The celebrations are getting louder. The euphoria is refusing to die down. It has been touted as nothing but a “defining moment in the history of free India”. As a country, we are being toasted for taking such a bold step. But, are we celebrating too little too soon? Is “decriminalizing homosexuality” the biggest victory of our times and a reflection of how modern our society has become?
Before you get me all wrong, let me assure you I am not against homosexuality. Neither am I anti-everything that is queer. I am a believer in the freedom of expressing and exercising sexual preferences – be it heterosexuality, homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexuality, and transgenderism. But, the worrying aspect is how far have we evolved as a society to embrace inclusiveness as a way of life? And also our history as a law-abiding nation?
It may seem a little absurd and on a different track but let me now draw a few parallels. The law has banned receiving or giving dowry. However, even today, you only need to skim through the newspaper to find the increasing number of “reported” dowry deaths or assaults. It is no longer the domain of “uneducated people or illiterate families” to demand and accept dowry. On the contrary, the growing population of “educated and well-to-do families” is using dowry as a means to increase its social status “further”. A groom’s market value increases going by the professional degrees he has accumulated. And what has been our collective response as a society? Even if we are not perpetrating it directly, we are encouraging it by ignoring the menace or pushing it under the carpet.
Similarly, domestic violence is recognized as a criminal offence and a law against such violent behavior has been in force for many years. Has it led to a decline in the number of such incidents? Or, has it at least acted as a deterrent? The answers are obviously no. Well-qualified, employed women continue to suffer domestic violence in silence.
And, not to forget the joke that women’s reservation has become. At the panchayat-level, it is being implemented as a Constitutional mandate. But, all of us know the ground reality. Women who are being hoisted as GP members are usually the kin of powerful politically strong henchmen, who have little or no education of what is expected of them. The seldom few who grow independently at that level without any backing are hardly absorbed into mainstream politics and lose out in their quest to reach political or administrative pinnacle. A case in point is Karnataka where reservation in GPs are implemented both in letter and spirit but only a single woman was elected as an MP not on her own merit but because she was the sister of a powerful brother. Can it get more ironic than that? And whenever the women’s reservation bill is tabled in Parliament, it is stonewalled by powerful politicians who even go to the extent of threatening to “drink poison” if the bill is passed and enacted.
These parallels that I have drawn may have nothing to do with the issue at hand but it goes to show that “decriminalization of homosexuality” is not as easy as is being made out. Law making is just one part of addressing the problem. The other and more serious problem is how to ensure that society stops discriminating against people who show “other preferences” and accept “differences in sexual orientation.”
A few days before this whole debate about homosexuality gained such proportions, a relative of mine narrated a shocking incident. A young girl, who works as a software engineer, was married to a young, handsome and equally qualified guy working in one of the big software companies in Bangalore. Everything was hunky dory till the girl realized the guy was not reaching out to her as a “normal” guy. She soon found out that he preferred one of his close male friends to her and offered to part ways. The moment the family got involved in the issue, the girl was pressurized not to divorce. And even if she did, that their son was a homosexual had to be kept under wraps. If she did not agree to both, the girl was threatened that her attempt to get a divorce would be thwarted and it would be made out that she was “seeking an extra-marital affair.” The shocked, new bride has now decided to go ahead and file for a divorce, the implications not withstanding.
It is behavior like these that can prove most dangerous to the social fabric of the society. As long as homosexuality remains a clandestine affair and is kept under wraps, it would compromise any struggle for achieving inclusiveness in society and in fighting against discrimination, be it by the immediate family, or the passers-by who snigger or jeer, or the policemen who taunt subtly and overtly.
Law cannot drastically change the way a society behaves, approves, or disapproves certain behavior, though the Court prohibits discrimination on grounds of sexual preferences. Even before the AIDS lobby takes over this whole debate and showcases it as its victory, it is now up to us to ensure that barriers are broken and the society is a more inclusive place to live in.