Indian GLBTs the World Over Hail Sexual Decriminalization Ruling
The decriminalization of same-gender intimacy between consenting adults in India is viewed by GLBT equality advocates as a major step forward, but not a cure-all for the societal prejudices faced by Indian gays.
As reported at New American Media on July 10, the section of the Indian penal code, Article 377--a relic of the days when Britain dominated the country under colonial rule--was struck down on Jyly 2 by the Delhi High Court, which found the law to be in violation of constitutional protections.
The article carried a quoted from GLBT equality proponent Sandip Roy, who said, "The community here has reacted ecstatically. Most people I talked to said over and over again that they did not think it would happen in their lifetime."
Celebrations took place all over the globe. Said Roy, "There were impromptu celebrations in many cities. People went down to the Stonewall Inn in New York where the modern gay rights movement began in 1969.
"In San Francisco, friends distributed mithai at a bar in Castro.
"With Facebook and e-mail these days, the news was huge news as soon as it broke," Roy noted.
The article cited a Berkeley, CA life coach, Krishnakali Chaudhuri, as also hailing the ruling, though he tempered his remarks with the observation that societal bias still remains.
"I think overall it's a small step in the right direction," said Chaudhuri, "but we have a long way to go."
One specific point of note, said Choudhury, was the distinction between decriminalizing same-sex consensual intimacy between adults and making it legal.
Said Chaudhury, "The international community of human rights is really applauding the ruling but we have to understand that we have just decriminalized homosexuality but we haven't legalized it yet."
Added the GLBT equality advocate, "We need to legalize homosexuality and then we can make changes to all the qualities of workplace, marriage unions or health or everything else."
The article said that an American organization comprised of Indian Americans had also hailed the court's decision.
The Michigan-based Hindu organization Navya Shastra issued a statement reading, "For over a century, the law has given license to the state to persecute individuals based on their sexual orientation.
"Navya Shastra urges the Government of India not to challenge the ruling or to be swayed by religious chauvinists of any persuasion who would deny equality to all citizens based on ancient interpretations of religious texts."
The group took exception to the opposition of a Hindu political party in India, which spoke out against the repeal.
Stated Navya Shastra's Sugrutha Ramaswamy, "Unable to find any strong theological basis in Hinduism for opposing homosexuality, the VHP relied on the old canard that the family structure would somehow be threatened by the decision."
Added Ramaswamy, "This is an unscientific understanding of homosexuality, which is not a lifestyle choice but rather an inherent human condition."
Others in India also spoke out against the repeal, including a guru whose claims concerning the health benefits of yoga extend to saying that gays can be "cured" through the practice of yoga.
A Rediff News.com article from July 10 reported that guru Baba Ramdev's insistence that homosexuality is a pathological condition, and that it can be alleviated through yogic practice, was panned not only by health professionals but also by his fellow yoga proponents.
The article said that Ramdev took his claims to the Indian Supreme Court, which had previously been approached by a prominent astrologer with a petition to re-implement the anti-gay statute.
Said the astrologer, Sushil Kumar Kaushal, "...even animals don't indulge in such activities," going on to assert that higher rates of HIV/AIDS would result from the decriminalization of adult consensual relations between gays.
But health care professionals in the country have long lobbied for the end of the statute, pointing out that gay Indians were less likely to get tested and to practice safer sex as long as legal sanctions were in place against consensual same-sex adult intimacy.
Under the anti-gay law, same-sex intimacy could be punished by jail terms of up to ten years.
Moreover, scientists have noted same-sex courtship behavior and even long-term partnering among some 4,000 animal species.
Ramdev's claims were rebuffed by, among others, a physician named Dr. Devdutt Pattanak, who said, "Is his statement based on scriptural evidence or evidence-based medicine? It is neither."
Added Dr. Pattanak, "It is just a subjective remark."
Dr. Pattanak went on to point out that health professionals had arrived at a quite different conclusion than had Ramdev.
"Thousands of hours of research have gone into the classification of diseases, and neither the World Health Organization nor any psychiatric or psychology journal recognizes homosexuality as a disease," Dr. Pattanak noted.
"Do we believe scientific research or just an individual's opinion, which may simply be a marketing gimmick?"
Yoga practitioner Deepika Mehta, who found healing through yoga after being paralyzed in an accident, also spoke out against Ramdev's claims, the article said.
Ms. Mehta took exception with Ramdev's essential thesis that homosexuality is a disease, suggesting rather that, as most medical experts attest, it is innate and natural to gays.
Said Mehta, "Yoga is about acceptance and coming to terms with who you really are, your purest core.
"It helps you shed the layers imposed by society.
"And in my experience, yoga has helped a lot of people come to terms with their sexual orientation, rather than live in denial," added Ms. Mehta.
Furthermore, Ramdev's medical claims have no more basis in spiritual teaching than in medical fact. Said Dr. Pattanak, "Not even the scriptures recognize homosexuality as a disease."
The article quoted from an article Dr. Pattanak, who is also an expert in Indian mythology, had written.
"An overview of temple imagery, sacred narratives and religious scriptures does suggest that homosexual activities--in some form--did exist in ancient India," observed Dr. Pattanak's article.
"Though not part of the mainstream, its existence was acknowledged but not approved," the article continued. "There was some degree of tolerance when the act expressed itself in heterosexual terms--when men 'became women' in their desire for other men, as the hijra legacy suggests.'"
Nitin Karani, of the GLBT equality group Humsafar Trust, noted, "While we don't know what leads to it yet... we do know that homosexuality is innate.
"And it is not a Western phenomenon, as some people are trying to label it," added Karani.
"Neither is it a disease."
Noted Karani, "A lot of gay people I know are into yoga and meditation and are extremely spiritual, but it has not resulted in any overnight conversions."
In a separate interview published July 10, Rediff.com News spoke with Indian GLBT equality proponent Manohar Elavarthi, who told the publication, "Now it is a question of social tolerance. Just because the law has changed it does not mean that the attitude of the people will change.
"However, I must add that the court verdict has opened things up for all of us. I only hope that the Supreme Court upholds the verdict."
Added Elavarthi, "What we want is a complete repeal of the Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.
"The IPC is guided by a feudal set up and it has not changed with the times," Elavarthi went on. "About social acceptance, we need to work towards it.
Elavarthi reposnded to concerns that repealing the entire Article, which also addresses sexual assault and abuse, by saying, "...along with this we need to ensure that laws regarding sexual abuse, be it male or female or children related laws need to be strengthened."
Elavarthi noted that religious objections were not entirely grounded in scriptural sources.
"In Hinduism there is nothing to show that it is anti-homosexuality."
Indeed, added Elavarthi, "There are instances to show that some of the Gods have undergone a sex change.
"I don't understand how Baba Ramdev and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad are opposing this.
"Where Christianity is concerned," Elavartha continued, "the community is divided in its opinion.
"There are gay churches and the Vatican too says that gays should not be criminalized.
"Speaking of Islam, there are few who claim that the Quran says that it is anti homosexuality.
"Shariat law speaks of punishment for men indulging in homosexuality. However we don't have this law in India and the laws in India does not speak of any punishment."