Indian Decade

Diversity’s OK, Sometimes

Two recent cases highlight the ongoing difficulties facing gays in India.

For all the diversity of our population and myriad cultures, we are dangerously united it seems in our aversion to homosexuality. Two recent incidents brought this sharply to light again.

Last month, a professor of modern Indian languages at the historic Aligarh Muslim University was suspended after a video emerged of him having consensual sex with another man. Some students at the university had set up cameras in the professor’s home supposedly to catch him ‘in the act’. They sent these tapes to the university management who were quick to suspend Dr. Srinivas Ramchandra Siras, even as he was close to retirement. The episode generated numerous headlines, with gay activists and pockets of the liberal media putting the university in the dock. But, Siras remains suspended.

And just this week, a Delhi Court handed out tough punishments to two people for brutally stabbing to death two affluent, well-placed homosexuals in August 2004. Murdered for being gay?

But the picture is mixed. In July last year, Delhi decriminalised homosexuality in what was regarded as a landmark judgement and a highly delayed sign of justice for India’s gay community. A British colonial law still operational in India says sex between people of the same gender is illegal as it is ‘against the order of nature’. In fact, gay sex in India is punishable by 10 years in prison!

There have been few criminal prosecutions, but the legislation has still provided ammunition for the victimization and harassment of homosexuals, while the need to be surreptitious has also given the community a somewhat tawdry image.

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Unfortunately, the Siras drama suggests this unfair portrayal is unlikely to change anytime soon.