Rainbowman: Baba Ramdev, Families of Choice and the Middle East
Every morning as I unfold the newspaper, I see its pages splattered with the blood of the rainbow. News reports of ISIS cruelty appear with alarming regularity and the nature and degree of violence inflicted on homosexual people appears to be escalating in the Middle East. Gay men are either beheaded or blindfolded and pushed from rooftops of tall buildings. If they survive the fall, they are stoned to death. Unofficial estimates say that 30 people have been killed by ISIS for being gay in 2015 alone.
And then I read in the newspapers recently that Russia is training its guns on the ISIS in Syria. While I appreciate the fact that Russia is waking up to the crises of hatred and inhumanity in the world, I can’t stop myself from thinking about Russia’s own track record when it comes to hate crimes against people of varied genders and sexualities. It isn’t as if all Russians hate gay people. I remember meeting Gary Kasparov at the infamous Tehelka Think Conference two years ago. I went up to him and introduced myself, without hiding my sexuality. Kasparov showed great empathy and concern for the cause.
Many people, who have grown up in cultures that are traditionally opposed to the LGBT community, have gradually grown to not only accept but also befriend rainbow people. This is perhaps a result of a psychological evolution. But I guess, evolution doesn’t always mean bidding good riddance to bigotry.
Back home, I have got much attention from people like Baba Ramdev who have been interested in my sex life more than me. He has been on TV shows and has very vociferously dubbed gay people as characterless and unnatural. He was so worried about our so called ‘deviant sexual desires’ that he went to court about it. There was a time when I didn’t really know if I should feel good about his concern or be worried. Now I choose the former.
In fact, I decided to give Patanjali products a shot to see if they could actually help me get rid of my homosexuality. I wondered if Baba’s concoctions could un-gay me. Far from it. Not only did they fail to kill my libido or my interest in men, they made me feel a special kind of spiritual connection with my own sexuality. I was never a Vaasna ka Pujari, but now I’m actively looking for my Mann Mandir Ka Devta to put a Var Mala aound his neck! I want to do ‘Haath Peele’ before I do ‘Mooh Kaala’. Infact Baba Ramdev’s Yoga positions have made me more flexible. I’ll be sure to send him a thankyou note after my Suhag Raat, if my Pati Parmeshwar is pleased with my performance (wink! wink!)
Post the section 377 verdict of the Supreme Court verdict in 2013, people have been assuming that it is illegal to be gay in India. It has never been so. I am gay and I cannot be put in jail for being gay. But yes, the Supreme Court actually embraced the Victorian section 377 in its pure form and has thrown the ball in the parliament’s court to decide its fate.
So now, unnatural sex or sex against the order of nature can invite a jail term, even if it is between a man and a woman. What is unnatural sex? I believe homosexuality is absolutely normal sex but not interspecies sex or for that matter sex with aliens. And what exactly is natural sex? Is sex for procreation the only natural thing? I’m sure that you are with me when I say that sex is natural, whether it is for procreation or recreation. No man or woman, in his or her sane mind, would tell their partner “come, let’s have natural sex” or “yay! Let’s make babies”. This, in a way, also highlights the deep rooted prejudice against non-procreators.
Despite this law, I know that some people feel absolutely normal being gay in India. While sometimes, everything seems hunky-dory for LGBTIQ rights, but sometimes it is just a facade. My friends and I have learnt the art to laugh at ourselves. We have learnt to spike our lives with humour, and reply to slander with equal witty repartee and playful banter. We have learnt to be strong. But we couldn’t have done it without brave men and women who have stood by us and fought for our rights every hour of every day.
We recently celebrated 25 years of the Bombay Dost, a magazine for gay people started by renowned gay rights activist – Ashok Row Kavi. When I was coming out, I just knew one gay man – Ashok. It is because of the hard work of activists like him, who dared to be who they are, that a complete generation of LGBTIQ people have the courage to be ourselves. His brainchild The Humsafar Trust, along with its youth wing – Yaariyan have been in the forefront of LGBTIQ rights and advocacy.
Leading the charge are brave people like Sonal Giani, Advocacy Officer, The Humsafar Trust. She is princess charming and saviour to every troubled gay man. A sort of Lara Croft meets Xena, she is on the front lines when LGBT people land up in extortion cases that are like “I will tell your mother you are gay, if you don’t give me money” and like “I will shame you in public”. Warrior Princess Sonal reaches the spot, gives the guy a comforting hug, and takes on the bullies head on. She files police complaints, follows up regularly. Sonal quotes procedure for FIRs like one would sing nursery rhymes.
There are also those who don’t wait to be rescued. They become their own saviours. Take the recent case of Shivani Bhat, who was born a girl, but identifies as a man. I choose to refer to him in the gender of his choice. His parents had brought him to India to reform him and teach him how to be a ‘proper girl’. Shivvy (as he prefers to be called), moved court in protest. The progressive Delhi High Court issued a verdict in Shivvy’s favour stating “gender identity and sexual orientation are fundamental to the right of self-determination, dignity and freedom.” Seen in every video of his is activist Lesley Estaves. That’s the politics of the self in India. You will usually find people to stand with you. You will have a family of choice, if ever your birth family abandons or rejects you.
While all is not well for Equal Rights in India, we are not like the Middle East yet. We are on a slippery ground though, and unless we find strength to stand united, a Hetro-Homo Bhai-Bhai alliance against bigotry, it won’t take long before the Rainbow begins to bleed in India.
(Harish Iyer is an equal rights activist working for the rights of the LGBT community, women, children and animals. ‘RainbowMan’ is Harish’s regular blog for The Quint)