Does depicting homosexuality in a film amount to showing a social evil?
The question has come up before the Supreme Court which is to adjudicate on a Gujarat government decision refusing entertainment tax exemption to a movie portraying discrimination faced by a homosexual person.
Under the state’s law, such tax relief is granted to Gujarati language films made after April 1, 1997, “except those depicting evil customs, blind faith, sati, dowry and other social evils or those against national unity”.
The state government denied tax exemption to the 2013 film “Meghdhanushya – The Colour of Life” on the grounds that it came under the exception cited by law as it revolved around the “controversial” subject of homosexuality. It also pointed out before the top court that the Censor Board gave the film an adult certificate.
The Supreme Court in 2013 reinstated a colonial-era law banning gay sex in the country and left it to Parliament to make a legislative change, a decision that shocked human rights groups and prompted the United Nations to call it a “significant step backwards for India”.
The 1861 law, which imposes a 10-year sentence for “carnal intercourse against the order of nature with man, woman or animal,” was ruled unconstitutional by the Delhi high court in 2009, but conservative groups challenged this order with some calling homosexuality a disease curable through reparative therapy.
Meghdhanushya is considered to be the first movie to positively represent the gay community on Gujarati silver screen and was also picked as India’s entry to the Oscars. The film focuses on a young boy who finds himself attracted to people of his own sex. It portrays the situations they face and conditions they live in.
On a petition filed by the film’s director Kiran Kumar Rameshbhai Devmani, the Gujarat high court had on February 28, 2014 directed the state government to grant the necessary tax exemption to the film.
The state government immediately challenged the order in the Supreme Court and obtained a stay. An SC bench headed by Justice AR Dave agreed to examine the issue and hear the parties in detail.
In its appeal before the top court, the state said the film revolved around the “controversial” subject of homosexuality and had been granted an adult certificate by the Censor Board. It sought to justify the denial of entertainment tax exemption to the film, saying its theme came under the exception category.
Homosexuality acceptable to 43% of India's youth
Devmani had petitioned the HC after the Gujarat’s commissioner of entertainment tax twice declined him exemption.
First, he was asked to delete dialogues and words such as homosexual or gay as also the English sub-titles. On his refusal, the commissioner rejected his submission on May 18, 2013. The second time, he was told the film’s storyline was unacceptable, “not only in Gujarat but the entire country and the world over.”
Kumar contended that his film reflected the sufferings of a gay person because of ridicule by the society.
The HC allowed his plea saying the denial seriously “restricted the petitioner’s right to freedom of expression.” It said: “The issue perhaps embarrasses some members of the society and is talked in hushed whispers. That however would not mean that it falls in the categories mentioned in the exemption category.”