Hailing from Chaka Gopalpur, a village located about 90 kilometres from Bhubaneshwar, this girl has won laurels for India at various track events. The current national champion in the women’s 100 metres event, she has bagged two silver medals at the 2018 Asian Games and created history by winning the FIRST ever gold medal at the recently held, 2019 University Games in Italy.
But the once proud villagers of Chaka Gopalpur are now ashamed of even associating themselves with her. Even her parents are disappointed in her. Why? Because she publicly stated that she has been in a same sex relationship. This is the story of the Indian Sprinter, Dutee Chand. And she is just one of the many people who are facing the wrath of society for voicing their sexual orientation.
6th September, 2018, people all over the nation are glued to their televisions; LGBTQ activists from all across the country have gathered outside the Supreme Court of India, gleaming with hope and praying for the best. Finally, the historic verdict is announced: Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code has been decriminalised after 157 years! Homosexuality is no longer a crime. A son hugged his mother and told her, “Ma, I am no longer a criminal.” People are waving the Rainbow Flags high up in the air. I remember, even us students had been discussing this in college and we all had to say only one thing in the end: FINALLY!
Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code states:-
“Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.”
On 6th September, 2018, the Supreme Court of India ruled that the application of Section 377 to consensual homosexual sex between adults was unconstitutional, “irrational, indefensible and manifestly arbitrary”, but that Section 377 remains in force relating to sex with minors, non-consensual sexual acts, and bestiality.
But the struggle for the LGBTQIA community is still not over. A much bigger challenge is imposed upon them, that is, to be accepted in society. If you have ever travelled by a local train, you would have observed eunuchs getting on the train and begging for money. You might have also seen them at various signals. Why do you think they have to do this? There is a wide range of professions to choose from. Nobody wishes to beg. What’s evident here is the lack of opportunity for them. Many intersex people drop out of school due to constant bullying and harassment. Also, in most of the cases, their parents do not support them, in fear of being judged. According to a 2018 study by the Kerala Development society, only 2% of intersex people in India live with their parents. The others are disowned by their parents, compelling them to take up a job at a very young age, in order to support themselves. 96% of the intersex people are forced to take up undignified and low paying jobs such as badhai, begging, and sex work. Even though, in April 2014, the Supreme Court of India awarded intersex people the right to identify themselves as distinct from male or female and as belonging to a third gender, very little has changed for them. As per the law, intersex people should be treated consistently with other minorities under the law, enabling them to access jobs, healthcare, and education. On the contrary, 89% researchers said that even the qualified ones amongst them don’t get employment opportunities, only 46% of them are literate and above 23% are forced to engage in sex work which has high health related risks. Though we call “Hijras” at various auspicious events at home, such as marriage or the birth of a child, as they are considered being the harbingers of good luck, they are often treated with disdain and this has to change.
“Log kya kahenge?”, this question has deterred many people from coming out in the open. And a few brave ones who do so, like Dutee Chand, have to fight a long battle in order to be accepted. The problem lies in the fact that many people still view homosexuality as a form of a psychological weakness or a problem. In rural areas, unlike Mumbai and Delhi, people view homosexuality as a disease and have their own ‘remedies’ to this disease which include family sanctioned corrective rapes, brainwashing and even honour killings. Even in cities, homophobia prevails where parents send their children to gay conversion therapy centres or psychiatric wards. “I was administered psychotic drugs which pushed me into depression and confusion. The doctors conducted psychosexual experiments on me by forcing me to stay with other mentally ill women. They wanted to see how I reacted to their interaction and sexual advances”, says Vjyayanti Vasanta Mogli, a trans woman, LGBT activist and public policy scholar at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Hyderabad. And like Mogli, there are tens of thousands of people who haven’t come out of the closet yet and if they have, they are silenced by society.
India has always been a place that admires spiritual enlightenment and belief in the unknown, thus, it is safe to say that India is a mythological land. But after the intervention of the British, a lot of conservative people started considering homosexuality as a sin. However, homosexuality was prevalent in Ancient India which can be seen in the carvings and paintings at various temples, one of the best examples being the Khajuraho temples (Madhya Pradesh). Kama Sutra, a 2nd century ancient Hindu Text, does mention the existence of lesbians and gays by the names of ‘Swarinis’ and ‘Kilbas’ and a homosexual marriage between two lesbians or two gays were classified under ‘Gandharva’ or celestial variety. Hindu religion has a deity in the third gender who is called as Ardhanarishwar, literally half-male and half-female God. Ardhanarishwar is an androgynous form of Lord Shiva and Parvati. In Hindu worshipping, when Vishnu and Shiva are worshipped together, they are called Hari-Hara and are described as a male couple. There are a lot more instances of homosexuality in ancient India and scriptures. It is important to note that homosexuals were not considered inferior in any way until the British Intervention in the 18th century.
India may not be as liberal and progressive as Canada and Sweden, but we are taking the steps required to make this country a better place for the LGBTQIA community, starting with the decriminalisation of Section 377. I believe that the topic of LGBTQIA should be included in the educational curriculum so that the students understand what freedom and equality really stands for.
– Esha Saini, FYBFM