Some of my best friends are homophobes. They are the type of guys who see other guys lurking in corners and throwing a knowing smile screech-bang in the middle of an otherwise perfectly asexual conversation just before making a lunge. Like me, they are heterosexual men who, while they loudly follow the proceedings of, say, Russell Crowe in Gladiator, go into a deathly silence when they suddenly realise that they may have been following the proceedings of Russell Crowe in Gladiator a bit too earnestly. The only way they can break out of this terrible moment is by cracking not-too-sophisticated jokes about gay men. Or about women (straight or otherwise).
But one thing that my homophobic friends aren’t is stupid. Which is something I can’t say about the hirsute blokes at the Law Ministry. Now, Law Minister H.R. Bhardwaj may not have found anything sinister in the Laurel and Hardy films he may have seen while he went to G.B.C. High School in Rohtak. But when he says that lifting Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) will open the floodgates for the sexual abuse of children, methinks he has mixed up his suppositories for his suppositions.
Section 377 of the IPC is one flabby piece of law. It deals with what is sternly known as “unnatural offences”. These do not include walking into lavatories meant for the opposite sex, serving sugar with a soup spoon, or insisting that Kareena Kapoor is still a pudgy girl. Section 377 deals with “whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the
order of nature with any man, woman or animal”. Such a man shall face imprisonment and also be liable to be fined.
Okay, so I do think that men having a thing for men is unnatural. But I also think that staying up at night to finish this column, to eat food that’s not raw, and to defecate in a ceramic bowl of water are also unnatural. If a man wants to conduct business with another man that goes beyond orthodox notions of male bonding, sure, I’ll be a bit frazzled. But it’s not my business unless it becomes my business. As the saying goes, one man’s freedom fighter is Michelangelo’s David.
But what the Law Ministry is saying is wickedly crooked. Not wanting to sound the honest bigot — and run into an open confrontation with the Health Minister’s suggestion to make male homosexuality legal (female homosexuality is not
illegal for the simple reason that, according to Indian law and the former Empress of India, Queen Victoria, it doesn’t even exist) — the Law Ministry has lumped all gay men as potential rapists of boys. The excuse for such ‘lumping’ is that we actually don’t have any law that specifically addresses child sex abuse.
So we have Section 354 that punishes those who ‘outrage the modesty of women’ and Section 376 that punishes the perpetrators of female rape. Both these laws apply to minor girls as well as to women. Which leaves the boys under the mercy of that quivering piece of legislation, Section 377.
Instead of lopping off the head to cure the headache (and thereby continue to outlaw consenting man-man sex), isn’t it more effective — never mind fair — to focus on the gnawing concerns of the straight-as-an-arrow Law Ministry by enacting the forgotten Offences Against Children Bill, 2005? Goa has enacted its own anti-paedophelia law. The Goa Children’s Act is far from perfect. For starters, it has too many loopholes for it to be properly implemented. But it’s still way better, both in terms of catering only to children as well as by letting those
Oscar Wilde-types be.
Let me just reiterate things before some of you get the wrong idea. I’ve always been uneasy about Soorma Bhopali in Sholay and had to shut my eyes pretty much throughout Brokeback Mountain. But those can’t be reasons for me to turn
Soorma and Ang Lee’s cowboys into predatory paedophiles.