The law can legislate and wise men in the courts can pass orders; but the real test of the acceptance of any verdict is in the court of the people and that of the society at large. As the Sabarimala Temple imbroglio shows, public opinion has scant regard for what the courts can decree with respect to their religious and cultural practices.
Public acceptance is everything. Especially when any law is passed that is regarded as contrary to the natural order of things. The highest court of the land may have decriminalized homosexuality and made sexual preferences gender-agnostic, but is that making any difference to the people concerned? The court judgement merely means that consenting adults indulging in same-sex relationships cannot be harassed, punished, or penalized by the police or the courts. There is no law broken in such cases.
But society? That is another matter altogether. I have a young friend (I will not reveal his name) who is gay and his family knows about it – well, sort of. And they have accepted it – well, sort of. What this means is, he has told his family about his preferences in a very sketchy kind of way. His family members that include his parents, a brother, and sister, have not really said anything against it, but neither have they said anything in support of it. They have just tacitly decided not to talk about it. My friend says that he doesn’t know whether they approve of it, are okay with it, or are disapproving of it. Every time he has tried to talk about it, he unfortunately finds himself facing a blank wall. So he doesn’t talk about it anymore and they all tiptoe around each other on the subject of marriage, girlfriends, boyfriends etc.
While we saw a lot of celebrations happening on television on the day that the judgement came out and the days following, I suspect that it is only a tiny minority that is genuinely happy at the turn of events. Of the vast middle-class in the country, the majority would not really be comfortable with the idea of homosexuality or an alternative sexuality, though they may pay lip service to it. In public, they like to appear progressive and liberal but when it comes to the crunch and their own family members being homosexual, they are not so tolerant. Like most things connected to sexuality and sex, we are hypocritical in this, too. We are o.k with it, so long as it is our neighbors and even friends. But when it is our children or siblings or relatives, it suddenly becomes something alien and hostile. The common reaction is, “How is this possible?”.
When straight people get together, there is still a tendency to laugh about homosexuality and ridicule it. Rather amusingly, I find that while many people accept gay men, there is a slight repugnance when it comes to lesbians and women in same sex relationships. I was having a conversation with a professor of Sociology and he told me, “Women’s sexuality is bound with that of men. Her beauty, attractiveness, her very existence is seen through her association and relationship with a man. Therefore the idea that she can have a preference for someone other than a man is somewhat difficult for society to accept.”
The LGBT Community has legal backing in India but social acceptance is still a long way to go. The very fact that we have to label them in terms of belonging to a ‘faction’ is a pointer to the fact that we regard them as abnormal or unusual in some way. They are just people and whatever their sexual preferences, it should not matter. Their sexual orientation should not be what identifies them, because at the end of the day, they are also made of flesh, blood, and bones. Their sexual preference does not make them any less or more human.
Societal changes require a generational shift. Changing our lifestyles and way of living takes time. Changing our beliefs and practices, especially those that are rooted in tradition, faith, religion, matters of behavior requires a total change in thinking that often takes years. In the specific matter of homosexuality, there has to be more awareness. If we have to bring up a more tolerant society in India, it has to come from our homes and schools, because this is not something that just can be mandated by law.
Janaki Krishnan (Author)