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A return to tradition

Historically, india’s attitude towards homosexuality had been ‘unnaturally’ non-intrusive, even blasé — that is, until a law was drafted by Lord Macaulay in 1860 that made voluntary ‘carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal’ illegal.

india Updated: Jul 02, 2009 22:59 IST

Historically, india’s attitude towards homosexuality had been ‘unnaturally’ non-intrusive, even blasé — that is, until a law was drafted by Lord Macaulay in 1860 that made voluntary ‘carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal’ illegal.

The crux of the matter lay in the term ‘against the order of nature’, which — coming from a Victorian man whose social milieu in 19th century Britain was obsessed about ‘outing’ and proactively imposing sexual taboos — meant any form of non-vaginal intercourse.

The fact that Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code was as much about keeping the noses of the British ruling class clean as it was about imposing a coloniser’s legal system was made amply clear by the same Lord Macaulay when he addressed the British Parliament 25 years before drafting what essentially became an anti-sodomy law in Britain and across its empire.

He said on February 2, 1835: “...I propose that we replace [India’s] old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation.”

It took 150 years for us in India — and 42 years after Britain itself had made homosexuality legal — to figure out that we didn’t have a problem with same-sex relationships. So the notion of Indian society at large being appalled by the Delhi High Court’s ‘historic’ ruling on Thursday —that takes members of the gay and lesbian community out of the shadowy canopy of something ‘lascivious and anti-social’ — is misplaced.

Apart from the downright shamefulness of fellow citizens being considered criminals — even if theoretically, Section 377 was lying dormant for at least 20 years — for something as private as their sexual orientation, not only does homophobia run counter to Indian mores, but more importantly nobody much cares about it. Homosexuality and heterosexuality aren’t divisive, emotive issues in Middle India — sexuality is, especially when it concerns women and their perceived behaviour in a still male-dominated, anti-woman society at large.