This fall, I received the opportunity to interview Agampreet Kalra, a staff writer based in India, about India’s recent decision to decriminalize homosexuality. For her extracurricular activities, Agampreet volunteers and interns for a local non-profit organization and recently received the opportunity to teach English at a local university. She has a passion for blogging and poetry, and her work has been published in literary magazines such as the Moonchild Magazine. Agampreet plans to follow her passion for writing and reading with the goal of being a journalist. She states that she strives to write “the truth and be the critic of the world”.
Agampreet believes that being a member of Redefy’s journalism team is imperative to our generation because it gives the youth the “opportunity to showcase what we can do for the world already”. After learning about Redefy on Twitter, she has been a member since August of this year. More specifically, she believes that it is important for those who want to utilize their efforts to see a change in the world. According to Agampreet, journalism “gives us a voice to express about world matters”. She believes that it is particularly important for teens like her who live in regions where opportunities to engage in social justice are scarce. In her words, she is a “firm believer” of John Keating’s quote, “no matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world”.
Background on India’s Decision, written by Agampreet
On September 6, 2018, the sun beat down perilously on crowds of Indian LGBTQ+ activists who stood outside India’s Supreme Court. Their hands were tightly clasped in each others’ before melting into stunned amazement as they heard the announcement: the Supreme Court of India decided to decriminalize Section 377 from the Indian Penal Court. Cheers rang out throughout the country – consensual homosexual intercourse was finally legal.
India has come a long way from its history of criminalization. During the British colonization of India, the British brought the concept of what would eventually be known as the Buggery Act of 1861. This act criminalized sexual activities “against the order of nature,” essentially barring sexual relations with any person of the same sex.
As a result, the LGBTQ+ community in India has been oppressed for almost 160 years.
Consequently, it comes as no surprise that on September 6, the resulting celebration was considered nothing less than a festival. Marches and parades wove through the streets, loud and gaudy from having waited far too long. Rainbow-coloured firecrackers exploded over the clouds as same-sex couples hugged and kissed each other in public.
“Love is not a crime,” a woman’s face paint boldly proclaimed.
However, before the decriminalization of homosexuality, being part of the LGBTQ+ community in India was considered a taboo – a taboo so wrong that being gay was widely considered as morally worse than rape. Retaining Section 377 meant that homosexual people were threatened simply for their lifestyle. Even until the last days of the criminalization, fake gurus advertised “tonics” or “mantras” to cure homosexuality.
With the help of an educated mass and constant urging by the LGBTQ+ community, India struggled valiantly to fight this egregious issue. The case of decriminalizing gay sex had been opened and closed several times throughout the decades; many had little hope that it would get any better this time. Yet, now LGBTQ+ members in India are better protected by the law in what is now known as a landmark victory of what was formerly thought of as the impossible.
Of course, social acceptance from all may just be a distant dream.
India, like any other country, has a number of social disparities, but such a massive step in a typically conservative country seems to promise hope for a better tomorrow. Change is undeniably occurring amidst the growing numbers of citizens accepting this – perhaps next will be the recognition and allowance of same-sex marriages.
Interview with Agampreet
- How did India’s decision to legalize homosexuality, a long-awaited victory, confront the issue of discrimination and adversity in the LGBT community?
It had been a great struggle for India as its part had been detached and latched all together multiple times. It has been through one of the most horrific partition journey and the most difficult times of emergency and national crisis. After a long struggle, it became a democratic country and in a democratic nation, all its citizens have different opinions and views on several issues. In India though, culture is the most important thing, even when the culture is comprised of so many different regional traditions, languages, and beliefs.
The LGBTQ community has been considered a taboo and against the ‘in culture’ from the start. In fact, in the earlier days, homosexuality was suppressed even from existence. It was considered a shame to be homosexual and most importantly, its suppression was so intense that some people even lived with a fallacy that people catch ‘something’ and become homosexual. It was considered as a disease, if not the worst.
A change is in the air in which people think has been quite evident since last decade. The LGBT community of modern society is more liberal and confident with their sexuality and are willing to fight for themselves. Most importantly, the youth is now educated and are helping in the freedom struggle. The supposed cultural principles were definitely questioned and led to the rational change.
- How do you think this India’s historic ruling impacted the rest of India’s LGBT community?
The day when the law was decriminalized was a day joyful for all. Even the heterosexuals celebrated it with much alacrity.
The LGBTQ community is now freer, more mentally than otherwise. The decriminalization has allowed them to move around with fewer inhibitions. Earlier, it was the matter of hiding their identity, never coming out. Many would feel utterly pathetic and weird about themselves. For example, I know that millions of gay people in India have already been engaged in marriages with people of the other sex and will never say a word about their own orientation.
Why marriages? Because marriage is must thing to have in India, if you’re not married then you possibly have a fault or your parents didn’t raise you right. So you can say various people were forced into marriages by the society.
