Yes, we are the millennials of the 21st century but ingrained within our minds is a voice belonging to that era of orthodoxy, which condemned every aspect of human existence that did not adhere to the rules that were set by the few – who considered themselves to be the harbingers of culture and morality. Within the myriad of issues that the South Asians have successfully created for themselves, one such issue is of acceptance of one’s own sexuality or sexual preference. On this International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexism, and Transphobia (#IDAHOBIT), we need to take a long hard look at ourselves to understand how accepting we really are.
From being the land of the Kamasutra – which has chapters celebrating homosexuality – to becoming the land of extreme intolerance toward any person who is openly gay, lesbian, bisexual or a transgender – the people of South Asia have tabooed the topic to such an extent – even going so far as to make it a criminal offence; that social conversations about it is still done in hushed voices. But with the influence of social media and the wide aspect of conversation around the world, things are changing and with #IDAHOBIT trending on social media discussions are bound to happen.
At the heart of the emerging conversation is the role of the family. More than half of the American population supports same-sex marriage, leading to the favorite South Asian norm of the western culture destroying our culture!
A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2014 revealed that 67% of Indian respondents rated homosexuality as morally unacceptable, with that figure skyrocketing to 85% in neighboring Pakistan. For South Asian expats, opportunities to be openly gay are more plausible in America or the UK – but it may still prove to be harder to carry out in practice.
The abhorrence towards gays in the South Asian society is at odds with the traditional acceptance of Hijras or Khwaja Seras — as transgender people are called — who are considered harbingers of good luck. Dressed in women’s clothes, many transgender people in countries like, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh eke out a living by singing and dancing at births and weddings or begging for alms at traffic lights. They have always been shunned to the extreme fringe of the society and only recently have we seen their acceptance as the third gender in India and Pakistan, paving the way for them to hold respectable jobs and earning a better livelihood.
Most South Asians are still woefully unaware of the possibility of difference in a person’s sexual orientation – leading to the lack of conversation about it. This resulted in pushing people into a shell. Historians believe that such rigid sexual mores were inherited from the British who outlawed homosexual acts throughout their empire. Indian mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik has said, “The British reinforced this view by creating the ‘sodomy’ law, referring to the biblical city of Sodom that was destroyed by God as it was rife with sexual deviations. Subjects of the British empire, Hindus included, were keen to distance themselves from all such things vile; they were determined to prove themselves pure, even if it meant wiping out or denying their own legacy.”
The meek voices will have to rise and use the power of accessibility to the world as the perfect weapon to instigate the conversation around #IDAHOBIT. This is the option we have to live freely in the society.