Muslims must oppose Sec 377: Kitchen or bedroom, State can't get in

M Reyaz
M ReyazFeb 03, 2016 | 14:32

Muslims must oppose Sec 377: Kitchen or bedroom, State can't get in

The Supreme Court of India gave the LGBT community a new lease of hope, on February 2, by agreeing to review its earlier decision on upholding the colonial era law which criminalises homosexuality. The apex court has referred the case to a five judge bench. In December, 2013 it had put aside an earlier judgment of the Delhi High Court on decriminalisation of gay sex, pertaining to Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.

Interestingly, the court’s rather progressive development has come at a time when the trailer of Manoj Bajpayee starrer Bollywood film Aligarh is getting attention.

The film captures the tragic life of Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras, a professor at Aligarh Muslim University who was caught on camera in a sting operation. He was not only suspended by the university, but also hounded. Although he later won the case against the university, Siras was found mysteriously dead, and was suspected to have committed suicide.

Many blames the conservative and regressive environment of AMU fraternity and our society at large for the tragic death of the professor. The court intervention, once again, provides India's religious minorities – who themselves are often discriminated – an opportunity to shed their inhibitions and come out, extending their support to the sexual minorities.

It should be noted here that the Delhi High Court judgment was challenged in the apex court, by Christian and Muslim religious groups and individuals, among others. The list of petitioners included All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), The Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam, Raza Academy, Utkal Christian Council, the Apostolic Churches Alliances, as well as by the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights. There were some Hindu individuals and cultural political groups too, such as Sanatan Dharam Priatinidhi Sabha, Krantikari Manuvadi Morcha Party, (late) BP Singhal (of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad), SK Tijarawala (a spokesperson for Baba Ramdev). The Supreme Court had merely pronounced on the “correctness of the view taken by the Delhi High Court on the constitutionality of Section 377 IPC” and had concluded that the said “section does not suffer from any constitutional infirmity.”

Although the Supreme Court had not taken a radical step to protect the rights of the sexual minorities earlier in 2013, it nonetheless had made it clear that “the competent legislature shall be free to consider the desirability and propriety of deleting Section 377 IPC from the statute book or amend the same as per the suggestion made by the Attorney General”. It is hence equally the failure of our elected representatives.

It is also rather "queer" that religious and conservative groups of different faiths, who are otherwise at loggerheads most of the time, are unanimous in calling homosexuality a “disease” that needs to be cured. They do not flinch from calling it a sin while advocating it to remain "criminalised". The religiously conservative people might have all the arguments, and one may appreciate their zeal in upholding the religious texts they believe in. But, while most Abrahamic religions consider homosexuality as unnatural and sinful, their Hindu counterparts appear to be on the fence on the issue.

The contention is not whether homosexuality is an immoral act and should be considered a sin or not. Instead, the argument should be, whether we are willing to allow the State to control what goes on in our bedrooms, to let them continue with the vestige of a colonial era law, giving the police the power to even peek through our windows. Or worse, let a frenzied mob take matters into their hands to "correct" sexual orientations?

People who deride at the police or mob entering our kitchens and opening refrigerators to check if the meat we are consuming is beef or not, should be as worried when the same tries to enter our bedrooms.

Moreover, the issue is not just about legalising homosexuality or same sex marriages (although a more positive step would be allowing civil marriages). It is about decriminalisation of an act between two consenting adults to prevent them from the trauma, torture and penalisation under a draconian law that is prone to be misused.

The issue is between public freedom and private morality which our lawmakers as well as most conservatives, it appears, fail to distinguish.

Let us be clear, India professes to be a secular democracy and the laws of the land should reflect the same. We must not discriminate against someone for who he or she is. One’s freedom to choose his or her sexual partner is a matter of civil rights and the state should have no business in determining the private morality in this pluralist democracy.

Religious minorities – who often themselves complain of being discriminated – must oppose the rights of a community simply because they do not subscribe to their views? Where is it going to stop then? Will they next demand nationwide ban on alcohol and further demand a stronger blasphemy law like Pakistan?

For Muslims in this country, certainly there are far more serious concerns of social justice, education, unemployment, women empowerment etc. Muslims fare below the national average on most of these social indicators. There are rampant institutional discriminations. A disproportionately high number of Muslims languish in jails, many of them on made up terror charges. Muslims, instead of fighting the case in the court of law, should they channelise their energy more fruitfully.

If at all clerics are so worried about "social corruption", they should instead mobilise and run campaigns within the community rather than demanding it to remain a "criminal" act.

As a religious minority fighting everyday discrimination, struggling to get equity and justice, Muslims should not only empathise with the sexual minorities, but support them as a matter of principle considering it a civil and human rights issue.

Besides, Quran guides us with a verse: Lakum deenukum waliya deen (For you is your religion, and for me is my religion). So, we should draw an inspiration from this message of Islam for our democracy to thrive. This would perhaps prevent another Siras from committing suicide.

Last updated: February 26, 2016 | 15:36
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