Ancient India didn't think homosexuality was against nature
27 Jun 2009, 0018 hrs IST, Manoj Mitta, TNN
conflicting positions on this within the country and outside
On a petition pending before the Delhi high court seeking to decriminalize homosexuality, the government said in its counter affidavit that that there were “no convincing reports to indicate that homosexuality or other offences against the order of nature mentioned in Section 377 IPC were acceptable in the Indian society prior to colonial rule.”
But when it was being reviewed by the UN Human Rights Council last year for the first time ever, distanced itself from that provision when Sweden, arguably the most gay-friendly country in the world, questioned its record in ensuring equality irrespective of a person’s sexual orientation.
This is how Goolam Vahanvati, who was then solicitor-general and is now attorney-general, tried to save India’s face before the council as part of its official delegation. “Around the early 19th Century, you probably know that in they frowned on homosexuality, and therefore there are historical reports that various people came to India to take advantage of its more liberal atmosphere with regard to different kinds of sexual conduct.
“As a result, in 1860 when we got the Indian Penal Code, which was drafted by Lord Macaulay, they inserted Section 377 which brought in the concept of ‘sexual offences against the order of nature’.
Now in India we didn’t have this concept of something being ‘against the order of nature’. It was essentially a Western concept, which has remained over the years. Now homosexuality as such is not defined in the IPC, and it will be a matter of great argument whether it is ‘against the order of nature’.”
Vahanvati’s admission on the international forum that the ban on homosexuality was a western import and its relevance was debatable flies in the face of the government’s unabashed efforts before the Delhi high court to retain Section 377, complete with its colonial baggage and archaic notion of unnatural offences.
Whatever the politics behind this glaring contradiction, there is ample evidence placed before the high court by petitioner Naz Foundation substantiating in effect Vahanvati’s view that in the centuries prior to the enactment of section 377, India was rather accommodating of homosexuals.
While the penalty imposed by Section 377 goes up to life sentence, there is nothing close to it in Manusmriti, the most popular Hindu law book of medieval and ancient India. “If a man has shed his semen in non-human females, in a man, in a menstruating woman, in something other than a vagina, or in water, he should carry out the ‘painful heating’ vow.” Thus, this peculiar vow, involving application of cow’s urine and dung, was meant not only for homosexuals but also errant heterosexuals.
The penalty is even milder if the homosexual belongs to an upper caste. As Manusmriti puts it, “If a twice-born man unites sexually with a man or a woman in a cart pulled by a cow, or in water, or by day, he should bathe with his clothes on.’’
Since Manusmriti was written at a time when bath generally meant taking a dip in a river or a lake with other members of the same gender, the penalty of making a homosexual bathe without taking off his clothes was probably designed to avoid the embarrassment of his being sexually aroused in public.
In another indicator of the liberal Hindu heritage, Kama Sutra, a classic written in the first millennium by Sage Vatsyayana, devotes a whole chapter to homosexual sex saying “it is to be engaged in and enjoyed for its own sake as one of the arts.” Besides providing a detailed description of oral sex between men, Kama Sutra categorizes men who desire other men as “third nature” and refers to long-term unions between men.
‘Gay rights? It’s basic human rights’
28 Jun 2009, 0006 hrs IST, AYANDRALI DUTTA , TNN
was a simple thing – inaugurating a film festival.
Gay rights? It’s basic human rights
Our journey to pride
First Published : 27 Jun 2009 10:12:00 AM IST
Last Updated : 26 Jun 2009 01:38:10 PM IST
The LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) rights movement lays claim to a broad and diverse history. As Bangalore, Bhubaneswar, and Chennai gear up to celebrate LGBT Pride this week (Kolkata’s will be on July 5), it’s a good time to take a quick look at this history.
Many people mark the beginning of the modern LGBT rights movement with Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935) — a gay, German-jewish physician. In 1896, he wrote a pamphlet titled Sappho and Socrates or How to Explain the Love of Men and Women for Persons of Their Own Sex? under the pseudonym Th Ramein, which spoke about homosexual love.
In 1897 he, along with several , founded the Scientific Humanitarian Committee. The group aimed to undertake research to defend the rights of homosexuals and to repeal Paragraph 175, the section of the German Penal Code that since 1871 had criminalised homosexuality. In 1935, the year of Hirschfeld’s death, Nazi Germany expanded paragraph 175, and those prosecuted under the law were sent to concentration camps, and were marked by, the now iconic, pink triangle. Unlike the other prisoners, homosexual prisoners had to undergo the remainder of their sentences in prisons run by the German republic, upon the end of the second world war.
