At least 20 alumni and present students of Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) have moved the Supreme Court pleading to decriminalise homosexuality and repeal the draconian Section 377 that carries the provision of life term or 10-year jail along with fine for consensual adults indulging in 'unnatural' sex. These youth are members of a 350-plus strong informal LGBT IIT-ian community that includes students, past and present, as well as faculty members from the country's 12 IITs.
The IITs have a huge reputation in the country and if students from these institutes leverage their clout and stature to push the LGBT cause, the powers to be are bound to take a serious note. The petition says that discrimination on the basis of one's sexual orientation is, 'Deeply offensive to the dignity and self-worth of an individual.'
This new development comes following a series of petitions filed off and on in the Supreme Court right since 2001 to revisit the archaic law that technically nullifies the validity of Articles 14, 15, 16 and 21 which uphold freedom of privacy and non-discrimination. In the recent turn of events, the SC in 2013 overturned a Delhi HC order legalising homosexuality in 2009 and sent the ball in the court of Parliament. The governments have never been forthcoming in their stand on the issue. Many Congress and BJP leaders have privately advocated repealing of Section 377, but no party has ever tried to push the bill in Parliament.
Arun Jaitley and his predecessor P Chidambaram have said that the SC should have upheld the Delhi HC order saying that it was not in sync with the current developments in gay rights across the world. CPI (M) leader Brinda Karat is a strong votary of gay rights. But not all leaders are equally accommodating.
India is basically a conservative society and homosexuality is still a taboo for most. Homosexuality was held as a crime in line with a British law of the 19th century that found carnal indulgence against the law of nature.
The genesis of this is some biblical reference that held same-sex conjugation 'unnatural'. But at a time when more and more countries are realising the need for allowing freedom to LGBTs and promulgating laws to validate their preferences, India is still dilly-dallying and manoeuvring on a sticky wicket. There is a big disjoint in the country between the progressive thinking populace and an irrational majority that is still stuck in the mire of religious injunctions and prejudices. Homosexuality can never gather universal consensus in India, which is why courts keep backtracking and politicians keep fumbling. Most people are uninformed and have a vague idea of same-sex orientations, which is why homosexuals are looked down upon, ridiculed and harassed, even as the law supports such an inhuman approach.
Surprisingly, close to 50 percent of IIT Bombay students were found to be giving thumbs down to homosexuality in a survey conducted in 2016, with two out of three students considering it a kind of 'disease'. If such is the stigmatic mindset in one of the most liberal and accommodative science institutes in the country, the general scenario has to be bleak.
Surprisingly till 1970, homosexuality was listed as a mental illness. Advance studies in psychology have established long ago that homosexuality has nothing to do with mental deviation or things like that. It is only a matter of preference and predilection, just the way a person likes a particular colour over the other. It is as natural as heterosexuality is. There is no reason or validity in restricting people's preferences by law!
LGBTs have a long and heart-breaking litany of torture, discrimination and castigation they face from every quarter in society, right from the police to the employer. People take advantage of the law and freely trammel the rights of LGBTs, forcing them into trauma and suicides. Several of the best brains are reportedly leaving the country to settle in more conducive ecosystems where they are flourishing. LGBT community members under different NGOs are fighting a long legal and moral battle against the 'system'. The SC has again agreed to take up the case and give it a hearing, even as in January the apex court had hinted that it needed to re-visit its earlier judgment of 2013 in which it upheld the validity of Section 377.
It is time India shook its colonial hangover and took a leap towards a more liberal social setup where divergent preferences and orientations could be accepted and accommodated in the spirit of humanity and love. Leaders must come out of their homophobic shells and lead the people and the nation towards light and intelligence. We cannot and should not keep a large section of the population who are LGBTs, closeted and banished from the mainstream discourse just because we have our own mental fixations and constricted moral yardsticks. In the era of globalisation and rapid cultural amalgamation, we need to open up and introspect.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this piece are the writer's.