Gay! not sick

The LBTQ community fights the stigma of a colonial law

Credit : Abhijit Alka Anil

In Yawatmal district in Vidarbha, Maharashtra, Hrishikesh Sathwane got married to his same-sex partner. This gay marriage event got a huge coverage. But it was in no way a cake walk. He successfully convinced his immediate and reluctant relatives, friends and teachers. But for thousands of other persons of varying sexual orientations, life and the important decisions and liberties in it, don’t even find a space of expression, let alone their fulfillment.

As the hearing of section 377 goes on in the apex court, there are many things which need discussion. The Centre has left the fate of the colonial act entirely in the hands of the apex court and to the possible interpretations of the term ‘against the order of nature’.

Speaking to Indie Journal, Hrishikesh says, “Even though it looks like, and at least I feel so, that 377 will be scrapped, but you never know and there is always another possibility. Even if the section goes away, there is still a long way to go for the gay community in India to achieve equal rights. There is the question of marriage rights and adoption rights.”

Hrishikesh Sathwane is now an US Citizen. He got married with his partner in 2017. He is among few others who responded to their inner voice and took on the fight against the dogmas of the society.

“In 2009 homosexuality was decriminalized, though limited in a way to the Delhi High Court’s interpretation. It was a big moment for the community, we celebrated it. But in 2013, the tide turned the other way round,” He says, adding, “Ideally this change should come through the parliament, through our elected representatives. But there are many misconceptions about the LGBT community and we will have to wait for that to happen. But I am glad in a way that the courts have taken the initiative.”

BJP MP Subramanian Swamy said on Tuesday said that being homosexual is ‘not normal’, and is ‘against Hindutva’ and needs ‘medical research to see if it can be cured’, as reported by the news agency ANI.

Hrishikesh, taking on BJP MP's view says, “If Subramanian Swami thinks that homosexuality is against Hinduism then he needs to study Hindu culture better because there are many references to homosexuality in the Puranas. And the second thing is that our Indian constitution is separate from the religion so I don’t really know why one should bring religion into it. He can say whatever he wants to say but there are many other politicians who are supporting us.”

What Hrishikesh has learnt through his own experience is that the first step is decriminalization, because a lot of people use that as a guideline for what is right and what is wrong. “Parents and others need to understand that this is completely natural and by giving them a space to flourish they should have the society go in the right direction. By bringing hate to this equation you are not helping the society overall.” He says.

He came out to his parents in 1997 when there was no internet, no gay character in films or in pop culture.

“If I can do, anyone can do that. After the marriage many people contacted me. Someone said that their parents are Tamil Bramhins and are conservative. Someone else said that they belong to a Marvari family from Rajasthan and it is impossible for me to come out,” Hrishikesh says and adds, “But this should not be stopping them. If I would have said that I belong to a rural region of Maharashtra and my parents are conservative I would have never succeeded in convincing them.”   

Ankit Dasgupta, a Senior Social Media Manager at Pinkvilla in 2011, came out to tell his Mother that he was gay.

Ankit says, “SC has taken up the hearing of section 377 again and after so many petitions and finally we got the date. We see lot of improvements in arguments also and I expect and hope that 377 will be striked down. Section 377 is not only a concern for the LGBT community but also for heterosexuals as its interpretation then also criminalizes oral and anal sex.”

Even if the victorian remnant is invalidated, there is still a long fight for civil rights like right to marriage, adoption and equal opportunity, which stands before the community.  

“There is a perception in the society that homosexuality is a mental illness, it is abnormal and can be ‘cured’. But, I want to thank the Indian Psychiatric Society that they came out and said that this is not a mental illness or abnormal,” Ankit says, adding, “I think educating people is important when it comes to homosexuality. We should fight homophobia. When we come across a homophobic person, we could listen to them and try to make them understand the issue.”

In tandem with the apex court’s hearing on the petition to scrap 377, the Indian Psychiatric Society issued a position statement, saying that homosexuality is not, in fact, a psychiatric disorder.

Zeba, an independent psychologist says, “It has been a long debated topic. Various researches and studies have given several perspectives, from biological, social to cultural and others. However, no theory or experiment has given a definite answer to what causes a particular sexual orientation. But research regarding its causes and development has definitely eradicated it from the list of mental disorder.”

Niket Kasar, a psychiatrist, says, “I personally believe that sexual orientation is person's erotic response tendency directed to either same sex or other sex or both sexes or neither. So it is natural and biological. Nothing is abnormal in it,” Kasar says adding, “Many parents bring children with homosexual orientations to me. So I counsel parents about biological model of homosexuality and try to remove the stigma associated with it.”

Hemant Patil, a biology teacher says, “There has always been a social stigma attached to sexuality and orientation. It has been treated mixed feelings of courage, rebellion and unethical things, at least in my generation. You ask a random person, what is LGBTQ, she or he is likely to be caught unaware,” adding, “Now I have witness the changes. Thanks to the internet and new media, sex and orientation are being discussed. The taboo attached to it looks like it has started to break..”

When asked about his experience while interacting with students on the issue, He says, “I usually visit some schools even in rural areas. I observe students from rural area are a step behind in talking openly on sexuality. But the internet will bridge that gap. Now education and learning is not limited to Teacher alone,” adding, “As far as homosexuality is concerned, I think it will need some time in our society to find acceptance. But I am hopeful about the new generation, they naturally tend to break the stereotypes and look with fresh perspective.”

“It was 2011 when I finally accepted to myself that I am gay. For 4 years after that, I was not able to come out and did not speak to anyone about it. It is when I started working that I decided to come out to my mom. I had had a really frank conversation with my mom about relationships and other stuff so I thought that she would be ok about it,” Ankit says and adds, “And yes, she was cool about it . When I came up to her, she said that it is not a problem for her. So my coming out story is really short and sweet one. She is now a part of LGBT parents groups and is helping other parents too.”