Monday, January 05, 2009

No place for fear this year

This is a piece I wrote for the January 2009 issue of Marie Claire India. (I was asked to write about my wish for 2009 for the Indian queer community.) Here's the PDF of the published piece if it interests you.

Last year began on a very sour note for some of us. Barely had we said goodbye to January than the Maharashtra Police orchestrated the drama of busting a gay party, before it could commence, just outside Bombay (in Thane) for the benefit of the TV media. The police officials got their 15 seconds of fame and managed to curry favour with the voyeuristic channels, who in turn got their ‘exclusives’ and grabbed some filthy and some even self-righteous viewers by their eyeballs.
Privacy has traditionally been at a discount in Indian society, with its joint families, and gossipy maids and neighbours. So it is okay for you to party and be featured in full colour, but those of us at society’s margins should get used to the police barging in, breaking up our parties, forcibly outing us and parading us on national television like criminals and freaks? The tamasha sent forth a wave of great fright among closeted gay people around India.
Fear is what we, the people of India, gave ourselves on Independence. Fear of the unknown, fear of the other. Fear that fed on ignorance of the other. Fear of the majority, a majority that is itself fearful of what it chooses to neither understand nor recognise. Fear of a shameful, relic of the British, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, a law that makes an adult like me criminal for life if the police can prove I made love with another adult male. This fear nourishes the HIV epidemic among us.
Fear has caused us to forget that we also gave ourselves a constitution that enshrines some human rights and enjoins each one of us to uphold them. So the police can abdicate its duties to protect and fearlessly abuse its powers. And the government can, through its infamous ex Home Minister and his former minions, make perversions of these rights in writing to the Delhi High Court, which is charged with public interest litigation (PIL) to read down the shameful section that strikes fear in closeted hearts.
Freedom from fear should be theme in 2009, continuing from Mumbai’s grand, cosmopolitan-as-a-rainbow march for Queer Azaadi on 16 August, and the June-end debut Pride parades of Delhi and Bangalore (Kolkata’s annual march against homophobia started nine years earlier when just 13 men mapped the city, with the rest of the queer community staying in the shadows).
Freedom to question the assumption of being heterosexual without fear, the man-woman definition of marriage, and the very importance of such a marriage for a queer person. Freedom to love and live with a person of the same sex without fear. Freedom to educate oneself about safer sex and use the services of a health professional as a queer person, without the fear of stigma, neglect and ‘treatment for homosexuality’ that occurs despite prescribed Good Medical Practice and ethics. Freedom to be out at work without fear of harassment or discrimination. Freedom from the fear of being entrapped and blackmailed by a police stooge simply for being gay and closeted. Freedom from hiding in the closet, wearing a mask, using an alias. Freedom from the insecurities that come from being closeted. Freedom to live without fear of losing one’s dignity. Freedom from the fear of being treated as less than equal by the law.
The march towards Freedom from fear will receive a boost if the Delhi High Court makes the bigots in the government apparatus swallow a bitter PIL and champions the human rights in the Indian Constitution. We will cover the rest of the way forward with a little help from each other and each of our families. Waiting for the dawn of a real Happy New Year. Meanwhile, here’s wishing you one!