide the fate of Section 377, and therefore, the fates of the MSM, gays and transgender communities.

It cannot be denied that HIV/AIDS patients have had an arduous journey, legally. In December 2010, the Supreme Court struck down all reservations of the Central government to repudiate its obligation towards PLHIVs by stating that receiving second-line ART treatment to all HIV/AIDS patients was subsumed under Article 21 of the Constitution – the right to life. The Cabinet’s nod to the Bill is, therefore, commendable. The Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare, JP Nadda has stated – “The Bill seeks to prevent stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV. These amendments will allow families that have faced discrimination to go to court against institutions or persons being unfair”; but how will the Bill have this power when many of the vulnerable don’t have the luxury to express themselves or define their identities and are continued victims of violence and stigma in both public and private spaces?

The author is a human rights lawyer and researcher based in Bengaluru.

MEA justifies India’s stance to abstain as UN appoints LGBT rights watchdog

India has abstained at the UN Human Rights Council voting in Geneva to appoint an independent expert to look into cases of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, a resolution which was passed by a narrow margin.In a 23-18 vote with six abstentions, the 47-member Human Rights Council on Thursday called for the creation of a three-year position for an independent expert to look into wrongdoing against gays, lesbians and transgender people. Defending India’s decision, External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Vikas Swarup in New Delhi said India took the decision considering the “legal” reality in the country.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>”The issue of LGBT rights in India is a matter being considered by the Supreme Court (SC) under a batch of curative petitions filed by various institutions and organisations. The SC is yet to pronounce on this issue.”As such we had to take this into account in terms of our vote on the the UN resolution to institutionalise the office of an independent expert to prevent discrimination against the LGBT persons,” Swarup told reporters.The expert is expected to be appointed at the next meeting of the Geneva-based body in September.The resolution was strongly supported by Latin America and the West, while many African and Middle Eastern countries joined China to vote against it. The expert’s duties will include assessing international human rights laws, raising awareness of violence based on sexual orientation and engaging in dialogue with member states and other stakeholders.The decision to create the post comes weeks after Afghan-origin Omar Mateen massacred 49 people at a gay bar in Orlando, Florida.

India abstains from UN vote on LGBT rights watchdog; activists slam PM Modi’s silence

Expressing disappointment over India’s move to abstain from voting in the UN Human Rights Council to appoint an independent investigator to help protect the rights of homosexuals and transgenders worldwide, the LGBT community members on Friday demanded Prime Minister Narendra Modi to break his silence and speak about ‘inclusive society’.Throwing light on the fact that the Private Member Bill brought by Congress leader Shashi Tharoor was unanimously rejected by the Parliament, Transgender activist Akkai Padmashali said it reflected ‘intolerance’ on the government’s part.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>”This is very disappointing. When the United Nations Human Rights Council had a special session on sexual orientation and gender identity, India took a strange stand, which is very disappointing. This is not the first time. When Mr. Shashi Tharoor of the Congress presented a Private Member Bill in the Parliament on 377, the Parliament unanimously rejected it. That shows intolerance,” Padmashali told ANI.”India not supporting it in UN shows you are homophobic and a biphobic. I demand the Prime Minister to break his silence to speak about inclusive society. Any kind of fundamentalism and criminalism is unacceptable,” Padmashali added.Rajesh Umabharti of the Sangama Orgaisation for LGBT said the government’s stand in this regard was not surprising as it reflected the “fascist” mindset.”It is really not surprising. It is the second time it has happened. With the present government, it is not at all surprising. This government is anti-minority; it comes from a fascist kind of mindset. Prime Minister doesn’t take a stand on LGBT matters. It is stupendously stupid on part of this government to abstain from the issue,” Umabharti told ANI.After a heated debate lasting almost four hours, the 47-member state forum overcame strong objections by Saudi Arabia and Muslim countries to adopt a Western-backed resolution by a vote of 23 states in favour and 18 against with six abstentions.The United States and major European countries backed the resolution, while China, Russia and 16 African and predominantly Muslim states rejected it. India, South Africa and the Philippines were among the abstainers.

LGBT activists move SC to overturn Section 377; petition hearing on Wednesday

Prominent members of the LGBT community in the country have moved the Supreme Court seeking to overturn the colonial-era law of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, reported Hindustan Times.

The petition that was put forward by chef Ritu Dalmia, dancer NS Johar, hotelier Aman Nath, journalist Sunil Mehra and business executive Ayesha Kapur, reported The Times of India, will be heard before a bench of Justice SA Bobde and Justice Ashok Bhushan on 29 June, Wednesday. The Supreme Court resumes work on Wednesday after a 45-day vacation, and lawyers Arvind Datar and Kapil Sibal will represent the petitioners, the report added.

File photo of an LGBT demonstration. Getty images.File photo of an LGBT demonstration. Getty images.

File photo of an LGBT demonstration. Getty images.

In 2009, the Delhi High Court had ruled that the Section 377 of the IPC — which criminalises consensual sex between LGBTQI partners — was unconstitutional. In 2013, a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court of India quashed the Delhi High Court judgment saying that the ruling was a matter of judicial overreach and it was up to the Parliament to make laws.

