Sunday, July 5, 2009

Gay is as gay does

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal... I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."

-- Martin Luther King

(Picture courtesy: Reuters)

I have been meaning to write on the decriminalisation of homosexuality by the Delhi high court but never got the time to collect my thoughts. Lets see if I have this time round.

I have always thought that I have lucked it out having born in India at the time I did. I missed the stifling restrictions of a Hindu household guarding its women during British colonialism.

At the same time I managed to capitalize on a Bengali society slowly adjusting to women in loose baggy jeans, 'jeebonmukhi gaan' and the Back Street Boys.

I have always felt that in a strange way, we are a nation of extremely tolerant people, quick to slights yet ready to forgive and forget.

Perhaps I'm not doing a good job explaining the people I have grown up with and known all my life. Let me try.

I always found it hard to fathom the many dos and don'ts that are so drilled into our collective psyche from a very young age. These self-imposed perceptions of rights and wrongs remain with us for the rest of our lives and while we sometime struggle to unbend confronted with a crisis in our own homes, we nevertheless try to pass it on to our next generation without giving them a chance to make their own mistakes.

Take the example of marrying outside community, caste or status. A Bengali lass marrying a Punjabi or Gujarati in the 70s was unacceptable if not impossible. A girl in a family I knew ran away with the driver of the auto rickshaw that ferried her to her college. It was the scandal of the year. The broken parents put up a fierce resistance, tried to bring her back and in the end disowned her. Yet when she became pregnant with her first child they brought her home, cared for her and treated her uneducated husband quite decently.

Nothing has changed in society. Religion is still the great divider. Hindus and Muslims still wage wars and a sharply divided society wait and fume and do their part in spreading communal disharmony. Yet when children from the two religions get into a scuffle over a game of marbles on the streets, I have seen their respective parents dismiss it with "they're just kids" and chuckle about the scrapes they themselves would get into at that age.

I don't know how the theory of tolerance and acceptance works. But to me glossing over issues that have no bearing on our immediate lives or are not disruptive of our individual choices - is tolerance. Or maturity as I see it.

So why is homosexuality suddenly an issue?
We have always known of women in 'ladies hostel' who do "unspeakable stuff" with each other or of the weird elderly Mr. Das living down the road who never married having lost his heart to a young Sepoy in the 50s (as rumour goes, and "you are NEVER EVER to visit his home alone or talk to him unaccompanied by an elder. Do I make myself clear?")

Yet when the aged, friendless man one day on his way back from the market suffered a mild cardiac arrest and collapsed on the road, local boys from the 'Evergreen Club' who did nothing but lech at girls all day, raised money for his treatment, admitted him to a hospital and visited him with tiffin carriers packed with bland home-cooked food as advised by the doctor. The gesture of an unknown, prejudiced, but kindly mother or aunt.

This is our people. Don't let them tell you any different.

If we are repulsed and embarrassed by hijras clapping their hands and harassing us for money at street lights, we also invite them over and seek their blessing when a son is born. In no other country in the world are transgenders revered such.

Is all this debate about gay sex really necessary? We are a country where newly married couples sneak out to rented hotel rooms to consummate their marriage, driven to frustration by their extended family spread over two rooms.

We might take a while to get adjusted to seeing doting same sex parents at their child's birthday parties or women dropping off their kid at the bus stand, but it will happen.

A time will come when same sex couples will easily discuss their inflated electricity bills or their partners' annoying sexual habits during evening group walks and we would not bat an eyelid.

After all everything is mundane after a while. And we are a nation of causal easy-going people, subconsciously tolerant without making much of it. Aren't we?



Suvasree said...

You sure we would be that tolerant? Don't you think "subconsciously" caring for a sick man is something and consciously socializing is quite another?

Cerebrations said...

Sorry, but I cannot agree with you here. See my post on the same for a different point of view.

Aritra Ganguly said...

There is something known as balancing measure,it is very important in all aspects of life and society.I would not like to contradict your thoughts as u r free to express them but u know it is very easy to write about slums by living in a decent society but it becomes wired when ur society becomes a slum.Thx

Alan said...

Thank you for your post. I grew up in Calcutta and completely identify with the sense of tolerance that you have so well expressed. It served me, and many of my peers well when we came out to our parents. I now live in the US, sharing a life with my partner - out to my parents, friends and close family.

While most of urban India is probably tolerant, societal sanction and associated rights, are not as easily extended to many visible and invisible Indian minorities - whether gay or not. If you read the entire verdict of the HC, you'll see it sets an agenda for freedom that applies to all people who are being denied their human rights - not just gays and lesbians. Indeed, I hope that will be the broader impact of this judgment.

Decriminalizing homosexuality will allow people to speak-up - people who were hitherto considered criminals. Transgendered people are "respected" in India - but they cannot choose to go to college freely and become teachers and lawyers. Such "respect" has no meaning. It marginalizes and then provides a consolation prize. You can find similar examples of disparity for various other minorities/downtrodden people. While this judgment is a first step, it is a critical step to hopefully dismantle centuries of prejudice that has lead to such marginalization, and finally extend the promises of the constitution to one and all.

Most critically, it will be voices such as yours and due education of our peers that will help.

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