IDAHO 2011: Mounting pressure against homophobia

International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) - 17 May
Last month in April, 2011, 66 Muslim schoolboys, aged between 13 and 17, in Malaysia (which is an emerging global economy) were picked out as being too effeminate by their teachers and sent to a special  4 days camp for counselling on masculine behaviour. Razali Daud, director of the education department of Terengganu, said "the boys would undergo physical education, attend religious classes and listen to talks by motivational speakers to guide them back to a proper path in life." While acknowledging that there were transvestites and homosexuals in Malaysia, he said efforts had to be made to keep the numbers down.

In February 2011, 19 Indian parents of LGBT children (including homemakers, academics and teachers, an employee of the Postal Department and the head of a co-operative bank), filed a petition in the Supreme Court of India pleading for a repeal of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code because 'it is a threat to family values as it invades the sanctity of the family, home or correspondence and allows for unlawful attacks on the honour and reputation of both-- parents of LBGT persons as well as LGBT persons.'

They wanted the apex court to uphold the July 2009 Delhi High Court decision decriminalizing homosexual relations between consenting adults.

Earlier this year Dr Siras of AMU was vilified for his sexuality. Although the Allahabad High Court granted him a stay on his suspension on charges of 'gross indecency' and 'moral corruption', he was found dead in his house a few days later.

These events sum up the current situation on the issue of homophobia in India and elsewhere. There have been victories amidst defeats; new hopes amidst new struggles; new milestones reached amidst new obstacles to be overcome.

According to a recent report India has 30.5 million MSMs, and over a million hijras or transgenders. The report documents several incidents of police harassment, assaults and detention of HIV prevention workers and censorship of prevention materials in India, Nepal and Bangladesh during the past decade - including the one in Lucknow in 2006 where police arrested four men for allegedly running an online gay club.

Arif Jafar who has been involved with HIV and MSM issues since 1992 and co-founded two organisations - Friend India (1992) and Bharosa (1997), has worked extensively with NFI and now serves as the Country Director, Maan AIDS Foundation, was arrested under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) in July 2001 and, along with three of his other colleagues, had to spend 47 days in jail. Arif was supported then by the Government of India to provide services for MSM but neither the state Government AIDS control society or the national apex body on HIV/AIDS (National AIDS Control Organization - NACO) came out in support of Arif in 2001. Arif's work is still supported by the Government of India among others.

Arif feels that much water has flown since then and that, "there has been a positive change during the last decade, especially after the July 2009 Delhi High Court verdict. Now people are ready to talk about homosexuality. There is no more ignoring of the issue, but open discussions. There are non-community people who are supporting community rights. There is a larger civil society and government support. The best part is that there are academicians, doctors, medical professionals, and parents who are not LGBT people but have come out in support of decriminalisation. There is still a lot more that needs to be done. We have to sensitize from the beat constable level because the harassment begins from the beat constable level, even if the law has changed."

Shivananda Khan, who was conferred upon the Order of British Empire (OBE) by the British Queen in recognition of his contribution to HIV prevention among MSM, is also the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Naz Foundation International (NFI). Shivanand Khan calls the Malaysia incident outrageous. Pleading for a life time, and not merely a day against homophobia, he rightly feels that, "It is not only that we need a good law in place; we also need to change the environment in public places—which is where most of the transgenders and MSMs meet and interact. The police, who should actually be protecting their rights, harass the LGBTs and blackmail them for money and otherwise. So we have to engage at all levels. Homosexuality should be taught in college curricula, discussed at youth forums, to dispel several myths surrounding it—one of them being that it is a disease which needs to be cured by psychiatrists. We may have to deal with this whole issue of sexuality in a different way. We cannot even talk of homosexuality in some countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Philippines, and Middle East countries which are governed by Shariah laws."

Once proper laws are in place, a lot of work has to be done nationally, for all sections of society. Developing strategic partnerships and alliances between affected communities, the legal profession, human rights bodies, parliamentarians, policy makers and the media is critical to enable people to understand that human rights are there for all, (including MSMs), irrespective of what they are, who they are and what they do, as long as they do not violate and infringe upon the human rights of others.’

Justice Shah in his July 2009 judgment had rightly stressed upon constitutional morality being above public morality. His landmark judgment was a plea for democracy and inclusiveness amidst the entrenched inequalities of modern India. The recent spate of honour killings, and a spurt in gender /domestic violence cases across India are a grim reminder that sexuality and love are still matters of life and death in our country and inextricably linked to tradition, family, community and faith—any deviation from what has been labelled as normal and natural is not to be tolerated—whether it is same sex behaviour, or marrying within one’s caste /outside sub caste. So, constitutional morality is critically needed in private spaces of love, sex and sexuality.

According to Sister Marian Moriarty IBVM, the Superior General of the Loreto Order of nuns, "There should be no discrimination on the basis of one's sexual orientations. We need to see sexual orientation as a gift and not as a threat. All must be encouraged in an understanding of the fact that all human beings are born good but they may be endowed with different gifts. We need to engage in open and honest discussions/ conversations with parents, teachers and students to break the taboo and remove the social stigma so painstakingly attached to the LGBTs."

We are all children of God --different and unique in our own special ways, like different pieces of the jigsaw puzzle which when mutually aligned make the complete picture called humanity. As long as we are willing to live, and let live in peace and harmony, without purposely harming each others' existence, it should be fine.

Shobha Shukla - CNS
(The author is the Editor of Citizen News Service (CNS). She is a J2J Fellow of National Press Foundation (NPF) USA. She has worked earlier with State Planning Institute, UP. Email:, website:

Published in:
Citizen News Service (CNS), India/Thailand
Elites TV News, California, USA
Grass, Sri Lanka
APCOM News,