The Supreme Court of India finally decriminalized gay sex (section 377 of IPC introduced in 1861). Reading the report; I had mixed feelings. From the time I was a child growing up in a Hindu household in Kerala, I was told that the gender binary of the deities that we worship are deliberately ambiguous and nature meant it that way. Our texts from the Vedas to the Puranas, Mahabharata, Ramayana, Upanishads, why even Jataka tales talk about them as part of the steady state of nature. So what went wrong and why did it become a crime?
Some stories that we all heard in childhood probably from our grand moms and/or grand aunts will lead the way to describing how this potpourri of alphabets that it has now been degraded to were viewed in the earlier days in India.
- Lesbian – Mothers of Bhagiratha; the man who got the Ganges down to earth
- Gay – Agni and Soma, Mitra and Varuna
- Bisexual – Siva, Agni, Vishnu and almost all deities in the Hindu pantheon
- Transgender – Aravan, Shikhandin
- Queer/Questioning – Siva, Vishnu, Parvati, Krishna, Arjuna etc at various stages of their lives
- Intersex – Ardhanarishwara
- Asexual – Devi
- Polyamorous – All male and female deities in the Hindu pantheon
Why did the land where same sex marriage and uninhibited sexual experimentation was carved in stone for world to see in Khajuraho become a place where the over throwing of a law written by a white man steeped in Victorian prudery is celebrated today? How did a law like that even remain in our books 71 years after the white man went home? Definitely worth pondering.
The asexual Devi (mother goddess) creates earth. The triumvirate of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva all deliberately gender ambiguous are installed to guide the world. All oral and written myth and history celebrates this ambiguity. Jainism and Buddhism texts talk openly about the third gender, homoerotic prose and their latent intolerance towards it. Not because of anything else but their belief that sex is only for procreation and all other energies should be channeled to attain nirvana.
Hinduism (Bhraminical) makes a comeback. Kamasutra and the temples of Khajuraho, Konark, Virupaksha, Thirumayam, Tripurantaka etc. get built. There is also a Jain temple in the Khajuraho complex just in case you thought that the Jains were against sex. The Islamic invasions start with the Turk, Mongol and Afghan warlords. History tells us that they were also partakers of a varied sexual diet despite strictures against it specifically homosexuality in the holy texts. Sultan Mahmud Ghaznavi vandalized his minister’s house (Abul Abbas Fazal Bin Ahmed) after he came to know that latter possessed a beardless boy that was as handsome as Venus. Allaudin Khilji and Kafur Hazar Dinari is now well known thanks to the movie Padmavat of Sanjay Leela Bhansali. The gay lovers of Khilji, Lodhi, Thuglaq and Mughal scions are all well recorded in history.
There is no mention in any records of gay sex being criminalized by any ruler of India before the British enacted the law in 1861. That law was modeled on the buggery act of 1533 piloted by Thomas Cromwell during the reign of Henry VIII. Cromwells only intent behind piloting and championing the bill was to remove it from the purview of the ecclesiastical courts that he was trying to undermine to pave the way for Henry VIII to wed Anne Boleyn. Priests and nuns who otherwise could not be executed even for murder were sent to the gallows or beheaded using this law. In many ways the buggery bill helped create the Church of England. The law in various forms though repealed for a short while under Elizabeth I and jurisdiction handed over to ecclesiastical courts remained in British law books till the year 1967.
How on earth did this abomination of a law survive in our books 71 years after independence? How did Indian society change so much that we celebrate this ruling rather than hang our heads in shame for having forgotten what our culture, heritage and tradition tell us?
This is a telling indictment of our education system that seems to place more emphasis on learning imported wisdom over home grown philosophies. We read Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Tennyson, James Joyce, Dickens, etc. We read the tremendously uplifting lines from Tennyson’s “Ulysses”: “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield”. What is odd is that we never read any classics that originated in ancient India, despite having a cultural advantage of perhaps being able to understand the context better. We knew of no texts, poems, plays, great prose, science, mathematics, civics, political life or philosophy from 2,000-plus years ago from ancient India. The most we teach are random dates and trinkets of information on the Indus Valley civilisation, Ashoka and Chandragupta Maurya, Akbar, Shajahan etc. all of which seemed almost perfunctory and without any depth in the manner we read them in school.
We are well versed with Plato, Aristotle, Pythagoras, Copernicus, Newton, Leibniz, Pascal, Galois, Euler, etc, and their tremendous contributions to mankind. And yet, most of us had never read about Aryabhatta, Brahmagupta, Pingala, Kalidasa, Hemachandra, Madhava, the Nyaya or Mimimsa Sutras, or the Therigatha. I remember asking my History teacher in school why Kottayam (the town I hail from in Kerala, India) was named so. He had no answer! What is more important? Understanding your roots or a set of philosophies and knowledge that you cannot relate to?
Victor Hugo said “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come”. In this case, the time came, went and is forgotten. Is it not time we ask ourselves why and where we are heading with this system of education?