The Laxmi Narayan Tripathi Interview – Sumati Mehrishi

Laxmi Narayan Tripathi

Kinnara“We, the Hindus, are a society where members of the third gender have the status of demigod. Today, I feel that we need to go back to our roots.” – Laxmi Narayan Tripathi

In 2014, the Supreme Court, in a landmark verdict, granted India’s transgender community its rights and place as members of the third gender. With this verdict, the apex court accepted the broad definition of “transgender” as including people who do not identify with the sex assigned to them at birth. Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, the person at the core and helm of this great moment and movement, transgender rights activist, dancer and author, joined the hijras, her brethren across Bharat, in celebrating the community she had found herself drawn to and had walked into, accepting the woman in her, accepting the tradition of guru and chela, years ago.

In 2016, Tripathi, as Acharya Mahamandleshwar of the Kinnara Akhara, walked towards another spiritual and symbolic milestone, at the Ujjain Mahakumbh. The community of hijras moved, in rapturous procession, stirred a new story, of assimilation, inclusion and acceptance, that transcended gender, as they whirled into the mela of millions, millions of Hindus, and gathered at a shivir of their own—a Kinnara Akhada shivir.

Today, Tripathi, the tireless representative of the hijra community and a global Bharatiya, not only shapes India’s LGBT discourse, but also moulds the Indic narrative on gender, dharma, identity and acceptance. She speaks to Sumati Mehrishi on hijras, Mahakaal, her identity and challenges.

• Gender is not limited to biological sex, and transgender to gender. The landmark verdict from the Supreme Court (SC) changed lives. What thoughts cross your mind when you look back at the SC verdict?

The SC verdict restored the dignity of the transgender community. It gave hijras new hope and strength to meet challenges. Today, we need to do a lot more in order to provide hijras education, opportunities and jobs. Transgender people would do a wonderful job as people’s representatives. An Anglo-Indian can have two feet in the Parliament. Why can’t a hijra, too? They would do a wonderful job as people’s representatives in the higher echelons of power. Members of the kinnara community can do so much more. They can be employed in the different departments of the Railways. They’ll do a wonderful job as guards in compartments reserved for women. Why can’t they be given government jobs? They would do the job much more beautifully. Hijras have no respect and no political presence. But, I am sure, greater change will come. Rome was not built in one day.

• When were you first drawn to dharma?

As a child, I was interested in dharmic teachings. I come from a Brahmin family and was drawn to religious stories and mythology. Later, I realised that I belong to the most modern religion. We believe in “Aham Brahmasmi”. We believe in accepting. We have been a modern society. We believe in Sanatan. We have suffered a lot owing to barbaric rules and have welcomed outsiders at the cost of our heads. We, the Hindus, are a society where members of the third gender have the status of demigod. I was drawn to the aspect of acceptance in dharma. Today, I feel that we need to go back to our roots.

• In one of the interviews, you said you “came out” the moment you came out of your mother’s womb. What gave you this clarity about gender and self?

It is true. I “came out” the moment from my mother’s womb and I was out. I had enjoyed and still enjoy the femininity in me. A boy born in a Brahmin family, I was told I am gay. I was abused. I got the power to say “no”. The whole journey of Laxmi twisted once I got the courage to say “no”. I faced patriarchal pressures and many challenges in my evolving journey, but my faith and love in the power of the feminine and my own femininity, stood by me. I have been aware of my feminine strength. For my husband, Vicky, I am his woman.

• You mention patriarchal pressures. You have found support in your father. Do you smile when you think of this balance in life?

(Laughs) My father is the real purusha. He came from an orthodox Brahmin family. He loved his religion, but never forced his ideas on me. He heard me out with an open mind. People defined and redefined me. But I searched for my roots. I reclaimed them.

• What hurts the members of the kinnara community?

