Saturday, March 17, 2012
In the name of God
A version of this piece appeared in Bombay Dost magazine in August 2011. The Supreme Court of India is currently hearing arguments against the Delhi High Court's decision to read down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.
Ardhanarishvara sculpture, Khajuraho. From Wikipedia, subject to this Creative Commons license
Public discussion about those opposing the Delhi High Court's reading down of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code has centred around the several self-proclaimed religious groups, astrologers and babas. None of these pious souls have, however, based their arguments on Hindu scriptures or philosophy (but mainly on 'morality'). There's been a lot of foaming at the mouth with arguments against gay sex that are laughable. We haven't heard a single one of these gentlemen (why are the god-women silent?) quote from the Vedas or the Smritis, nor do they cite any Indian philosopher or saint in their support. Net-net, they argue that the High Court judgement offends Indian values and threatens Indian culture.
The sad truth is that like most Indians, we don't know our own religion and culture well enough to be able to make such claims. How many of us are aware about the various schools of Hindu philosophy? Do we even know what is Hinduism, or who is a Hindu? Even the courts have tied themselves into knots over this question. If the pundits who oppose the Delhi High Court ruling were asked to sit for an MA level exam on Indian Philosophy, would any of them secure even pass-grade marks?
On the other hand, there is enough scholarly work produced within the gay community itself by Giti Thadani, Ruth Vanitha, Saleem Kidwai and Ashok Row Kavi, individually, and sometimes in collaboration, to counter the Indian culture argument. Where does one even start to cite examples from our mythology, literature and history. It is a past far richer than Western traditions of homosexuality.
Hindu society's outlook towards gay sex has been at best benign and at worst neutral. The point that in Hindu traditions the atman or soul is free of the common dualities of biological sex and gender needs reiteration. Just as God is neither a 'he' nor a 'she'. Not this, not that. He is beyond concepts and so is the atman. The dualities of gender roles are man-made. What stands between man and God is the sense of self, or ego, which leads to the five vikaars of vanity, anger, greed, attachment and, of course, lust. Tell me where in our scriptures is lust defined as gay lust alone, not heterosexual lust? Much paper and ink has been spared recently to speculate about what India's 'modern' sanyaasi-politician (no, not Ramdev) must have thought about gay sex. Gandhi quite likely would have seen it on a par with heterosexuality, regardless of whether he was himself gay, bisexual or hetero. His ideal was complete celibacy, of body and mind (As the Bible says, even looking upon a woman lustfully is adultery.)
The fact is that in Hinduism there is no compulsion for anything. Gandhi would have certainly opposed the attempt by the self-styled moral brigade to impose their beliefs on the entire country. As we know, he was a great proponent of ahimsa—one of the fundamental principles of ashtanga yoga. Ahimsa is commonly understood as simply meaning non-violence and perhaps vegetarianism, but it stands for much more: love for all creatures; renunciation of not just physical violence but also mental violence; and not imposing your beliefs on anyone. It therefore behoves the 'pundits' that they desist from doing so in the case of gay sex as well.
They lack any moral or religious grounds to oppose the High Court verdict and LGBT people. The less said the better about the morality of the Catholic Church. (Just to remind readers, it is not opposing the Delhi High Court verdict but that hasn't stopped it from bleating about it in the media.) Its turpitude stands exposed—years of sexual abuse of scores of children and women who tried to take refuge in its fold. Judge not lest ye be judged, O Church! You need to set your own house in order before reminding others about Leviticus. Who knows, maybe the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah awaits you. Until then every Catholic ought to bear the cross for the sins of the Church, which they have funded.
The religious opponents of the Delhi High Court decision would have earned our respect for at least being true to themselves had they admitted their antagonism was because of their personal fears and biases, rather than being based on Indian religion and culture. They stand exposed before us as hypocrites and bigots who only know how to hate. They forget the teaching of their own traditions. God is not hate but Truth and Love.