The decision of the Supreme Court not to review its earlier verdict upholding homosexuality as a criminal offence has put the onus squarely back on the government, indeed, the entire political establishment. The ‘decriminalisation’ of homosexuality had provided safe space to the nation’s LGBT community. The re-criminalisation of the practice has opened the community to harassment and abuse by the police and self-appointed upholders of morality.
India does not have a very good record on caring for its non-mainstream communities. The decision on decriminalisation of homosexuality had been hailed by rights groups around the world as a significant one, thereby bringing India closer to the position of the more civilised nations. It was considered the ‘middle-path’ between ‘accepting’ and ‘tolerating’ the practice. The moral brigade and the religious conservatives could have persuaded people to consider it a sin, but would not otherwise have had the power to intimidate or coerce. Unfortunately, the uptight priests of the various religions could not tolerate even that and got the decision reversed. Considering the kinds of atrocities inflicted in the name of tradition and custom even in the normal course, it has opened the door to LGBT harassment, particularly in the rural areas where people continue to live by medieval norms under the rule of khaps and other unconstitutional institutions.
In essence, the LGBT community is being denied constitutional protection, which is its fundamental right. To leave it to the politicians to legislate on is cruelly unrealistic. It may take decades for politicians with an understanding of the situation to reach positions of power and make a difference. In the meanwhile, the overall conditions will get worse because of the impetus such decisions give to illiberal attitudes towards sex in general. The failure of mainstream society to adopt sexual mores in line with 21st century lifestyles will lead to even greater crimes against women and tighter orthodox restrictions on gender relations.
Why could the priests not tolerate a moderate change in the legal position on homosexuality? They want the government to enforce religious sanctions, which essentially is against the principle of separation of church from state. They were afraid that the changed circumstances would lead to ‘acceptance’ of homosexuality, further loosening their hold over the people. Even as they find themselves increasingly irrelevant in the modern world, they are taking recourse as they always have through history to the might of the state.
It would be impolitic to distinguish between the stands taken by specific religious communities, but there is unprecedented accord on the subject among the fanatics of all denominations. A study of the histories of all these religions clearly would show the sickening hypocrisy that has been traditionally practiced with regard to homosexuality. Yet, they continue to brazen it out. This is irrespective, in some cases, of the official line that is rapidly evolving among their high functionaries. In the case of some of the ‘holy’ men, the issue is just another means of consolidating their political ambitions.
This issue provides even greater urgency to the need for involvement of civil society in political matters. People will have to become just as proactive on social issues as they are presently on corruption and the economy. India’s mind and soul must also modernise along with its outward appearances.