Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished…
Section 377, Indian Penal Code, Unnatural Offences.
In an inevitable television talk show following Law Minister Veerappa Moily’s announcement that the Government might consider decriminalising homosexuality, there was a Catholic priest and Muslim community leader never more in agreement. The Catholic priest, in his Christly compassion, professed to understand homosexuals, wanted to journey along with them and hinted that the Church might even counsel them. But, he stressed, homosexuality is not normal. Here was a person who went around in a white maxi, having vowed to abstain from sex forever. He was calling someone else abnormal.
The Muslim leader was arguing for a larger cause. He wanted to know whether it would be alright if one went around naked in a public place and what would happen if all the boys started doing it with boys and the girls with girls. “What will happen to society?” he said, anguish rending his voice. And all because he feared a couple of words would be changed in a statute.
It would have been a happy triumvirate if the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, that exclusive representative of Hindus and cows, had been there. Though that TV channel was not so fortunate, a VHP leader made the organisation’s stand clear in another news report by declaring that homosexuality was against India’s family system and could result in the spread of diseases.
In one stroke, the UPA has achieved the impossible: it has united all fundamentalists under one umbrella on an issue which none of them understand. When they speak on it, it is like schoolchildren arguing: this is so because my mummy said so and you’d better not say anything because my brother is somewhere here. Religion is the great silencer in India. When Deoband says, “Homosexuality is an offence under Shariat law and haram in Islam,” then the correct reply is that those laws should be changed too. But how do you change the words of God which only a few men in white beards or white maxis or with vermilion on their foreheads seem to have a monopoly on? You cannot talk sense with God. Instead, you cow down. Which is what this government is doing. Democratically elected men are getting intimidated by religious men who have smaller constituencies.
Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad thinks that there should be consensus on a review of section 377; a conclusion should evolve after debate. That’s nonsense. The only consensus that matters is that two adults have decided to have sex. It is a fundamental right that should not be at the mercy of some cowards.