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Social acceptance of same-sex relations remains low: Survey

A survey across eight Indian states has found that respondents are not forthcoming in stating their support of adult consensual same-sex relations.

india Updated: Apr 28, 2018 08:01 IST
Dhamini Ratnam
Dhamini Ratnam
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Same-sex relationships,Same-sex relations,LGBT
A survey by Azim Premji University and Lok Niti across 8 states reveals that respondents are not open in stating their support for same-sex relationships.(AFP File Photo)

Social acceptance of intimate homosexual relations remains low even as a clutch of petitions against Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalises all forms of non-penile vaginal intercourse, lies before the Supreme Court.

A survey across eight Indian states, which sought to map opinions on a range of subjects from ease of accessing government schemes to perceptions on gender roles, has found that respondents are not forthcoming in stating their support of adult consensual same-sex relations.

The survey, conducted jointly by the Bengaluru-based Azim Premji University (APU) and Lok Niti at the Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), is the second of three annual surveys titled ‘Politics and Society between Elections’ planned across 24 states and Union Territories to map social and political attitudes between elections.

It covered 15,222 respondents from eight states, including Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, and Maharashtra, and was conducted between December 2017 and January 2018. The report on the survey was released on Friday.

The participants were asked to respond to the following statement: ‘Sexual relationships between two men or two women should be accepted in society.’ They were expected to answer with any one of the five options: Fully agree, Somewhat agree, Somewhat disagree, Fully disagree, and No opinion.

A total of 28% agreed with the statement while 46% disagreed (these numbers are a combination of ‘fully’ and ‘somewhat’ categories). The remaining — a significant 26% — had no opinion.

Bihar and Rajasthan registered the largest share of respondents who supported same-sex relationships — 39% and 37% —while Jharkhand, with 64% who chose to disagree with the statement, had the largest share of respondents who did not support same-sex relations. The southern states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana had the highest proportion of respondents who had no opinion — 46% and 33% respectively.

“Looking at the answers to other questions (in the survey) and, more broadly, we are seeing a growing trend towards cultural majoritarianism, whether through love jihad, or ghar wapsi. Is this attitude towards same-sex relations also following that trend? As the demographic pyramid changes, will this attitude grow, or decrease over time?” asked Siddharth Swaminathan, a professor of policy and governance at APU, who is anchoring the project.

Love jihad is a term coined by fringe Hindu groups to describe what they claim is a conspiracy by Muslim men to lure Hindu women into marriage. Ghar wapsi (back home) is the campaign led by some groups for the conversion of non-Hindus to Hinduism.

Socially liberal

The survey asked questions to judge people’s attitude towards freedom of expression, displays of nationalism and patriarchal gender roles. For instance, they were asked to respond to the following statements: ‘The government should punish those who do not stand during the national anthem’; and ‘Women should have the right to decide whether to get married or not’.

Assuming that those who disagreed with the first statement and agreed with the second could be said to hold socially liberal views, Swaminathan cross-tabulated the data on these questions with responses on same-sex relationships. He found that many with socially liberal views did not come out strongly in support of same-sex relations.

For instance, nearly 76% of those who fully disagreed with the statement that the government should punish those who do not stand during the national anthem did not support the acceptance of same-sex relations in society.

Age was not a factor in expressing acceptance either: 21% of the youth surveyed (ages 18 to 35) did not have an opinion on same-sex relations, while 39% fully disagreed with the proposition. Only 11% fully agreed. Among the middle aged (36 to 59 years), approximately 37% fully disagreed and 29% did not have an opinion, while among the older respondents (60 years and above), a comparable 35% fully disagreed and 35% chose ‘no opinion’.

According to Bengaluru-based counsellor, Vinay Chandran, who has worked with the queer community for close to two decades, “The findings indicate that gender and sexual identity experiences challenge the social norm at a very fundamental level, a challenge that most people in India are still uncomfortable with.”

To wit, among those who had an opinion on the marriage question, 47% of those who agreed that women should have the right to decide to marry fully disagreed with the proposition that same-sex relations should be accepted in society.

Interestingly, a significant proportion of respondents — 21% — among those who disagreed with the marriage question ‘somewhat agreed’ that same-sex relations should be accepted. .

Chayanika Shah, a Mumbai-based academician and member of LABIA — a queer feminist LBT collective, which works with lesbian and bisexual women and transpersons — said, “The consistency of those that partially agree or disagree across questions should also tell us that many people do not want to take a stand and we do not know what their actual stand is.”

“We have found time and again with different groups that acceptance in the abstract gets many more ayes than when you start making its connections with them and theirs. As soon as we ask people about the possibility of someone in their intimate circle in same-sex relationships then their reactions are more negative. The real question is: what does acceptance mean? Is it mere tolerance or is it standing up for equal rights irrespective of who is in the relationship?” said Shah, who has been part of the queer rights movement for over two decades.

The cross-tabulated findings, shared exclusively with Hindustan Times, were first revealed at a conference on transgender rights and the law held in Bengaluru earlier this month. They do not form part of the survey.

First Published: Apr 28, 2018 08:01 IST