News / Asia

    India’s Gay Community to Build Political Support to Win Rights

    Indian LGBT activists hold placards as they demonstrate against the Supreme Court's reinstatement of  Section 377, which bans gay sex in a law dating from India's colonial era, in Bangalore, Jan. 28, 2014.
    Indian LGBT activists hold placards as they demonstrate against the Supreme Court's reinstatement of Section 377, which bans gay sex in a law dating from India's colonial era, in Bangalore, Jan. 28, 2014.
    Anjana Pasricha
    India’s gay community is seeking to build political support for its rights after the Supreme Court reinstated a 153-year-old law that bans gay sex. Despite the huge blow to gay rights, activists say they have managed to bring what had been a taboo subject into the open in a country that remains largely conservative.
       
    Forty-three-year-old gay rights activist Shaleen Rakesh recalls the time when he was growing up in New Delhi. He said homosexuality was a subject no one ever mentioned, and it was certainly not discussed or debated.

    “I used to really wonder if there are any other gay people in the country except for me, because I never met one until much later, when I was in college. Really, there was a suffocating silence around us,” he said.

    That silence was broken about ten years ago, when activists began a legal battle to overturn a colonial era law that banned gay sex. They succeeded in 2009.

    But last month, the Supreme Court reinstated the law criminalizing gay sex, once again putting Rakesh and others of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community at risk of prosecution.

    Hopes that the court would take a second look at its decision were dashed this week when it turned down a petition to review that judgment. That leaves one legal route - the top Court agreeing to hear a second review petition by a larger bench.

    But even though the legal window is closing, rights activists have vowed not to back off from their fight. They have now started looking at building political support for their cause. That is what the Supreme Court judgment had indicated, saying changing laws was the legislature’s job.
      
    Gender rights activist Anjali Gopalan of the Naz Foundation moved the courts to overturn the law. She admitted that possibly the only option now was for parliament to change the law.

    “Long term we have to think political. But at this point with elections coming up, I don’t know who will win the elections, because one of the major political parties has already taken a fairly negative stand on issues of homosexuality. So it is really a very problematic time for us right now. It’s going to be a long battle, no matter what,” she said.
     
    There are many conservative voices in India’s parliament. This includes one of the country’s two mainstream parties, the Bharatiya Janata Party, which opinion polls say may head India’s next government.

    So far, the main political support for gay rights has come from the ruling Congress Party, which filed the review petition in the Supreme Court. But its clout is expected to diminish in the next parliament.

    The bias of many lawmakers is not surprising in a country where homosexuality has still to win wide social acceptance.

    The challenge to the initial judgment overturning the law which criminalizes gay sex had come from religious groups including Muslim and Christian. But Gopalan says even liberal sections of India will draw the line at a gay couple living together openly.
         
    However there has been a huge change in the past decade. The silence that troubled people like Shaleen Rakesh has been broken. Many more homosexuals have now “come out of the closet.”   

    Magazines for the gay community such as Bombay Dost, once distributed clandestinely, are available openly. The subject finds space in a supportive, mainstream media. 15 years ago, only a handful of people attended the country’s first gay pride march in the eastern city of Kolkata. Now many university students and young professionals turn up to lend support to the gay community at such events.

    Among them is Aditi Sengupta, a 35-year-old Delhi-based journalist. She said the issue is not LGBT rights, but “human rights.”

    “We need to take this as a movement for civil liberties. If we call ourselves a democracy we have to include everybody, irrespective of sexual orientation, creed, color, religion everything. It is not just about them, if you look at the larger picture, it is about each one of us,” she said.

    Activists said the long-term hope for the gay rights movement lied in gaining a groundswell of support from more people like her in a country which is now predominantly young. 

    Gender rights activist Gopalan said younger lawmakers were more empathetic to their concerns, even some from the Bharatiya Janata Party.

    “Even younger BJP leaders, on one on one basis with us they are so much more accepting of homosexuality than the public stance they can take. So I think it is also a question of ensuring that we continue engaging with them.  Look at the experience of countries like Spain, where when the parliament got younger, laws changed," said Gopalan.    

    Most activists hope that the nascent gay rights movement which took shape as they fought to scrap the original anti-gay sex law will once again gather momentum.   

    Shaleen Rakesh is confident this will happen.

    “It is really going to strengthen in terms of the number of people who are gong to talk about these issues openly, it is also going to increasingly see different kinds of resistance from the LGBT community to the political forces which are trying to suppress the community, it is going to see a larger representation of their lives in popular culture, whether it is in films or books, and this is really, in a sense, a tipping point, a turning point for the movement, it is going to grow at a exponential rate,” said Rakesh.

    Activists stress that scrapping the law banning gay sex will remain the focal point of the movement. But they also say they will have to begin a social movement and engage ordinary people to change minds.

    You May Like

    Wife of IS Leader Charged in Death of US Hostage

    Suspect allegedly admitted to being responsible for American aid worker Kayla Mueller, who officials say was sexually abused and ‘owned’ by one IS member

    Year of the Monkey Could Prove Economic Balancing Act for China

    China is up against a tricky situation on the financial front, facing the need to fight capital flight while also stopping a further slide of foreign currency reserves

    Runners Attempt 26-mile South Pole Marathon in Sub-Zero Temperatures

    How alluring is running 26.2 miles at 10,000 feet when it’s minus 31 Celsius out?

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenyai
    X
    February 08, 2016 4:30 PM
    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video Sanders, Clinton Battle for Young Democratic Vote

    Despite a narrow loss to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in last week's Iowa Democratic caucuses, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders secured more than 80 percent of the vote among those between the ages of 18 and 29. VOA correspondent Aru Pande talks to Democrats in New Hampshire about who they are leaning towards and why in this week's primary.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.