Indian Parliament, on 10 March 2016, voted against the introduction of Shashi Thraoor’s private member’s bill to decriminalise homosexuality. The Parliament thwarted Thraoor’s second attempt in three months to introduce the measure. Tharoor said it was ‘religious bigotry’ of the ruling party that had disallowed discussion on his private bill to amend the ‘colonial era’ section 377 of the IPC which criminalises homosexuality, marking ‘a low in the proud annals of Indian democracy.’
Now, Toronto City is all set to celebrate its annual ‘PRIDE Week’ in July 2016. PRIDE is the acronym for People Recognising Individual Difference Equally. Toronto’s Pride Week is an arts and culture festival that celebrates diverse sexual and gender identities, and the lives of Toronto’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning (LGBTQ) communities. The theme of the 2016 Pride Parade, to be held on July 03, is ‘belonging and inclusion’. Along with the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Finance Minister Bill Morneau, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne (who is openly gay) and Toronto Mayor John Tory are also expected to participate in the festivities.
Since the late 1960s, the LGBTQ community in Canada have seen steady gains in their rights/status. While discrimination against LGBTQ people persists in many places, major strides toward mainstream social acceptance and formal legal equality have nonetheless been made in recent decades.
Canada is internationally regarded as a leader in granting rights to the LGBTQ community. Today, the LGBTQ community have government health care, right to adopt, equality for employment (including military service), and enjoy all rights as applicable to opposite-sex married couples and common-law couples. In 2005, Canada became the fourth country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage. Thousands of LGBTQ couples, who could not marry in the country where they live, have travelled to Canada seeking a legal marriage.
That was the Canadian side of the story. The Indian Law (Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code [IPC]) is a study in contrast. Unfortunately, it does not guarantee individual choice in matters of sexual preferences, sexuality, and sexual partners. This Section gives the state the authority to even investigate what is happening in your bedroom. It also makes any sex apart from penile-vaginal intercourse between a man and a woman, an illegal act. This severely impacts the LGBTQ community; why, it may also impact married heterosexual couples.
Section 377 of the IPC is a British relic, drafted in 1860 and based on outdated Victorian morals. It has no place in a modern nation like India. It is not even followed by the British today. The British laws now grant equal rights in all aspects to the LGBTQ community and have legalised same sex marriages from 2013.
Section 377 of the IPC is a law that was and can be used to oppress and harass the minority that have different sexual pereferences. The Indian Parliament is reluctant to amend the law. MP Shashi Tharoors’s Private Member’s Bill to decriminalise homosexuality and consensual sex between consenting adults was defeated in Parliament in December 2015. Tharoor’s bill was rejected at the introductory stage itself with 71 ‘Noes’ against 24 ‘yes’. There was one abstention. Tharoor, the lone fighter in this regard, appears to be in no mood of giving up and has promised that he will continue with his fight.
As per Tharoor, Section 377 of the IPC should be amended so that all consensual sex between consenting adults irrespective of gender and sexuality is made legal. It should ensure that forced sex, pedophilia or pederasty is not legalised and is dealt with in a severe manner.
There is an urgent need to amend Section 377 of the IPC as the Constitution of India guarantees Right to Privacy and Dignity under Article 21, Right to Equality under Article 14, and the Right against Discrimination under Article 15. Then why not the right to privacy, dignity and equality and also right against discrimination be guaranteed to LGBTQ people.
Now let us examine as to why there is so much of opposition from the Members of Parliament in making any changes to Section 377 of IPC.
Erotic desire or Kama in Hinduism was deemed as one of the most legitimate pleasures on earth. Premarital sex in Hinduism is frowned upon and extramarital sex is prohibited. Sex was promoted within the context of a loving couple – usually heterosexual. Marriage in Hinduism is said to fulfill three functions: Prajaa, Dharma, and Rati. In marriage, Prajaa is progeny for perpetuation of one’s family, Dharma is fulfillment of responsibilities, and Rati is companionship as friends and mutual pleasure as lovers. There are some references to the ‘Third Gender’ (Trtiya prakrti) in Hindu mythology. The term is loosely defined, referring in general to hetero-sexually dysfunctional men or women, who may be, according to the context, impotent, homosexual or transvestite or even having abnormal genitalia.
Attitude towards homosexuality in Western culture derives from the Biblical teaching on the subject. The Bible claims that homosexuality as a chosen sexual behaviour, is unnatural, sinful, amoral, and against God. Hence, most laws in Western countries, dealing with the LGBTQ community were codified based on it.
“Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman; it is an abomination.” (Leviticus 18:22)
“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders.” (1 Corinthians 6:9)
The New York Times is the first major publication to use the word “homosexuality” in 1926. In 1933, when the Nazis came to power in Germany, they rounded up homosexuals and send them to the concentration camps along with Jews. Gay men had to wear a pink triangle on their camp clothes. Switzerland in 1942 became the first country to decriminalise homosexuality, with the age of consent set at 20. In 1954, Mathematical and computer genius Alan Turing, one of the World War II code-breakers, committed suicide by cyanide poisoning, 18 months after being given a choice between two years in prison or libido-reducing hormone treatment for a year as a punishment for homosexuality. Tennis player Billie Jean King in 1961, became the first prominent professional sports-person to come out as a lesbian.
Sexuality is a very complex issue with many theories but very little verifiable evidence. It has been demonstrated by research that everyone is found somewhere along a bell-curve. To one side there are the resolute heterosexuals and on the other side the resolute homosexuals. The vast majority of men and women are found somewhere along the bell curve in the grey area. When deprived of female company some men will engage in homosexual acts, while others will not. Research has proved that women are more likely to experiment with homosexuality than are men.
British-American Neuroscientist. Simon LeVay said “Yes, we have a choice in life, to be ourselves or to conform to someone else’s idea of normality, but being straight, bisexual or gay, or none of these, is a central part of who we are, thanks in part to the DNA we were born with.”
I wish MP Shashi Tharoor all the best in his drive to cleanse the inequalities in our laws.