India’s is the world’s longest written Constitution that way back in 1950 assured equality and liberty to women, poor, illiterate, homeless, orphans, oppressed and the marginalized. Yet, as is revealed, a core of repressive conservatism remained in the form of Section 377 which criminalized sex between consenting adults, which was not conceived to be in the order of nature.
Hence homosexuality and transgender sex came under its attack.
The history of this Act can be traced to a law in 1861, passed by the British colonialists, reminding us of Michel Foucault’s magnum opus, the three-volume treatise on the History of Sexuality. It appears from Foucault that modernising Europe was keen to restrict the definition of sexual pleasure only to sex between man and woman of similar ages, a combination which produced children within matrimony. The ancient Chinese since uncertain hoary days had restrictions which regulated intercourse to days that could beget the male child. India’s own Kamasutra fine tunes recipes for maximum sexual pleasures which prescribe heterosexuality.
16th century Europe may have been keen to reproduce itself biologically to counter the damage to its population caused by the crusades and plague in the earlier centuries but also to consolidate the institution of the family for a steady supply of soldiers, peasants, yeomen and other workmen for its growing factories. The Kamasutra was, on the other hand, an attempt at consolidating the society on the basis of uniform marriage patterns that included heterosexuality. It was also to foster a high culture and an aristocracy through prescribed standards of pleasure and enjoyment.
The VHP and the RSS’s thesis that homosexuality is an imported affair, like most of its theses, is completely ahistorical. Ved Vyas, the composer of the Mahabharata had diverse sexual preferences which started from bestiality and became more and more varied to the scandal of the Aryan epic society. The ruling over some kinds of sex acts as being unnatural was an Aryan import, to regulate and at the same time intermingle in an indigenous Indian society.
The present sentiments against homosexuality and transgender sex however are proscriptive rather than prescriptive. These sentiments emerge within the Right nationalists in response to the loss of the “centredness” of the Indian society around the family. Its invocation of parivaar in every walk of life is perhaps a desire to lionize the institution of the family so that spaces those which are outside the family are imagined to address the individual more softly and kindly. If the State is ruled as a family, the citizen becomes a member of a large family; if offices are run along principles of family, then individuals expect to feel more protected against impersonal rules and disciplines. The Right nationalism in India is the politics of creating family-like comfort zones all around one’s self and this can appeal to an entire range of individuals fearful of performing as free atoms in the public sphere.
The Right nationalist’s agenda of genocide is an extension of this fear, an attempt at elimination of the “other” whose presence requires the opening up the walls of the ensconced familiarity of the family. In the same way, the Right attacks various forms of sexualities those which are neither supportive of the institution of the family nor can reproduce the family. The intolerance of diversity, whether of ethnicity, or cultures, or ways of being and its upholding of a nation on the discourse of the parivaar is the bravado of a person who fears participating in the world as a wholly developed adult.
The writer is an independent media scholar