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

Photogallery Oxfam: Ebola Could Be 'Disaster of Our Generation'

Meanwhile, Fidel Castro, the former leader of Cuba, says the Caribbean island nation will 'gladly cooperate' with the US in the fight against Ebola in West Africa More

Multimedia Kobani Fighting Sends 400,000 Refugees to Turkey

Refugees receive help from Turkish authorities and individuals, but say much more is needed More

India’s Ruling Nationalist Party Makes Gains in Regional Elections

Bharatiya Janata Party’s huge margin over its rivals puts it on course to form governments in the northern Haryana and western Maharashtra states 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.
Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fighti
X
Zana Omer
October 18, 2014 6:37 PM
The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Syrian Defector Leaks Shocking Photos of Torture Victims

Shocking photographs purporting to show Syrian torture victims are on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The museum says the graphic images are among thousands of photographs recently smuggled out of Syria by a military policeman-turned-defector. As VOA reporter Julie Taboh reports, the museum says the photos provide further evidence of atrocities committed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against its own people.
Video

Video Drought-Stricken California Considers Upgrading Water System

A three-year drought in California is causing a water shortage that is being felt on farms and cities throughout the state. As VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports, water experts, consumers and farmers say California needs to make changes to cope with an uncertain future.
Video

Video TechShop Puts High-tech Dreams Within Reach

Square, a business app and card reader, makes it possible to do credit card transactions through cell phones. But what made Square possible? VOA’s Adrianna Zhang and Enming Liu have the answer.
Video

Video Church for Atheists Goes Global

Atheists, by definition, do not believe in God. So they should have no need of a church. But two years ago, a pair of British stand-up comedians decided to create one. Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans told the BBC they envisioned “something like church but without God". Their “Sunday Assembly” movement has grown from a single congregation in London to dozens of churches around the world. Reporter Mike Osborne visited with the members of a Sunday Assembly that now meets regularly in Nashville.
Video

Video Robot Locates Unexploded Underwater Mines

Many educators believe that hands-on experience is the best way to learn. Proving that the method works is a project developed by a group of students at the Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, New Jersey. They rose up to a challenge posted by the U.S. Department of Defense and successfully designed and built an underwater robot for locating submerged unexploded ordnance. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's JFK Hospital Reopens After Temporary Ebola Exposure

JFK Hospital is Liberia’s largest and one of its oldest medical facilities. The hospital had to close temporarily following the deaths of two leading doctors from Ebola. It is now getting back on its feet, with the maternity ward being the first section to reopen. Benno Muchler has more for VOA News from Monrovia.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Expose Generation Gap

Most of the tens of thousands of protesters in Hong Kong are students seeking democracy. Idealistic youths say while the older generation worries about the present, they are fighting for the territory's future. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Hong Kong.
Video

Video Liberians Living in US Struggle From Afar as Ebola Ravages Homeland

More than 8,000 Liberians live in New York City, more than in any other city outside of Liberia itself. As VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports, with the Ebola virus ravaging their homeland, there is no peace of mind for these New Yorkers.
Video

Video Kurds See War-Ravaged Kobani As Political, Emotional Heartland

Intense fighting is continuing between Islamic State militants -- also known as ISIS or ISIL -- and Kurdish forces around the Syrian town of Kobani, on the Turkish border. The U.S. said it carried out at least nine airstrikes against Islamic State positions Friday. Meanwhile the U.N. has warned that hundreds of civilians would be massacred if the town falls to the militants. Henry Ridgwell looks at the strategic significance of the city.

All About America

AppleAndroid