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Gay Rights And Us

By Dr. Shah Alam Khan

05 July, 2009

Indians are devastated. There is an urgency to address issues of public morality and answer questions like, "what are we going to say to our children?" People of all faith and religion are flocking together to understand the ugliness of the statement made by the Delhi High Court legalising gay relationships. The viciousness of the LGBT (Lesbian, Guy, Bisexual and Transgender) community is being celebrated on all television channels across the country. In a recent debate on a prominent TV channel, a retired police commissioner lambasted a guy rights activist. Imagine, morality pouring out of the mouth of a police commissioner! How ridiculous could that be? In fact, by the most rough estimates, the High Court statement stands to ablactate our Police force of significant money which was routinely extracted as hafta (weekly extortion sum) from Hijras and transgender on our streets. It is a different matter that the policewalas of India are too chic to be let down by the diction of an old judge of the High Court. This brings us to the broader question. How justified are we in condemning legalisation of LGBT rights?

Legalising LGBT relationships have two entirely divergent angles. It is both an issue of religious faith and a matter of human rights. Unfortunately, as a bystander, I have seen on more than a single occasion that religion and human rights don’t go hand in hand. Our experiences with Taliban in Afghanistan, with Church’s posturing on abortion and in recent times with forces of hindutva in Gujarat are more than ample evidence to prove the point. So do we expect that major religions of this country would go all out to embrace the LGBT community with open arms? Not really. Hinduism is full of verses depriving those who indulge in a homosexual relationship. Manusmriti talks of loss of caste or Gatibhramsa for those who are in such rapport. Being a Muslim I know that Islam prohibits homosexual relationships. But then Islam also prohibits alcohol, pork and idol worship. Should the Muslims go all out in India asking the government to ban these? The restrictions imposed by a vibrant democracy teach us to rein our religious thoughts and practices to a more personal level. Whenever the boundaries of personal and public discourse on issues of faith get blurred, the country is engulfed by a squall of blood. How commonly have we seen the eruption of violent conflicts started by the carcass of a cow in a temple or a pig in a mosque? Expectedly the most severe condemnation on the High Court judgment has come from the Islamic seat of Deoband. Having said this, it’s interesting to note that Muslim scholars in US and Europe have never spoken in so harsh and ruthless language against the LGBT community in these regions. Possibly acceptance of a practice takes time and the scholars in those countries are more evolved on the social understanding of sexual orientation of people.

This brings us to the issue of public morality. How many times have we heard the use of this word in all public debates on legalisation of LGBT relationships? Public morality in India, as I understand, is a weapon of a class to be used without much justification on the most downtrodden creatures of the society. Public morality goes for a toss when a girl is burnt alive by petty eve teasers. Public morality is thrown out of the window when issuing censure certificates to bollywood movies which would be good enough to be labeled as pornographic. Public morality is raped and molested each day on Indian buses, Goan beaches and red light areas. Public morality is burnt and thrashed in the name of dowry and female foeticide. Yet we Indians accept public morality as a shield against any act of human upliftment and social change. Change which does not suite our style, our culture, our values and our petty needs can be easily sacrificed at the altar of public morality without any questions asked or eyebrows raised. It is interesting to see that there has not been a single case of conviction in last twenty years in accordance with Article 377 in this country. Public morality is Rip Van Winkle, awake after twenty years of deep stupor.

In my opinion, the real context of the LGBT issue is a matter of human rights. We live in a democratic country, governed by a constitution which imparts equal rights to all irrespective of their religious faith, class, gender or age. Although the impartiality of this statement can be questioned, the essence of the constitution remains pristine. In legalising guy rights in India, the Delhi High Court has shown its abject acceptance of a community which has long been eschewed in our society. To me, this is an empowerment of kinds. It has nothing to do with religious decrees and narrow social fiats through which our lives are governed. This is accepting those who live life as they think is good and natural for them. If we cannot accept this change then we should have reservations on orders prohibiting sati and child marriage. It is a matter of serious thinking that in a complex dynamic world, are we ready to accept social change as and when it comes or are we still trapped in our past.

By supporting the legalisation of gay rights we do not accept the practice (at least I don’t), we accept a broader relevance of human rights. Some of these rights might not be acceptable and palatable to us but if they give freedom to a big hunk of the society, they should be relevant and meaningful. It is wrongly felt that by legalising the LGBT community, the Delhi High Court has opened the flood gates for such relationships. "Oh my God, my son will be a gay now", screamed a man from inside his new Skoda on a TV channel. I wish I could tell him that his son will be a gay or a heterosexual not because of the High Court order but because of his sexual orientation and preferences. These are misconceptions which make our society handicap to accepting change. It’s high time that we change our attitudes and preferences for social acceptability. Our morality should not be based on bigotry. Intolerance can destroy civilisations. Social change is the sine qua non of survival. Good or bad, social changes need time to manifest their full impact. As a democratic country we need to give this time.

Dr. Shah Alam Khan
Assistant Professor
Department of Orthopaedics
All India Institute of Medical Sciences
Ansari Nagar, New Delhi-29


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