Wednesday, September 27, 2006

When will SG society progress?

Maybe when we are 1 billion in population, and there are enough brave souls to speak up against discrimination?

When a senior UN figure speaks up on the subject, and a married one with 2 kids, it does make me wonder when will SG intelligensia start to speak up. (or have they all been so completely corrupted by the state's offer of the 'good life' that nothing else matters? what is the catalyst necessary?)

Article by the Indian newspaper reproduced here for historical records. Received in an email, so if you're bothered about copyright, please figure out why copyleft may bring you more money in the long tail than short lived copyright.


Gay, but not happy
Monday, September 25, 2006

Nitin Desai

Recently, a group of us released an open letter asking for a repeal of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. At the same time there is a petition lying before the Delhi High Court seeking an order so that this Section would not apply to sexual acts between consenting adults of the same sex. Many of us who are not personally affected by the impugned Section have joined in this effort because we feel strongly that an egregious wrong needs to be righted.

What is this Section of the Penal Code that we are so exercised about? The text reads as follows: “Whosoever has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years and shall also be liable to a fine.” This Section is the basis on which a sexual relationship between two consenting adults of the same sex is treated as a crime. While the rest of the world changes and accepts the rights of sexual minorities, we in India are stuck with the 1861 Penal Code.

The criminalisation of homosexuality has constrained efforts to reach out to the homosexual community for HIV/AIDs education by forcing this community to be secretive. It also leads to police harassment of sexual minorities. There was an episode where an NGO trying to reach out with HIV/AIDs prevention advice was charged with a conspiracy to promote homosexuality.

Some hold that Section 377 is necessary to tackle child abuse. But many who are concerned about the sexual exploitation of children would like a more specific law, far clearer in its provisions than this generic and somewhat vague Section. In any case, the plea at the moment is only for a proviso or a court-approved interpretation which would make it clear that the Section does not apply to consenting adults in a same-sex relationship.

Homosexuality is not a crime. When practised by two consenting adults it does not cause anyone else any harm. It has been legitimised in most of Europe, North America, Latin America, South Africa and several other countries in Africa. The prejudice remains enshrined in law mainly in the countries that were under British colonial rule, even though the UK itself has moved on, and in many Islamic countries.

It is not a disease. The WHO removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses as far back as 1981. Yet in India, when a man approached the National Human Rights Commission for help when he was being made to undergo drug and electroshock therapy for his homosexuality, he was denied redress because of Section 377.

Some argue that same sex love is not acceptable in our culture. That is also the case in many Christian countries. But that did not stop them from legalising same-sex relationships. Hindu mythology, on the other hand, is astonishingly open-minded about gender roles
and sexuality. Our culture has been far more open to sexual experimentation as we can see in texts like the Kamasutra and in some of our temple sculptures. The norm enshrined in the Penal Code is strictly a product of the Victorian morality of our British rulers.

It is possible that many people in the country are uncomfortable with the idea of same sex relationships. Yet several assessments suggest that they are widespread. In any case the rights of a minority, whether it is small or large, are not some sort of gift from the majority. They rest on basic constitutional principles of human rights and democracy.

Some who support the aims of the open letter ask whether we should be worrying about this problem when there are so many other worse prejudices and atrocities in our country. Why, they say, are you exercised about sexual minorities when women are being raped and burnt, children exploited, dalits and tribals oppressed. The reason for caring is that
these other injustices have no basis in law. They arise because the law is being violated with impunity. Tackling them requires that the law be implemented. The injustice against sexual minorities is different. It is sanctioned by law and correcting that requires that the law be changed.

A respect for difference is essential in any pluralist society. Homophobia, like racism, caste prejudice or religious bigotry should never be legitimised by law or custom. By giving homophobia a legal basis when we have legislated against other forms of prejudice and
divisiveness, we are committing a grave injustice against a minority that has not caused us, the
majority, any harm.

The writer is former Under Secretary General, United Nations.

Good arguments. Maybe they should be taken up by a lawyer.

[pithy a legal challenge against S377 cannot be mounted right now because the state is conducting a 'review'. Pithy even more that this will be used as an excuse to maintain the law for another 3-5 years. And it will continue to encourage gay talent to leave the country or not enter the country because they are not welcome. pithy the tiny, self-important state.]