Exploring the need for naturalising queerness in India.
Rushil Mehta, Writer
Illustration by Kranti Gagdekar Chhara
While living in fear, and with a constant desire to be true to yourself at conflicting paths, these individuals do not benefit from the relatively liberal upcoming youth in metropolitan cities. They are stuck hiding in fear from friends and family. This taboo which has been brought down over generations condemns individuals to adhere to anything but their archaic and toxic idea of one's sexuality. While they themselves have their minds drilled to believe a regressive only heterosexual and heteronormative society.
Queer folks, are stuck struggling to accept who they are, or what they want to be due to a lack of an accepting inclusive system. It was a big win for the LGBTQIA+ community after the 2018 Supreme Court ruling, in Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India, which gave them the ability to identify as a sexuality of their choice and also the striking down of the old rule against unnatural forms of sex; the metropolitan community enjoyed and celebrated in cities across India, not to say that the entire metropolis is accepting. Yet, some people smiled under hidden covers, but could never open up to the condescending eyes of their friends and family.
Till today, despite many efforts, naturalisation of homosexuality has been unable to penetrate through the fabric of the perception of ‘immorality’ and ‘unnaturality’ that Indians associate non-heteronormative activities and behaviours with. However, it’s natural to hope. Despite a great effort in the United States with the Stonewall march in 1969, it took years for the government to actually allow queer folks to be recognised as who they were. So, for India, this marked the start of many more years of struggle to get the rights the queer community deserves as a birthright.
There have been unrelenting efforts from people across ages to explain to their friends and family that being queer is normal, especially since it has been a normally accepted and widely depicted phenomenon since the inception of culture and religion in India. The walls of the Khajuraho temples are decorated with carvings of women engaged in sexual intercourse with each other, yet this message is yet to reach the vast majority of India. If a highly acclaimed book that is deeply imbedded and revered in Indian culture, such as the Kamasutra talking about same-sex relations has not been able to influence Indians, hope is quite bleak, but it is undying.
Often when queer folk succeed in accepting themselves for who they are, they take the next step of coming out to their families. This inevitable results in the unveiling of the deeply flawed idea of acceptance and identity in India. A few of these instances demonstrate how the Khap Panchayat take matters into their own hands, and not only physically abuse the people, but also ostracise them from the society and severe ties from their community. In cities, where the Khap is absent, vigilante groups within a community form an army of judgement and social ostracisation. The heteronormativity is pervasive. A community which ideally should be their support system, turns on them since they haven’t been able to adhere to their concepts of what’s right. But, thankfully we have organisations like Naz Foundations, working to help the queer and fight for their right, as they did in Naz Foundation v. Govt. of NCT of Delhi, which marked the first win for the LGBTQ+ community in India.
These instances are only a peek into how queer the community is treated. Given the fact that they have to live an entirely different life, poles apart from their true identity, they live in constant fear and pain. There is an imperative need to start naturalising the concept of Queer folks across India, and start sensitising people about the need to accept and help people be true to their self - such that people can live their life without a filter.
Despite the end of one hurdle in 2018, the two lawyers who took up the issue of section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, Maneka Guruswamy and Arundhati Katju have themselves taken upon a challenge to make same sex marriages legal in India. They do remark that it will be a tough task to convince and make a strong case for the Judiciary to allow it, as India is not just bound by rules and law, but also by religion, sentiment and numerous cultures. Hence, they opined that in order to penetrate these barriers, they will be working towards getting people a legal acceptance of their identity,further helping in the struggle of normalisation.
This brings a ray of hope to the people living in hiding, wanting to come out of their cocoon to truly fly in the world. While the rainbow flag waves boldly over the LGBTQ+ community in India the queer will continue chanting for a hopeful victory.
Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India, (2018) 10 SCC 1.
Grinberg, E. (2019.) CNN. Retrieved from: https://edition.cnn.com/2019/06/28/us/1969-stonewall-riots-history/index.html
Naz Foundation v. Govt. of NCT of Delhi, WP(C) No.7455/2001.
Oxford Union. (2020). Youtube. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Lp6H4YYN-k&list=PLz32RX1S5h-eR64kbWFBf1DWAYWU9MlzT&index=34&t=0s&ab_channel=OxfordUnion.