While various pockets of Tamil Nadu state mourn the death of Chief Minister and AIADMK stalwart J. Jayalalithaa, another much quieter loss is being felt in Nagpur.
A young man named Rohan committed suicide after being consistently blackmailed for his sexual orientation. The incident, reported by the Times of India, is indicative of a persistent problem in our society. It was only last year that a representative of the Sarathi Trust (a local LGBTQ community-based organization) had commented on the high rate of suicides among LGBTQ youth: “Every person from the community would have horror tales of seeing one or two friends of theirs die in front of their eyes after having attempted suicide.”
The news comes only days after Nagpur Today reported that an unnamed 17-year-old gay youth’s suicide was hushed up by his family, and the Mayo Hospital. And both incidents are only a few months apart from a lesbian couple’s suicide attempt in Mumbai earlier in September this year.
Rohan, the unnamed minor, and the two young women from Mumbai all belong to a very large proportion of LGBTQ youth in the closet about their identities. When the world never gave them enough indication that they would be accepted, the closet provided some amount of safety, but often this isn’t enough. In Rohan’s case, it took only one other person knowing about his identity to threaten that safety.
Even with peer and family support, the odds are stacked against queer individuals in India. Society is heteronormative, and our laws reflect that. Save for some recent legislations on transgender rights, the state does not legally recognize the spectrum of queer identities. And in the case of Section 377, it goes so far as to persecute same-sex sexual intercourse. All of this has established largely uniform transphobic or homophobic attitudes in the country. And it poses a significant threat to the mental and physical safety of LGBTQ people. Parents disown children who are anything less than cisgender and heterosexual. Classmates bully and even assault queer students. And countless gay and lesbian people are forced into marriages against their will, just to maintain heterosexual ‘order’.
Suicides such as these have been going on far too long, and should be a major wake up call. We are simply not doing enough to support LGBTQ people in this country. And it is our action or inaction that could well determine the fate of many more such Rohans in the future.