Going against nature, naturally
Traditionally, the first of the seven deadly sins of Christianity. Currently, the celebration of preferences traditionally deemed sinful.
Delhi, Kolkata and Bangalore had their first concerted gay pride march last Sunday, almost four decades after the first in the world was held in New York City in 1970. The pageant, which is now celebrated all over the world, commemorates the gay community’s first backlash against state oppression. The 1969 Stonewall Rising took place in the vicinity of the Stonewall Inn in New York's Christopher Street, where queers fought pitched battles for days on end with a homophobic NYPD. Now that sexual choice is accepted in almost all modern states, the pageant has left behind its roots in violent militancy. It is rather a joyful celebration of the diversity of human relations.
Sunday’s march was just that, though in India, gays still have something to get fighting mad about — Article 377 of the IPC, which prohibits relations “against the order of nature” and allows the state to persecute them. After a public appeal led by Vikram Seth in 2006, its constitutional validity is being challenged in Delhi High Court. But the law turns slower than the mills of God.
Scientific evidence could speed up the legal process. I'm not sure if the learned counsels keep up on their biology, but recent advances in the life sciences have shown that relations “against the order of nature” are in fact rife in nature. Ladies, gentlemen and people defined otherwise, please welcome Pan paniscus, or the bonobo.
The bonobo is the sweet, gracile chimp you see in the movies, with a centre-parting like T.S. Eliot. On screen, it wears sunglasses and smokes cigars. In real life, it exhibits compassion and empathy, understands human language, is self-aware, can recognise itself in a mirror and would rather make love than war. Genetically, it is humankind’s closest relation and experts believe it ought to enjoy the right to life, which is reserved for humans. It is also enthusiastically bisexual. The social hierarchy of the species is dominated by lesbian alliances. Everyday social interactions feature sexual content. Interestingly, most humans understand the gesture by which the bonobo invites you to, er, play.
This is not the only species that I would like our legal eagles to consider in deciding what is ‘natural’. Japanese macaques are lesbian by choice, many fish and lower species change their gender when the spirit moves them and you don't even want to know what piranhas get up to when the aquarium lights are doused. All right, scratch that. I made it up. Piranhas are deadly interesting fish but their sex life is a study in frustration. The teeth get in the way.
Pratik Kanjilal is Publisher, The Little Magazine.
The Word This Week, a column dealing with the latest trends and happenings in popular culture, appears every Saturday.