Writing this in LGBTQ-friendly Ireland must seem archaic, but I have to address the struggle of people with alternative sexual orientations in India, my home country.
My bisexual friend, Ron, who is pursuing a PhD in the US, sounds worried when I speak to him. He might not be able to return to India now as result of the draconian Section 377 reinstated by the Supreme Court of India in December 2013.
The world’s largest democracy, after decriminalising homosexuality in 2009, was all set to legalise same-sex marriages when the court decided to drop the bomb of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, a colonial-era law dating back to 1861, which criminalises and punishes individuals engaging in romantic love and private, consensual sexual acts between adults of the same sex.
How do you gauge bedroom intimacy? How can you tell if someone is engaging in so-called abnormal acts like anal and oral sex? Do you spy on the entire population to find out their sexual orientation?
The very provisions on which the Section is based are ridiculous. The situation is all the more ironic as this is a country of Kama Sutra, the country that has long glorified all forms of sex. Throughout Indian history, people with alternative sexual orientations were in fact considered auspicious and enjoyed high social status.
Then, the colonialists came, saw and were scandalised. They could not accept “sexual blasphemy” and banned the right of sexual minorities to love.
India has come a long way in liberating its citizens in the form of one of the finest constitutions of the world. Unfortunately, many retain the regressive mindset of the dark days of the past and frown even at straight couples holding hands on the streets, never mind gay ones.
According to a recent World Bank report draft, this homophobia has annually cost India a whopping $31 billion or more, as LGBTQ individuals continue to be been denied proper, decent employment. Discrimination has also prevented them from accessing both physical and mental health care. “I might have to be stuck with a straight marriage,” Anita, a lesbian friend of mine, says.
In India, LBTQ individuals run the risk of being disowned by their families once they come out. Suicide rates have spiralled after 377. Depression is at an all-time high. I tell my friends to seek refuge under my roof if all else fails. Unfortunately, at present, that is all I have to offer.
When law enters the bedroom, one’s constitutional rights are under severe threat. Hardliners have supported the law saying that sexual minorities defy the laws of procreation. They seem to forget that India is a population of 1.2 billion people. We could fare much better socially and economically without the current growth rate of 51 babies per minute. Preventing the right to love has far greater social implications.
However, all hope is not lost. Section 377 has been met with massive public uproar and countless legal cases being filed against it. This cruel, invasive and discriminatory law needs to be overturned.
In an all inclusive modern-day democracy, my friends should not be silenced and forced to adhere to dysfunctional social constraints. After all, Indians love happy endings. We shall hopefully give ourselves one in the future; fingers crossed.
Sunayana Baruah is an Indian graduate. She is due to begin the MPhil in Psychoanalytic Studies at Trinity College in September.