Two years after the archaic Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code was struck down, a look at whether the LGBTQ community really feels safe or free to express their love and intimacy
The midnight of August 15, 1947, led a newly-independent India to “awake(n) to life and freedom”. But the free expression of love is still a luxury that few can hope for. For decades, those deemed as LGBTQ had their right to love fenced in and were penalised. Inter-caste, Inter-culture and inter-religion relationships or marriages are still condemned. Today can we say things have really changed?
A historic Supreme Court ruling in 2018 decriminalised consensual homosexual intercourse and struck down the archaic Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. But two years into the ruling, does the LGBTQ community really feel safe or free to express their love and intimacy?
In a candid answer, Naaz Joshi, Miss Universe Diversity 2020, says: “Love? When was the last I saw this bird? I guess in a movie. We as trans women have seen hatred and people who suffer from trans phobia. I was in a relationship with a guy, we lived-in for two years, but being legally and biologically a woman, my marriage was called off because I was a trans woman. Many men want to be with us. But they refrain from being with us in public only because of the thought ‘What will people say’?”
A Delhi-based 22-year-old bisexual woman, who has a 24-year-old girlfriend, says: “My partner and I both believe that there’s no freedom of choice; this is simply because of the fact that we have to hide our relationship from society in general. In my case, my family knows about my sexuality and my partner, but my father does not know. The fear of being tormented has not left us as we are yet to come out completely. Hiding comes less out of fear of being judged and more out of not knowing what might be done to us in a state of ignorance and rage.”
According to a relationship expert, who has practised in the US, an additional stress in India is the overall societal pressure.
“What will my family, my community, my neighbourhood and my peers think? This has become so insidious that some don’t even realise they are doing it. Two days ago, during an online therapy session, I met a young lady who was saying because she was self made but from a lower status, her boyfriend did not want to introduce her to his family. During this breakup she felt terrible about herself and her identity. All the positive attributes she gained through her struggle because of poverty were replaced with the fear of what this man, society and his parents would think. There are many patients that are homosexual who often become suicidal, in the hope that they become normal in societies’ eyes or else they face the curse of never being happy”, Ranjan Ghosh, MD (Psych-USA) told IANSlife in an email.
Ghosh believes: “There is only freedom when we free our minds.”
Some do feel that change is on the horizon. While acceptance of same-sex and non-heteronormative relationships has a long way to go, individuals and families are beginning to look beyond societal barriers and really practicing the ‘caste/faith no bar’ trope. This also seems to be true across class divides, although slow.
“Indian millennials are first generation Indians– to seek financial independence before marriage, access global ideas, and pursue dreams unlimited by geography. They have a clear idea of who they are and what they want from life. An overwhelming 92 per cent of OkCupid’s users feel their values vastly differ from their parents’. In fact, 67 per cent of users would choose to meet somebody serendipitously on a dating app over being set up by their family or friends, and surprisingly, 68 percent users don’t believe marriage is mandatory for two people in love. The numbers clearly establish them as a group of people who choose individuality and compatibility,” CMO, OkCupid, Melissa Hobley, told IANSlife in an email.
For communications professional Arushi Kaushik, who comes from a UP-based Brahman family, and is married to a Punjabi, born and bought up in Delhi, the only challenge was the difference in traditions and rituals. They, however, blended both of them and made sure that both families are happy.
“For many years, Indian society would frown upon inter- caste and culture marriages, however the times have changed and the acceptance has increased. Now, parents give enough and more freedom to their children to choose their life partners, irrespective of their caste and social status. Society also widely accepts this change which is the reason behind an increase in inter- caste arranged marriages,” says Kaushik.
Indian society is evolving fast due to global exposure, a growing number of families are now open to letting their kids choose their partners, adds Abhilash Pushpan, whose parents are from Kerala. He was born and brought up in Delhi with urban, metropolitan sensibilities.
“My wife is a Delhi-born and brought up Bengali woman. When we decided to get married, our respective parents were instantly supportive and things went smoothly. Even our respective relatives and extended family whole-heartedly supported this decision. Not just in our generation, both our extended families have several members from different communities like Punjabis, Haryanvis, Rajasthanis, Tamilians and even foreign nationals,” he says.
Pushpan asserts that a broader mindset is not restricted to urban India adding: “This is not just a scenario in the urban parts, but I have also witnessed this change in rural India. My maternal uncle who lives in a very small town in Kerala married his daughter to a boy from a supposedly lower-caste family. Although initially there was some apprehension, but eventually they saw the logic in it; that didn’t take them too long either.”
In ancient India, homosexuality was neither illegal nor a criminal offence. It was criminalised by the British during their rule in India. After all the development, evolution and progress when in it comes to inter-caste/race/religion and status relationships, Indian society is still reserved. Seventy-four years later, are identity markers still keeping the free expression of the basic human emotion of love, fenced and under shadows?