Thursday, 22 October 2009

India Coming Out?

Hi folks! I'm going to cheat a little bit this week and instead of writing something new, I'm going to share something I wrote for the Argosy (our student newspaper) this week, instead. The Argosy is a fantastic publication that I look forward to every week. Sometimes the writing is poor, sometimes the stories are weak, but we at Mt A love it regardless. And this week I get to be part of it. For all of my Mt A readers, chances are you skipped my section and now you can't avoid it. And for all you non-Mt A folk, you get a sweet article! So here it is:

Last week Canada, the US, and a number of European countries celebrated ‘Coming Out Week’. Catalyst – Mt A’s LGBT alliance on campus – invited the university community to participate in the celebrations and discussions surrounding LGBT issues. Having grown up in India – a strongly heteronormative society – the open expression and discussion of LGBT issues is not something I’ve seen often. As a nation India is still wrestling with these issues and only recently have people begun to speak up and speak out against the archaic laws and policies the Indian Penal Code outlines.

The widespread discomfort surrounding these issues is not exclusive to LGBT issues; talking openly about sex and sexuality in any context is enough to mortify the average Indian. This societal awkwardness is apparent at the level of both general society and the government. All of this seems rather ironic given that India is home to the ancient traditions of the Kama Sutra and Tantra, but things are changing for the better.

In 1996, Indian-born Canadian film director and screenwriter Deepa Mehta, released Fire, the first film in her Elements trilogy (the film was not released in India until 1998). Fire is set in India and was the first Indian film to explicitly depict homosexual relations. Its release in India was met with wide-spread and often violent protests by right-wing Hindu groups, though this isn’t to say that conservative Hindus are the only people in India opposed to open expression of (homo)sexuality. Forcing the issue into the public eye, Deepa Mehta spurred a wider debate around homosexuality and freedom of speech in the country.

Barkha Dutt, an award winning journalist for one of India’s leading news channels, NDTV, furthered the LGBT discourse in India by addressing LGBT issues, sexuality, and intolerance on her weekly audience-driven show We the People. Dutt and her colleagues in Indian journalism are finally bringing these issues out into the open and challenging the nation’s outdated societal norms and taboos.

Drafted by Lord Macaulay in 1861, the Indian Penal Cold (IPC) is a powerful piece of legislation, a code to which all subjects of the British Empire in India (those of both Indian and British origin) would be held accountable. Notable within this code is Section 377 – an archaic clause that criminalises sexual activity deemed to be “against the order of nature,” a crime punishable at the very least by a substantial fine or at worst by life imprisonment. Nearly 150 years after its inception, the law has finally been challenged. The issue was first brought to the High Court in 2001 in a public interest litigation demanding the legalisation of consensual homosexual intercourse, and in a surprisingly short eight years, it has made it through the tangle of Indian bureaucracy. In its historic decision on July 2, 2009, the Delhi High Court amended Section 377 of the IPC so as to decriminalise homosexual activity among consenting adults. A transcript of the 105-page judgement is available online via the District Courts of India Judgement Information System. The judgement reads,

“If there is one constitutional tenet that can be said to be underlying theme of the Indian Constitution, it is that of 'inclusiveness' … Those perceived by the majority as “deviants' or 'different' are not on that score excluded or ostracised.

In our view, Indian Constitutional law does not permit the satutory criminal law to be held captive by populat misconceptions of who the LGBTs are. It cannot be forgotten that discrimination is the antithesis of equality and that it is the recognition of equality which will foster the dignity of every individual."

The battle isn’t over yet. The amendment has been passed in the High Court but it will be appealed to Supreme Court and has already met with huge opposition from a range of political groups, including the Ministry of Home Affairs and a far-right political party, the Shiv Sena. The fact that the amendment passed through the High Court at all is a sign, however, that the Indian psyche is moving into an era of enlightenment and freethinking. People of our generation in India will soon begin to establish groups like Catalyst and the thousands of others like it and they will continue to challenge our government and our society to broaden its mind. Sixty-two years after Independence, the decision made by the Delhi High Court was one of many steps signaling the beginning of a new period in India’s growth and it bodes well for India as an emerging force in the global arena.

1 comment:

  1. Very well written, and way to make Mt.A more socially conscious.