The feeling of not being loved. Members of the kinnara community are equal to men and women. The saddest story is that people who have been given the status of demigod in our great civilisation are begging on the streets. They are harassed and troubled. They have to sell their bodies. What for? They have been ostracised in the same society that seeks blessings from them. People ask kinnaras why they clap. The clap is their only weapon. They are “Mangala Mukhi”, but they face insults and so many challenges. People keep defining and redefining them.

• What can the Hindu community do in order to protect the kinnara community, their cultural spirit and interests?

As Acharya Mahamandleshwar of the Kinnara Akhara, a lot of my energy is spent in fighting challenges from Hindus, my own people. I want to take many steps for the betterment and inclusion of the kinnara community in the larger Hindu umbrella, but I face a lot of opposition from other akharas—all Hindus—my own people, at so many levels. Isn’t it sad? The kinnaras deserve to be accepted. Their inclusion will only make us, Hindus, stronger, collectively and culturally. Our tradition speaks of hijras in eminent positions—as political advisers to generals, administrators and kings. Today, they face tiraskar. The situation cannot be changed without support from within the larger Hindu family.

• What challenges have you faced as Acharya Mahamandleshwar of the Kinnar Akhara?

The Kinnar Akhada got its symbolic place and shivir in the Ujjain Kumbh, in 2016. One of the biggest challenges was that other akhadas opposed us when we asked for a piece of land for the Ujjain Kumbh. We are moving towards the Ardh Kumbh, which will be held in Prayag, in 2019, facing the same discouraging attitude from other akhadas. Some people call me “BJP ki beti, RSS ki bahu”. I am angry and exhausted fighting these akhadas when I should be spending my energies in creating opportunities and an equal space for hijras, my brethren, instead.

• Will putting an end to this exclusion of hijras within the larger Hindu tent strengthen Indic cultural values?

It will not only strengthen us as a community, and as Hindus, but will also help us reclaim our culture, cultural roots and values.

• Tell us about Mahakaal’s impact on you and your sringar.

I love Mahakaal. I am devoted to Him and I am in love with His sringar. I love doing sringar. I celebrate Mahakaal and I enjoy the feminine.

• The tilak and the glittering bindi on your forehead point at a spiritual singularity of two elements. Are they a mark of love and respect for Mahakaal?

Yes. I travel the world as Laxmi, as a devotee, as a Hindu, as Acharya Mahamandleshwar of the Kinnara Akhara, as a dancer, an author, as Laxmi who loves Mahakaal and whose heart stays in Ujjain.

• What is the next task on your mind?

Giving hijras the life they deserve and bringing back their dignity. I want to work towards my goal of establishing and strengthening the Shivshakti Vidyapeeth, in Ujjain, to ensure hijras safety, security, education and opportunities. For this, I need support from my own.

• Thank you, Laxmi ji.

Thank you. See you in Ujjain some day. – Swarajya, 16 December 2017

» Swarajya is proud to honour Laxmi with Sree Narayana Guru Award for social service at the India Ideas Conclave, Goa.

» Sumati Mehrishi is the editor of Creative India.

Arjuna as the hijra Brihannala


How Hinduism is fighting homophobia abroad – Times News Network

Hindu Gay Marriage

Shiva & Parvati as Ardhanarishvara“Ancient Indian authors and poets imagined a state where the lines separating masculinity and femininity often blurred and even collapsed.” – Mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik

Rama Ramanuja Achari, head of the Australian Council of Hindu clergy, recently wrote a blog supporting same-sex unions. His argument: Same-sex attraction is not a personal choice like “Should I have dal makhani or dal fry?”— It is an orientation with which one is born. In the Western context one is said to be “genetically predisposed towards same-sex attraction”; in a Hindu context it is a samskara inherited from one’s previous birth, said the Sydney-based priest.

Clearly, Hindu religion in foreign climes is adapting to changing times, even as India itself appears to be frozen in 1860, clinging to the archaic Section 377 of Indian Penal Code that rules sex between homosexuals illegal and against the order of nature.

