The Russian newspaper on April 1, confirmed the arrests and killings of gay men by the Chechen authorities. The estimations are that more than a 100 gay men have been detained and at least three have been killed. The systematic oppression of sexual minorities by Russian authorities in the state of Chechnya, that has a predominant Muslim population, is no surprise.
Having no gay population in the country is an area where the conservative Putin and the Chechen leaders agree unconditionally. Similarly in India, the so called “yog guru” Ramdev, the Muslim personal Law Board (MPLB) and the Vishwa Hindu Parisad (VHP) despite thousands of differences, stand united when challenging the 2009 Delhi High Court judgement on Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). They welcomed the regressive 2013 Supreme Court judgement and are of the opinion that homosexuality is unnatural, contradicting the psychiatric associations of most of the countries including the Indian Psychiatric Society.
In the recent past, the orthodox church is perceived to have had a growing influence in the making of Russian policies. The explicit denial of acknowledging gay population, the loosely worded anti-gay propaganda laws, followed by aggressive implementation through vigilante groups, shaming and vilifying the LGBTQ people, has rampantly increased under Putin’s administration since 2013.
Indeed in 2013, an American TV series star, Wentworth Miller, declined an invitation to St Petersburg International Film Festival in protest against Russia’s anti-gay laws, prior to which he was not publicly out.
The Muslim countries are by far the champions of punishing LGBTQ people. Barbaric acts like stoning a person to death, are practiced in parts of Afghanistan and Yemen that are controlled by the Taliban, in parts of Nigeria controlled by Boko Haram, in parts of Syria and Iraq controlled by Islamic State fundamentalists and in many parts of middle eastern countries. These extreme acts of violence are justified by the defenders of patriarchy on the pretext of the so called “religion of Peace”.
“Hell is empty because all the devils are here.” If people are threatened and killed simply because of their identity, then one cannot deny living in hell. The puritanical laws set centuries ago are life threatening to non-conventional lifestyle, largely because of the selective interpretation of the Quran right from its inception. Chronologically, whoever took charge of the caliphate believed in strict patriarchy.
India may have some of the finest laws in the world but due to the social structure and corruption, the laws are loosely implemented. Similarly, the Quran may speak of peace and rights for women but due to a patriarchal society, Muslim women have very limited rights as compared to men. Patriarchy has deeply demonized society into gender stereotypes and has created a huge gap in equality.
If God or religion is not to be blamed then why does there exist a plethora of defence in the holy book itself? When one brings the Quran and its words as their shield, then even the most liberal Islamic voices back off. Islam itself means submission before the almighty and so, His commands are the final word. However, one can argue that it’s mere interpretation by the abusers. The question then arises, why aren’t there any strong counter narratives from liberal Muslims to destroy this perpetuating hate?
We get to know of intifadas (resistance) against all sorts of wrong from different radical groups. But are there no intifadas and fatwas against all the inhuman activities, tortures and killings of gay people, if the imams and the mullahs really believe in peace? A decent person cannot have two faces. Similarly the clergy, or more correctly, an interpreter of the holy book, cannot talk about peace while simultaneously defending the violence against LGBTQ people and women.
At the Kolkata Literary meet 2017, Javed Akhtar rightly said, “faith is a belief which does not have rational, logic, witness and evidence. The same qualities can also qualify stupidity.” Therefore, it seems ludicrous to be optimistic about religion knowing the parameters that qualify one as a believer. If Javed Akhtar’s view on faith is to be interpreted, then the people who claim to be in religious high esteems and morals, use irrational and illogical beliefs to defend the murders of a human living with their family.
The MPLB, VHP and Ramdev happen to share the same view as the new firebrand chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. Chief minister Yogi Adityanath has vehemently opposed any bill that could decriminalize homosexuality, both, in the Parliament and in public spaces. The head priest of a temple and the five time MP, is known profoundly for his hate speech against Muslims and the LGBTQ community. His anointment to the top post in UP has changed the entire political discourse.
Everyone in a democracy has the right to hold any office irrespective of class, race or religion. Nevertheless, to reward a person who has irrefutable dislike for minority groups (particularly Muslims and homosexuals), with such great responsibility has sent a message to the entire country that the BJP also believes in extremism. Unfortunately, parallels can be drawn between Russia, India and the Islamic dictators.
As is the case in Russia, when concentration of power lies with the heads of Islamic republics, religion dictates governance, and there is little to no room to question the establishment. Such situations allow the government to legally silence dissent, leading to the disappearance of people whom they question on their very existence. Then will be a time when a positive intifada, like Arab Spring, will come without an invitation and change the whole political landscape.
Yogi Maharaj, who is said to have the blessings of the RSS, has already launched a cultural brigade known as the Anti-Romeo Squad. The squad is without proper guidelines and is acting more like a moral policing team. They are targeting and publicly shaming young men and couples in parks, colleges and markets. Others have been forced to do sit-ups as punishment.
In one incident, a man was accused of harassing a woman had his head shaved by the “anti-Romeo” squad. Two policemen have been suspended for allegedly detaining and harassing a girl and her cousin. The policemen also took ₹5,000 bribe from the duo and were caught on camera while doing so. In Rampur, UP, they apprehended two men (a nephew and his uncle) on the suspicion that they were a gay couple. They had to bribe the policemen ₹5000 to be released.
The LGBT community in India are quite familiar with police harassment, further with this anti-Romeo squad, it seems that harassment is getting legalized. A study conducted by the National Institute of Epidemiology in 2016, revealed that the biggest perpetrators of violence against transgender people were the police and law-enforcing authorities. The police misuses the law and unnecessarily charges different sections of IPC like section 377, 292 and 294 against LGBTQ people for extortion. Approximately 60% of the transgenders have experienced some form of harassment or violence.
The present central government is an expert on creating perceptions, whether it is on positive effects of demonetization or on development. Cultural ethos aside, violence and discrimination of any kind has to be annihilated. Indian politicians and the public has something to learn from the Dutch people in the way their leaders and people from all walks of life came #handinhand and showed solidarity against gay thrashing.
The onus is on the government, the society and the judiciary to protect the rights of every individual. The judiciary, one of the most important pillars of democracy, has to uphold the Constitutional values of the world largest democracy. Therefore, the Supreme Court of India, while hearing the curative petition on 2013 SC judgement, should give a wise interpretation of the Constitution, irrespective of the current political landscape.