He was shivering in the cold, worried and unsure of what he ought to do. He was lying somewhere on the footpath of Mumbai, in the middle of the night. The most shocking part was that he was only 14 years old. He had not eaten anything or even slept for the past few days. His body had given up and his limbs did not have the strength to even stand up for a while. However, he felt relaxed and free from within. He was supposed to be crying, but tears did not want to escape his eyes. He was happy that he did not have to go to his school, where he would be teased and made fun of. He did not have to worry about what his father would rebuke him for every single night, after getting drunk. He did not have to see the dreadful image of his mother crying and weeping about her son’s fate. He no longer needed to hold on to the baggage of him being different.
Karan was a simple boy just like anyone else in his locality. However, people around him begged to differ. He was only seven years old when, one day, he felt the urge to dress up like his mother. Little did he know that this tiny urge would leave behind a lifetime scar. His mother was out at work, when he ran to the neighbour aunty wearing a bindi and a salwar.
She had then remarked, “Arey Karan! When did you turn into a ‘hijra’?” and laughed mockingly. Karan did not know what it meant to be a ‘hijra’. His innocence was such that he did not even know if the woman was mocking or appreciating him. In the evening when his mother returned from work, he ran to her excitedly and said, “Aaiy, today moushi said I had turned into a ‘hijra’.” His mother, shocked, slapped him hard.
Karan began crying, not knowing what else to do. His mother later explained what it meant to be a ‘hijra’.
Yes, now he knew who ‘hijra’ was, but he remained confused about his own identity. This identity crisis had made him feel lonely. That day, he started to change – a change which made everyone around him consider him different. Everybody criticised and teased him. Some would call him “chhakka”, and others, “sixer”. This had made him believe that he was indeed different. He had started to feel that there was certainly something abnormal about him. Maybe, like one of his friends had remarked, he had a disease.
All of this took another sudden turn when he had one day felt the urge to kiss a boy. Maybe things were becoming clearer. He was a homosexual. One day, like always, his classmate was trying to tease him and he decided to revolt against it by kissing him. For the first time he had felt something was right. Maybe now things seemed better than ever before. However, he did not have a clue that the very thing that gave him a sense of freedom would change his life forever.
The next day his parents were called to meet the principal. He was right there in the principal’s cabin where his mother cried while his father slapped him left and right. If that was not enough his principal canned him and the other boy’s father threatened of reporting about him to the police. All of them had asked just one question or maybe it was kind of a final verdict, “If you don’t stop behaving abnormally, then you will be kicked out of all our lives. Will you change?“
Karan did not have an answer. How could he? He himself had not truly understood his own identity, then how could he promise them that he would change? He kept silent as tears rolled down his cheeks. His silence led to his rustication from school and his parents had taken him directly to a local psychiatrist. The first thing the psychiatrist told his parents was that “Karan is suffering from a disease. He is abnormal. He has to be given shock treatment and you have to pray that this will cure him.“
It was terrible. His helpless cries of pain could be heard in the empty hallway of the hospital. After the shock therapy, when the doctor, and his parents had left, his mind called out to him, “RUN. Escape from this.”
He had walked away from there, even without realising where he was going. He hadn’t found anything to eat, and there he was – 14 year old Karan on the streets of Mumbai. He still had one question in his mind – “Am I abnormal? Don’t I deserve to live?“
However, this is not just a story of one Karan. Sadly it remains the story of hundreds of Karans, who don’t have the courage to listen to their inner selves. Many who are still going through the torture for a “disease” which isn’t one. There are also some Karans who end up on the footpath, and end up begging in the streets or even selling their bodies to earn some money.
But wait! How can I be writing a story of Karan? Isn’t it against our so-called Indian culture? Isn’t it against the religious sentiments of a few? Or even better, it is also illegal to voice out the opinions of the “minuscule minority.” The only solution, let every Karan suffer a “disease” that leads to nothing but “Identity Crisis”.
Homosexuality is considered a crime in our country. It is deeply saddening and alarming that many mental health professionals are still ignorant and operate from their own biases. Electroconvulsive Therapy, or shock therapy, is no “cure” or “treatment” of homosexuality because you can’t treat what’s not an illness. Recent researches in this field have pointed out the role of genetics in determining one’s sexual orientation which essentially means that homosexuality is as normal as heterosexuality. The LGBTQ+ community should be respected for who they are, just as the heterosexuals. True love requires unconditional acceptance and support. Parents and friends should come forth with wholeheartedly support for anyone who may have a different sexual orientation. The stigma will reduce only when you and I respect the people around us. They have a right to live and love without interference and abuse from the rest of the world.