Achari has conducted three marriages for same-sex couples, and describes them as “sambandham” (relationship) and not a vivaha samskaram (marriage ceremony.) He argues, “From a legal point of view, when two people engage in consensual sex, what is the problem? There is no crime if there is no victim. And from a dharma point of view, all beings must be treated with compassion and kindness and allowed freedom to pursue their own self-actualisation. Any opposition to their self-actualisation is adharma.”

Similar weddings have taken place in South Africa, Canada, UK and the US. Last month, Leicester-based Chanda Vyas conducted the UK’s first inter-faith lesbian wedding. Kalavati Mistry, 48, met her Jewish soulmate Miriam Jefferson more than 20 years ago on a training course in America. They tied the knot in a traditional Hindu ceremony, wearing red-and-white bridal colours. Even on the happy day, Mistry spoke about how she kept her sexuality a secret for years and how difficult it was for her to be an Asian gay woman.

A few of these unions have been blessed by family and friends, like Toronto-based Rishi Agarwal whose parents overcame the initial shock to throw a bash for him and his betrothed. The Agarwals not only researched their son’s “condition” but ended up starting a support group for LGBT people and writing a book on the issue.

Indian laws proscribing homosexuality are based on Christian Victorian laws which have been rejected even by their country of origin—Britain. Dr Arvind Sharma, Birk professor in Comparative Religion at Canada’s McGill University, says that Hinduism does not share the intensity of aversion to homosexuality found in the Abrahamic religions. In his essay on Homosexuality and Hinduism, Sharma stresses that “we should distinguish between Hindu religious attitudes, and Hindu cultural attitudes” because “as a religion, Hinduism is probably more tolerant than it is as a culture.”

“Hinduism is a plural religious tradition so one should not be surprised to find different views in it on such matters,” he says. In fact his essay was quoted by the Hindu American Foundation, one of the first bodies to support Delhi High Court’s 2009 judgement that struck down the validity of Section 377. In its policy brief, HAF has held, “One of Hinduism’s core teachings is that every being is divine or a reflection of divine qualities, regardless of one’s outer attributes. Aside from the humanitarian imperative to offer equal treatment to all, the Hindu American Foundation believes that this and other fundamental and ancient Hindu teachings may allow Hindus to more openly embrace LGBT rights and marriage equality.”

Britain’s Hindu Council has also supported gay and lesbian rights after a 2009 legislation made same-sex union legal. Its founding member Anil Bhanot says, “Hinduism doesn’t discriminate against homosexuals but gay marriage is not what it ordains in scripture—it’s always [between a] man and woman. However, gay couples can seek spiritual blessings which Hinduism can’t deny.

Back home, in April this year Punjab police female sub-inspector Manjit Singh donned a turban to get married to her love. Though the wedding had the approval of both families it was a quiet affair with many denying knowledge about it later. Not everyone who comes out of the closet finds acceptance. Often culture and society are harsher in their interpretation of religion which leads to suicides or unhappy marriages.

Mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik says that there have always been references to the queer and gay in Hindu texts. He gives the example of Valmiki Ramayana which has descriptions of rakshasa women who kiss women on Ravana’s bed on whose lips lingers the taste of their master. There is the Krittivasa Ramayana that recounts the story of two widows who drink a magic potion and, in the absence of their husband, make love to each other and end up bearing a child without bones (traditionally believed to be the contribution of semen).

“How does one interpret these stories? Are they gay stories? They certainly shatter the conventional confines of gender and sexuality. Ancient Indian authors and poets imagined a state where the lines separating masculinity and femininity often blurred and even collapsed,” Pattanaik says. But Europeans who came to India viewed these stories as yet another indicator of Indian effeminacy and Oriental debauchery. Mocked by them, the Hindus became defensive and apologetic, he adds.

