What is the entire nation celebrating today? The passing of a law which was not at all prevalent in India before the invasion of Britishers? After 71 years of Independence, is the nation still celebrating yet another freedom from a British law or fighting the bigotry fed to the Indian minds by the British?
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The law against Homosexuality was introduced in India, 80 years before it was declared independent by the crowned British empire in a purported attempt of its ‘civilising mission’. This law was imposed, along with anti-sodomy law, in British colonies of England. However, years later, when the United Kingdom Parliament legalised their own ‘taboo’ of homosexuality in England and Wales in 1967 and Scotland in 1980, it took more than a century for India to abolish a law which was not its own primarily.
Around the 19th century, as historical reports suggest, homosexuality was frowned upon in England, and hence many people came to India to enjoy the liberal atmosphere with regard to different kinds of sexual conduct. When the words started spreading, Lord Macaulay, who drafted the Indian Penal Code in 1860, included Section 377 which introduced the concept of sexual offenses against the order of nature.
Law against homosexuality was purely a Western concept which came with British colonial baggage and managed to float in the Indian society to date.
While India remained a proud torch bearer against homosexuality, the penalty imposed by Section 377 would go up to 10 years in jail. However, if we go back to the most popular Hindu law book of medieval and ancient India, ‘Manusmriti’, the contradictions take a glaring spin. According to the ancient law book, if a man has shed his semen in non-human females, in a man, in a menstruating woman, in something other than a vagina, or in water, he should carry out the painful heating vow. Thus, this idiosyncratic vow was meant not only for homosexuals but also for errant heterosexuals. The penalty would further soften if the homosexual belongs to an upper caste.
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‘Kama Sutra’, a classic written in the first millennium by Sage Vatsyayana, bears yet another hallmark of the liberal Hindu heritage. In the classic, the author devotes a whole chapter on homosexual sex, saying it is to be engaged in and enjoyed for its own sake as one of the arts. Besides suggesting a detailed description of oral sex between men, Kama Sutra also categorises men who desire other men as third nature and refers to long-term espousals between men.
Over the years, even after the British authorities stopped ruling the several colonies established by them, the laws continue to shadow these places. With India decriminalising homosexuality, a string of hopes canvases a historical movement towards another freedom. Hopefully the landmark judgment of September 6, 2018 would end all discriminations and taboos against the LGBT community.