Following that, Congress MP and former UN undersecretary-general Shashi Tharoor had tried introducing a bill in December 2015 that sought an amendment to the IPC by seeking to “substitute a new section for section 377 of the IPC” but was shot down in the Lok Sabha. Tharoor then asserted that he will introduce the bill again.

On 2 February this year, the SC had referred the issue of Section 377 to a five-judge constitutional bench. A SC bench headed by Chief Justice TS Thakur referred the curative petition to the five-judge bench as senior counsel Kapil Sibal said that the issue involved a question of far-reaching constitutional importance and must be heard by a five-judge bench.

Sibal had argued for decriminalising Section 377 of IPC, and submitted that the issue concerned the “most private and the most precious” part of life, the right to sexuality within the four corners of your domain, which has been held as unconstitutional.

The petition, which will be heard on Wednesday, makes a declaration that the LGBT citizens in India have a right to determine their sexuality, sexual autonomy, choice of sexual partner, life, privacy, dignity and equality, along with the other fundamental rights guaranteed under Part-III of Constitution, which are currently are violated by Section 377, reported Deccan Chronicle.

The Hindustan Times report added that the 716-page petition has been drafted by a team of lawyers including Arundhati Katju, Himanshu Suman, Menaka Guruswamy and Saurabha Kripal.

Pro-Islamic State group’s hit list names 285 Indians; caliphate releases personal details of targets

As many as 285 Indian nationals – many of them average people who never in their life may have harboured animosity towards the Islamic State (IS), despite disproving the group’s horrific killings – are among those to find place in the 4,000-odd ‘kill list’ drawn by a pro-IS group from across the globe.The civilian target list, drawn by pro-IS United Cyber Caliphate and released on Wednesday on its private Telegram channel, gives personal details of the picks, and exhorts lone wolves to find and attack them.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>A propaganda imagery (see pic) with the words “O individual wolves out there in the world, Kill the Cross wherever you find it,” and “Kill them strongly…kill them hardly” with the hashtags, “#very important kill list” and “#Kill them immediately,” was flashed along with the list.The data in the excel sheet format contains names and addresses of 4,681 random civilians from around 18 countries including US, Britain, Canada, France and India. Jihadi intelligence agencies SITE and Flashpoint undermined the threat from the kill list as the personal details of people were taken from open sources on the web which is freely accessible. The hacking group, UCC, is believed to have ‘repackaged’ information available in public and collated the details from various platforms into one list, making it to appear like a targeted kill list.It is thus unlikely that pro-IS supporters hacked a large set of database or is handpicking individual accounts. “While its methods and tactics continue to convey a relatively low and unsophisticated skill set, the group’s association with IS creates the potential for real world effects, and high propaganda value,” Flashpoint analysts reported.This is the second such kill list, published by the same group this month, to inspire lone wolves to take revenge for Muslims. The list appears to be in line with the IS propaganda which asks followers who can’t make the ‘hijrah’ (migration) to Syria and Iraq for jihad, to act in their countries and kill ‘kufars’ (non-Muslims) wherever they can find them.Shortly after the Orlando shooting, where a neurotic gunman Omar Mateen opened fire in a nightclub popular among the LGBT community killing 49 and called 911 to pledge his allegiance to IS, the group’s supporters started disseminating propaganda calling for individuals to attack people from western countries. Last week, UCC released the first list with 8318 names of nationals from US, Canada, UK and Australia.The purpose of releasing such a list publicly on web is reflective of the group’s tactics to spread fear psychosis amongst general public. Interviews of individuals, whose names appeared in Canada and US, showed they had no idea how their details reached the hands of IS men but are now feeling insecure knowing that the group has information on them. Although not considered of any imminent threat, authorities in US and Canada contacted people in the list to warn them to keep a watch.Although only a handful of Indians are known to have joined IS and died in fighting, the group has not staged any attack in India. The National Investigating Agency had arrested more than 50 people suspected of subscribing to IS ideology and Caliphate. “We are not aware of the kill list. But the possibility of lone wolves acting cannot be refuted. Agencies are keeping a close watch on such suspects to avert any attack,” said one senior officer.

India’s transgender sari models winning hearts

A designer in the southern Indian state of Kerala launches her new collection of saris, featuring transgender models.

