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The Shakti Center, Human Rights Watch release report

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VOICING THEIR VIEWS: A section of panellists at the discussion organised by Shakti Center in Chennai on Saturday.
VOICING THEIR VIEWS: A section of panellists at the discussion organised by Shakti Center in Chennai on Saturday.

Staff Reporter

Members from Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community discuss issues

CHENNAI: It was an evening of reflecting on accepted notions of gender and sexuality, reinforced by laws evolved during the colonial era. Members from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community and human rights activists got together here on Saturday to raise several issues that their community faced in the country. The Shakti Center, a city -based research collective on issues of gender and sexuality, and, Human Rights Watch (New York) released a report titled “This Alien Legacy: The Origin of Sodomy Laws in British Colonialism” on the occasion. The report establishes how Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code – which evolved during the British regime – by criminalising unnatural sex or sodomy, criminalised every person of alternative sexual orientation.

In a panel discussion that followed, Alok Gupta, the author of the report, said that when any homosexual act outside of the realm of marriage was declared “unnatural,” it not only made the LGBT community vulnerable to discrimination, but also extended the bias to inter-religious and inter-caste relationships as these connotations were implicit in the idea of marriage in India.

“Such a law however does not intervene when sodomy is done by a man in a heterosexual, married relationship as in a sacred sexual space everything is permissible,” he said.

People’s Union for Civil Liberties’ vice-president Sudha Ramalingam suggested that the legal battle to repeal Section 377 of the IPC could begin with Tamil Nadu as the subject of IPC is in the Concurrent List. As members of the ruling party in the State have shown a progressive attitude towards rights of transgender group, they may be willing to expand the rights to other groups as well, she said. “The State Women’s Commission can, in fact, forward a recommendation to the State on this matter,” she said. Theatre activist Mangai said that those who were part of the women’s movement must extend their support to the LGBT and queer rights movement as this had to be seen in the context of fighting against heterosexuality deriving legitimacy from patriarchal social norms. “The struggle of the LGBT community for their right to have open same sex relationships is a fight for love and dignity. It is the politics of pleasure,” she said.

Transgender Kalki, who recently underwent sex-realignment surgery at a government hospital in the State, appreciated the Tamil Nadu government’s initiatives to mainstream the transgender community. However, Sumathi Murthy of the Bangalore-based group, LesBit, said that lesbians and female-to-male transgender persons had no government support or community support. “There have been several lesbian suicides in Kerala and Tamil Nadu and the state must come forward to support this group,” she said.

The discussion was followed by cultural performances by LesBit, Sahodaran group and Sahodari Foundation.

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