India is shocked and outraged. A 21-year-old student was found dead in Goa after allegedly being forced into conversion therapy for months for coming out to her parents as bisexual. Many on social media questioned why these illegal and regressive ‘therapies’ are still taking place in 2020 India. That’s precisely the question not to ask if you know India.
This was no isolated incident of a young queer Indian being forced to ‘un-become’ who they are by ‘concerned’ parents, and this won’t be the last. Although the Supreme Court decriminalised consensual homosexual sex under Section 377 in 2018 and the Indian Psychiatric Society said homosexuality was not a mental disorder, those sentiments have not percolated to most Indian homes.
The grim headlines every other day are reminders that this is no shocking event. It continues, even if India’s urban centres are slowly coming to terms with a range of sexualities.
A lesbian couple committed suicide in Tamil Nadu after one of the woman’s family tried to force her into an arranged marriage after getting to know of their relationship. A transgender woman was beaten up by a mob in West Bengal, which led to her death, just 12 days after the Union Cabinet passed the Transgender (Protection of Rights) Bill in 2019. Brutal incidents of witch-hunting in Bihar were reported as recently as two weeks ago.
Nothing to ‘cure’
While the outrage against such incidents is necessary and a natural reaction, we ought to stop being shocked at the reality of the situation. Just because a rule has changed in the Constitution doesn’t mean that mentalities will also. It is not a switch that one can flick on or off to suddenly make India progressive and understanding.
Just a few years ago, Baba Ramdev famously claimed yoga could “cure” homosexuality. There are doctors and psychiatrists still “trying to cure” queerness. Shock therapy (through electroconvulsive treatments), antipsychotic medicines, even surgery still happens in the very India we are shocked by. Not to mention the ‘babas’, ashrams, cosmic healers who say they can make your child “heterosexual” again. And if nothing works, get them married off. Because that is the Indian solution to everything — regardless of whether you are rich or poor.
I am unsure if it is our ignorance or just naivety that we think a simple amendment in the Constitution will change age-old mentalities.
When the lesbian couple mentioned above killed themselves, a regional Tamil news channel also indirectly backed conversion therapy. It flashed this statement: “Homosexuality is a medical mystery. Psychologists say those in family setup who get into this can be saved/brought back from this habit.” The English elite media may talk of an equal world for days and celebrate Pride Month, but that celebration will amount to little because regional channels, who are greater influencers, are still catching up.
Homosexuality, bisexuality, or any other sexuality, is not a teenage “phase”. It can’t be “cured”, just like being heterosexual can’t. It is not “unnatural” — and we aren’t the only species with many sexualities.
More than outrage
Our outrage should be redirected towards a different fight. The fight to have conversations not of shock and disgust that these incidents still take place, but instead about moving towards a more aware society. The conversations need to happen in our families — even if we don’t identify as queer. We, the privileged social media Twitterati, need to encourage dialogues about sexuality, no matter if it makes our followers “uncomfortable”. Most of all, we need to engage. Help organisations, groups helping queer Indians. Being shocked and moving on makes no difference to ground realities.
The issues of homophobia, transphobia, biphobia or phobia against even the slightest diversion from “normalcy” won’t go away in a day. They are products of centuries-old stigmas. While there was enough awareness that protests and strong resistance resulted in a legal remedy, when has the law ever truly stopped anyone from hating.
We need to shed our innocence and accept the reality, in order to move forward. It is a long road ahead, but it is not an impossible fight. It is not a fight that should be fought with anger and shock (no matter how justified that reaction may be), it should be fought by first coming to terms with who we really are.
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