Fairly disagree with PM Modi on policy, says Kal Penn

American actor, director and White House official in the Obama administration, Kal Penn said that he strongly differs with PM Modi’s conservative politics. In India to shoot for Guneet Monga’s Ashram, Penn said that he is, on the other hand, a huge fan of President Obama’s libertine ideals.”On policy, I would differ fairly strongly with PM Modi. I am a huge fan of religious diversity and secularism, women’s rights and LGBT rights, all of the things that I wish progress in India, as they continue to in the rest of the world,” said Penn. “On one hand, regardless of any president or prime minister, we cannot forget any of our histories. I don’t think you have to learn from it and build upon it. My politics align more with president Obama, than some of our conservative friends. I know that differs from Prime Minister Modi’s path quite a bit.”<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>However, Penn also added that he is fascinated by how Modi and Obama work together to build better ties, despite owing to differing ideologies. “Although they would differ on policy if they were in the same country, but because they get along as world leaders, they work towards better opportunities to advance trade, to have an open discussion about women and LGBT rights, about the environment, the industry and national security partnerships, in order to make both countries stronger,” he said. “That’s also a lesson for me to learn, on how you may disagree on a lot of things about a person’s history and yet work together.”Penn, born Kalpan Suresh Modi, to Gujarati immigrants was raised in New Jersey. He was taken to Shastri Market Camp near Moti Bagh and Tata’s Smart Grid Lab in Rohini by US ambassador Richie R Verma. Later, they also had a discussion of Namesake in the American Centre in the afternoon.Verma, who hosted a reception for Penn in the American Embassy in the evening, introduced him as someone who career stands on a wide range of roles. “He has produced, directed, and starred in serious roles, in comedy, in stoner films. He is a great actor. What we also discovered is that he was also the director of the office of public engagement in the Obama administration, a job he had to leave to resume films,” said Verma. “He has been standing for the minority communities, and the voiceless, for Asian-Americans and other groups, purely unsung. There are no cameras, or press around him then; just him helping people.”Verma also spoke about the strong inspiration that Penn draws from the fact that his grandparents were part of India’s freedom struggle. “I hope he continues to do so,” said Verma.Penn also said that he disagreed the diversive ideals of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. “There are many Republican voters in America, and most of them did not vote for Trump in the Republican primary.It’s just that in some states he got the majority. If you look at the votes, and at all the applicants, and add up all the numbers, then one will see that many people are not voting for him. America belongs to all of us, and we are all Americans. And I hope that rhetoric purposefully wins over another that tries to diversify us,” he said.

Behind Bangladesh’s openly gay activist, a story of closeted fear from radical Islamists

In the Islamic country of Bangladesh where same sex relations is considered a crime and sin, Xulhaz Mannan was happily and openly gay for over two decades. As an advocate of“human right to love”, Mannan published the country’s first LGBT magazine Roopbaan– named after a Bengali folk character symbolising love– to promote tolerance towards sexual and gender diversity. When people asked him how he managed to live such a carefree life in Bangladesh, Mannan’s generic reply would be: “It’s possible and it’s great.”<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>In the growing atmosphere of intolerance which has claimed lives of bloggers, professors, publishers, activists and minority communities for being ‘anti-Islamic’, Mannan’s activism for LGBT rights is the latest casualty.On Monday, Mannan and his friend theater actor Mahbub Tonoy were hacked to death by six unknown assailants in the former’s house in Dhaka. The ghastly murder was owned by Ansar al Islam or Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) an affiliate of al Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent who claimed to have punished the two for `practicing and promoting’ homosexuality.A pioneering rights activist, Mannan was aware of the impending risks in living as a “self-identified gay man” nevertheless took solace in the support offered by liberal thinkers, NGOs and individuals online. The same online platforms also brought an onsulaught of death and abusive threats.Less than two weeks before his murder, Roopbaan group had posted the invitation for this year’s Pride parade and received threats on from anonymous Islamist radicals who warned of beating, killing and molesting those attending the event. Since 2014, when it was first published with the help of USAID, Roopban, began a trend of organising the first pride parade which coincided with the Pohela Boishakh, Bengali new year celebrations held on April 14. Following the threats, police eventually withdrew permissions for the event and the rally was cancelled.It is not known whether those who killed Mannan and Tonoy were the same group who had threatened online or if they were members of ABT. Local police officials said that investigations are currently on and no arrests have been made.The twin murders have evoked outrage from US authorities including Secretary of State John Kerry and US ambassador in Bangladesh Marcia Stephens Bloom Bernicat putting pressure on the Bangladesh government to crackdown against the radical Islamists. Mannan worked with the US embassy for eight years before joining USAID last year.Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina blamed the local Jamaat-e-Islami and the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) for the murders. The ruling government denies any presence of global terrorist groups al Qaeda or Islamic State, which have claimed responsibility for the series of isolated killings and small bombings since 2013 (see graph).A senior Inspector General of Police while talking to dna also denied al Qaeda members behind the murders of LGBT activists. “These are not elements of IS and al Qaeda. They are homegrown terrorists who are targeting and attacking progressive people not aligned with their line of thinking.” In a feature written for Pink Pages, an online Indian LGBT magazine, last year, Mannan described in detail his life and work as an LGBT activist. Born in a privileged family — he is a cousin of former Foreign Minister Dipu Moni — Mannan happily embraced his sexuality and never faced any homophobic reactions. Although he received no personal threats he said his work and activities like publishing Roopbaan and organising the pride parade did bring in harsh and brutal reactions from the majority population.As a leading LGBT activist, Mannan and other associations also conducted the first survey in Bangladesh where over 500 individuals identified as homosexuals living in constant fear. Roopbaan’s work was to bridge the divisions in sexual and gender diversity by making the LGBT community “more visible, continuous social dialogues, effective communication, community mobilisation and awareness programs using arts and culture.”‘ Mannan however rued the fact there was not much support and few wanted to be involved in forcing the government to repeal the sodomy law section 377 criminalising homosexuality. As if conjecturing the fate of those who did, Mannan wrote,”In the current times when there’s growing trend of shunning the voices of the ‘different’, free thinkers being hacked to death, who would volunteer to risk their lives for sexual freedom?”

