The arrest of a 32-year-old man in Bangalore under Section 377 has once again brought this archaic law that defies basic human rights, back into focus. Without playing down the marital discord between the man and his wife or the latter’s anguish, the fact is that she has used the archaic law to define her husband as a criminal and not a ‘cheat’. Clearly, her reaction would have been different had he been caught with another woman.
This marriage was reportedly an arranged one and that the two had had no intimacy as the man refused physical contact. The lack of intimacy was a good enough reason for her to walk out of this marriage, as the Delhi High Court ruled a year ago. But this is just a tiny part of what happened as events reflect the terrible limitations that society imposes on people. To start with, just like many homosexual men and women, this man agreed to an arranged marriage under family pressure. His wife may have had similar pressures, resulting in a marriage that was acceptable to the two families and not the two individuals.
At every stage of the marriage, patriarchy has shouted out loud. When she questioned her husband’s reluctance, her in-laws blamed her for not being ‘attractive’ enough — a typical retort blaming the woman. Her husband’s inability to share the truth underlines how fear creeps in, shaped by society’s pressures to conform.
Any member of the LGBT community can tell you that married men exist in the gay world. The numbers are not that small. One could argue that they wrongly entered into marriages and hence are ‘cheats’. But think of it, those who force such marriages are equally guilty, if not more than those who maintain the alliance.
Studies in the US say that of all the Google searches that began with ‘Is my husband…,’ the most common word to follow is ‘gay.’ Gay is 10% more common in such searches than the second-placed word, ‘cheating’. In India, there is no data to determine the number of women locked in marriages with homosexuals but they could be many given how society blesses such partnerships. No wonder, the parents of the arrested man found fault in the woman and never questioned their own son, or feared to do so knowing how hellish the truth could be in a society that they themselves have nurtured. Of paramount concern is that many more such marriages may now be questioned under Section 377 rather than through the process of divorce.
This is obviously not a fair way to go as it allows misuse of the law against sexual minorities who are evidently ‘cheating’ but are actually faulted by the system that disallows them choices that they must make given their own nature. The Courts and political spectrum must take note that by continuing with Section 377, they are not merely giving allowance to unequal rights but are also ruining the lives of many women and innocent men.
Sharif D Rangnekar is CEO & Director, Integral PR
The views expressed by the author are personal