– Agnivo Niyogi
In their state of the nation poll, CNN-IBN last year had shown that 73% Indians think homosexuality is unnatural while 86% Indians believe that homosexuality should not be legalised in India. In a nation driven by biases and prejudices in every section of the society, the findings were not astonishing. However, it is unfortunate that a developing nation like India is still in the clutches of homophobia. Homophobia is a social malaise, is what we believe. And it is for us to educate the masses about ourselves. However, without indulging in any debate, without being polemical and partisan, this article wishes to unveil some facets of rampant homophobia in India among the Indian youth.
In India very few people are openly gay. The society is not yet ready to accept homosexuals as a part of the mainstream. Closeted gays can but wish to breathe freely and talk openly about their sexuality without being made to feel ashamed of it. It is interesting however that many gays, to keep their identity concealed, engage in gay-bashing with an extra zeal when in company of their peers, with a hope of keeping the spotlight away from them. In fact, in a survey done by Gaylaxy among internet users, about 86% people have acknowledged the fact that they have cracked jokes about someone’s sexuality at some point of time in their life.
“Most of my friends crack jokes on gays, but there is no overt sense of homophobia in them,” says a respondent in a survey done by Gaylaxy. The same is true for Aagan & Deepak, whose friends engage in name callings, or making fun of people who are effeminate. “They never made fun of me on my face but did so behind my back, which I came to know later from others,” says Deepak, a student. Bhamuu, a straight guy who has many gay friends says, “I certainly do not think gays are unnatural. But sometimes they behave in abnormal manner. Calling effeminate people names is just a fun pastime and we do not mean harm. In fact in our friend circle, we crack gay jokes on our friend in front of him who takes them very sportingly.” But sometimes, even jokes can be really humiliating for some people, thinks Neel, an MBA student. “I am not out to anyone yet. I have a group of friends who are nice as human beings, but sometimes they overdo it while portraying gays as hijras or mentally ill females etc. I feel really ashamed during those times.”
However, the straight community has a defence for their act ready. “Just like a man can never understand the psyche of a woman and what pain she endures during labour, any straight person will never be able to fathom what makes gays different,” says Asima. When asked if the lack of understanding should lead to ostracising a person for his/her sexual preferences she replies, “Everybody is a human being, and discrimination of any form should be abhorred in a progressive society.” Neelanjan, a management student echoes Asima’s views. He opines that it is “unfortunate” that people misbehave with gays without knowing the person. However he adds that people do not have the time and luxury to debate human rights issues, each one is busy with their own lives.
Homosexuality: A western concept
Everyone does not seem to think like Asima. On conditions of anonymity, a person agreed to share his views with Gaylaxy. He says, “The concept of homosexuality is a borrowed idea from the west. Indian culture has no place for such aberrations and such people need psychiatric help.” When the writer of this article pointed out that the American Psychologist Association has removed homosexuality from the list of mental disorders, he was quick to respond, “The Americans do whatever they think is right and the whole world has to follow suit. Indian culture has no place for homosexuality.” This seems to be the view of a few other boys too. However, all of them have denied being abusive to homosexuals and denied discriminating against them. Another respondent, Gautam, equated homosexuals to “abnormal sex freaks” who have the “single point agenda of ruining the social fabric” of the Indian society and its “family values”. But people like Gautam seem to be a minority. In a survey among the youth of India, majority (76%) voted that homosexuals are not abnormal and had no problem with gays. This shows a change of perception among today’s youth; the media and the internet deserving credit for the same.
Homosexuals: Sex seekers?
A big misconception among people is that gays crave only for sex, and it is the desire of the flesh that drives them to take refuge in a man. Says Gautam (name changed), “I would hate the idea of sharing a seat or a room with someone who sleeps with men. The very idea of what they do in privacy makes me nauseous.” Naitik, a self employed student accepted that even if he had nothing against gays, he had refused to share the same room with a homosexual friend in the past. And this reasoning, along with age old values handed out to them by older generations, prompts them to inflict irreparable agony in the minds of their gay peers. The same questions gets fielded at gays, “Are you virgin?” or “How many men have you slept with?” And so on. “I was tired of explaining to my friends that I can be a virgin even if I am gay and every time I meet a gay friend we don’t organise orgies”, says Aagan. Deepak, who came out in his college had a similar experience. “Everyone was interested in finding my sex partner, because according to them, a gay person needed to have one. They would often ask me, ‘So you are gay, it means u want to have sex with men,’ and I would say, ‘No, it means I am attracted to men,’ to which they would keep saying, ‘But basically it means u want to have sex with them.’”
Srinivas (name changed) has his own theory for homophobia. “I had studied in a boys’ school all my life and had seen many boys warming up to few good looking classmates. However every boy in question had girlfriends. That was disturbing, for some moments of fun, they were cheating on their partners. Those incidents made me develop a dislike for gays.” This is not a surprising situation. Many adolescent teens are driven by curiosity to get physical with their classmates, and after an occasional fling, they go on in their lives as if nothing happened. This gives an impression to the society at large that gays are opportunist sex freaks.
