Navtej Johar on why decriminalising Sec 377 will allow Indians to think freely

It requires recognising that the 'Indian morality' we advocate is a recent construct and was defined under duress.

 |  3-minute read |   09-07-2016
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What can one say... except that as a nation, issues concerning morality and sexuality make us nervous. As a country, we haven't had mature and informed conversations about sexuality for a while.

Just listen closely, there are so many prevalent myths about homosexuality. I am sure there are many out there who claim to have never known a homosexual, or those would even go so far as to say that there are no gays or lesbians in our country.

They view those from the LGBT community as not just oddities, but also as elements who are perverse and dangerous to society.

Therefore, it is very important that socially conscious and responsible individuals from different walks of life come out.

I also feel that it would be nice if people who do not belong to the LGBT community support the decriminalisation of section 377. However, that should be a personal choice, considering some might fear doing so, and for some it may prove risky. Each one of us has to decide realistically, right?

The major question here is that at an individual level, many political leaders may be in the favour of decriminalising the section, but they don't get the support of their parties in Parliament.  

We (Indians) bought into the Victorian morality in the 19th century, and literally bent over backwards to make our paradoxical morality straight-laced so it was palatable to our colonisers.

Not realising the morally punitive Victorian era (which lasted no more than about 50 years) was a ploy, a construct to subjugate us further. But we, instead, adopted it and presented ourselves as eternally moral - that is where we are arrested.

We can step out of it by first becoming historically realistic and then embracing the sacred/profane moral fluidity that our literature and arts so beautifully talk about. But it is not easy to admit that you have been fooled.  

This, I think, is the biggest roadblock concerning the politicians pushing the question because it requires recognising that the "Indian morality" we advocate is a recent construct and was defined under duress.

Our coming of age as an autonomous people/nation will, at some point, require us to go through an "Oops!" moment, which we keep putting off.

I hope we can address and exorcise it soon.

That we talk about ourselves as the next superpower, but at the same time want to put homosexuals behind bars is not really a tragedy. We must start viewing it as something amusing as that might help us see the folly in it.

The historical reality is that we have been "had" on the grounds of morality. The colonisers told us in no uncertain terms that we "deserved" to be subjugated because we were immoral; they read our amorality as categorically immoral.

The late 19th century modernity could not tolerate the paradox or any kind of moral ambiguity, and after we got around to fixing that, the qualification a modern nation - which we aspire to become - must possess today is to be morally liberal.

It is therefore confusing and makes us look doubly foolish.

Addressing section 377 will give us the opportunity to think on our feet and reasonably autonomously define our morality, which has always been fluid, liberal and embracing of ambiguity.

(As told to Sukant Deepak)

Writer

Navtej Johar Navtej Johar

He is a Sangeet Natak Award winning Bharatnatyam exponent and choreographer. He recently moved the Supreme Court with four others to challenge Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.

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