Karnataka: Transgenders in prison to be housed in women’s wing

Transgenders who under a prison term in Karnataka have come under focus in the state now. Chamaraja MLA, Vasu, has raised the issue housing of transgender convicts and undertrials in Karnataka’s prisons with the home ministry. An English daily reported that the home ministry has promised to now allocate space to the prisoners so that they can be housed in the women’s barracks. There has been no specific rules so far as to where to accommodate transgender convicts and undertrials. When Vasu raised the issue on Tuesday, Home Minister G Parameshwara wrote back stating that they will now take steps to house them separately. He was reported saying, “Currently, there are no separate facilities in any of the prisons to accommodate transgender inmates as very few of them go to prison. In case of a conviction, we will accommodate them in separate cells within women’s barracks at all prisons.”<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Home department sources have told the daily that till now there have been no major crimes committed by transgenders. Moreover, they have always been kept in separate cells.The officer did not comment on whether these prisoners would be housed in the men’s barracks or the women’s barracks. The LGBT community has been gaining more significance in India and there is more awareness today about their rights. A senior police officer has told the daily that when a transgender comes to prison, the person is referred to the jail doctor for a medical exam. If they are more feminine, they are sent to the women’s barracks and kept in separate cells. Else they are kept in separate cells in the men’s block he reportedly said. He added there was no discrimination against them in the cells. HNS Rao, director general of police, prisons, reportedly told the daily, “Considering the sensitivity of the issue, they will be accommodated in separate cells to address their requirements. As of now, in the rare case when they do end up here, they are kept in separate cells.”Transgenders are always housed in separate cells to prevent any harassment . Sources told the daily that only two central prisons — Viyyur prison in Kerala and Yerawada in Pune — have separate blocks to house transgender inmates.The decision taken by the government has been applauded by the LGBT community. LGBT activists have tld the daily that transgenders have been subjected to harassment at police stations and prisons. Officials have also been sensitive towards their rights, they added.Akkai Padmashali, LGBT activist and founder of Ondede, told the daily that in 2015, five transgenders were sent to ‘jail in Mysuru on false charges and forcibly lodged in the men’s barrack and that ‘all of them were sexually assaulted, harassed and raped in station and prison’. “Luckily, the judiciary came to our rescue,” he told the daily. .

‘Homosexuality not a crime’: How the RSS is trying to re-invent its public image

It is not just the dress code which the Rashtriya Swayamwevak Sangh (RSS), the parent organisation of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has changed in the last few days.

The RSS is trying to re-invent its image. AFP

The RSS is trying to re-invent its image. AFP

RSS joint general secretary Dattatreya Hosabale said at an event on Thursday in New Delhi, “I don’t think homosexuality should be considered a criminal offence as long as it does not affect the lives of others in society.”

“Sexual preferences are private and personal. Why should RSS express its views in a public forum? RSS has no view on that. It is for people to have their way. Personal preference of sex is not discussed in RSS and we don’t even want to discuss that,” PTI quoted Hosabale as saying.

However, before any of us could get excited for such a progressive stand taken by RSS, Hosable clarified on Twitter that he thought homosexuality needed to be treated like “a psychological case”, even though he re-iterated that it was not a crime.

Nevertheless, there is still an important change in the RSS stand on homosexuality that comes out through Hosabale’s remark.

Even when Hosabale tweeted out that homosexuality is a “socially immoral act”, he began his tweet by confirming that he stood by his earlier remark that homosexuality was certainly not a crime. When compared to earlier statements made by RSS leaders on the issue, like the time Ram Madhav said criminalisation of homosexuality is ‘debatable’ or the time when the organisation said that there can be no compromise with gay rights, it seems the RSS has certainly further softened its stand on homosexuality.

Now, instead of saying that the issue of criminalisation of homosexuality was ‘debatable’, an RSS leader has come out and said that homosexuality is definitely not a crime. And that too, twice.

Even though there is still a long way to go before RSS’ point of view on homosexuality can be called progressive, the right-wing organisation has taken a number of steps which seem to indicate that it is trying to re-invent its image, especially among the youth.

Even in a PTI report in which an RSS leader had rejected the perception that the organisation changed its dress code to attract the youth, the leader had still said that “khaki shorts made way for trousers following a long pondering on suggestions made to this effect by its cadre and the change is in sync with time.”

One of the most important factors in deciding what is “in sync with time” is the youth. After all, it is mostly the youth of a country which decides what is in sync with time and what is outdated. But it is not just about the dress code.

On Sunday, RSS general secretary Suresh Bhayyaji Joshi had said that restriction on entry of women in any temple is “unfair” and managements in the temples doing so should change their mentality, PTI had reported.

This statement came at a time when there was a lot of outrage and protests against the restriction on entry of women in temples like Shani Shingnapur temple and Trimbakeshwar temple.

In fact, the right-wing organisation had to later face criticism from a Hindu outfit for this statement.