You believe what you see
“People’s perception towards gays is driven by age old concepts as well as modern portrayal of them in the media. Most of them are shown to be effeminate, having a loud dressing sense and always ready to pounce upon some hunk on the street. The media despite its efforts has not yet been able to dispel this notion. And even members of the gay community have not been radically vocal about it. Hence, people view them as caricatures and derive pleasure in mocking them,” Bhamuu opines. It is true that most of the times gays are portrayed as caricatures of eunuchs in hindi films, as comic reliefs. This builds an image for them which is hard to come out of. “Only public figures and social icons can dispel the myth of gays being effeminate. Movies like Fashion, My Brother Nikhil have paved the way and perceptions are changing,” says Neelanjan.
Struggle of dominance: Man and state
Saswati, another college student has a different take on the subject. She is of the opinion that the deep seated aversion towards gays is another expression of the patriarchal structure of the society. She says, “Men always want to dominate the society. While women are their original ‘enemy’ they perceive gays as a hurdle to their path to complete domination. Hence by trivialising their existence and questioning their sanity they want to gain an edge.” However there are not many takers for her theory. Although not same in entirety, a similar opinion had surfaced regarding homophobia in India. Sourav (name changed) opines, “The state always wishes to establish its control on every human life under its regime. In its bid to prove its supremacy, the state has always been trying to gain access even into the personal lives of the citizens. The ban on engaging in ‘unnatural’ sex is another way of telling the subjects that we cannot even have our share of pie without the permission of the authorities.”
Somewhere down the line, Saswati and Sourav do drive their point’s home. Their theories gain credibility in the incident that happened earlier this year at the Aligarh Muslim University. In the name of honour, a 63 year old Professor was forced to resign for having sex with a man. Dr. Siras later died under mysterious circumstances. In our previous issues we had explored the sad story of Professor Siras’ tragedy. But that brings us to a much bigger question. Is an employee liable to his employer for his sexual conducts? Under what authority did a group of students film their professor in the act of coitus? Does being homosexual strip one off the respect that he deserves rightfully from his pupils? A teacher in a university in Kolkata has his opinion, “It is extremely sad that groups with vested interests are corrupting young minds and spreading a misconception about the gay community. Being a homosexual should never be the first identity of any individual; first and foremost he is a teacher and must be given his due respect. What he does in his private life has nothing to do with what he does in the classroom.”
Deep seated bias
Although people might say openly that they are homophiles, the trauma that members of the queer community have to go through daily at college or at work is a testimony that somewhere deep in the psyche of the people, a bias against homosexuals has a permanent residence.
An openly gay teacher from the suburbs of Bengal had appeared on a talk show “Ebong Rituparno” on a Bengali channel, hosted by Rituparno Ghosh, who identifies himself as “being in the third gender”. There he had shared the trauma of how he was mentally abused every day at work. Coincidentally he was a biologist, and whenever he had to deliver a lecture on the anatomy of the reproductive system, he had to bear a cyclone of jeers, cat calls, and taunts. Even while walking the corridors he would meet with questioning gazes from students. These incidents left him shattered.
Some people say attitudes of their friends change after they come out while some swear by their buddies. It is interesting to know that most straight people feel they are ok with gays as long as they don’t meet one in person. Animesh, a college student shares, “My best friend came out to me, which was a real shocker. Here was a man I had known for all my life and he was gay. I snapped all my ties with him that day. I could not accept it.”
Aagan, a post graduate student, had to face one such problem in a field trip, when his male classmates refused to sleep in the same room as him. Such instances are plenty. In the classroom or laboratories, openly gay individuals sometimes find it hard to concentrate on the work in hand because of the constant chatter that goes on behind their backs, regarding their sexuality.
Similarly on a youth based show on CNN-IBN, a student from University of Mumbai refused to even speak to the anchor when he introduced himself as gay. This is a dominant reaction of the society to homosexuals: to live in denial. And those who have the courage to stand up against the system meet with hurdles in everything they do. This mood can be summarised in a comment by Satinder, “The people at large are uneducated, the more we reach out to them, the prejudices will be easier to break.”
But Things are Changing
Despite these difficulties, the youth today is coming out like never before (and not necessarily to a close group of friends), only to find friends accepting them the way they are. There are attempts like Queer Campus India- a group started by a few college students to provide a social space where queer youth can interact- that shows how the youth is trying to break free and is receiving support from friends too. Deepak, who came out in his college openly, recalls, “Even if people were initially shocked to hear the news, the behaviour of none changed towards me, many in fact appreciated my courage. There was support from corners I never even imagined.”
The battle has just begun and the war against homophobia will definitely be won; because in a developing nation like India prejudices should have no place. Bhamuu summarises the whole story beautifully, “Removal of social malaises like sati and dowry took time too. You cannot fix a time limit to remove homophobia. People are awakening and slowly the society will change.”
With this thought let us all say in our minds YES WE CAN.