At present, what has been done cannot be redone. Recognition of equality for homosexuals had been a rising sun for all communities. It is a hope for fighting against social despotism. Gay people can now at least state freely that they are gay before anyone threatens them, and the same goes for the hope of all others. Now sex between humans doesn’t matter if it is a man with a man or a woman with a woman. Sexual relationships with humans are now legal; a hope for LGBTQ to love who they want is now imposed. Now they don’t have to feel guilty or like a criminal. In a recent interview, I read one homosexual individual mentioning, ‘now I am not a criminal’.
- How have schools changed regarding their social treatment of LGBT students due to the ruling? Have they made efforts to be progressive and show support?
To be honest, nothing much has been said about the ruling at schools. The schools have not supported in the youth because homosexuality is still a taboo. As legal as it is now, in the minds of people it still a thing a normal person doesn’t have. Situations are different in different regions in India, but through my insight and from as much as I know the nature of the people living here, I can definitely say that it will be hard for a student of the LGBTQ community to come out. As a teenager, it will be the hardest because first of all, you live with your parents and they have great expectations from you and even more if you are an Indian kid. Homosexuality is still an issue. As much as the parents support homosexuality, to be bluntly honest, no parent in India would like their child to one. It is extra harder because you live with your them and they have some sort of ‘control’ on you- they can do whatever want with you— including prodding you, cursing you, or acclaiming you of bad spirits.
Secondly, the schools in India are a lot different than from the ones from western ones. If the students are intelligent and intellectual enough, they will understand this but most find this as a way to taunt. The fact about you being a homosexual will rather be a gossip for the others and it will be a traumatic and embarrassing experience. But again it varies from the thinking of students. In my school, a few girls were titled as ‘homosexual’ a few years ago and the controversies and slanders about them have been following them ever since. To be honest, in high school, all students are aware that homosexuality is normal and not a thing to advertise about, but the problem is that it somehow compresses into something else and it is showcased as controversial and something to talk about. The point is they are aware that homosexuality is not a scandalous or bad thing.
I think it will be rather easy for students to come out as soon as possible because it will make them firm about their identity. I think- they should come out but for themselves. They should be okay with themselves first and do not feel any type of negativity about this because this is totally natural.
In addition, I’d like to conclude that the situation in college is completely different than from schools. Somehow the people slandering the homosexuals with their obnoxious behavior start to support them. Maybe it is the change of environment, but people in college are more supportive and rather liberating about the topic.
- In what ways do you think this would influence the younger demographic of our society to raise awareness and gain knowledge about the social value of acceptance?
At present, I think the change has only been eminent due to the younger generation, the educated masses and courageous people of the LGBTQ community. It will definitely be a more enlightening experience for the coming generations. Now education is a must and the majority of the younger mass is already educated enough to know what is a fallacy or social injustice. I think the future generations would be different because change is already starting to take place. I think India will stand up to its unity in diversity. I think coming generations will be more accepting and tolerating. They will understand that changing and altering is the only mode of succeeding.
- Finally, what are the implications for regions of the world today where laws like this are not set in place yet? What could result from this new acceptance for the LGBT community in global policy?
Recently, on September 19, 2018, Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal ruled that same-sex couples will have their marital statuses recognized as part of the spousal application process. The new policy permits the recognition of same-sex marriages for visa applications, but no other aspect of society or law. I think this decision of Hong Kong and India will definitely promote other countries to decriminalize homosexuality. There is still a large ration of countries that still haven’t decriminalized homosexuality and penalties are still bringing out with strict actions. In fact, about 70 are still yet to decriminalize homosexuality and in states like Iran, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, it is punishable by death, under sharia law. And the same goes in some parts of Somalia and northern Nigeria. Even though there are more than 120 countries, the world cannot be counted as liberal. Russia, for example, has recently introduced laws banning the promotion of homosexuality. Russia was recently rebuked by the European court of human rights for a 2013 law banning the spread of “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” among minors.
There are more than 70 nations yet to decriminalize homosexuality and 8 of it punishes it with death.
Here, if even 2-3 of these states have been encouraged or influenced by the actions if India and Hong Kong- they will promote decriminalization, which will then possibly then influence or encourage some other 2-3 states (maybe not immediately but still) and they will take at least some action and the following some other 2-3 states… you get the point. The cycle will go on and one day the whole world will be freer and liberal.
I think the world will definitely follow up. Neighbors matter the most on the world stage. Allies and relationships are all a productive weapon to have for growth and peace. Differences in ideologies can either give a rise to dispute or growth. And this cause is definitely positive and provide growth, equality, and healthier lifestyles. The decision taken by India and Hong Kong had been a brave, hard and positive one and I’m sure rest of the world will take similar actions and make the world a better place to live in.
*interview has been edited for clarity
– Naomi Vuong and Agampreet Kalra