According to another report in IBNLive, RSS on 11 March had passed a resolution on caste discrimination and social harmony. The report added that the resolution was meant to address the sense of unease within the Sangh after the suicide of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula and the Jat agitation in Haryana.

The report added that RSS leaders had even told Dalit BJP MPs to tell the voters that the Sangh was not anti-Dalit.

These reports about the RSS’ attempt at an image makeover and its influence on BJP MPs, however, raise the question of why Lok Sabha voted against the introduction of a private member’s bill brought by Congress MP Shashi Thraoor to decriminalise homosexuality.

They also raise the question about whether the perception about parties thought to be Hindu nationalist parties is going to change or needs to change.

As Jaideep Prabhu wrote in this Firstpost article, “it is difficult to discern any Hindu agenda in the BJP’s governance either between 1998 and 2004 or since 2014.” The article also said that the actual important issues for Hindus were liberation of temples from government control, difficulty faced by Hindus in starting their own schools and colleges and the assault on many Hindu customs and traditions, something which the BJP government had not paid much attention to.

It is still difficult to say, though, whether the attempt by RSS to re-invent itself and change its perception will succeed or not.

(With agency inputs)

Homosexuality not a crime, requires psychological treatment, says RSS

A day after stating that he doesn’t think homosexuality should be considered a criminal offence, RSS joint general secretary Dattatreya Hosabale on Friday did a u-turn on the issue, saying homosexuality wasn’t a crime and it should be treated as a psychological case but not be institutionalised.To a question on whether homosexuality is a crime as considered under Article 377 IPC, Hosabale had said, “I don’t think homosexuality should be considered a criminal offence as long as it does not affect the lives of others in society.”<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>However, taking to micro-blogging site on Friday, Dattatreya said, “Homosexuality is not a crime, but socially immoral act in our society. No need to punish, but to be treated as a psychological case.””Gay marriage is Institutionalisation of homosexuality. It should be prohibited. Approach to homosexuality should be ‘no criminalisation; no glorification either’,” he said in another tweets.Addressing a media conclave in the national capital on Thursday, Hosabale had said that sexual preferences and same-sex relations are individual choices.Hosabale had also said, “Sexual preferences are private and personal. Why should RSS express its views in a public forum? RSS has no view on that. It is for people to have their way. Personal preference of sex is not discussed in RSS and we don’t even want to discuss that.”Section 377 of Indian Penal Code terms homosexuality as unnatural and carries a maximum punishment of 10 years in jail. Going by the global trends in this regard, there have been demands within the country to decriminalise homosexuality. Sec 377 re-think by SCOn February 2, the SC sought to re-think its decision re-criminalising homosexuality. The apex court referred the matter to a five-judge bench for further hearing on a curative petition challenging its earlier order. An apex court bench headed by Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur had earlier agreed to hear the curative petition against its December 2013 order, upholding validity of Section 377 and a January 2014 order by which it had dismissed a bunch of review petitions.The petitioners include the NGO Naz Foundation, working for the LGBT community. Section 377 of IPC criminalises sexual activities against the order of nature, arguably including the homosexual acts.With the Supreme Court referring curative plea on homosexuality to five-judge bench, the petitioner’s lawyer Anand Grover on Tuesday said the apex court took the decision as questions of constitutionality and basic human rights are involved in the case. ‘The Supreme Court decided that the matter be referred to the five-judge bench because it considers that there are constitutional questions involved,’ Grover told ANI.The petitioners include the NGO Naz Foundation, working for the LGBT community. The plea stated that the judgement was reserved on March 27, 2012, but a verdict was delivered after around 21 months; during this period lots of changes took place, including amendment in laws, which were not considered by the Bench, which delivered the judgement. Section 377 of IPC criminalises sexual activities against the order of nature, arguably including the homosexual acts.