This liberal, inclusive strain continues to be marginal in the popular narrative today. In a rebuttal to conservatives, Rama Ramanuja Achari says, “For certain astrological reasons, we marry young girls to banana trees or young men to pots of water (kalashas), and we take these ceremonies seriously and consider them as ‘valid’ marriages. We also perform the marriage ceremony of a stone (saligrama) to a bush (tulsi)—so how can we seriously and morally object to the marriage (meaning ‘union’) of two people who are in love and wish to make a formal commitment to each other to live and love in peace, dignity and happiness?” – The Times of India, 10 September 2017

Hindu Gay Marriage

 

Hinduism and homosexuality through the ages – Bharat Gupt

Gay Bombay

Bharat Gupt“The task before Indian social thinkers, lawmakers and the judiciary is not only to provide relief in the present Section 377 mainly to undo the criminalisation of a people done under a Biblical bias, but to refrain from developing a discourse that meekly submits to the approach being sanctioned by the modern West.” – Bharat Gupt

At a time when the Indian sociopolitical climate is charged with emotional demonstrations totally bereft of reason, a glimmer of hope was seen by the gays of India last week when a senior RSS leader, Dattatreya Hosabale, made a statement (at India Today Conclave 2016) on March 17 that homosexuals should not be regarded as criminals in the eyes of Indian law. But after what seemed drops of nectar to the Kinnars of India, the RSS functionary clarified that he would let them go from the clutches of law as they are diseased, mentally ill, and not natural healthy people with just a different sexual orientation.

Hosabale’s volte-face continues the longstanding flip-flop on the issue of homosexuality—its goodness and badness—because the most important factor, the traditional Hindu view on homosexuality, has not been given its due weightage. Both, the contemporary followers of the Western modernism, and the upholders of traditional Hindu values, have simply neglected the vast amount of legal material available from the ancient Indian past. This article aims to provide some basic clarifications which will help us make a timely choice today.

Supreme Court of IndiaHomosexuality and law

As it is well-known, while the Delhi High Court on July 2, 2009 struck down Section 377 of Indian Penal Code, which criminalises homosexual activity, the Supreme Court reversed it on December 11, 2013, and also rejected its review petition on January 28, 2014. However, after much campaigning from the civil society as well as the LGBT community in India, on January 28, 2016, the Supreme Court once again decided to appoint a five-judge bench, to consider if the curative petition on its earlier order can be heard.

Will it be so easy for the larger bench to reject all the arguments on the basis of which the SC had reversed the 2009 Delhi HC judgment?  Let us not forget that, on December 11, 2013, the bench of Justices G. S. Singhvi and S. J. Mukhopadhaya had said that Section 377 “by itself did not suffer from constitutional infirmity”, but clarified that “notwithstanding this verdict, the competent legislature shall be free to consider the desirability and propriety of deleting Section 377 IPC from the statute book or amending the same as per the suggestion made by the attorney general”.

An impression is being created that earlier the judiciary was conservative in viewing the matter, and now that a senior member of ruling government, namely Arun Jaitley, along with the RSS functionary, have called for a modernisation of the general view on homosexuality, the courts shall oblige.

Nothing can be farther from the truth.

Gay Indian ModelSection 377: A western law

The reason why homosexuals here have been made to suffer the threat of persecution (though not many registered cases in law have been recorded against them under Section 377) is the shaky nature of arguments that are put for scrapping Section 377. We shall see during the course of our discussion why it is so.

To begin with it should suffice to say that just as the Section 377 was a Judeo-Christian imposition, totally foreign to notions of sexuality in India, its curatives now being touted by the imitators of Euro-American contemporary moral relativism, are also equally repugnant to the notions of sex and marriage for the majority of Indians.

