Global su­per­power In­dia must change its ho­mo­pho­bic laws

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In­dia has one of the world’s old­est civil­i­sa­tions and in five years will over­take China to have its largest pop­u­la­tion. She has rich and an­cient sys­tems of sex­ual evo­lu­tion from the Karma Su­tra to Tantric sex. There are numer­ous ho­mo­sex­ual deities within Hindu mythol­ogy and In­dia’s ar­chi­tec­tural iconog­ra­phy in­cludes les­bian twin god­desses at the tem­ple, Tara Tarini. Yet ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity re­mains pun­ish­able with life im­pris­on­ment as a le­gacy of Bri­tish colo­nial rule for 200 years.

Of the 52 Com­mon­wealth states, 36 still crim­i­nalise ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity. Sec­tion 377 of the In­dian Pe­nal Code lim­its free­doms for ho­mo­sex­ual (and bi­sex­ual) In­di­ans, keep­ing the sub­ject taboo and un­der­ground. This leads to a lack of out role mod­els and ap­pro­pri­ate so­ci­etal rep­re­sen­ta­tion. Sec­tion 377 feeds into the psy­che of gen­er­a­tions of In­di­ans all over the world who look to “home” for their sense of iden­tity. Laws en­force for us what is right and wrong in so­ci­ety. How can the world’s largest di­as­pora pop­u­la­tion ac­cept ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity in them­selves and their loved ones if “back home” it’s still out­lawed?

Bri­tish oc­cu­pa­tion of In­dia took her from global su­per­power sta­tus with 23% of the world’s econ­omy in 1757 to just 4% and an av­er­age life ex­pectancy of 27 years. She was pil­laged for the ben­e­fit of Bri­tish elites says Dr Shashi Tha­roor, driv­ing home the true cost of oc­cu­pa­tion in his ground-break­ing Ox­ford Union speech of 2015, whilst the ro­man­tic po­si­tion­ing of Britain as In­dia’s saviour is well and truly crushed in his new book, In­glo­ri­ous Em­pire.

As In­di­ans we need to break the shack­les that bind us to a sex­u­ally re­pres­sive era and mis­guided ad­mi­ra­tion for the Raj. In Giti Thadani’s ex­cep­tional work Sakhiyani – Les­bian De­sire In An­cient And Mod­ern In­dia, we learn of the sys­tem­atic de­fac­ing and de­struc­tion of les­bian stat­ues and iconog­ra­phy. Les­bian his­tory is be­ing erased. We are left with a re­pres­sive, het­eronor­ma­tive lens on sex­ual iden­tity. The wide use and threat of rape as a tool of con­trol is com­pounded by an in­flux of Western ad­ver­tis­ing and media, flood­ing the minds of young men with ob­jec­ti­fied and sex­u­alised im­ages of women.

The third gen­der, or hi­jra, are ref­er­enced in an­cient In­dian texts and live on the fringes of In­dian so­ci­ety to­day, given an al­most holy sta­tus. Th­ese are trans women. But where are the women that are les­bian and bi?

Urdu Rekhti po­etry refers to love and sex­ual prac­tice be­tween two women and was writ­ten by male po­ets in the fe­male voice and even­tu­ally banned. Mythol­o­gist Utkarsh Pa­tel re­cently gave a talk in Mum­bai about same-sex love in In­dian mythol­ogy and his view is that there is a stronger po­si­tion against ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity in In­dian so­ci­ety to­day than there was dur­ing an­cient times.

The im­pact of harm­ful and dis­crim­i­na­tory laws that im­pede hu­man rights can­not be tol­er­ated. Re­peal­ing Sec­tion 377 is vi­tal for In­dia to move for­ward with the rest of the world, to out­grow the le­gacy of Bri­tish oc­cu­pa­tion and find strength in her true iden­tity.

I re­cently vis­ited the House of Lords to dis­cuss the Bri­tish Asian LGBTQ ex­pe­ri­ence. Of the many cam­paign­ing groups, char­i­ties and in­di­vid­u­als at the event, I was the only South Asian les­bian. In fact, I meet many more gay South Asian men than les­bians or bi women.

South Asian les­bians and bi women need to be seen and heard. I know how hard this can be, hav­ing used a pseu­do­nym for many years based on a deeply in­stilled and mis­guided sense of duty to pro­tect my fam­ily hon­our, even after be­ing dis­owned. We are raised to be de­mure, silent, to forego our own de­sires for the pro­tec­tion of oth­ers. We stay hid­den, sec­ondary. We are deemed a bur­den, a cost. We have to be raised with­out bring­ing shame on our fam­i­lies then mar­ried off at the cost of a dowry to then help sup­port another fam­ily. Why in­vest in us, why lis­ten to us?

This year, Gaysians+, a col­lec­tive of Bri­tish Asian LGBTQ or­gan­i­sa­tions will be marching to­gether at Pride. Please join us. The op­por­tu­nity for cre­at­ing change is in our hands. Let’s be seen, let’s be heard, and as we Pun­jabis like to say: “Chak de Phatte!”

South Asian les­bians and bi women need to be seen and heard

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