Sec 377 re-think: Both BJP and Congress welcome SC decision

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress on Tuesday appeared to be in tune with the Supreme Court’s decision to refer the curative plea on homosexuality to five-judge bench. ‘In the Congress Party, we have always believed that Section 377 should be decriminalised. Matters of choice and whom you want to love should be left to individuals, rather than society at large and rather than making it a criminal offence,’ Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala told ANI. Surjewala expressed certainty that the Supreme Court would do justice to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community (LGBT) by examining the matter through a larger Constitutional bench.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Echoing similar sentiments, another Congress leader Magma said, ‘If the law wants to think about them, then it’s good. If the law has decided to refer it further, then it is good for the community. Congress always support people’s sentiments and stand with them in their fight. This is the same in this case.’ Meanwhile, BJP spokesperson Nalin Kohli said it would be apt to wait for the final verdict of the apex court in the matter. ‘I don’t think it would be correct to speak about the merits of the case in terms of the arguments on both sides, because now the matter is before the honourable Supreme Court,’ he said.The apex court referred the matter to a five-judge bench for further hearing on a curative petition challenging its earlier order. An apex court bench headed by Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur had earlier agreed to hear the curative petition against its December 2013 order, upholding validity of Section 377 and a January 2014 order by which it had dismissed a bunch of review petitions.The petitioners include the NGO Naz Foundation, working for the LGBT community. Section 377 of IPC criminalises sexual activities against the order of nature, arguably including the homosexual acts. With the Supreme Court referring curative plea on homosexuality to five-judge bench, the petitioner’s lawyer Anand Grover on Tuesday said the apex court took the decision as questions of constitutionality and basic human rights are involved in the case. ‘The Supreme Court decided that the matter be referred to the five-judge bench because it considers that there are constitutional questions involved,’ Grover told ANI.Talking about the grounds of the curative petition, he said, ‘There are questions of constitutionality and basic human rights. Our grounds are primarily that none of the issues that we raised on the fundamental rights were addressed. And secondly, there was a change in law which the Supreme Court noticed but did not see the effect of it and on the basis of which they should have a fresh hearing.’Grover, who represents the NGO Naz Foundation in this case, expressed hope that the decision would be in their favour as they were fighting for a just cause and, therefore, they would achieve victory.In a much-needed reprieve to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community, the apex court today referred the matter to a five-judge bench for further hearing on a curative petition challenging its earlier order.An apex court bench headed by Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur had earlier agreed to hear the curative petition against its December 2013 order, upholding validity of Section 377 and a January 2014 order by which it had dismissed a bunch of review petitions.The petitioners include the NGO Naz Foundation, working for the LGBT community. The plea stated that the judgement was reserved on March 27, 2012, but a verdict was delivered after around 21 months; during this period lots of changes took place, including amendment in laws, which were not considered by the Bench, which delivered the judgement. Section 377 of IPC criminalises sexual activities against the order of nature, arguably including the homosexual acts.

India’s LGBT community responds to Supreme Court’s rethink on Section 377

The discourse on homosexuality and same-sex physical relations has been a hot topic in the last decade in India. From the controversial, often termed archaic, section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalises ‘unnatural offences’ being read down by the Delhi High Court in historic judgement in 2009 to honour killings in remote corners of the country – activists are leaving no stone unturned to change both the legal and social obstacles that plague the Indian LGBT community.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>On July 2, 2009, in a landmark judgement, the Delhi High Court ruled the reading down of section 377 which the Supreme Court quashed on December 11, 2013. On Tuesday, another 2nd of the month, the Supreme Court held an open court and referred to a five-judge bench a curative petition challenging its verdict criminalising homosexuality in the country.Read: What the curative petition challenging section 377 means
ALSO READ After Arun Jaitley’s ‘support’, LGBT community demands discussion on Sec 377 in parliament AT A GLANCEA bench headed by Chief Justice TS Thakur heard the curative petition filed by gay rights activists and NGO Naz Foundation against the apex court’s December 11, 2013, judgement upholding validity of section 377 (unnatural sexual offences) of IPC and the January 2014 order, by which it had dismissed a bunch of review petitions.Equal rights activist Anjali Gopalan of the Naz Foundation heaved a sigh of relief and hoped that it was the last leg. She said, “They have accepted the petition that means they see some merit in it.”Ashok Row Kavi of the Humsafar Trust was present in Delhi and posted details of the hearing on his Facebook page. As soon as the court announced it decision he commented, “The door to justice is now open. It is a huge step forward. No date fixed so far but we are now moving forward. Yay. Hope at last. Spread the word. It is a rare case of curative petition bring admitted. We have turned the tide … Now is the hard work with mainstream society”
ALSO READ Supreme Court refers petition challenging Section 377 to five-judge bench All eyes on Courtroom No 1 of Supreme Court. Activists were there by 2.30 pm and things are tense. Large number of LGBT moving towards the Supreme Court. Situation very tense. Keep up the spirit my people. Ashok Row Kavi on Tuesday, February 2, 2016For filmmaker and activist Sridhar Rangayan it is a step in the right direction.
ALSO READ Do the right thing: Twitterati urge SC to get rid of Section 377 Sridhar Rangayan Absolutely thrilled that the Supreme Court has opened the doors for the case to be heard with a 5 judge bench. While the road ahead is long, it surely shows that there is hope.” He also added that he believes that the LGBT community is overjoyed with the outcome of today and “I am specially happy for all the youngsters who were pinning their hopes on this.”Activist and researcher Gautam Bhan said he was hopeful to, yet again in a democratic set-up, have a way to argue for our rights.Alternative Law Firm based in Bengaluru that works in the field of the equal rights explained in a video what the result of today’s hearing meant. In case you’re wondering #WTF happend ! #Sec377 #NoGoingBack #SCOn377 Alternative Law Forum on Tuesday, February 2, 2016Several individuals close to the case also took to Twitter to express their opinions.Mario da Penha tweeted about how this move by the SC gave hope to the legal road aheadLGBT activists in front of the Supreme Court. Image credit: Bir Bahadur/dnaIn the fight for equality, today marks a new chapter.Minutes after the news got out Amnesty India tweeted,While many activists are happy about the outcome, senior Bharatiya Janata Party member Subramanian Swamy termed the reaction by some journalists as ‘stupid’. He tweeted “How stupid! Pro- homosexual media persons are claiming victory because SC has referred Section 377 IPC to a Constitutional Bench!”Swamy’s tweet invited a host of replies both supporting and criticising his views.Aware of how the fight for equality has gotten longer, Rangayan also spoke about the importance of social changes. He explained, “But along with the legal course, which will take a long time, we should be proactive in changing mindsets, we have to work to educate the religious hardliners, however, difficult it may seem. The immorality debate has to end for us to breathe freely in the social environment.”

