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India’s lingering homophobia

Members of the LGBT community participate at Spectrum 22, an event to celebrate the Pride Month and the LGBTQIA2S + Community at the Deer Park near Hauz Khas in New Delhi on June 11, 2022.

Members of the LGBT community participate at Spectrum 22, an event to celebrate the Pride Month and the LGBTQIA2S + Community at the Deer Park near Hauz Khas in New Delhi on June 11, 2022. | Photo Credit: R.V. Moorthy

Pride Month comes and goes, but homophobia in India is here to stay like a spectre. As a good omen for Pride Month this year, the Kerala High Court set a trailblazing precedent recently by sanctioning a lesbian couple, Adhila Nasarin and Fathima Noora, to live together after they were coercively separated by their parents. Ms Nasarin had filed a habeas corpus petition following which Ms Noora, who was allegedly “incarcerated” by her family, appeared before the court. The court simply asked the couple if they wished to live together, to which they replied yes. The joy of the couple spilled over into social media. People congratulated the court, and many social media profiles talked about it gender spectrum. But alarmingly, it triggered rude homophobic chirpings too in the cyber streets. It exposed that the “God made Adam and Eve; not Adam and Steve” attitude lingers in Indian society.

The Indian Psychiatric Society authentically stated that homosexuality was not a mental disorder; but that sentiment has not convinced most Indian homes.

An attitudinal temperament

Homophobia is defined by Britannica Encyclopedia as culturally produced fear of or prejudice against homosexuals that sometimes manifests itself in legal restrictions or, in extreme cases, bullying or even violence against homosexuals. The term ‘homophobia’ was coined by George Weinberg, an American clinical psychologist, in his book Society and the Healthy Homosexual (1972). The suffix ‘phobia’ generally designates an irrational fear, in the case of homophobia, the word instead refers to an attitudinal temperament ranging from mild dislike to abhorrence of people who are sexually or romantically attracted to individuals of the same sex. It is a culturally conditioned response to homosexuality. Homophobia runs against the Constitutional values of fraternity and dignity.

J.B. Kripalani, a prominent member of the Constituent Assembly, commented on the principle of fraternity in the Assembly: “I come to the great doctrine of fraternity which is allied with democracy. It means that we are all sons of the same God, as the religious would say, but as the mystic would say, that there is one life pulsating through us all, or as the Bible says, we are one of another. There can be no fraternity without this. So, I want this House to remember that what we have enunciated are not merely legal, constitutional and formal principles, but moral principles; and moral principles have to got to be lived in life. They have to be lived whether it is private or it is public life…” The social and psychological abhorrence prevailing in India against the LGBTQ+ community nullifies the constitutional fraternity that is to be lived out in public and private life of the nation.

Queerness isn't modern, western or sexual only, says mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik in his Shikhandi: Ánd Other ‘Queer’ Tales They Don’t Tell You (2014). He opens the treasure box of vast written and oral traditions in Hinduism, some over two thousand years old, to show us many overlooked tales, such as those of Shikhandi, who became a man to satisfy her wife; Mahadeva, who became a woman to deliver his devotee’s child; Chudala, who became a man to enlighten her husband; and many more.

‘Highest place to fraternity’

Fraternity too is not a pure western ideal. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar elucidated the Indian roots of the ideal of fraternity during an All India Radio interview in 1954: “My social philosophy may be said to be enshrined in three words: liberty, equality and fraternity. Let no one, however, say that I have borrowed my philosophy from the French Revolution. I have not. My philosophy has roots in religion and not political science. I have derived them from the teachings of my master, the Buddha… he gave the highest place to fraternity as the only real safeguard against the denial of liberty or equality — fraternity which was another name for brotherhood or humanity, which was another name for religion.” Dr. Ambedkar championed the ideal of fraternity to uphold the cause of the oppressed castes, Dalits. The same principle is felicitous to the gender Dalits of present-day India — the LGBTQ+ community. The society should not deprive the LGBTQ+ community of affection and regards thanks only to their sexual orientation.

In Is God anti-gay, Sam Allberry quotes the Bible: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6 v 35). Allberry concludes his booklet by saying that “the invitation [of God] is there for everyone. And so precious is the gift that God cannot be truly said to be ‘anti’ anyone to whom this wonderful gift is being offered.” If God is not anti-gay, how can His sons and daughters be homophobic?

Faisal C.K. is Under Secretary (Law) to the Government of Kerala


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Printable version | Aug 4, 2022 11:00:24 am | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/indias-lingering-homophobia/article65529543.ece