Homophobia: A Western phenomenon imposed on the ‘other world’?

November 01, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Butler (1991) acknowledges the ever-increasing violence against gays and lesbians and the fear of their erasure from public platforms. She questions if the inherent ‘identity’ of a person be transformed by mere political agenda or pressure from a homophobic society. However, the legal and societal attacks on gays is more evident than that on lesbians merely because lesbianism is ‘not even produced within this discourse as a prohibited object.’(pg 20). It is merely because lesbianism is not recognized as ‘deviation’ from heterosexuality. For example, in the TV series ‘Orange is the New Black’ most women including the lead actress are shown to be just ‘experimenting’ with their sexuality but they are not ‘gay’. Hence, ‘lesbianism’ is not in the discourse whereas ‘being gay’ is in it but only as a fabricated sexuality. But this idea of heterosexuality being acceptable and homosexuality being considered unnatural must have sprung up from somewhere. This societal norm has led me to question the origin of homophobia in a country that has a culture deeply rooted in Hindu culture which in its historical form had accepted all sexualities (Wilhelm, 2014).

Hindu mythology dates back to around 3000 BC. During the Vedic India period, all kinds of sexuality were well accommodated in the culture. It was during this time that homosexuality was referred to as tritiya-prakriti or third nature. There are very old scriptures like Kama Shastra, Mahabharata and Bhagvata Purana that have made references to homosexuality (Wilhelm, 2014). Records from 4th century BC refer to eunuchs (neuter gender) occupying an important place in Indian courts. They were castrated for sexual purposes and had affairs with their masters for mere sexual purposes (Ember, 2003). The Kama Sutra believed to have been composed between 400 and 200 BCE is the oldest text compiled from the concept of Kama Shastra. It accepts homosexual behavior and gives instruction on how to be sexually fellated by eunuchs by an 8-step method (Murray, as cited in Ember, 2003). It also refers to svarini or a woman who is independent and refuses to have a husband and lives with other women. So, Hindu mythology had well accommodated homosexual behavior and it is even depicted on walls of the famous Khajuraho Temple. 

In the current era, homosexuality is looked down upon in the Indian society and homosexuals sometimes face severe consequences for choosing their own identity. According to Wilhelm (2014), it was during the time of colonization by the British Empire (in 1860) that the anti-sodomy law was enforced in India. According to Section 377 “Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall be liable to fine.” This was a step back for the Hindu culture since homosexuality was never criminalized before. Even while translating the Sanskrit scriptures they omitted any reference to homosexuality because it was against Christian values of the British ruling power. The Bible denounces homosexuality by making several references to it (Slick, n.d.):

Lev. 18:22, "You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination."

Lev. 20:13, "If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their blood guiltness is upon them."

The British ruled India from 1858 to 1947, which is almost a century. This is long enough time period to bring a change in beliefs and structure of Indian society. Apart from many of their legacies, they left behind Section 377 that we are still clinging on to. Post independence, we were already under so much influence of English culture that we forgot our very own roots. In 1967 the British repealed this Section 377 in their country. It was repealed in 2009 in India too but was reinstated in 2013. The Hindu culture has imbibed Christian values that were imposed onto us surreptitiously during the British Rule. They have gotten so deep into our own culture that we are unable to understand the openness and acceptability of all people irrespective of their sexuality. 

 

References:

  • Butler, J. (1991), ‘Imitation and gender insubordination’. In Fuss, D. (Editor). Inside/Out: Lesbian Theories, Gay Theories. New York and London:     Routledge
  • Slick, Matt (n.d.). Christianity and Homosexuality. Retrieved on November 27, 2014 from http://carm.org/christianity-and-homosexuality
  • Wilhelm, A.D. (2014). India's Slow Descent Into Homophobia. Retrieved on October 24, 2014 from http://www.galva108.org/#!Indias-Slow-Descent-Into-Homophobia/cu6k/F77FBC42-A78D-4B78-9511-1472EA95DFF7
  • Ember, M. (Ed.). (2003). Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender: Men and Women in the World's Cultures Topics and Cultures AK-Volume 1; Cultures LZ (Vol. 2). Springer.
  • Anonymous (4th Century BC). Kama sutra of Vatsyayana. (Burton, R., Trans.)

 


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