Several years later, in 1941, Ismat Chugtai, an urdu feminist writer, published her short story Lihaaf or The Quilt. The story deals with a young girl who tries to make sense of the love-making between her cloistered aunt and her aunt’s masseuse. In 1942, Ismat received summons to appear before the High Court of Lahore to answer charges of obscenity. She recounts the trial:
There was a big crowd in the court. Several people had advised us to offer our apologies to the judge, even offering to pay the fines on our behalf. The proceedings had lost some of their verve, the witnesses who were called in to prove that Lihaaf was obscene were beginning to lose their nerve in the face of our lawyer’s cross-examination. No word capable of inviting condemnation could be found.
After a great deal of searching a gentleman said, “The sentence ‘she was collecting ‘aashiqs’ (lovers) is obscene.”
“Which word is obscene,” the lawyer asked. “‘Collecting,’ or ‘aashiqs’?”
“The word ‘aashiqs,’” the witness replied, somewhat hesitantly.
“My Lord, the word ‘aashiqs’ has been used by the greatest poets and has also been used in na‘ts. This word has been given a sacred place by the devout.”
“But it is highly improper for girls to collect ‘aashiqs,’” the witness proclaimed.
The case against Ismat was dimissed as her lawyer successfully argued that the story could not be a corrupting influence because the subject would be understood by only by someone who has had a lesbian experience.
While sex-reassignment was not unknown in 1952, Christine Jorgensen (May 30, 1926-May 3, 1989) was the first widely-known individual to have sex reassignment surgery. Born George William Jorgensen, Jr, she was drafted into the army in 1945. Unable to live in her male body, she began looking into the prospect of sex-reassignment surgery after her discharge from the Army. At that time, sex-reassignment surgery was illegal in most countries, and no surgeon was willing to perform the surgery in the US at that time.
was the only place George could go to have surgery, as castration was used to treat sex offenders there. Christine had her penis and testicles removed and began hormone therapy. Years later, she received a vaginoplasty in the US, when the procedure became available.
Starting in 1966, when the The Mattachine Society (the earliest lasting homosexual organisation in the US) stages a “Sip-In” at
Julius Bar in New York City challenging a New York State Liquor Authority prohibiting serving alcohol to homosexuals, there are an increasing number of altercations between homosexuals, transgender men, and the New York City Police, culminating in the Stonewall Riots of June 29, 1969 — the event which Queer pride events around the world commemorate. That night, undercover policemen raided the Stonewall Inn in New York City, and arrested many present in the bar. Crowds of gay men and transgender men began protesting the arrest. Riots lasted five days and from then on, it became of a symbol of Queer Pride and resistance to oppression.
In August 1992, ’s first visible event that marked the collective presence of homosexuals was a protest by the AIDS Bhedbav Virodhi Andolan in New Delhi. It highlighted the atrocities committed against homosexuals and the illegal arrest of 18 people suspected of being homosexual from a public park.
When cities across India celebrate Queer Pride this week, it’s a time not only to celebrate who we are and come out with pride, but also a time to remember how far we’ve come, and how much further we must go.
Orissa’s gay rally for their pride
Bhubaneswar, June 27 (IANS) Nearly 150 gays and lesbians form different parts of Orissa Saturday “came out of closet” and participated in a rally here to press for their rights.
The rally named Rainbow Pride Walk was initiated by Solidarity and Action against the HIV Infection in India (SAATHI) with support of different NGOs and participated by members of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender) from different district of the state.
“We have long been stigmatized for our sexual orientation. We were ostracized, taunted and lectured to behave in a particular way for our different sexual liking in our society. We have come out in open to press for our right,” said Subham Mishra, who is heading a support group with 500 members having alternative sexual orientation.
“We want to convey the message to the society that those with alternative sexualities and gender identities are not aberrations in society rather they are natural human feelings which is not to be despised rather they are part of the sexual diversity which is to be celebrated,” said Subham, who is a self confessed gay.
Similar rallies have been organized earlier in Kolkata, Mumbai, Delhi and Bangaluru in the past but it was a first for Bhubaneswar.
“We know that there are prejudices, stigmas attached to our sexual preferences. There is no point sweeping the problem under carpet. We need to come out of the closet to tell it openly to the world. Then we can press for protection of our rights and provide security-health, social and legal to our ilk,” said Anupam Hazra a gay right activist from Kolkata who had come to support the rally.
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