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

EU Court Fines Poland for Hosting CIA 'Black Sites'

Ruling is first time a court has acknowledged suspects were held and tortured at the sites, under US program launched following the 9/11 terrorist attacks More

Migrant Issues Close to Home Spur Groups to Take Action

Groups placing water, food in the desert, or aiding detainees after release, have one common goal: no more deaths of migrants crossing illegally into the US More

Video At AIDS Conference, Prevention Pill Stirs Excitement

Truveda shows promise, spurring debate over access and other approaches More

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.
Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnelsi
X
July 24, 2014 4:42 AM
The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnels

The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video MH17's 'Black Boxes' Could Reveal Crash Details

The government of Malaysia now has custody of the cockpit voice and flight data recorders from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was hit by a missile over Ukraine before crashing last week. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports, the so-called black boxes may hold information about the final minutes of the flight.
Video

Video Living in the Shadows Panel Discussion

Following a screening of the new VOA documentary, "AIDS - Living in the Shadows," at the World AIDS conference in Melbourne, a panel discussed the film and how to combat the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.

AppleAndroid