Do the right thing: Twitterati urge SC to get rid of Section 377

The Supreme Court on Tuesday would hear, in an open court setting, a curative petition filed by gay rights activists challenging its verdict ‘criminalising homosexuality’ in the country.A Bench headed by Chief Justice of India TS Thakur had earlier agreed to hear the curative petition against the apex court’s December 2013 judgement upholding validity of section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which criminalises sexual activities against the order of nature, arguably including the homosexual acts, and a January 2014 order by which it had dismissed a bunch of review petitions.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The petitioners include the NGO Naz Foundation, working for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community. The plea stated that the judgement was reserved on March 27, 2012, but a verdict was delivered after around 21 months; during this period, lots of changes took place, including an amendment in laws, which were not considered by the Bench, which delivered the judgement.The gay rights activists had said thousands from the LGBT community became open about their sexual identity during the past four years after the Delhi High Court ‘decriminalised’ gay sex in 2009, and they were now facing the threat of being prosecuted. Meanwhile, the Madras High Court on Monday observed that homosexuality could be a ground for divorce. The court’s observation came while hearing two matrimonial discord cases involving a gay man in one and a lesbian woman in the other.This touching verdict from the same-sex marriage act. With agency inputs

Section 377: Why striking down this regressive law is crucial for India’s future

“I do not necessarily feel anger or hurt about the fact that India criminalises homosexual relations through Section 377, what I feel is sadness. There is also a frisson of fear, the awareness that if someone decides to target me for an unrelated reason, they have this weapon in their hands that they can choose to use against me.” Arjun Sawhney, businessman

“Section 377 makes me feel like a criminal because it refuses to validate my existence in my own country. Our Indian society is like a matryoshka doll, the Russian nesting dolls with one figure inside the other inside the other. We have minorities within minorities here, and criminalisation of homosexuality further marginalises an already marginalised group. Even within this group, women have less of a network or a voice. I feel such sadness when I go to malls and other public places where I see couples who, without thinking, may lean against each other or hold hands or put their arms around each other’s waists. The moment two people of the same sex do that though, it becomes an issue. I’ve had strangers walk up to me screaming, ‘What you are doing is against our culture’ and ‘Do you know I can call the police on you for such behaviour?’ When that happens, the intimacy of the gesture is immediately lost and it becomes a statement instead. Then you ask yourself, ‘Is it worth it?’ The law and social prejudice are combining to deny LGBT persons even the simple joys of life.” Ankit Gupta, journalist

“I’ve become disillusioned and even passive since the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling on Section 377. I’m just tired of speaking up. People don’t realise how the law fuels social prejudice. I look at how this prejudice has affected even my career. Just because I’m vocal, I’ve been slotted as a ‘gay filmmaker’ and people have decided, ‘Oh he makes only that kind of film’ although I’ve not made films only on gay themes. I’m an independent filmmaker no doubt but I certainly don’t see myself as an arty kind of director, yet I’ve been labelled and tagged. I’m tired of it. In December 2013, some friends had planned a party and I was actually heading for the airport to take a flight out for it when news of the SC ruling came in. I’m not saying I’m a pessimist, but I’m not particularly thinking about the 2 February hearing. I’ll follow the news, but that’s about it.” Onir, Filmmaker

Far removed from these despondent words uttered by real human beings, in a sporting arena hitherto unexplored by the likes of Sania Mirza and Leander Paes, a game of legal tennis has been playing out in India for two years now.

Courtesy: Getty imagesCourtesy: Getty images

Courtesy: Getty images

First in December 2013, the Supreme Court overturned a progressive Delhi High Court ruling and tossed the ball into the legislature, saying it was the job of Parliament to decide what is to be done with Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalises homosexual relations. An appeal that has since been filed by LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) rights activists in the Supreme Court – for which a hearing will be held tomorrow – has been used by the present government to smash the ball right back into the judiciary.

In December 2013, the BJP was the only national political party to officially support continued criminalisation of homosexuality. As the ruling party at the Centre since May 2014, its officially stated stance has been that Section 377 cannot be repealed while the matter is sub-judice in the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, in the winter of 2015, when Congress MP Shashi Tharoor introduced a bill in Parliament for an amendment to the law, it was voted out without discussion, with opponents erroneously taking shelter under the SC’s December 2013 verdict.

It is a contest of back and forth that could put Federer, Djokovic and Nadal in the shade. While this rather transparent match between the Supreme Court and the central government continues, tragedies are being enacted across the country as an outdated law ratifies widespread social bigotry and ignorance.

