Why netas can't wear pink
By: Daipayan Halder
UPA II promised a fresh start. But it's been acting queer on Article 377. What exactly is the government's stand? Does it even have one?
IT WASN'T easy even in the US. When Harvey Bernard Milk became the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California in 1977, he faced more than conservative resistance. Some of the swinging liberals privately balked at this unlikely public figure with queer manners. Taking all that in his stride, Milk served 11 months in office and was responsible for passing a stringent gay rights ordinance for the city.
Activists from the Students Islamic Organisation (SIO) of India hold banners protesting the Delhi High Court ruling of decriminalising homosexuality Pic/AFP/Pal Pillai
India is yet to get its Milk. What the gay community got instead was some relief from the Delhi High Court that decriminalised Article 377, allowing consensual sex between persons of the same gender above 18 years of age. Victory parades, emotive speeches and frenetic celebrations later, the community woke up to the fact that maybe things won't change so fast. If at all.
For one, there's been a groundswell of negative emotions against the HC ruling. "Paedophiles would get a free hand." "All this is against Indian culture." "Would you allow your daughter to marry a girl?" Plus the plethora of homophobic jokes. "Bumming is now legal." The carpers just won't let go.
What's worse is the stand of the government at the centre. To put it mildly, it is ambiguous. Bluntly put, hypocritical. Not that there are no sane voices within UPA II. Law Minister Veerappa Moily had spoken in favour of repealing Section 377. He had even said many sections of the IPC are outdated and the government is exploring possibilities of amending such laws and updating legal provisions so that they are in tune with the times.
His cabinet colleague, Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, isn't happy with the ruling, though. Azad has called for a parliamentary debate and a "wider consensus" on amending Section 377. He said there was a need for a public debate on the issue. "Personal opinions and those of various ministries should not prevail. There has to be a consensus after weighing the positive and negative impacts of the amendments," he said. Interestingly, his predecessor Anbumani Ramadoss had favoured an amendment to Section 377.
In an interview, Moily said the central government would hold discussions with all sections of society before taking the final decision on repealing Section 377. Therein lies the rub.
"People want to play safe. Whether it's a religious group, the head of an institution or a politician, you tend to bow before the common view. When even doctors are coming out and saying that homosexuality can be cured, what do you expect the government to do?" asks actor Nandita Das. Das who played a lesbian in Fire 13 years ago, says it's still risky to show same-sex love on screen. "Homosexuals are comic relief in films. You take up the subject seriously and you are in for trouble." But Das is hopeful. "I am keeping my fingers crossed. UPA came back to power with a huge mandate. It will turn things around."
Gay rights activist Ashok Row Kavi is not so hopeful. "No politician will take a stand on the issue. How can they? They are extremely scared of their constituency. When religious gurus with millions of followers are coming on national television ranting against the ruling, how can you expect political leaders to support it? And what can the government do when some of the ministers are openly opposing it? Gulam Nabi has been shooting his mouth off."
Saleem Kidwai, co-editor of Same-Sex Love in India, who had argued that homoerotism is not a Western import but very much an Indian reality, says it's premature to criticise the UPA. "It's a tough call for them. But let's give the current crop some time. They will deliver."
"The UPA is not united on the issue. Some ministers are in favour of repealing Section 377, some feel the human race will become extinct if it's done. So the government is being cautious. What you need here is a real leader, a hero who will stick his neck out and say what's right. Keep the clergy out of the debate. That's what we expect the UPA government to do. That's why we voted them back to power. But is there a hero in the cabinet?" asks Ravi K, a gay rights activist.
Sin City creator Frank Miller once said: "Community approval isn't the motive for a hero, anyway. It's the motive for a politician. A hero does the right thing because it is the right thing." Maybe when Miller draws a hero in a Gandhi cap, the government will bend and homosexuals will sing Gay Ho once again.
If only life was graphic art.
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