By Isaac Roque:
On February 2nd, the Supreme Court will determine the lives of a significant part of the Indian public, as they await its ruling with bated breath. It is a cruel twist of fate, that a country so zealous about distancing itself from its colonial legacy, has yet to relegate its most draconian aspect to the past.
The Supreme Court bears not just the hopes and aspirations of these individuals, their friends and family, but the opportunity to truly usher India into the 21st century, to bring social progress at par with the swift economic progress she has made. The coincidental release of the film ‘Aligarh’ (based on the true story of a university professor, stigmatized by revelations of his sexuality, suspended and later found dead) is a powerful and painful reminder of the oppression of homosexuals, in a land which prides itself on diversity.
Among the artistic and liberal elite, homosexuality is an accepted reality, and yet it rarely pervades the drawing room chatter of the affluent middle class where pleasantries abound, and vital issues like these are swept under the rug. A large section of Indian society is content to ignore the issue, until directly confronted with it in some way.
The LGBT community is reduced to a shallow comedic representation in Bollywood films, never revealing the mindless gossip, blackmail, and agony it faces on a daily basis. How can the fight against bullying, depression and other vital issues proceed effectively if the law of the land criminalises the orientation of such people? The world’s largest democracy cannot justify that claim until it recognizes the injustice and administers equality in every sense of the word. This opportunity then has the potential to be a renewal of its commitment to life, to freedom, democracy, and justice, more than six decades after the nation first made that vow.
Through its earlier verdict on December 11th, the Supreme Court sent out a disturbing message declaring the Indians of the LGBT community, criminals and second-class citizens in their own country. This is the very attitude that perpetuates social prejudice which in turn fuels further injustice, in a vicious cycle. Those with the means to do so, have departed for the relatively free and open pastures of the West, where they will not be tormented for who they are. The rest are condemned to lead their lives in the shadows, like Professor Siras, suffering in silence.
Those who argue that such ideas are contrary to Indian culture betray a complete ignorance of what it means to be Indian. For thousands of years, the Indian identity has evolved and embraced beliefs, rituals and religions, ideas and individuals from shores far beyond its own. So why in the 21st century, enlightened by rationality, do we allow bigoted minds to fossilize our own culture according to distorted notions of their own?
Culture is not something stagnant, it embraces progressive change and enriches itself in doing so. Any religious opposition to this fight cannot be justified because this is not an attack on religious beliefs; the freedom to love, is just an affirmation of the age-old aphorism – live and let live. The refusal to understand the LGBT community is rooted in ignorance and paranoia. What exactly are they afraid of? Persecution after all, is not the monopoly of any specific caste or creed, it comes in various forms, and this fight to end the persecution of the LGBT community is a banner under which we must all unite as a society.