Changes for LGBT people in India come at cost

Blackmail, coerced marriages, depression and suicide rampant

The Washington Post and Nashua Telegraph reported mid-November on the state of equality for LGBT people in the world’s largest democracy.

Profiling one gay Indian, Mahesh, 24, writer Emily Wax delved into various issues, including gay fears of blackmail, criminal prosecution and the resulting pains of depression, suicide and coerced marriage.

Often associated with decadence by Western audiences, India’s culture has yet to fully embrace LGBT people. (Photo Credit: shlomotion, via Flickr.com)

Often associated with decadence by Western audiences, India’s culture has yet to fully embrace LGBT people. (Photo Credit: shlomotion, via Flickr.com)

After being blackmailed by an online acqaintance, Mahesh gave in and married a woman to keep his secret hidden from his family. The blackmailer didn’t just steal Mahesh’s life — he insisted on being paid $5,500. If Mahesh didn’t cough up the cash, the blackmailer would have told Mahesh’s family.

For Mahesh, life has been difficult since then. He recently attempted suicide, swallowing a dozen painkillers. When he was in the hospital, his blackmailer demanded more money. Now Mahesh is broke, and still married.

- - - advertisement - - -

“I really don’t want to die. But I also don’t want to keep lying,” Mahesh told Wax, asking to be called by his first name only. “I feel so trapped. According to the law, my blackmailer can report me and have me arrested.”

In India, the world’s largest democracy, homosexuality is included in the penal code as an act “against the order of nature.” Being convicted of homosexuality can send someone to prison for 10 years to life. Wax points out that the sentence is longer than most given for rape or murder.

American business growth in countries like India — coupled with the boom in populations of those under age 35 — is creating social change extending into sexual privacy and LGBT equality. Many international companies operating information and call centers protect employees on the basis of sexual orientation. Wax found that many young LGBTs are finding acceptance in the corporate world.

The social changes, being hailed by human rights groups as they begin historic legal challenges over the anti-gay laws first established by Britons in 1860, also extend to the long-held traditional marriages. As more Indians opt for “love marriages” over arranged relationships, taboos over love and marriage become less stringent.

“There’s real hope that the growing freedom in love and in career mobility for new India’s young generation can start to dissolve boundaries for gay and lesbian Indians, too,” Alternative Law Forum attorney Arvind Narrain, 33, told Wax. “But there are still a lot of problems, especially with blackmail and harassment, which is made possible by the law. We have a long fight ahead.”

As in most other societies, it’s the art and literary world — where LGBT people find the most growing acceptance — leading the charge for social growth.

But for most LGBT people in India, there are few resources or refuges from the storms of traditional anti-gay social attitudes. That’s why blackmail and coerced marriages are still common. Being outed to family and friends can lead to total disownment and total abandonment — not a state of life to be taken lightly in a culture that places a heavy focus on family ties.

India’s history has always treated homosexuality as a taboo, Wax finds. At the same, transgenderism has had more acceptance.

- - - advertisement - - -

Young activists will continue to fight the old laws criminalizing homosexuality.

“Gay rights is growing by leaps and bounds in India,” 24-year-old lesbian activist Ponni Arasu told Wax. 24. “But if this is the ne–w India, we should leave the old law behind. It’s too dangerous a law to live with.”

— Read more about India and homosexuality in Emily Wax’s Washington Post article “Gays in India share fear of blackmail, unhappy marriages,” at tinyurl.com/indiagays-wax.

News in brief

The governor of Puerto Rico has prohibited government agencies from discriminating against gay couples. The governor-elect says he’ll reverse the order once he takes office, in order to avoid higher health care expenses for tax payers. The Daily News, nydailynews.com.

The Finnish government has approved a bill that will allow adoption within same-sex families. The new law allows a second parent to adopt their partner’s biological child. The adoption right will be extended to all families, including to children born before the registration of a couple’s partnership. YLE International, yle.fi.

Members of the European Parliament are urgently pressing for explanation over Cypress’ decision to deny asylum to an Iranian gay man. Cypress says homosexuality in Iran is not a criminal offense in and of itself. Iranian law imposes death for men caught engaging in homosexual behavior. UK Gay News, ukgaynews.org.uk.

British LGBT groups are protesting the governments decision to allow anti-gay reggae singer Bounty Killer into the country for a performance on Nov. 21. The singer, whose real name is Rodney Pryce, often includes lyrics calling for the death of “faggots.” UK Gay News, ukgaynews.org.uk.

In mid-November, a cross-dresser was beaten in a rural town in Jamaica. Police officials had to fire warning shots to disperse the crowd and provided a safety escort to get the man safely to a near-by hospital. Anti-gay mobs lingered outside the hospital awaiting the man’s release. Republic of T, republicoft.com.

- - - advertisement - - -

Posted by Matt Comer

Matt Comer is a staff writer for QNotes. He previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015.