Homosexuality banned in India – Paradoxical judgment from the land of Kamasutra

विकृतिः एवम्‌ प्रकृतिः

(What is unnatural is also natural)

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Scultptures in a temple in Khajuraho. Notice the depictions of lesbian encounters?

In a verdict that had the potential to send the right message to the world at large, High Court in India passed a law in 2009 that decriminalized homosexuality. Sex between consenting homosexual partners was no longer considered an offence.

The ruling was overturned by the Supreme Court today, in what is a major blow to gay-rights activists across the country. Having sex with people of the same gender is, as of today, an offence punishable by up to life imprisonment.

Life imprisonment is a sentence, usually dished out to rapists and murderers. By putting homosexuals in the same bracket as them, the Supreme Court has in effect, strangled the secular voice of India. By pandering to populist rhetoric, the ruling has blurred the line between the legislature and the judiciary. Separation of these two institutions is the only thing that has kept this country from falling into the hands of unflinching autocrats. The judiciary is supposed to be a watch dog, that keeps the legislature in line. The latest ruling, that plays right into the hands of right wing members of the Parliament, is a warning to all of us, who wish to see a more moderate India.

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Homosexuality was a long standing tradition of ancient India

Hindu and Muslim fundamentalists rarely see eye to eye. But the petition seeking rollback of the 2009 pro-gay verdict was jointly supported by Muslim and Hindu zealots alike. Islam has historically been against homosexuality, and their reaction to the issue is understandable, although it cannot be condoned. What is more difficult to explain is the attitude of Hindu right wing activists, who seem to have forgotten about the sexual permissiveness that was the hallmark of Hindu Bharat of the ancient times, when the customs and traditions that they now follow blindly were first codified.

The reason cited for the new ruling against homosexuality is that it goes against the spirit of Indian culture and traditions. Personally, I am of the view that culture and tradition should be allowed to evolve and change, as man’s understanding of himself and the nature around him changes. Blindly following a practice just because ‘it is written’ is foolhardy, because they were first written as a tool to maintain and progress  civilization, as it existed then, in ancient India. We have changed, as a country. Gandhara desam, a key province of ancient India was invaded by Muslims, and is now Afghanistan. Pakistan and Bangladesh do not even identify with ancient India anymore. The geo-political nuances of this country has changed beyond recognition, for better or for worse. Holding on to customs that were meant for another time and place, is not logical, not matter how we look at it.

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During a gay rights campaign in India. Image courtesy BBC

As per the 2001 census, over 80% of Indians are practicing Hindus. Playing the devil’s advocate, I decided to see if Hinduism was in fact against homosexuality.

It was not.

During ancient times, when being a homosexual was a crime everywhere, India was one of the few places that actually tolerated it.

To understand the issue better, it is important to understand that Hinduism is unlike any other religion in the world. A good comparison would be to a sandwich with infinite combinations to choose from. There is no one rule or law that governs all Hindus. Some are vegetarians, who think it is against God’s will to eat meat. Some, eat cows. In my home state of Kerala, one of the main religious  festivals is Onam, a festival that the rest of the country has probably not even heard of. There are a large number of laws, written into a myriad of ancient texts including the Rigveda (one of the four canonical scriptures of ancient Hinduism). There is an amalgamation of laws, some contradictory, and it is up to each practicing Hindu to come up with a version that gives him faith.

It is in this context that the ruling of the court makes the least amount of sense. Homosexuality was tolerated in ancient India. The attitude towards homosexuality often swung from open permissiveness to mild reprimand. But at no point of time in our history, was homosexuality ever considered a crime equal to murder.

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Kamasutra, an ancient Indian treatise on sex, depicted homosexuality without hypocrisy or ambiguity.

In Rigveda, is mentioned – विकृतिः एवम्‌ प्रकृतिः (What is unnatural is also natural), a reference to homosexuality and the natural order of things. Other texts like the Arthashasthra and Manusmriti take a less tolerant view to homosexuality, but even then, it was considered a minor offence, and the ‘offender’ could get away with it by paying a small fine. The ancient Indian text of Kamasutra dealt with the topic of homosexuality openly, without ambiguity or reservations of any kind. It was deemed a natural order of life.

I am as proud of who we were then, as I am ashamed of who we have become now.

