9 Apr 2015

India tightens stranglehold on its gay community


Activists say gay people are harassed and scared to come out and express their sexuality

India’s Hindu nationalist-led federal government has recently taken various international and national steps to show that it is serious in oppressing its gay and lesbian citizens.

The government’s Central Board of Film Certification has banned a major film starring mainstream actors for what it says are roles that espouse homosexuality.

The film “Un-Freedom: Blemished Light” is a thriller depicting a lesbian love story set in New York and New Delhi. The censor board reconstituted this year under the ruling Hindu nationalist government thinks the film will “ignite unnatural passions” in viewers.

The board had earlier banned the ‘lesbian’ word that occurred only once in a Hindi language ‘Dum Laga Ke Haisha’ (English: Give In All Your Energy)  romantic comedy because it deemed the word objectionable

India, a democratic country, last month joined the likes of authoritarian nations such as China, Iran and Saudi Arabia to vote in support of a Russian-drafted United Nations resolution to remove benefits for same-sex partners of UN staff.

This is in keeping with the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP, Indian peoples party), the country’s Hindu nationalist party opposing any move to nullify the Supreme Court’s re-criminalizing of consensual same-sex relations or to scrap Section 377, the colonial-era law that defines same-sex relations as “unnatural” and punishable by up to life imprisonment.

India saw a window of opportunity in equality laws when the Delhi High Court in 2009 decriminalized same-sex relations and gave the gay community broad protections and rights by saying that banning consensual same-sex relations  was in violation of an individual’s rights to freedom under  the Indian Constitution.

However the Indian Supreme Court reversed that decision in December 2013 and Rajnath Singh, India’s current Home minister, the second most important post in the federal cabinet after the prime minister has gone on public record to  say that “Gay sex is not natural and we cannot support something which is unnatural.”

Singh’s Home Ministry figures show there were 778 cases registered under Section 377 from January to September last year, from which 587 people were arrested.

“In the past year, (LGBT rights) activists say their worst fears have been realised with LGBT people harassed and now scared to come out and express their sexuality,” reports Reuters. Activists say LGBT people do not hold out hope that the country's right-wing government will change the Section 377 law in parliament, it added.

"This shows how homophobic the politicians in our country are," Anjali Gopalan, director of the Naz Foundation, was quoted by Reuters as saying.

Gay rights activists have always maintained that the law besides being discriminatory and unjust left the LGBT community open to harassment, persecution and prone to be preyed upon by criminals.