Saturday, February 08, 2014

Voices for queer love

Insight, Feb '14
By Pawan Dhall

Photo credit: Voices
Against 377
“I feel for all of you, for your struggle to establish your identity. It is never easy for parents – it was not easy for us to accept our only son as gay. But parents always want their children’s happiness and we have to make an effort, to re-examine our positions,” says 79 years old Vijaylakshmi Ray Chaudhuri. Four years her older, husband Pramathanath Ray Chaudhuri asks, “Why is it so difficult for the Supreme Court to admit that it could be wrong?” He was reacting to the Supreme Court’s rejection on January 28, 2014 of the review petitions filed against its recent verdict on Section 377, Indian Penal Code.

Both are residents of Diamond Harbour, a riverside town located to the south of Kolkata, and parents of queer and human rights activist, entrepreneur and former teacher Anis Ray Chaudhuri. Both were also signatories to a petition filed in the Supreme Court in 2010 by several parents of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other queer individuals from across India in support of the landmark Delhi High Court ruling of July 2, 2009, which read down the outdated Section 377 on constitutional grounds and decriminalized queer people. The petition was filed when the Delhi High Court ruling was challenged in the Supreme Court by a number of religious and political bodies. A similar petition was filed by 13 mental health professionals from across India, a number of them from Kolkata.

These scenes from Diamond Harbour seem to hold symbolic
value for the Indian queer movement.

Photo credits: Pawan Dhall

In the backdrop of the Supreme Court setting aside the Delhi High Court ruling on December 11, 2013 and recriminalizing millions of queer people in an insensitive and retrograde move, Varta got in touch with some of the Kolkata-based petitioners to find out what they felt about the recent developments and their thoughts on potential next steps. Dr. Debashis Chatterjee, psychiatrist, says that the Supreme Court verdict has not affected his work as yet. But he apprehends that over time it will. Parents are bound to bring up the Supreme Court verdict in their quest to have their children ‘cured’ of homosexuality or gender variance. “It will be tough to explain to them the difference between law and medical science – what may be seen as criminal need not be a disease,” he adds.

Psychologist Jolly Laha also says that the Supreme Court verdict has not affected her work so far, but she doesn’t expect it to even later: “Lesbian or gay clients, or parents of such individuals are more concerned with social pressures rather than legal matters. And it is at the social level that we need to do much more work.” She is disappointed that despite repeated suggestions, NGOs working on queer issues have not organized regular interfaces between parents of queer children and mental health experts.

“Group sharing of concerns and expert inputs will help many parents to vent their feelings and in the process feel better equipped to deal with their children’s sexuality,” she asserts.

Dr. Debashis Chatterjee, associated with the West Bengal chapter of the Indian Psychiatric Society, talks about upcoming action on the mental health front as a discipline. He shares that the Indian Psychiatric Society plans to announce its official position on the matter of gender and sexuality diversity and decriminalization of queer people. “In the last 15-20 years, many changes have come about. Text books no longer mention homosexuality as a disease. It is now considered to be just a developmental variation, and there is nothing to do about it other than provide psycho-social support to individuals who are confused or pressured about their sexuality,” he says. Unfortunately, many old school mental health professionals are still likely to hold on to earlier ideas, and even the Indian Psychiatric Society’s stand on homosexuality may not be binding on individual practitioners. “But change is coming about,” adds Dr. Debashis Chatterjee optimistically.

Photo credit: Voices Against 377, a queer rights collective
that participated in the 'We the People Reclaim the Republic' event 
Change is what Vijaylakshmi Ray Chaudhuri also believes in: “Let us pray for the success of all the efforts to bring about new thinking.” Her prayers are being answered in unique ways. On Republic Day this year, representatives of more than 35 progressive movements and individuals engaged with issues concerning women, children, youth, queer communities, Dalits, disability and labour rights marched from Barakhamba Road to Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. Their purpose was to assert a shared vision that the Indian Republic must stop human rights violations of its marginalized communities and strive to be inclusive of all of them. A Facebook statement of the event ‘We the People Reclaim the Republic’ read: “As we commemorate another Republic Day, We The People proclaim that the parade of the powerful at Rajpath does not represent us. We The People, Reclaim our Republic.”

The event may not have grabbed as many media eyeballs as the Republic Day Parade, or even the political drama enacted by the Aam Aadmi Party outside the Home Minister’s office in New Delhi in the form of a dharna (sit-in fast and protest) and in the name of women’s security just days before Republic Day. But as a harbinger of change that comes about gradually but surely, there could not have been a better example than the clarion call embedded in ‘We the People Reclaim the Republic’.

Pawan Dhall aspires to be a rainbow journalist and believes in taking a stand, even if it’s on the fence – the view is better from there!

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