United in opposition

Print edition : January 10, 2014

Maulana Syed Jalaluddin Umari, president, Jammat-e-Islami Hind; Acharya Lokesh Muni, a Jain religious leader; Dominic Emmanuel, director of the Delhi Catholic Archdiocese; and Daljeet Singh of the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara management committee, at a press conference held in New Delhi in July 2009 to urge the government to intervene in the provisions of Section 377. Photo: V. Sudershan

IN a country where one is accustomed to seeing bigoted religious organisations speaking at cross purposes, the unity displayed by Hindu, Muslim and Christian organisations in welcoming the Supreme Court’s verdict on Section 377 is unprecedented. Individuals and institutions from these communities had petitioned the Supreme Court against the 2009 Delhi High Court verdict decriminalising homosexuality.

But there are dissenting voices as well, advocating respect for liberal human rights. “Islam treats homosexuality as a heinous crime, something that is unnatural. Even as a matter of justice, the High Court cannot just strike down the law. It is for the legislature to do so. Besides, one of the grounds for striking down the law was that it was discriminatory in nature, as it discriminated against homosexuals, who are a minority, and deprived them of their right to equality, privacy and dignity. If this was the basis, then tomorrow murderers and other criminals can also demand similar protection under the law claiming to be a minority group,” Ejaz Maqbool, a Supreme Court lawyer, who was counsel for the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, said.

Prakash Sharma, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) spokesman, said: “Same sex is against the law of nature. Even animals do not indulge in same gender sex. Then why should human beings want it? This [homosexuality] is a mental disease which can be treated with good sanskar [culture] and discipline, but instead of doing that we are trying to encourage this malady. In Hindu culture, sex is not a game; it is a sacred activity for procreation. But under the influence of misguided Western culture, we are treating it as a pastime, which is giving rise to all sorts of depravities in society. We must deal with it firmly.”

Christian organisations, too, hold similar views. The Apostolic Churches Alliance and Utkal Christian Council, which had challenged the 2009 verdict, questioned the concerns raised about HIV/AIDS, and denounced the “flimsy nature of this unfounded apprehension”. Reverend Paul Swarup of the Cathedral Church of the Redemption in Delhi said: “Spiritually, human sexual relations are identified as those shared by a man and a woman. The Supreme Court’s view is an endorsement of our scriptures.”

John Dayal, civil rights activist and secretary-general of the All India Christian Council, who is also a past president of the All India Catholic Union, said: “The law should remain to protect children and other victims who are forced into such relations against their will…. As a practising Christian, I am of the opinion that homosexuality is a sin, but it is not a crime.”

He, however, has a different viewpoint on the applicability of this law. “The police have no reason to hound out consenting individuals. They have to use this law selectively and wisely,” he said. He said though he was against the criminalisation of homosexuality, there was a need for such a law to protect genuine victims.

Even in the Muslim community, there is a section that feels the apex court verdict is retrograde. Two NGOs, the Muslims for Secular Democracy (MSD) and the Muslim Women’s Rights Network, said in a statement that they were shocked by the verdict as it failed to affirm the fundamental constitutional principle of non-discrimination among citizens.

“While the clergy is entitled to its views on what does or does not constitute a sin, it must realise that in a democracy punishments are prescribed only for crime, not for sins. So they should stop playing God,” MSD general secretary Javed Anand said. He added that same-sex relationships between consenting adults were no crime and those engaging in such relationships were no less human than heterosexuals. “Leave alone their being treated as criminals, any kind of discrimination against them is entirely unacceptable,” he said.

Hasina Khan of the Muslim Women’s Rights Network said homosexuals constituted a minority and Section 377 violated the rights of this minority group. She also opposed the religious groups’ arguments that scrapping 377 would encourage obscenity. “They have a problem with live-in relationships, too. This draconian act will give the police a tool to harass homosexuals, and that is why it must go,” said Hasina Khan.

Even among Hindu religious leaders, such dissenting voices have been heard. While on the one hand people such as Baba Ramdev welcomed the verdict and described homosexuality as a disease that needed to be treated, other religious leaders such as Sri Sri Ravi Shankar have a different view.

In three consecutive tweets on December 11, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar said: “Homosexuality has never been considered a crime in Hindu culture. In fact, Lord Ayyappa was born of Hari-Hara (Vishnu & Siva)…. Homosexuality is not a crime in any Smriti. Everyone has male & female elements. According to their dominance, tendencies show up & may change…. Nobody should face discrimination because of their sexual preferences. To be branded a criminal for this is absurd.”

Purnima S. Tripathi

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