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As you might already know, India decriminalised homosexuality two weeks ago (oh, the elation in being able to say that…). A victory for human rights, queer people, people everywhere, and a further blow to the internalised colonial values successive Indian governments have clung to right into the twenty-first century. Predictably, outrage came from sections of all the major religious groups. The latest update is this: the ruling has received two challenges.

One is from India’s “top television yoga expert”, Swami Baba Ramdev, who has this to say in his challenge:

“"[Homosexuality] can be treated like any other congenital defect. Such tendencies can be treated by yoga, pranayama (breathing exercises) and other meditation techniques”

I’ll give you a moment to LOL.

The second petition is from an astrologer named Suresh Kumar Kaushal, and his well-researched points include that “tomorrow people might seek permission for having sex with animals”, that India’s ancient scriptures don’t permit homosexuality (q. for you Suresh: a section of the Manusmriti states that “a woman is never fit for independence”; should the government incorporate this into the law too?), and that the ruling will lead to the spread of HIV/AIDS. The Supreme Court has given the government and the protesting groups time to respond to the petition, and has said it will resume deliberations on 14th September.

Swami Baba Ramdev isn’t some random nutjob. He is hugely popular; his “healthy living” television programme is broadcast to millions of middle-class Hindus every day. Oh, India. Only in India can such contradictions endure – where science is celebrated, revered, where bigger and better science is aspired to, and yet where people with unsubstantiated, baseless, illogical views like his are hugely revered by (and whose views are often shared by) millions of people – the same middle class people whose kids are out discovering cures for cancer and designing faster spaceships. The thing is, this split brain is ok up to a point. The fact that my cousin can be a lightning-brained biochemistry graduate, and also seriously explain to me her absolute and evidence-less conviction that yoga has helped certain swamis stay alive for thousands of years is fine in an individual in that it hurts no one, that is until the government displays and deliberately panders to this mindset. That's when it starts to hurt people.

The government has a choice here. It cannot announce ambitious goals of development and modernity and a "knowledge economy", and celebrate scientific processes and achievements, then stash that down the toilet when necessary in favour of baseless reactionary bigotry. Those ambitious goals will never be achieved if you do that. You need to strike down these fucking ridiculous challenges because you know that reality says your millions of gay citizens demand and deserve it. And also because they are based on Bad Science.

Come on, Indian government, you know it's Bad Science. You can’t pick and choose which science to uphold. And you care so much about this “modern, civilised, global player” image you’re desperate to cultivate and maintain, so live the fuck up to it. When are you going to acknowledge what the Wolfenden Committee realised in 1957, the American Psychiatric Association in 1972, i.e. “homosexuality cannot legitimately be regarded as a disease, because … it is the only symptom and is compatible with full mental health in other respects.”? I'm not saying the "West" is always a measure of right and wrong, but that is established science. You want to lead on science? When are you going to acknowledge such basic fact?

And one other thing, Indian government: you *know* that HIV/AIDS is not a “gay disease”, and, crucially, that normalising homosexual relations will make it easier for advice on safe sex to be circulated, for the spread of HIV/AIDS to be prevented, for a debate about responsible sexual behaviour to be had in the open, so that fear and lies about HIV/AIDS can be dispelled. Are you serious about solving one of India’s biggest problems? Then prove it and let it become easier for gay Indians to get access to safe sex information and resources. The biggest AIDS-hit community is MSM (Men Having Sex With Men) for a reason - not because AIDS is a "gay thing", but because gay sex between both men and women is so taboo, so misunderstood, so persecuted that more often than not it has to be done in secret. This is a matter of life and death. If you want to solve this problem you have to lead larger Indian society in breaking that taboo.The Delhi High Court has taken a big step and you have a real chance to help it along.

And do you want to be like Thabo Mbeki, denying that HIV leads to AIDS and looking like a fucking idiot in the process? Then don’t uphold views based on superstition, ignorance and crap masquerading as science. To give credence to these reactionary, BS-filled appeals would be highly irresponsible and completely incompatible with the modern India you are trying to create. If you think Indian tradition will be destroyed by supporting this extension of rights to millions of Indians then you don’t know Indian tradition. Go and see examples of ancient temple art depicting gay unions, read the goddamn Kama Sutra! *Speak* to gay communities all over the country, who have managed to exist for centuries without the world exploding, read some goddamn history and literature! If lifedenying colonial homophobia is the only semblance we have left of Indian tradition then India is dead, or never existed in the first place. But it isn’t and it does, and gay sex has always been a part of it. Be brave and be proper leaders. Instead of pandering to the lowest common denominator, let the law be the force for good it can be at its best: not telling people how they should live, but reflecting how the world should be for us *all* to live our own fulfilled lives in it, and with a base in rigorously tested fact and intelligent humanity.

Lastly, Indian government, show a little insight, a little political acumen. Know which way this is going. Be on the right side of history. Because it’s getting to be our world now and you’re either riding the wave or you’re stuck on the shore. I mean, I utterly adore most of the more traditional members of my extended family, and family friends, as racist, sexist and homophobic as they can be at times. I really do. They’re my family. But their prejudices, their denial, their insularity has no place in the world we're shaping. It may not always seem like it when gays are getting beaten up in the street and Swami Baba Ramdev is calling for them to be hospitalised, but the days of oppressive, insular, echo-chamberised values are dying. So you can either lead the change or be the temporary stumbling block. I know this is an overused phrase, but history *is* judging you. Don't let me down, Mr. Singh. I don't ever want to hear you say homosexuality is foreign to India again. Just look at the faces of the activists on July 3rd; you represent these people too and they are certainly not fucking "foreign". 


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Jul. 26th, 2009 06:45 pm (UTC)
Mine too. Really.
Jul. 22nd, 2009 07:19 am (UTC)
This post is AWESOME. And thank you so much for sharing those pictures, they made me tear up a little.
Jul. 26th, 2009 06:43 pm (UTC)
Me too :) Especially the last two.
Jul. 22nd, 2009 08:29 am (UTC)
Nothing to add to the above comments. :)
Jul. 23rd, 2009 09:20 am (UTC)
Livejournal doens't have Trackbacks, but
I linked to you, hope you don't mind :)
Jul. 23rd, 2009 09:21 am (UTC)
Jul. 26th, 2009 06:44 pm (UTC)
Re: (Uh...
Far from minding, I'm flattered! :D
Jul. 23rd, 2009 10:28 am (UTC)
Jul. 26th, 2009 06:44 pm (UTC)
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )