By Rita Banerji:
When I heard the Supreme Court ruling on Section 377 on the T.V., the first words out of my mouth were — “This is unbelievably stupid! This law criminalizes at least 65% of India’s population!”
Why 65% I’ll explain later, but first I want to challenge this idea of ‘gay sex.’ I know there’s been a lot of talk about how Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code criminalizes ‘gay sex.’ But sex, any kind of sex, is an act. It is neither gay, nor straight! What we all need to take stock of is that the specific sexual acts that 377 in its primeval language refers to as “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” and outlaws — that is, anal and oral sex–are practiced by people of all genders and of all sexual orientations.
If oral and/or anal sex between two consenting adults are criminal acts, then these crimes are committed across the board — by men, women, heterosexuals, homosexuals, transsexuals, bisexuals, pansexuals, transvestites, transgenders, and the undecided!
Two weeks before the Supreme Court judgment, India Today asked me to write a piece for their annual sex survey issue. For the last 10 years the magazine has been doing an annual sex survey of Indians, with a wide range of questions about their habits, practices, ideas and beliefs about sex and sexuality. My piece was on Indian men’s fixation on “virgin brides.” [77% of men said they would not marry a woman who had had premarital sex!]
The editors had thoughtfully selected out those sections from their survey results that I would need for my piece, but they had also sent me alongside the entire raw data, which I did look over. In there was a piece of information which didn’t strike me as important at the time, but two weeks later I recollected it and realized it was extremely significant in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling on Sect. 377
When asked about oral and anal sex this is how India responded:
51% of men said they’ve engaged in anal sex.
65% of men have engaged in oral sex.
47% of women have engaged in anal sex.
62% of women have engaged in oral sex.
How many of these respondents were gay and how many straight? Well, on being asked if they’ve ever “had a homosexual experience,” only 10% of these respondents said yes. In other words 10% of the respondents are either gay, or they are straight and have simply experimented with someone of the same sex. But presumably about 90% of the respondents are straight!
In other words, more than 50% of heterosexual Indians, by their own free-admission, engage in sexual acts that are criminal under the current law and warrant their arrest and life-time imprisonment!
So Section 377 criminalizes a majority of Indians — and in that it is absurd! Obviously oral and/or anal sex are not “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” but perfectly normal sexual practices that a majority of Indians engage in.
Surly India’s legal guardians would have some notion of how absurd this ruling is in context of the larger population? And surely they would know that even though this law actually criminalizes a vast majority of Indians it ultimately would only serve as a weapon of social, familial, and governmental persecution of the minority — gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual community? Look at the flamboyance with which Yashwant Sinha recently egged on the government to arrest a gay, American diplomat under Section 377 — openly, aggressively flexing the weapon that the Supreme Court had just gifted him. This was suggested as a form of payback to the US for the arrest of an Indian diplomat, Khobragade, in the US for violation of US laws for minimum wage of her domestic employee. Why would Sinha pick on a gay couple? There are dozens of American diplomats and their partners in India, many of who probably have violated 377 within the privacy of their bedrooms. Why didn’t Sinha pick on one or all of them?
This is why those of us who’ve been protesting the 377 ruling need to convey to our courts, our government and political parties, is that this is not just about gay and lesbian rights. We need to tell them that 377 is about all our rights to bodily and sexual autonomy. What author Vikram Seth said about gay and lesbian rights applies to everyone else too. Who we love, who we make love to, and how we make love, is our sole prerogative. My body, my domain! It is the most fundamental of human rights in any democratic society. This what gay love, forcibly arranged marriages, child marriages, “honour killings,” all forms of rape including marital rape, “bride-trafficking,” and indeed the norm for brides to be ‘virgins’ — all have in common. This is why 377 is a pan-Indian cause.
The spirit of the Anti-377 movement in India makes a very fundamental statement about every single individual’s right. It says: My body belongs to me alone. It cannot be owned, controlled, dictated to, or abused and violated by any person, family, culture, society, religion, law or government.
Recently there was a popular movement on social media — ‘Gay for a Day’ where straight people supporting gay rights expressed their opposition to 377 by posting photos of kissing a same-sex person. It is heartening that so many in India support the rights of the LGBT community. But the spirit of the anti-377 movement will come to light only when we make this fight personal. To do that, the 65% of Indians, majority of who are straight and have had oral and/or anal sex need to stand up and be counted. We need to tell the Indian government: Your law criminalizes me too! Arrest me. Jail me for life!