We live in modern times, and India has a written constitution, and the preamble to the constitution guarantees its’ citizens the right to live with dignity and freedom. The ruling against homosexuality has broken that most fundamental of promises, held out by the republic of India to every one of its’ citizens.

Even if homosexuality was against Hinduism as it existed in ancient India, it would have been a mistake to criminalize it. Considering our legacy, what has been done today is more than a mistake – it is an unpardonable assault on all the things that once made this country great.

Kamasutra - the film

Kamasutra – A movie by an Indian director, shot with an Indian cast, in India, was banned in the country. 

This new ruling has ensured that an entire generation of kids with homosexual tendencies will grow up feeling ashamed about themselves, about who they are, apologizing for their inherent nature, living a lie from birth to the funeral pyre.

India must be the only country in the world today, where homosexuals actually wish they lived in an earlier era. While the rest of the world has moved forward, India is stuck in a cocoon of paranoia and fear that is slowly chipping away at our core values, at human decency, with distorted perceptions of our past guiding our future.

A case of blind leading the blind, so to speak.

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28 thoughts on “Homosexuality banned in India – Paradoxical judgment from the land of Kamasutra

  1. Well of course I noticed the depictions of lesbian encounters, silly!
    The global view on this is shifting slowly but surely. This last generation of dinosaurs will die off, and there will be an awakening of acceptance. Maybe.

    • Islamic law, Sharia law, is growing ever MORE common. In Africa, Asia, Europe and even in the US. There is no tolerance for homosexuality in such places. Qatar or UAE one is planning to “test” foreign workers for homosexuality before allowing them entry into the country. Islamic fundamentalism is not represented by an “old” guard waiting to die off. It is a movement of the youth, the next generation and it shows no sign of slowing in terms of areas brought under their rule or the stringency that such laws are enforced.

      An interesting side note, for many who follow Islamic law, only the “recipient” is considered a homosexual. Just as a rape victim is considered the actual criminal in many of these countries.

    • True. But while rest of the world is evolving, India seems to be devolving, growing tails, and turning into dinosaurs. If the trend continues, the next generation will consist of even more vicious dinosaurs, if you are catching my drift.

  2. Wow, what a post! It should be in every newspaper, news websites, every social network around the world. I had an amazing time learning this post. Not only its valuable content, but also its abundant vocabulary. I’m about 20 words smarter now. Awesome job, my friend.

  3. From a biological or evolutionary standpoint, anything that is possible by a living being is natural. It follows the definition of ‘nature’. Anything different from what occurs in nature in its raw state is just a ‘story’ made up by some influential person(s) that everyone around him starts believing in at some point. This is not just restricted to homosexuality. The legal system that we follow, the social norms that we adhere to, the ‘culture’ we grow up in, the religious customs we respect and the ‘God’ we believe in, all of these are mere ‘stories’ that were created at some point in history for the whole of mankind to ‘believe’ in as ‘true’ and ‘natural’. That is why you see all of these factors changing from time to time as the stories keep getting modified. But the existence of a living being along with its biological functions remains eternally natural.

  4. Absolutely fascinating to read, I love the depth of research in the post. It did make me think of a quote though, which stated that religion has no place in politics. Now I’m not saying that politicians should be atheist or ignore religious beliefs, but laws and rules should be built around penalizing that which causes harm and eradicating that which persecutes those whose actions do no damage to anyone else.
    Once again, a fascinating post.

    • Being an atheist, I firmly believe religion has no place in civilization. Let alone anywhere else. It is just a social construct meant to concentrate power in a few. And yes, you are right. Religion has no business butting in, as far as state policy is concerned. I was merely playing the devil’s advocate.

      • A position I rather enjoy myself and leads to many an interesting discussion. I’m agnostic myself and thought I don’t believe religion and politics are practical bedfellows I don’t believe there is no place for it in civilization. I have seen the comfort it can bring to people and I value that faith highly, as well as those who practice their faith in a way that benefits others.

      • True. I truly believe having faith is a gift. It relieves us of a certain burden. But as far as the law of large numbers goes, religion has a habit of causing more harm than good.
        History is replete with such instances. The entire institution of colonialism, and slavery, can trace its’ roots back to religion. The queen of England still claims to derive its’ power from some holy entity.
        Perhaps it is a problem with how we interpret religion, but I strongly believe that if you believe absolutely in any one religion, it naturally breeds suspicion about other, often contradictory faiths.

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