Recently in Colombo, I was watching this brilliant exhibition of a sculptor who works with canvas as his medium of expression. He is Buddhist. He is gay and his family does not know it. He is just back from studying in another country and the loneliness of these dual personas plays itself out in knotted sculptures. Ripped canvasses. Almost like the canvas as a jock strap. Materials like muscles.
But he is lonely.
Lonely with his sexuality just like author Shyam Selvedurai was the day he left Sri Lanka for Toronto.
..Old lady judges watch people in pairs
Limited in sex, they dare
To push fake morals, insult and stare
While money doesn’t talk, it swears
Obscenity, who really cares
Propaganda, all is phony
While them that defend what they cannot see
With a killer’s pride, security
It blows the minds bitterly
For them that think death’s honesty
Won’t fall upon them naturally
Must get lonely
Yes, lonely it is.
With 85.5 per cent of Men Having Sex with Men (MSM) staring down the HIV barrel, it is bizarre that as a country we are sticking on to Section 377. Let’s start talking with the very basics of Indian constitution. It starts with the line…”We the people of India”. Now, the word “we” constitutes all of us irrespective of our religion, sexual orientation, caste, creed, sect, belief or even our private and public notions of morality. Now let us look at one of the most fascist acts of our time:
Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code…one of the portion of the act reads: Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.
Now lets cut to another act.
Section 377A of the Penal Code of Singapore stated that: Any male person who, in public or private, commits, or abets the commission of, or procures or attempts to procure the commission by any male person of, any act of gross indecency with another male person, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 2 years. The Singapore Penal Code: Chapter XVI (Offences Affecting the Human Body), Section 377 (Cap. 224) stated that: “Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animals, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 10 years, and shall also be liable to a fine… Penetration is sufficient to constitute the carnal intercourse necessary to the offence described in this section.”
So what are we harping at? Are we saying being homosexual, being lesbian, being transgender, being khoti, being butch, being bisexual, being in a consenting bondage, is a crime? If so, then how come people indulging in all kinds of sexual crimes in the midst of genocide are not considered perverted? If homosexuality is a perversion (which it is not), then how perverse is it to slash a pregnant woman’s womb and carve out the foetus to teach the woman a lesson? Every sexual crime committed during the Gujarat riots has a horrific sense of perversion attached to it. Yet, we don’t look at the specific picture and merely dismiss it as just another act of aggression.
Let’s look at north-east. The much decorated Assam Rifles has been a party to a number of assaults sexual and quasi-sexual in nature apparently to teach the suspicious elements a lesson.
A lesson in what? Is it a lesson to say that we have various means of silencing you and one of them is making you feel ashamed of your body? Isn’t it ironic, that article 377 that can be traced back to Lord Thomas Macaulay and his post 1855 experiments with the drafting of Indian penal code is still inforce? In fact, to pin it on a specific date this has been in force since January 1, 1862.
Look at Macaulay’s own people; Great Britain has repealed the law. That Elton John and David Furnish can lead their married life as partners-in-a-social-contract in Macaulay’s land is revolutionary and ironical at the same time especially if you look at the phenomenon from an Indian lens. Or when you realise that Wendell Rodricks and his French partner are married in Goa; but the catch is that the marriage has taken place under the provisions of the French law.
Let’s gravitate back to the core. What do the 4.6 million MSMs do in this country? They lead a life completely, partially or even quasi-partially undercover. The private right to sexual choices gets completely undermined by the state. What is more ridiculous and draconian is that even doctors who are treating gay patients are at a risk of being arrested. The core of the entire issue is not what is right or wrong, it is to decide as to who decides what is moral.
These are the same people who would cast moral aspersions on women who come back late in the night. These are the same people who would teach you Sappho, Vikram Seth or Adrienne Rich or Carol Ann Duffy (Britain’s first-ever women poet laureate in the 341 years of the decoration) without discussing their activism concerning sexuality, identity and LGBT issues. These are the same people who would discuss “chinki” girls dress aggressively and then go to fashionable book reading and chastise somebody for using the word “black” because the politically correct word for them would be “coloured.”
Homosexuality or bisexuality is not a mental illness, a mental aberration or a psychological problem. About 30 or 40 years ago it was considered so and was classified as a mental illness in psychiatric classification, but from 1970’s onwards, The American Psychiatric Association brought out a statement saying that sexual orientation is not an illness. And people with homosexual or bisexual orientation cannot be subjected to any sort of treatment. It is only a normal expression of human sexuality.
People have very little choices about their sexual orientation. It cannot be called an ‘alternative state of being’, which would signify that the choice is ‘different’. It is on the same platform as heterosexuality.
Also, the notion that homosexuality is conducive to child abuse or rape, is completely untrue. It is the right wing politics that promote these wrong notions in order to stigmatize people of the same-sex orientation. There has never been any link between homosexuality and child abuse or rape.
Moreover these taboos/ prejudices against same-sex relationships, make homosexuals more prone to HIV/ AIDS. Men & women with alternative sexual preferences, have to live in the shadows, without the opportunity to enjoy a healthy sexlife. This only makes matters worse, with the threat of HIV constantly looming over their lives
And I would equally criticise the so-called NGO community working on LGBT issues (not all, and I am not saying this in defense…but mostly…yes 90 per cent of them).
Fair enough, that you have done with your repeated writ petitions (and the legal battle must play itself out and all power to that). Fair enough, the constant legal battle is playing itself out but what have we really done enough to build bridges?
How many schools have we gone to with an advocacy programme? How much have our own filmmakers responded with their version on 377? How much of mainstream theatre productions have taken this debate to college and re-asserted that there is nothing in the close but our dogmas? How much have we discussed Bombay High Court judge Bilal Nazki’s comment that 377 should be reviewed? How many cultural events or festivals have had an engagement with diverse cultural groups? What have we done instead? Did the usual film screenings and the even more usual power-point paper presentation or the most common – ‘let’s talk about Aids’ funded seminars.
Let us first strive to get this “out-of -the-closet syndrome” really out of the closet. From Bhupen Khakkar to George Michael, when you discuss art-poetry and a host of other issues, celebrate their sexuality alongside their work. You don’t need to say proud to be LGBT. Instead let’s try and say it’s natural to be LGBT
In that naturalness especially through campus advocacy, we can find a key to the dungeon. And then the light of diversity will truly shine. And not the light of diversity shown by so-called support groups who need their next funding cheque from the USA.
As Dylan puts it: And if my thought-dreams could be seen/They’d probably put my head in a guillotine/But it’s alright, Ma, it’s life, and life only.
The Colombo artist must be putting his i-shuffle on and hearing Dylan. He has a long career ahead. To come out. To fight the canvas ghosts.
To fight state-blessed ghosts.
With a twist to Dickens in short…the Ghost of the heterosexual past, present and future.
(The poetry in this piece has been extracted from the Bob Dylan song-It’s alright ma)