iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Nish Gera

GET UPDATES FROM Nish Gera
 

Et Tu, India? Why I Am a Criminal (Again) in My Own Country

Posted: 12/11/2013 9:08 pm

In India, the largest democracy in the world, gay sex is illegal again -- "again" because the law from 1860 British India that made "sex against the order of nature" illegal was struck down by the Delhi High Court in 2009. This was widely described as the Stonewall of India. Several religious and political groups repealed the judgement, and it went to the Supreme Court. Yesterday the Supreme Court upheld the law, which carries a prison sentence of up to 10 years for those convicted under it.

1860. That's the file we are on.

The Supreme Court justice gave this ruling on the last day before his retirement. I wonder what went through his mind. I wonder if he worried about being on the wrong side of history. I wonder if he knew which side was which. I'd rather believe that he didn't. That makes me feel less shame about my country.

In Twitter feeds from the wrong side of history, supporters of the ruling have claimed that the Supreme Court has given this verdict to "maintain the culture of this country." Well, in that case, for a job well done, we have some further work to do. In order to fully maintain the culture of the country, we need to also make sure that we protect caste-based discrimination, female feticide, honor killings, Sati and untouchability.

And who does this law affect? Well, for starters, the 50 to 70 million gay people in India, give or take. (Those are Kinsey's estimates, not mine.) That is equivalent to the population of France, more than the population of Spain and almost twice the population of Canada.

Second, if the law were to be truly enforced in accordance with the way that it was written in 1860 (and still is written), a lot else is illegal -- including blowjobs! Unfortunately, I do not have estimates for the number of people that impacts in India. The law criminalizes all acts of carnal intercourse other than heterosexual penile-vaginal intercourse, irrespective of consent.

Speaking of consent, gay or not, we have a few problems with that touchy subject too. In December 2012 the brutal gang rape of a 23-year-old student on a moving bus driving through the roads of India's capital, New Delhi, shook the nation and made headlines internationally. But the incident was far from isolated. Marital rape is still not a crime, because criminalizing it "has the potential of destroying the institution of marriage," according to a parliamentary report from earlier this year.

Unsurprisingly, out of 136 countries, India ranked 101 on gender equality in the World Economic Forum's 2013 Gender Gap Index. Nigeria came in at 106, Iran at 130, Pakistan at 135, and Yemen at 136.

What gender equality has to do with gay rights and the rights of sexual minorities is a well-established but separate argument.

As an Indian who has spent the last decade living in New York City, I have witnessed the increasingly accelerated pace of change in the West and how gay rights have become a part of the mainstream conversation. I am certain that some version of that will happen in India. The question is not if but when.

One hundred years from now, when these laws, and this conversation, are no longer needed in India, people will look back and ask whether we brought change when it was still inconvenient and required courage, or when it was merely a matter of joining the rest of the world and not getting left behind in shame.

When that question is asked, what will you say, my dear India?

 

Follow Nish Gera on Twitter: www.twitter.com/nishgera

FOLLOW GAY VOICES