The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s nimble footwork could teach a thing or two to our struggling batsmen at the World T20. In a matter of hours, RSS leader Dattatreya Hosabale went from supporting homosexuality to say he didn’t want Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) folk punished, but they were ill nonetheless and needed treatment .
This is neither surprising nor new. A new uniform and Hosabale’s Twitter handle notwithstanding, the Sangh is rooted in medieval thought and primitive militancy that stops it from recognising people’s choices, lives and fundamental rights.
That homosexuality is not a disease is well established. From doctors to the American (and now Indian too) medical association have removed homosexuality from their list of illnesses, and doctors intervened in favour of removing section 377 before the Delhi high court and the Supreme Court.
Across the world too, the debate has moved on to questions of marriage and inheritance. Countries that had enacted strict colonial-era laws to police queer individuals have scrapped them – even orthodox countries such as Ireland that otherwise have regressive laws for abortion now allow same-sex marriage.
But the RSS has decided to go against the flow. They want to oppose section 377, possibly because it is a British law and doesn’t fit well with ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ but by insulting homosexual people and calling them ill, they’ve proved it more difficult to cast out colonial hangover in thought.
This is dangerous because the ruse of illness and treatment has been used for centuries to brutalise homosexual lives. Young children are thrashed, thrown out of homes, killed, raped, bullied and scarred if they show even the faintest signs of gender/sexuality non-conformity.
Parents of young girls and boys use corrective rape – a brutal practice where an older family member/friend/stranger/religious person forces themselves upon the adolescent to ‘cure’ them of homosexuality.
The RSS is oblivious of this reality. This is because section 377 to them is a way to look “cool” and a sign that they have “moved with the times” – much like the khaki-to-brown change.
But if they cared about the cause and were empathetic to LGBT lives, they would have understood that there are three axes to the queer struggle.
One is the decade-long struggle for legal recognition, one that is being fought for in the Supreme Court. It is a powerful strategy that aims to erase a regressive law and empower LGBT citizens by enacting the promise of liberty enshrined in the Constitution. The movement against section 377 is aimed at removing a tool of bullying in the hands of homophobic people, the police and state, and ensure that LGBT people are no longer disenfranchised.
But this liberty is meaningless without the second strand of the movement: A strong push for social equality and acceptance that foregrounds the LGBT person’s right to live with dignity and respect. Every day, hijra people on the streets are bullied, thrashed, raped or murdered, LGBT people are ridiculed at schools and workplaces and many hide their queer identities away in shame and fear. There can be no freedom without social dignity.
The RSS doesn’t understand it. In its race to be cool, it doesn’t understand that merely opposing the law while continuing to stigmatise homosexual lives will still recreate the oppression that LGBT people face every day. To pathologize homosexuality and call for mental treatment is to recreate the same structures of violence.
The Sangh is also unaware of the third leg of the movement, one that calls for broader freedoms across caste, class, religion, gender, sexuality, ability and ethnicity. LGBT freedom is meaningless if it doesn’t ensure women, Dalits, disabled folk and poor also are free from violence and policing. This is necessary because the same patriarchal structures oppress us all but also because a majority of queer folk are women, or Dalit or religious minority or disabled or a glorious mish-mash of these identities.
It is impossible for the RSS to understand this. But it is not surprising.
The RSS has done this before. It has said it supports women, while policing female lives, while upholding regressive traditions that confine women to domestic roles, while beating up women for being sexually active or vilifying women for not fitting into the ‘ma-behen’ mould.
The RSS has said it supports lower caste people but in the same breath opposes reservations, one of the fundamental tools of empowerment. It never says it is against caste but has little Dalit presence in its leadership. Its leaders rush to vilify Rohith Vemula as anti-national and take their knowledge from the Manusmriti and other Hindu texts that are deeply casteist and offer punishments such as pouring molten lead in the ears of a lower-caste man if they try to hear the Vedic rhymes.
It is not easy to change, not especially for a 90-year-old organisation that is aimed at upholding a regressive, traditional model of India that most Indians don’t care about or are opposed to. The intellectual bankruptcy of the Sangh is reflected in its strict discipline and militant tendencies. This is a cautionary tale for many of us who hold out hope for the Sangh or support it. The RSS has shown once again that all it is interested in is cosmetic change, not the true freedom and liberation of people.
The views expressed by the author are personal. He tweets at @dhrubo127.