The best thing about being a journalist is that you get to know a little bit about everything. One of the documentaries I'm working on at the moment is about homosexuality and how it is received in as multicultural and open a society as London. While working on it, I began to think about the positioning of homosexuality in the Indian Penal Code.
My first interviewee was a young man who has been running a wedding planning service for same-sex couples, right from wedding attire to boy-boy and girl-girl wedding cakes. I'd interviewed him about the service and how it worked, and when I was wrapping up, we had a chat about homosexuality. I told him it was illegal in India, and he said "maybe it's because people there are religious...here, about 15% are religious...there, I would imagine it's more like 85%." And I said "that's true..."
But wait a minute...while it's open for debate whether any religion really forbid homosexuality, Hinduism certainly doesn't. A form of Lord Shiva, Ardhanaareeshwara, is a fusion of the male and the female. When Lord Vishnu took the form of a woman in Mohini, He is said to have had a child with Shiva, when He was in the avataaram of Mohini. Besides, India is noted for being secular. So what is it that makes homosexuality a crime in the IPC? Why is a lifestyle choice wrong? There are several other "forbidden acts", ranging from premarital sex to having intercourse with multiple partners, none of which religion forbids, and all of which are to be found in ancient carvings on temples and writings in works like Kamasutra.
Fair enough, some might not be the need of the hour - threesomes, for instance. But how is it fair to expect that people should deny their natural urges and desires for societal reasons? What has happened to make Indian society so insular when it comes to such issues? Why is any woman who smokes or drinks automatically assumed to be one-night-stand material? Why is any woman who is not virgin assumed to be a slut? Why is a man who likes another man, or a woman who likes another woman, seen as something paranormal?
I'd gone to a church today, not because I have undergone any sort of religious metamorphosis, but because I came across a church that is intended mainly for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people. While I don't fall into any of those categories either, I intended to interview the pastor, and decided to attend the service prior to it. I was struck by the warmth and comfort in the group. People poked fun at each other, the paster joined in the laughing and talking and even said things like "whoa! If someone said that to me, I'd've boxed them! ...Well, I'm supposed to be a Pacifist, so I wouldn't have boxed them, but I would have thought it all the same!" Children ran about, playing with Gameboys while the service was going on, and people paused and laughed. One of the members of the congregation had baked a cake, and people stood about after the service, eating, drinking coffee, and catching up on what was happening with their partners.
One of the members of the congregation, whom I came to know very well, told me all about how he had met his boyfriend and how he had initially thought the latter was seeing someone else and was a tease for winking at him while talking to another man. The level of comfort, the ease with which people shared their stories, and more than anything else, the fact that they were simply what I had thought before - people who prefer another lifestyle, just as someone might prefer a different cuisine, and not to be discriminated because of that.
What is it that causes so much prejudice within society - pride parades are conducted in the more open societies, and occasionally find protesters against them. In closed ones, a gay pride parade would just about cause a riot. In India, there would be a few burnt houses, a series of fights, stones thrown at buses, hospitals flooded with injured people, lathi charge and hartal the next day. Why is it that we cannot allow people to make their own choices and live with them peacefully?