Midway through the Supreme Court’s hearing on de-criminalising homosexuality, justice GS Singhvi was intrigued to hear that homosexuality had existed in Indian literature through the ages. On his request, counsel for the petitioners submitted the book ‘Same Sex Love in India: A Literary History’, which justice Singhvi would remark upon later.
The book, edited by two history scholars Saleem Kidwai and Ruth Vanita, clearly establishes that homosexuality existed and was, in fact, even celebrated in ancient literature and was visible in Hindu, Buddhist and Islamic cultures. It meticulously tracked same-sex love recorded in ancient scriptures and folktales that had been passed down for generations.
In the modern era, they found instances of poetry with clear references to same-sex love from regions as diverse as Lucknow in the 18th and 19th centuries as well as in folktales from 20th-century Rajasthan. A tale justice Singhvi would relate during the hearing of the case was by noted writer Vijaydan Detha, who passed away earlier this year.
Detha, whose works have been translated into cinema, told the story of two women falling in love after their parents had betrothed them to each other before they were born. This tradition of homo-eroticism, the editors noted, would change in 1861 after the British criminalised homosexuality through section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.