Just this year, a 15-year-old boy in Agra doused himself with diesel and set himself on fire when he was allegedly ragged on being spotted getting intimate with another boy. Coming to theatres in February is the Manoj Bajpayee-starrer Aligarh, based on the true story of the hounding and mysterious death in 2010 of a gay professor in Aligarh Muslim University (AMU). The harassment of Professor Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras by authorities at AMU, the media and even students, is a textbook illustration of the genuine dangers facing LGBT persons in India, beyond the realm of newsroom debates and cocktail circuit conversations.

Pre-conceived notions are further perpetuated by mainstream Indian cinema, which routinely delivers stereotype-ridden portrayals of gay men – and a very occasional woman – as sexual predators, stalkers, cartoons and other cliches.

The contempt that the LGBT community faces in the national mainstream was underlined rather glaringly by the reportedly crude, innuendo-filled response from MPs when Tharoor introduced his amendment bill in Parliament. Harjyot Khosa of India HIV/AIDS Alliance was quoted in The Telegraph recounting the vulgarity in the ensuing commotion: “It was shameful to say the least. When Tharoor stood up to ask if he could present the bill, some MPs from the government side got up and started jeering loudly. I heard them ask Tharoor if he wanted the bill passed for himself. I cannot recognise the faces of the MPs, but they said,‘Tharoor ko zyaada zaroorat hai is bill ki (Tharoor needs this bill more)’.”

If these are the depths to which legislators can descend when the spotlight is on them, it is easy to imagine the plight of ordinary people being victimised by fellow citizens and in particular the police, away from the scrutiny of rights-conscious sections of the public and media. This in itself should be reason enough to decriminalise homosexuality in the country.

Anti-LGBT voices have made pretty much the same points against legalisation over the years: that same-sex relations are against Indian culture, that lesbians and gays are sexually obsessed, that all gay men are potential paedophiles and that LGBT persons are the transmitters of HIV/AIDS.

The “Indian culture” myth is curious considering that Section 377 is, as is now widely known, a legacy of India’s English colonisers. England has moved on since then, having even legalized same-sex marriages in 2014, while India continues to cling to a regressive law that is at loggerheads with the country’s own more open-minded, pre-imperialist traditions.

In a 2008 essay for Tehelka magazine, Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai, co-editors of the book Same-Sex Love in India: Readings from Literature and History, noted:

“…our traditions have always allowed for fluidity between close friendship and committed, life-long, marriage-like friendship. The 11th-century Kathasaritsagar tells of two men, swayamvara sakha (‘chosen friends’). One is married, the other isn’t. When the married friend dies, both his wife and friend kill themselves with him. The Kamasutra, as much a sacred text as it is erotic, states clearly that two male friends, if they are close and joined by trust and goodwill, may embrace and unite. A series of 14th-century Bengali narratives tells of two women who have a loving sexual relationship, following which one gets pregnant.”

The erotic carvings on the walls of the 13th-century Sun Temple in Konark, Odisha, bear them out. So does folklore surrounding the tomb of Jamali Kamali in Delhi, where the 16th century Sufi poet Jamali lies buried next to a man called Kamali about whom little is known beyond the legend that he was Jamali’s lover.

Five hundred years since they lived, the prevalent notion that homosexuals are fixated on physical pleasure while romance and love are heterosexual pre-occupations is inexplicable. Concrete evidence to the contrary is all around us in a country where sexual violence against women – committed almost entirely by men who are either heterosexual or identify themselves as such in the public realm – is an everyday affair.

This again is the obvious argument against those who see the legalisation of homosexual relations as a legitimisation of paedophilia. Rape, by definition, is sexual contact in the absence of informed consent. The actions and not the gender of the perpetrator are what make it rape. Rampant sexual assaults on women by men worldwide are not cited to ban heterosexual relations between consenting adults. Logic – free of bias – dictates that the same reasoning be applied to same-gender relations.

As for the claim that HIV/AIDS spreads through the LGBT community, the truth is that criminalisation makes LGBT persons vulnerable for various reasons. For instance, social and familial chauvinism drives them into the closet, thus leading to risky practices since sex in a normal, regular environment is often ruled out. Access to health services too is limited in a homophobic environment, as are awareness-building exercises.

It is no one’s argument that decriminalisation will automatically end social discrimination. That part of the battle for India’s LGBT community is a much longer haul, no doubt, but changing the law is a good start.

Even from a selfish point of view, India’s heterosexuals might consider how a termination of this legal travesty would eventually free up helpless men and women stuck in unhappy marriages where one partner is homosexual but married a person of the opposite sex to please family or avoid wagging tongues outside the home. It would also lead to a gradual decline in the circumstances that encourage lavender marriages, also known as mixed-orientation marriages: legal unions in which two persons of the opposite sex agree to tie the knot to avoid social opprobrium directed at either one or both partners who may be homosexual or bisexual.

More important, consigning Section 377 to the dustbin where it belongs is the right thing to do – ethically and morally.

As of now, it appears that the Indian government and Supreme Court are staring each other down, each hoping that the other will bell this politically volatile cat. On 2 February, the Supreme Court has an opportunity to make history by taking a liberal view of same-sex relations. If it does not, India will remain in the dubious company of the world’s worst dictatorships and theocracies, which dominate the list of countries worldwide that persecute homosexuals and deny them their rights.

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