An Independence with flying colours
It’s been 75 years of Independence and within these years we’ve achieved so many victories over one or other barrier of society. One such victory has been of the colorful community—LGBTQ+. The war is not over although the battle has been won. The people of this community have tasted what it’s like to be fearlessly themselves, a little in about three years. Justice Indu Malhotra very rightly said, “History owes an apology… for the delay in providing redressal for the ignominy and ostracism that they suffered through the centuries.”
Speaking of history, it’ll be just to talk about the dates when India had a more inclusive nature towards the LGBTQ+ community. A time which not only accepted but beautifully embraced in its art and literature, the tones and tales of the third gender.
As a modern era student, I was rather amused by the fact that in India there was a rich diversity in which sexuality was understood, long before modernity was introduced. It is known that queerness is traced back to Indian history from epics and scriptures, medieval poetry, prose and architecture. Languages used throughout ancient India surely form the base of how and what was normalised in people’s day-to-day conversations. Sanskrit is one of the oldest languages in the world and is known to use three genders: Masculine, feminine, and gender-neutral. The concept of “tritiyaprakriti” or “napumsaka” had been an integral part of the Hindu mythology, folklore, epic and early Vedic and Puranic literature.
The first reference of transgender is the female avatar of Vishnu–Mohini. The origin of Shankara – Narayanan in the Linga Purana–is attributed to the merging of Shiva and Mohini (Vishnu). This story is also associated with the procreation of Shiva and Vishnu resulting in the creation of Ayyappa.
In the Ramayana, when Lord Rama asked all men and women to go back and not follow him in his journey of vanvas, all the third gender people stayed back with him. This filled him with overwhelming happiness and he thus sanctioned them the power of blessing all the marriages with their auspicious presence.
Then we’ve got the holy temples all over India where we can still witness the proudly outspoken art highlighting the relation between the same sexes. The point we get to after the accumulation of these instances is that the LGBTQ+ community lived a life more freely in a dignified manner in ancient history.
What really came out to be the turning point was the rule of Britishers in India. India was introduced to the law against homosexuality almost 80 years before it became independent. At its zenith, the British Empire, as part of its ‘civilising mission’, imposed the criminal law of England, including the anti-sodomy law, on its colonies. Section 377 of the IPC categorised consensual sexual intercourse between the same sex people as an “unnatural offence”, which is “against the order of nature”. It prescribed a punishment of 10 years imprisonment. The provision is a Victorian-era law, which survived into the 21st century. Interestingly, about 123 countries around the world have never penalised or decriminalised homosexuality.
Even after India was released from the leashes of British rule, for many dreadful years, independence for some was only a dream. But we Indians have never stayed silent while being oppressed and treated unjustly. There were voices who spoke, voices who paved ways through sheer difficulty to get the freedom they deserved. The road to equality has never been straight. With combined efforts of the Naaz foundation as well as the Union of India, the protest they started from 2001 bore them the fruit of justice in 2018.
Responding to 34 petitions in Navtej Singh Johar and Others v. Union of India, the verdict of the Apex Court on September 06, 2018 had lifted the veil of violence, ignominy and bias by spurring the people of the LGBTQ+ community in approaching courts for their rights.
Not only was consensual homosexual sex decriminalised, but several other verdicts have also been given in favour of the community after the Navtej Singh Johar’s judgment. One of them is Arunkumar v. the Inspector General of Registration, in which the Madras High Court in 2019, relying on Navtej Singh Johar’s verdict, upheld the marriage of the transwomen by deciding that the word “bride” in the Hindu Marriage Act encompassed transgender women. The Orissa High Court too, in August 2020, ruled in favour of a 24-year old transman and his same-sex companion to live with each other. The fact that the oft-quoted maxim–love knows no bounds–has expanded its bounds to include same-sex relationships and has been acknowledged by the Indian courts at large.
Not only did the decisions of the Courts start favouring the LGBTQ+ community, but also it has given courage to several people to come out of their veils and accept being the way they are and face the world with valor and bravery. Moreover, even though falling short of the expectations sought to be fulfilled, the heavily debated Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act,2019 received the assent of the President, which is a great step towards recognition and betterment of the community.
Despite this, the dichotomy of promise and perils is still confronted by the LGBTQ+ community. The transgender persons are still hobbled by the stagnant mindset of the people and the violence against them has been rampant across India. In the last two decades, the reports of violence against the LGBTQ+ community, especially the transgender persons, have poured in from across India. In toto, their life has changed much on paper, but very slightly in reality.
Coming out as LGBTQ+ is never easy, even in societies that are supportive and protective of the community’s rights. The process begins with accepting oneself, followed by asserting that identity to the world. Judicial reform may create an enabling platform to come out, but social realities don’t necessarily change in sync. So the battle must be fought as much inside courtrooms, as inside drawing rooms, classrooms and meeting rooms, every day of our lives.
In today’s date I think three major kinds of opinions can be found in Indians regarding the LGBTQ+ community. One rare kind of people who truly understand that LGBTQ+is a group of people who are colourful in their choices in the sense that they don’t fall under social categorisation of male and female. They love beyond boundaries, and that we don’t have any right to question, discriminate or disrespect their way of living and loving.
There are other sets of people who are newly trying to acknowledge and accept the things new to their understanding. These people might support the LGBTQ+ community overtly, but if they find out their own family members coming out as gay, that might be harder for them to digest.
And the third variety of people, of course, are those who don’t believe that there can be normal people with different sexual preferences and they believe these people to be against the nature and hence treat LGBTQ+ as a disease.
We know that if something is a disease, it’s the mentality of these third variety of people who fail to understand things if they are not the ones feeling it. Although legally the nation has won some freedom for the community of the third genders, on a psychological and societal level, there’s still a lot more the nation has to unlearn and learn.The unlearning and learning is being carried on in the present quite nicely.
Pride parades are such a beautiful celebration of the colourful people as they are. Bollywood movies like ‘Shubh Mangal Zyada Sawdhan’ and ‘Chandigarh Kare Ashique’ are very important mediums that make the common audience learn to normalise everything about same sex love, sex reassignment surgeries, and a lot more.
However, this is not so tangible growth towards the independence of mindset and thoughts. Education should be made more elastic and wide reaching for spreading awareness about the community. Workplaces need to be sensitive about them. We as individuals need to accept and be more inclusive towards any LGBTQ+ member we know around us.
Moreover, adoption for gay couples, sanction of gay marriages, right to surrogacy, these are the battles that are still left to be won legally. Thus, although freedom tastes sweet after 75 years, it’ll be most vibrant when each community gets the complete taste of it equally.
By Vishwarupa Rath