In fact, democratically speaking, besides the Hindus, who once upon a time in ancient India, accepted homosexuality as natural for those born homosexuals, but became a victim of the colonial belief in the criminality of the homosexual need, imposed first by the Islamic clerics and then by the Christian British, now in modern India, besides the Hindus (still colonised in so many ways) the majority of the Muslims and Christians are still against dropping Section 377. They are not going to buy the modernised reformists agenda of Euro-American Christian lands which are now aggressively pushing gay rights all over the world to get rid of their own guilt of having persecuted the gays so viciously for centuries.

Kapil Sibal, like the bombastic and loose-tongued courtier Jacques of the deposed Duke in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, has gone full hog for the plea that sexual preferences in bedroom are a matter of adult choice and any curtailment by law is a denial of freedom.

To substantiate, I quote from this Times of India article:

“The most precious right to privacy linked to right to life is sexual activity. If any provision of law restrains such precious right to privacy even when the sexual relationship is consensual and happens within the four walls of the persons’ homes, then it must be termed unconstitutional,” Sibal said. After raising the constitutional question, Sibal added, “The Supreme Court’s judgment upholding Section 377 making gay sex a criminal offence has heaped indignity and stigma on the present as well as future generation, who have and who would have such sexual orientation”.

So here is on a high pedestal the grand notion that two individuals of age 18 or above can have with mutual consent any kind of sexual activity and no social or moral restrain shall apply to them. The sexual bedroom is as sacred, personal and private as a yogi’s cave, where he can do his own sadhana in his own way and those outside have no business to peep in.

NAZ FoundationProblems with Euro-American concept of sexual freedom

A simple look at this kind of worship of sexual freedom shows that it goes against not only common sense but against all values of public and private conduct. Implicit in this argument is that the homosexual act is good and right if done privately but wrong if done in open. This is unacceptable. The act in itself needs to be evaluated as right or wrong conduct. Stealing is bad, done privately or in open. So is adultery. What about sodomy or lesbian embrace?

Sibal is still working under the Euro-American pleas of freedom of the individual and is trying for a revision from the Supreme Court. That is bound to fail. My efforts to convince people like the NAZ Foundation, the main appellant in the case, to change their pleas have failed. They only take a highly dubious position that sexual privacy is a matter of individual right and hence upheld by the Indian Constitution.

The Delhi High Court, under the impact of the Western lobby of sexual freedom, granted the plea, but the Supreme Court struck it down as sexual behaviour is not a matter of individual whims or demands but an ethical issue decided according to the social norms of a society.

Throughout history, cultures have defined it differently. Some cultures have regarded it as according to nature and hence not only permissible but also undeniable. For such a culture, denying it was a cruelty and a legal offence. The ancient Indians believed and practised so. Later in this essay, we have given quotations from ancient Hindu texts. Therefore, it is surprising that previously some scholars with RSS proximity, such as Professor Kapil Kapoor and Dr Subramanian  Swamy, have presented an opposite picture of it.

Under this sort of influence, a young man once emailed me:”However, in R. Shamastry’s translation (the one which is freely available on the internet as a pdf file), we find the below line under chapter XIII, ‘Punishment for violating justice’ in Book IV, ‘The Removal of Thorns’ of the Arthasástra of Kautilya: ‘A man having sexual intercourse with another man shall also pay the first amercement.’  Is this a mistranslation or am I referring to the wrong text?”

This halfway reading of the classical texts, so common now among TV tigers, on religious matters of Hindu tradition, continues to create confusion. This needed the following clarification:

Please see the suutra: “Kushth.onmaad-klaibyaadibhih kutsaayaam ca satya-mithyaastuti-nindaasu-dvaadashapan.ottaraa dand.aastulyeshu”.

“Twelve of more panas is the fine for one who has maligned a leper, a mentally deranged, a klaibya/eunuch (could mean any of the homoerotic kind) through speaking lies or half lies.” Now to 4.13.40: “Striyam-ayonaugacchatah, puurvah saahasa dand.ah., purusham-adhimehtashcha.”

