विकृतिः एवम् प्रकृतिः
(What is unnatural is also natural)
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.
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.
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.
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 – 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.