It was in an evening of May 2009, to say rightly, 16th may, Saturday. I happened to witness a rare and colorful rally in Brussels, Belgium. Hundreds of scantily clad homosexuals were on the street demanding legalization of same-sex marriage. The activists and the homosexuals were dancing and singing to the tunes of rap music. Of course, it was not the dancing or singing that made me spell-bound, but the sight of a group of demonstrators performing open sex on the top of a vehicle. The onlookers arrayed along the street had a fun time. My astonishment was that it was unimaginable in my country to perform such grotesque actions in a rally. They are shy to come out in the public even for their own rights.
The scenario has, however, changed now in the conservative India. The homosexuals took to the street to protest against the so called discriminatory verdict of the Supreme Court in 2013 that criminalizes gay sex. The homosxuals held rallies in some part of the country and in the capital city also. Although not well organized, there are activists across the country to champion the rights of the gays and lesbians. Surprisingly, they have now got an advocate in the Indian parliament.
Shashi Tharoor, former UN Under-Secretary-General, Congress MP and an author, presented an unusual private bill before the parliament last week. It comprises three demands including the decriminalization of consensual gay sex. What he wants to substantiate is the law that considers gay sex as a crime is dated and obsolete that dates back to the British era. Gays too have rights as others do, and they have to be protected. The gay sex criminalization law was enacted in 1860 by the British and that is an orthodox outlook and needs to be amended, Tharoor demanded, although the parliament rejected the proposal summarily.
The gay sex was decriminalized by the Bombay High Court in 2009 and later, the judgment was quashed by the Supreme Court in 2003. The current status is that consensual gay sex is a crime punishable up to ten years in prison. The debate is still going on in many realms whether consensual sex between two adults of the same sex should be treated as a crime.
It is true that people are well aware of the human rights, thanks to social media and internet. Even though the social perception has been succumbed to radical changes, the values remain more or less intact. Merely because it has been developed by centuries. One cannot deny the far reaching influence of the social media, but the digital divide in our country is also very high. Hence, to change the social values would take another 100 years. Not least is the influence of the religion in our society.
The conflict between the puritanical values and modern views has been in the history for centuries. It is a xenocentric attitude developed by the colonial rulers in our minds that the western values are modern and a way to progress, which led us to undervalue our own rich culture. To some, adopting the western way of life is the benchmark for development and modernity.
I wonder why the debate on homosexuality and gay rights has not yet evoked a response in the gulf countries. One can brush it aside saying that the Middle East countries are ruled by autocratic rulers. But I would say they are not complacent of their culture and values. There is no ideological quicksand. It is difficult to bring a hegemony over a society that upholds their values. Remember, the gulf countries have never been colonized, but we were under foreign rulers for centuries.
(The views expressed are personal)