“Penetrating a woman but not in her yoni/vagina, or a man in his anus with penis attracts fine of the first order.”

Now see the context of these different offences.

The first is about “maligning in society”, and not having or not having sex with a eunuch. So it proves that as citizens, eunuchs were protected by law.

The second is about having “non-vaginal sex with a woman”. This refers to unwilling wives or kulavadhus and not to sex workers in courtesan houses. Sex with a man/purusha refers to a man who is not a sex worker or a homosexual. If Arthashastra had meant a homoerotic, it would not have used the word purusha but used the word kliba or shand.a. Thus, one kliba making love to another is not punishable.

The Section 377 of Christian British origin condemns any man to man sex as it does not admit of naturally homoerotic persons. But the Kamashastra and other texts all admit. They allow men to indulge with homoerotic eunuchs and eunuchs with each other. Thus for Christians, all same-sex sex is sin, but for Hindus it is not, if one person is homoerotic.

In short, leave the Bible and go to Smritis. The BJP and RSS will do well to go back to Hinduism as it really was.

For the Greeks there was no reason to delve into its naturalness, as both procreative heterosexuality and pleasurable homosexuality were not only permissible but admirable and a sign of good living. The Arabs and several other cultures influenced by the Greeks accepted this view and in spite of religious sanctions against it accepted it as useful.

For a number of tribal cultures it is not such a big issue and most societies except Abrahamics have looked the other way regarding homosexuality. But Jews, Christians and Muslims have defined it as unnatural and hence a sin/haraam and punishable.

Not surprising in that proposed curative petition hearing, as the TOI reports, that when  “… the bench asked, ‘Is there anyone opposing these petitions?’ Manoj V. George stood up and said his client, the Kerala-based Apostolic Churches Alliance, opposed it, along with the Muslim Personal Law Board. The churches’ association opposed it mainly on religious grounds, saying ‘homosexuality is the negation of the creation of order in human sexuality'”.

So the crucial question now is: on what grounds will the Supreme Court revise the view of earlier bench, when the conservative Hindu majority, along with traditional Christians and Muslims, do not support any revision? And that is why Parliament is not willing to even debate at length, let alone take a stand on the issue.

Of course, the SC in its wisdom may want to support the Euro-American position and scrap Section 377 in spite of the inner rejection it may incur from the traditionally religious public of India. But the West is not going to stop with the scrapping of Section 377. They want a lot more, nothing less than gay marriage, gay rights to adoption and to property, and just about everything for gays that heterosexuals have.

In fact, the West has been pushing for a special status for the gays to propagate and preach homosexuality, as a minority lifestyle, as it promises a great market share. There is more to this movement for gays than just the Christian guilt of having oppressed them for over a millennium.

Auparishtaka (fellatio) image in the Vishwanath Temple, Khajuraho (10th century).The ancient Hindu laws on homosexuals

Many people think that ancient Hindu ideas were entirely compatible with the views of modern European and American notions. Scholars like Ruth Vanita and some others have looked at a lot of Pauranic stories and deduced from them a full approval of the modern Euro-American notions on the subject. The Hare Krishna followers located there have also held a similar view. Therefore it is imperative that one goes to really see the classical texts and collect evidence on the status and life of homoerotic individuals in ancient India.

One hears all the time, the usual sentiment that as Hinduism is a very tolerant culture, that it was totally open to homosexuality and that it was more modern than the moderns. Many people argue, like these scholars of the Hare Krishna order, that as Hinduism believes that every human being is part of the supreme being, Brahma, and hence homosexuals cannot be considered as beings of lower category. They also think, without any evidence, that in the Vedic age, homosexuals were fully integrated into social and monastic orders.

I must say that most of these sentiments are uninformed. The mythic analysis on which Ruth Vanita and several others have relied is not the right evidence as literature was not the place for codification of social laws. The laws by which people lived were enshrined in the texts of laws, the Dharmashastras, and other shastras of social and medical disciplines.

