LGBT Rights in India: Societal Perspective By Kunika Khera from Army Institute of Law
For the many decades now, there has been a growth in the number of institutions and organizations that continue to stand against the orthodox thinking and norms that do not allow the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community the liberty and freedom to make a choice regarding their sexual orientation. Same-sexual orientation and identities have started receiving more and more acceptance from the urban youth.
Transgenders have also been recognised by the Government and the Judiciary. In 2005, the Central government gave them the right to have passports and voter ID cards. Along with this, the Supreme Court also held, “Transgenders should be treated as a third category and as a socially and economically backward class entitled to job reservation.”[i] Educational institutions and corporate houses have introduced places for the third sex as well.
Recently, a commendable progressive step was taken by the Kerala government when they employed 23 transgenders in the Kochi Metro Rail Limited (KMRL)[ii]. But the news of almost half of the staff leaving the services, due to the continued bias and discrimination faced by them, has put things into perspective. A question has started haunting the minds of activists who have been involved in the movement for years, whether their efforts have brought any change at all. Looking past the heated arguments on prime-time news channels and discussions on social media, this incident has drawn attention to the dark reality that those belonging to the LGBT class face from day to day.
Homophobia usually stems from religious fanaticism. It is a common belief that religion forbids transsexual and homosexual behaviour; however, this is far from the truth. Religion fanatics strongly oppose the claims of these communities believing that if they are integrated, the society would become impure.
Their argument is fully based on the fact that relationships shared by them are unnatural as they go against the system of marriage and procreation which is one of the sole purposes of a man’s existence as defined by God. Religion is misused by them to justify their actions against the LGBT community.
Despite growing awareness and spread of education, homophobia continues to be prevalent in India. People often consider LGBT behaviour as a ‘disease’ that spreads through manipulation by those already ‘infected.’ These issues are not openly discussed and are often avoided; thus, preventing people from involving themselves in discussions concerning the same.
The lack of knowledge and biased misconceptions about homosexuality and transgenders has led people to believe that acceptance of LGBT rights would ‘encourage’ others into same behaviour. They believe their activities to be unnatural. The common notion is that they suffer from some kind of psychological disorder.
One would assume that most acceptances for the LGBT community would come from the educated urban middle class. However, that is far from true. A great example of this is that of Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil, whose story of coming out has been well-documented in the media over the past several years. The Prince was forced into ‘corrective therapies’ by his own family members, who after his coming out, chose to disown him.[iii] The situation is worse in rural areas where family sanctioned ‘corrective rapes’ and ‘forced marriages’ are often used.
Threat of Violence
Despite various legal and executive machinery in place, gays, lesbians and transgenders who come out to the society are commonly exposed to violence and torture. Such assaults are not from strangers but also involve the family members, relatives and peers of the victim.
Shivy is a young student living in USA who identified himself as a man was brought to India by her parents on false pretext of his grandparents’ ill health. He was held captive in Agra and was beaten and tortured by her own mother to make her act like a woman.[iv] Such stories are not uncommon and are everyday reality for some.
Thus, even if certain individuals do get the courage to come out, they face extreme situations with rapes, assaults and torture from others in society.
Struggle for Identity
The non-acceptance of LGBT in our society and conservative mindset of the people has made individuals struggle for their identities. Repressing their orientation leads to depression and psychological distress.
Coming out is also not as simple as one may think. Financial and emotional stability is a must before one can even think about doing so. Our country, where marriage is universal, one is faced by immense pressure to get married and start a family. Suppression of ones’ sexual orientation and gender results in making many lead an empty and useless life.
In recent times, the positive role played by media has helped many to accept themselves. Shows like Satyamev Jayate and the Tara Sharma Show have created awareness. The recent portrayals in films such as Kapoor and Sons, Aligarh, Loev, Fire etc. have raised this sensitive issue with much maturity. However, androgynous characters are still used as comical elements in Bollywood. Feminine attributes in men is reacted with scorn and their portrayal in films like Dostana, Partner, Bol Bachchan and the like is distasteful. Such depictions make people more apprehensive to come out.
Jason Bateman aptly put, in the following words, the struggle of accepting ones’ identity not only to the world but also to oneself: “It takes some intelligence and insight to figure out you're gay and then a tremendous amount of balls to live it and live it proudly.”
As the educated and mature fraternity of the society, it is our duty to continue humanizing people to accept LGBT community as they are. Not only that, we as humans must respect them and treat them as one of our own. As Jason Collins, the first openly gay athlete in U.S. pro sports said, "Openness may not completely disarm prejudice, but it's a good place to start."
[i] National Legal Services Authority. V. Union of India & Ors., WP (Civil) No 604 of 2013.
[ii]T. K. Devasia, Kochi Metro's transgender employees are quitting, FIRST POST, http://www.firstpost.com/india/kochi-metros-transgender-employees-are-quitting-social-stigma-remains-the-overarching-problem-3743119.html, 15/7/2017, 21:14.
[iii]Rashmi Patel, Being LGBT in India, LIVE MINT, http://www.livemint.com/Sundayapp/sAYrieZdZKEybKzhP8FDbP/Being-LGBT-in-India-Some-home-truths.html, 15/7/2017, 21:34.
[iv] Shambhavi Saxena, Forced into Becoming A ‘Proper Girl’ By Parents, YOUTH KI AWAAZ, https://www.youthkiawaaz.com/2015/09/trans-teen-abuse-escape/, 15/7/2017, 22.29.