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Keeping Indian Gays Out of the Closet

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Gay rights are center stage in India, as religious and conservative social groups take their campaign to the Supreme Court.

They’re challenging a 2009 decision by the Delhi High Court decriminalizing gay sex between two consenting adults.

The government is under pressure – first objecting to the High Court ruling and later withdrawing its objection.

The Supreme Court has asked the government to take a clear stand on the issue.

Bismillah Geelani has the story.

48-year old Bindumadhav Khire is among India’s famous gay writers.

He realised he was gay at the age of 20.

“I knew I was different because I could not relate to my friends in school who were talking about women, but it was when I started reading various books and that’s where I realized that this was a perversion and disorder and that’s where my self-esteem went zero. I was a bad person, a pervert person and I many times thought of committing suicide. I hated myself so much for who I was and I was terrified that if my mom and dad found out I would irreparably damage my family.”

Khire could not gather the courage to come out to his parents. So he got married to a woman.

“We ended up divorcing within a year. It was a bitter legal divorce; it caused a lot of misery to my parents because they had a lot of typical family expectations from their son about a happy family and grandchildren and all that.”

Khire now runs a trust providing support to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender or LGBT community, and raising awareness about alternative sexuality.

There are an estimated 15 million gay people in India. Many of them are still “in the closet” like Khire was a few years ago.

In 2009, a landmark ruling by the Delhi High Court, decriminalizing sex between two consenting gay adults, brought about a radical change.

The ruling overturned a colonial era law that considered gay sex a serious offence punishable with up to 10 years imprisonment. The court termed the law unconstitutional.

Wendle Rodricks, a gay fashion designer from Mumbai, remembers singing and dancing in the streets, celebrating the verdict with the LGBT community.

“The judgment was so beautifully worded that it brought in Nehru’s entire philosophy of inclusiveness. It made me feel that I’m a part of this society and it gave me a lot of dignity.”

Religious organisations and many conservative social groups immediately filed petitions challenging the verdict.

The Supreme Court began hearing 15 petitions last month.

One of petitioners is Rakesh Sinha, professor of history at Delhi University.

“Indian society is very tolerant, it has space for diverse views and behaviors but that does not mean that we can do anything. In the name of openness, modernity and democracy we cannot embrace everything. Public morality does not emerge only from within the society it is also shaped by a historical context. Homosexuals have been in India like in other places of world but they remain a microscopic minority. They have always existed and nobody has objected but what is now being done is glorification of homosexual behavior which cannot be accepted.”

During the last two years, gay parades have been frequently organised in various Indian cities.

But despite tremendous pressure from conservative groups, the government recently decided not to oppose the High Court Ruling.

Legal experts like Justice Mukul Mudgal praise the government’s decision.

“It showed maturity and moving with the times. A matured democracy is previewed as a democracy that tolerates dissent, that tolerates alternate life styles and which tolerates life styles that you abhor. And that’s the greatness of our constitution. It is an inclusive and developing constitution.”

As the Supreme Court hearing proceeds, both sides have stepped up their campaign to garner support.

Conservative groups who sent the petition belive the court’s decision will favour their position.

Meanwhile, gay activists like Gautam Bhan are confident the court will keep an open mind.

“What we have wanted is the noise of conversation, we have wanted the right to debate as equal citizens. The High Court gave us that right. It did not tell you what to think of gay people. It told you that they are citizens and as a constitutional democracy no matter what your moral opinion is constitutional morality says citizens are equal that is what makes India a democracy. And what we want from Supre Court is Let’s be citizens and let’s fight as equal citizens.We would go and have our debate, we would be noisy because when there is noise there is inclusion."


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