The Supreme Court in its retrograde judgment on Section 377 of the IPC overturns the progressive Delhi High Court judgment of July 2009 on the grounds that the percentage of people who are homosexual is “minuscule”. In doing so it endorses a dangerous politics of majority versus minority that normativises heterosexuality because it is seemingly practiced by a large number of people, and stigmatizes homosexuality because, apparently, it concerns only a few perverse men and women. To equate what is right with the views of the majority and wrong with the views of the minority is, of course, simplistic. Most Indians think that men are superior to women, and that Dalits are less able than upper caste and upper class people. That, however, does not make it the truth. In this case, the learned judges seem to have forgotten that the judiciary’s job is to dispense justice, not to play to the gallery.
Yet that is exactly what they have done. The hue and cry that followed the verdict was restricted to the intelligentsia. Random surveys conducted across India’s towns and cities proved, shockingly, that India’s mindless millions, many of them with university degrees, still think of homosexuality as filthy business that induces AIDS and other STDs, and of homosexuals as paedophiles who privilege sex over love. Gay love is to them indecent and obnoxious.
This bias is universally reflected all around us — in Bollywood films, in newspaper and television advertisements, and in the commentaries of radio jockeys on the numerous FM radio stations that have proliferated all over India (that young people hear). Love, whenever it is spoken about, is always straight love.
While the Supreme Court privileges heterosexuality as the normative sexuality, ostensibly because it is procreative, and this thinking percolates to the man on the street, what the latter does not realise, or conveniently forgets, is that privileges come with responsibilities. But, as events of the past one year have shown, heterosexuals across the class spectrum have grossly misused that privilege. Perhaps the only thing that connects celebrity heterosexual men like Shiney Ahuja, Asaram Bapu, Narayan Sai, Tarun Tejpal and Justice Ganguly to the riff-raff in the Nirbhaya, Delhi, and Shakti Mills, Bombay sexual assault cases is their propensity to rape and molest. All of them are turned on by women.
By contrast, homosexual men, in spite of the social ostracisation they face daily or perhaps because of it, have managed their sex lives with maturity and restraint. Homosexuals are bullied by the police and by hoodlums alike, partly on account of homophobia, and partly because their networking, often carried out in public spaces like parks and washrooms (and this owing to the lack of a viable alternative), makes them a lucrative source of income.
The gay community also has its celebrities. Some of them are Ashok Row Kavi, Suniti Namjoshi, Ruth Vanita, Hoshang Merchant and Vikram Seth. Yet there has never been a sexual assault charge against any of us. In one case, a movie director was wrongly accused of molesting an aspiring actor, but the latter soon withdrew the charge, acknowledging that what had happened between them was consensual and a sort of casting couch syndrome.
That we have been good boys and good girls was evidently insufficient reason for Justice Singhvi (in his last day in office) to cast his view of majority good, minority bad, into the trash bin. I wish someone had acquainted the judge with the economics of scarcity. Love, because it is so scarce in the lives of gay folk, is handled as a prized possession, while heterosexuals regularly take it for granted.
The writer is an author and a professor of English at the University of Pune