We all enjoy our rights in a culture. Those basic human needs that are afforded to us simply due to our existence on this spiritual plane. Everyone has (or should) have the right to vote in public elections, have the right to eat food when they’re hungry, or have the right to marry someone they love. Well, the last one is especially not true for people in India who identify as part of the LGBTQ2SIA+ community, which for the rest of the article I will shorten to LGBTQ for simplicity. The history of this community has been tumultuous like that of the Indian culture itself due to the influence from British colonizers, and that is where our story begins.
During colonial days under British influence, India enacted a law that criminalized same-sex (gender) relations of any kind in 1861. This made simply having sexual relations with another person of the same sex or gender, illegal, which would incarcerate the perpetrators. This law remained in effect until a recent ruling in 2018, which decriminalized Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, thereby allowing these relationships to exist free from persecution by the state. The ruling stated that individuals are afforded the “basic right to companionship so long as such companionship is consensual, free from the vice of deceit, force, coercion, and does not result in the violation of fundamental rights of others”. However, this ruling still does not recognize marriages or unions of same-gender people as legal status, which drastically affects a couple’s navigation of the legislative world. Supporters of this status quo claim that recognizing same-gender marriages would not work with the existing codified and personal laws related to the legislative narrative of a wife and husband’s separate duties. In other words, “it’s really hard to change and we don’t want to”.
But the main reason why change is so difficult can possibly be related to the public’s opinion. According to a 2019 survey, 62% of respondents disprove of same-gender marriages. However, much like the admission by Judge Anand Venkatesh of the Madras High Court related to his recent ruling, the reason for this stance may be based more on naivety and lack of understanding. It is understandable that the public opinion may be swayed by their own majority experience. However, the population of LGBTQ people in the world is growing annually. No, this is not due to “woke” culture, but more as their way of life and identities become more widely accepted in the world. For example, in the United States, 5.6% of the population in 2020 belongs to the LGBTQ community. Compare that to 4.5% in 2017, 3.7% in 2014, and 3.5% in 2012. There is a clear exponential progression here and it is due to the shifting narrative in this culture over acceptance. It’s not difficult to predict that this percentage will continue to rise over the next decade, and that is extraordinary. However, surveys in India estimate only 2.5 million LGBTQ people living there, or roughly 0.18% of the population of India. But why would the US and India differ so vastly in population percentage of LGBTQ people?
The answer is mainly cultural and not necessarily religious. Americans and Indians are all human beings and due to the laws of nature and evolution taking precedence over a few thousand years of civilization, humans should exhibit similar human instincts and impulses regardless of their religion or culture. By this statement, I believe strongly that India’s LGBTQ population is minuscule in the polls simply due to oppression and lack of opportunity for knowledge and exploration. Using those same US numbers, it is perfectly reasonable to estimate that one or two LGBTQ children are present in every single classroom in India. But polls would have you believe there is not even one in every school.
Hinduism sacred texts do not explicitly distinguish between heterosexual and homosexual tendencies but rather only procreative and non-procreative sex within marriage. In fact, a third sex is often recognized for people where non-procreative sex is the only option. But nowhere in the texts are homosexuals ostracized for their sexual orientation. But the Indian culture would have you believe that they are not welcome in many communities. I argue that the British influence has warped our understanding of what love actually means and we have strayed too far from the origins of Indian traditions. Marriage is a union of two people who make a commitment to each other out of love and devotion. And this should be available and legally recognized for any human on this beautiful planet, no matter who they love or how they identify.
Despite the current public opinion, Judge Anand Venkatesh of the Madras High Court recently ruled earlier this year that government officials should training police for increased LGBTQ knowledge, medical practitioners who practice conversion therapy should have their licenses revoked, gender neutral washrooms should be available in schools, and transgender and gender-non-conforming prisoners should be housed separately to mitigate sexual assault. This should set great precedent for the future and help garner support and momentum for increased rights of the LGBTQ community. Let us all do better and be better for not just ourselves, but our friends and family as well. Because statistically, you already know and care about someone that these laws affect, whether you realize it or not.