The battle for human rights begins again. Even before one battle ends, another one begins, because not fighting for one’s rights is equivalent to death to minorities.
Death not just in the mortal sense, maybe that too, but the death of dignity, death of freedom or death by insidiously hacking away at self-esteem or identity. Human rights for minorities all over the world have never come easy, nor do they stay for long.
The battle is always won and lost. To constantly engage in battle is perhaps to win, but to stay still is certain psychological annihilation. As the slogan goes – Silence Equals Death.
That is the response to the often asked question “Why are feminists and LGBT activists so militant about their rights?” Silence equals Death.
Much has been written about and talked about after the so-called recriminalising of sex ‘against the order of nature’ by the Indian Supreme Court. The Supreme Court judge, just before his retirement, stood by Section 377 simply because such a section exists in our Constitution.
He also clarified its purpose was in criminalising non-consensual “penile non-vaginal” sex. He did not question the relevance of defining sex against the order of nature, especially in the light of new research on the nature of homosexuality.
Against the order of whose nature? I wish someone had asked him that question, if one is allowed to ask a Judge a question.
He did however say that Section 377 is in direct contradiction to the fundamental right in our Constitution, the right to live with human dignity and all that goes with it.
When the ruling was read out, there were cries of protest from activists, the media offered front-page coverage, and liberal minded Indians raised their voices in support. Sadly we raised our voice against the verdict, which, in fact, was sympathetic in tone.
A deaf society
The real battle is not against one Supreme Court judge but against a society comprising a billion people. A deaf society can only hear very loud voices, if at all.
Ironically, the allegorical personification of the judicial force is Lady Justice, blindfolded. The Goddess of Justice is meant to be blind to bias and subjectivity, but is in truth blindfolded to prevent her from seeing the unnatural order of society. They may as well be the blindfolds of oppression.
In this case, the Judge, no matter how well meaning, is a victim of thousands of years of conditioning. It is not what he said that reveals his conditioning but what he didn’t say. Guilty by omission. All he had to do was wade in shallow waters to save a drowning child.
Women in general, homosexuals in general, tribal cultures in general, Dalits and Muslims in our country, other ethnicities in other parts of the world – the list of oppressed minorities are endless.
Women are also a ‘minority’ because although large in number, their voices, spaces and intelligence have been reduced to insignificance and relegated to the margins for centuries.
Even greater quelled are the voices of homosexuals and people of transgender. For thousands of years homosexuals have had to live invisibly. Because of their invisibility, they were completely ignored by society, literature, philosophy and politics.
Ever so occasionally a poet or a philosopher would emerge that spoke divinely of same sex love, but was hastily buried and forgotten, never being allowed to exist in mainstream consciousness.
The twentieth century changed things for women. The emancipation of women led to feminist thinking to oppose the dominating patriarchal viewpoint. Feminism may have won many battles for women in the West, but in India we have yet to witness its healing power. As a society we hate women. Homosexuals and transgendered people are hated for the same reason.
Only maleness valued
The order of our society teaches us to value men and maleness. Anything less than that is inferior. Homosexuality in men is seen as a betrayal of that value. In women it is seen as a threat to the concept that male presence is necessary in a woman’s life to make her happy.
However, I am confident that the lost battle will be won again. The lawyers and activists, some of whom I know personally have been striving for years to repeal this abhorred section.
Writers and international human rights organisations have shown deep concern and offered great support to our activists. On them I cast my moral vote. As for political parties, if anyone campaigns with promises of human rights for all, and vow to take our society forward with greater social and economic equity, they will get my vote.
As for the Judge, I am told he is known to be a compassionate man. Even a stray dog is welcome to his home and won’t be turned away. I wish he had drawn upon his higher self and said those few words out of respect for the millions of people whose only crime is that they love differently.
If only he had condemned social discrimination and police harassment even as he acknowledged the presence of Section 377, he would have offered the same compassion he does to stray dogs at his threshold. After all, it takes just one lit candle to dispel a thousand years of darkness.