Rampant violation of rights of sexuality minorities
BANGALORE, February 16 -- A pioneering case study by the People's Union for Civil Liberties - Karnataka has shown that sexuality minorities in India, who include gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals, face intense discrimination and violation of their human rights at the hands of the state and society. The report, the first of its kind brought out by a human rights organisation in India, was released this morning at the Press Club of Bangalore and simultaneously in five other Indian cities. It is primarily based on data collected in Bangalore through interviews with lesbians, gays, bisexuals and hijras, as well as members of the police force and medical establishment. It examines the forms of discrimination perpetrated by the state -- namely, the law and the police -- and society, whose ambit spans the family, household, public space, workplace, the medical establishment, and popular culture.
The report has found that the most notorious form of legal discrimination against sexuality minorities takes the form of the antiquated Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalises homosexual behaviour. While the Indian Constitution prohibits discrimination on grounds of race, caste, creed, sex and so on, it does not specify sexual orientation. Does this mean that sexuality minorities can be harassed at will? It would seems so, from the attitudes of the enforcers of the law.
PUCL-K reports countless cases of extortion, blackmail, illegal detention, and physical, verbal and even sexual abuse of male gays in Bangalore by police personnel. In none of these cases have FIRs been recorded, since the complainants are terrified of being "outed" or "found out" by wider society. Interviews with senior police officers reveal a total lack of awareness about sexuality minorities and their rights as citizens. They generally regard homosexuality as an aberration, and as animal-like behaviour. One senior official said that groups that support gay rights in India are illegal!
The case study critically examines the medical establishment. Although it has adopted the WHO system of classification of mental and behavioural disorders, in practice it continues to treat homosexuality as a disorder. Practitioners usually do not distinguish between ego syntonic and ego dystonic homosexuality, that is, between those who are comfortable with their sexual preference and gender identity, and those who seek treatment because, although they are sure of their sexual identity, they wish it were different.
The report observes that many people regard homosexuality as "a disease to be cured, an abnormality to be set right, a crime to be punished". They deny the existence of sexuality minorities in India and label it as an upper class Western phenomenon. The existence of large numbers of members of sexuality minorities in Indian villages and small towns, and among the poor and non-English-speakers, flies in the face of this misconception. In fact, those from rural and lower caste backgrounds are further marginalised. Forced to conform to prevailing norms, they cannot express their true identities without fear of being ostracised. Many members of sexuality minorities suffer from feelings of fear, guilt, shame and low self-esteem. Social persecution, often by close family members, has sometimes led to suicide.
Hijras are despised, abused and tormented by society. Lesbians are doubly oppressed, given society's patriarchial attitudes towards women. There are no public spaces that lesbians share, and therefore society conveniently "invisiblises" them by ignoring their very existence. The majority fight shy of the public eye, realising that any attempt to be visible would be ruthlessly supressed. The gay movement in India has not paid enough attention to issues that concern them. Bisexuals are another marginalised group. Ironically, they face prejudices from other sexuality minorities as well, and are often accused of being dishonest about their sexual identity.
The PUCL report comes down heavily on the Indian media, which perpetuates stereotypes of homosexuality and, in the worst case, exhibits vicious homophobia. Among its recommendations are:
For copies of the report
contact Ramdas Rao 233 , 6 main , 4th block , Jayanagar , Bangalore 560056.
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