India voted with Pakistan, Saudi Arabia to block gay rights at UN, put us back in the closet

Vikram Johri
Vikram JohriMar 27, 2015 | 16:16

India voted with Pakistan, Saudi Arabia to block gay rights at UN, put us back in the closet

A friend is finishing off his PhD in Britain, and is now actively looking for jobs. If he earned some post-doc experience he could try one of the better universities back home. But he will not. He is gay and after the Supreme Court verdict of December 2013, he does not see a future for himself in this country.

When we chat, I laugh his caution off. "Come on," I have told him, "Section 377 does not affect anyone unless he is in the closet. I live openly as a gay man and I am not bothered by whatever you come across in papers or imagine happening to gay people. It's all cool". Sure, it's all cool back home at a time when the ISIS is throwing gays off buildings. The bar this world has set for us gays is pretty low, right? But I mean all's well so long as I choose to live as a bachelor with no hopes for companionship. For, while Section 377 may not affect me, the law of the land does not grant me any rights either. My friend repeatedly brought this point up and said he would not want to return to a country where he would be treated as a second-class citizen.


"Things are changing," I would tell him. "Look at the numbers who protested the SC judgement. Besides, India will be influenced more and more by the broader global conversation on this topic. How long can we inhabit the dark ages?"

Then March 25 happened. How wrong I was, and how right my friend has been. India voted at the UN in favour of a proposal brought forth by Russia which would deny same-sex spouses of UN employees anywhere the rights that they enjoy in their host countries. India had the option to abstain but it chose to join the club of 42 other gay-unfriendly regimes, including those that have draconian laws on their statutes such as Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Qatar and the UAE.

Of course, one could look at it as a game of diplomatic ping-pong which is what MEA spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin alluded to. "It was a complex issue of whether nationals of a state should be governed by their laws or others' decisions. That was the basis on which the decision was taken," he said.

Look at the glib doublespeak. Here is a basic human rights issue on which every government, whether of the Congress or the BJP hue, has shown remarkable agreement. Last night, every Congress spokesperson cried himself hoarse on TV over the BJP's orthodox attitudes. But the same party chose to do nothing about the issue when the SC put the ball in the government's court in 2013.


So now, we have a situation where India took an official position, of maintaining its independence when it comes to treatment of the UN employees as per its own laws and norms, not realising how blockheaded that stance is when said laws are discriminatory and against all precepts of equality and liberty.

I am one of those gay men who came of age in a changing India, an India that came out in full force to protest the rape of a medical intern on a December night, an India that wildly supported an anti-corruption movement, an India that was willing to have fresh conversations about issues that had long been considered received wisdom.

I have desired desperately to stay in this country so that I can be part of the changing landscape. I want to be the first generation that reaps the benefits of full LGBT equality. I know much needs to change on the ground but if the state and its arms move in the right direction, I have told myself, there will be light.

So far, so naïve. When even the official government stand on this issue is so negative and discriminatory, I realise my hopes for greater LGBT equality are a mirage that I will be extremely lucky to see fulfilled in my lifetime. When the government refuses to put its force behind our rights, what hope do we have for greater assimilation? Remember, this is country that continues to have a poor sex ratio in spite of public efforts to save the girl child that have been in place for decades. Imagine, then, the message the government has sent out with its UN vote.


My friend used to tell me that even if I were out and about in India, my attempts to lead a gay life will be a new battle every step of the way. Forget the fact, he said, that I lived in a country where a majority of those like me lived in the closet. Forget also, he said, that there is a culture of stigma and ostracism around homosexuality in general, and HIV in particular, in India. Those are issues of perception and with enough courage can be defied. But what will you do, he said, when you, yourself, your husband if he comes, the child the both of you plan to have, are all figments in your mind with no legal validity? Where would you turn then?

I used to brush aside his doubts and call him pessimistic. No longer.

Last updated: March 27, 2015 | 16:16
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