LGBTQ+ India: A Look Into The Past, Present, & Future

(Image Credit: Wall Street Journal)

In today’s fast world where through all kinds of social media platforms you can get informed about almost anything and everything, some people in India have gained more understanding towards the LGBTQ+ community, but there are still many parts of society that simply refuse to look at this rationally.

What does being part of the LGBTQIA+ community in India really look like?

Being queer in a place like India means getting shunned out by your own family and friends, it means being ridiculed by complete strangers, being made into a big laughing stock by society.

A lot of children and adults still have to struggle every day because even after so much development all around the world, there are still a lot of places that after all this time, refuse to be more open-minded toward new things. Due to the lack of support and resources, many keep on living their lives without truly accepting themselves — without truly loving who they really are.

A person is punished for being queer, for simply being who they are — they have to make up a fake front, a mask of sorts, just so they can hide their true self in fear of how others will react. Many people in this society still try to reduce being queer to a mere “disease” that needs curing; using public beatings, correction rape, shock therapy etc. to cure them. Then there also are countless numbers of laws that criminalize and invalidate their true identity; they criminalize their love and punish them with life imprisonment and/or death.

It used to be different in ancient India. Many concepts that are not considered normal in today’s age (are considered “abnormal”) had already been practiced in ancient times. According to some important research conducted by the Gay & Lesbian Vaishnava Association (GALVA), it was around 3102 B.C. (during the Vedic Age) that homosexuality or non-normative sexual identity was recognized as “tritiya prakriti,” or third nature.

In the olden times of India, gender was said to be a very fluid and label-less concept. If you were to look through them, countless holy scriptures and texts have implied a lot of times that the rules that divided females and males and heterosexual from homosexual were almost completely non-existent.

There are also many accounts recorded where holy deities have changed their gender multiple times for certain tasks. For example, there’s tale that the Mahabharata tells about Shikhandini, the feminine or transgender warrior of the time who was responsible for the defeat of Bhishma. In many versions of the story, Shikhandini was a daughter of King Drupada, who raised her as a prince to take revenge from the Kurus, the rulers of Hastinapur. Drupada even got Shikhandini married to a woman. After her wife discovered the reality, she revolted, but the day was then saved by divine intervention — bestowing Shikhandini with manhood during the night. Shikhandini henceforth lived like a hermaphrodite.

Chapter XVI Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, dated back to 1860, was introduced by Thomas Babington Macaulay, the head of the law commission during the British rule in India. It criminalized sexual activities “against the order of nature,” including homosexual sexual activities and was based on Britain’s own former anti-sodomy laws, and outdated 19th-century Victorian morality.

It had been a long and hard fight against the existence of Section 377, which resulted in it being decriminalized with the respect to sex between consenting adults by the High Court of Delhi in July 2009. It was a joyful and bright day for the LGBTQIA+ youth of India, but the ruling was overturned on December 2013 by the Supreme Court of India; with the Court holding that amending or repealing of Section 377 should be left to the Parliament, not the judiciary.

Things pretty much just remained the same since then until this year — The Supreme Court announced earlier in 2018 that they will be reviewing the petitions to revisit the 2013 Naz Foundation judgment.

On 6 September 2018, the Supreme Court announced a historic statement: the Court ruled unanimously in Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India that Section 377 was unconstitutional “in so far as it criminalizes consensual sexual conduct between adults of the same sex.”

This historical decision has managed to mark the start of a better and brighter future for the queer youth of India.

A lot of online platforms such as GaysiGaylaxy, Queer Ink etc. have managed to help a lot of queer people all around by giving them a proper platform to interact and socialize, to voice their thoughts and opinions.

There seems to be a ray of hope for the LGBTQIA+ community but it still requires a lot of work. Schools, colleges, and workplaces need to include more courses where LGBTQIA+ rights are highlighted — where they can be educated properly about gay people, lesbians, transgender people etc.

There’s still a very long road to travel until society no longer differentiates in its treatment of people just because of their gender and sexual orientation. This is only the first step and there are still years left and countless things to work on. It will take time to change the old way of thinking within many people around this country, but with passion, willpower, determination, and a lot of hard work — change will come.