I am an Indian woman who will be marrying a man, for love (which is rarer than it should be in my country) in Hyderabad, India, in two weeks. I’ve had about a year to come to terms with the fact that my nuptials must be held in a place that would not be as welcoming to me if I were choosing to marry a woman.
Family is important to me, and my family is large. If I were getting married in the United States, it would be impossible for me to have my entire family around me. But suddenly I'm less excited about being in my home country, because today, sex between consenting homosexual adults is illegal there once again. And it feels like I’ve been punched in the gut.
In 2001, the nonprofit Naz Foundation filed a lawsuit in the Delhi High Court seeking the legalization of homosexual intercourse between consenting adults. Naz argued that the law criminalizing homosexuality infringed on the right to equality, privacy and dignity, as per India’s constitution.
On a glorious summer day in 2009, the Delhi High Court ruled in Naz’s favor and proclaimed that being homosexual was no longer considered a criminal offense.
And I celebrated. I bought the T-shirt. It wasn’t much, but it was a step in the right direction. It was a tiny speck of light at the end of a very long tunnel. It was hope.
Now, four years later, Hindu, Muslim and Christian religious groups filed an appeal against the ruling to the Supreme Court of India. India’s central government did not appeal the decision, saying they didn’t disagree with the ruling.
And just like that, two weeks before my wedding, the Supreme Court overturned the ruling.
This law that the Supreme Court of India is so interested in upholding isn't even an Indian law. In 1860, when India was still colonized by the British, the British government introduced Section 377 into the Indian penal code, which criminalized homosexuality, or, as it was stated then: “carnal intercourse against the order of nature.”
Section 377 has even older roots, in a British anti-"buggery” law from 1534 that was decidedly Catholic, according to a 2009 paper by Professor Douglas E. Sanders at Thailand's Chulalongkorn University titled 377 and the Unnatural Afterlife of British Colonialism in Asia.
India is not a Catholic country. Christians of any denomination are considered a minority. Hinduism is the most prevalent religion in India. And yet, colonial attitudes have made their way not only into my country’s administrative systems and laws but also into the thoughts of our religious leaders.
Alternative sexual orientations and gender identities, though never mainstream, have always had their place in Hindu mythology. Members of the Hijra community, traditionally a community of trans people who are born male but identify and dress as women, are considered harbingers of luck and have always been welcome at religious ceremonies.
Not all Hindu gods are distinctly male or female. There are Hindu deities that can manifest in all genders, deities who begin male but become female, and vice versa, deities that avoid the opposite sex. There’s as wide a range of sexual and gender identities among Hindu deities as there is in real life. Stories of alternative gendered persons, often heroes, are peppered in the Mahabharata and other Indian epics.
Which is why it is even more distressing to see Hindu religious leaders so quick to decry homosexuality as not “in the order of nature.” For thousands of years, Hinduism recognized and accepted those who identified as “queer,” but now, when being gay is as "normal" as it’s ever been, Hindu leaders are turning their backs on the LGBT community?
Yesterday, I had hope. Hope that I would maybe, just maybe, live to see the day when my country wins a human rights group's praise as the ideal. A time when the legal and societal risk of committing rape is so costly that it happens only rarely. A time when female infanticide is just a bad memory. A time when being a member of the LGBT community is run-of-the-mill.
Today, after the Supreme Court’s new ruling, that dream seems more distant.
“It will take many more centuries to be liberated,” a friend commented on a Facebook post about the ruling. She might be right.
This doesn’t change anything tangible in my life, except perhaps how I feel. My nuptials will go on as planned. However, I feel somehow guilty entering the institution of marriage, or, effectively, a life of heterosexual privilege, when so many of my friends, many of whom will be in attendance at the wedding, cannot do the same. They’ll be happy for me anyway.