Talking about the textual evidence, the Kamasutra of Vatsyayana, does define a third order of humans called the “tritiiyaa prakriti” or third nature. These third nature persons are of two kinds, one of the female kind and the other of the male sort (“dvividhaa tritiityaaprkritih, striiruupinii purusharuupinii ca.” 2.9.1). Vatsyayana goes on to say that “she”, who behaves like a woman, is to be employed for oral sex (“tasyaa vadane jaghanakarma tadauparisht.akam aachakshate” 2.9.3). She was a paid sex-worker like a courtesan who should work like one (“vaishyaavat caritam prakaashayet” 2.9.5). For the male kind, who has the desire for males but who cannot make her nature very evident, “he” should take to the profession of massage-giver and thus coming into contact with males satisfy them through oral sex (2.9.6-10). In this context the act of auparisht.aka is described in detail in the Kamasutra.

The ancient Hindu society, as is evident here, did not consider the homosexuals as perverts or sinners. As the term, tritiiya-prakriti or third-nature describes them, they are being themselves, they are being natural. This is the primary difference between the Christian and the Hindu attitude. Christianity did not accept the third-nature people and hence imposed a punishment on their activities. With due respect to Baba Ramdev, if they are natural, they are not sick or psychologically challenged, and hence “incurable”.

For the Hindu social order, the homoerotics were not expected to follow the heterosexual norms of behaviour. They cannot be blamed for being what they are. And for this reason, accepting their nature, they were not excommunicated or purged from human societies. They had to be given a place in it and they were to be protected and prevented from harm by the State.

The Arthashastra prescribes a fine for those who persecuted a homoerotic person (3.18.4) and it prohibits making of eunuchs even in the conquered population by a king by castrating captured males of the vanquished (13.5.13).

This was in direct contrast with the Arabic societies and what the Islamic governments did very often as a state policy. The most fierce warrior commandos called the Genitzaroi of the Ottoman Empire were made out of very young boys abducted from the Greek villages under subjugation.

But the Hindu society accepted the third nature of persons who were born with it and did not want to replicate it for any purpose of social engineering. There is ample record that the Christians promoted eunuchs and homosexuals to practise religious castration and Muslims profusely castrated the vanquished populations to create classes of menial and warrior slaves.

As has been pointed out by Dr Come Carpentier de Gourdon [“Origin and Evolution of the Legal Notion of Rights” (PDF)], this strategy of creating a real and/or simulated class of homosexuals for an exploitative purpose is being now pursued by modern corporations in fashion industry. They want to promote homoeroticism as homosexuals who usually do not have the burden of raising families and are great consumerists and hence great customers. The breakdown of the family institution, in modern West, has contributed immensely to the promotion of homoerotic choices (often not psychological and innate but simulated under social fads).

Homosexual encounter depicted in the Temple of Visvanatha, Khajuraho (10th century)Allocation of professions to homosexuals in ancient India

While accepting the third nature of (tritiiyaa prakriti) some persons, the ancient Hindus gave them a special place in the social order. They were designated to be part of the class of sex-workers and performers of music and dance. In fact, till around the 10 century AD, prostitution was a legal profession, taxed and protected by the State. It was an enshrined duty of the king in the Dharmashastra texts.

The homoerotics as part of the class of courtesans, musicians, dancers and performers had a legal protection and their incomes and their sustenance were ensured. This position was certainly not highly respectable and was disadvantaged, as it was of a lower category. In fact, it was out of the varna order or varnabaahya.

But they also had the freedom/advantage of not having any obligations of adopting/raising any children, or performing the rituals for ancestor worship, which was a major obligation for the varna Hindus and involved incurring a substantial financial burden. Homoerotics were free from many such burdens of social restrains. Difficult for us to imagine today, it was a free life in a major way given the obligation-bound ancient society.

Ancient Hindu society envisaged marriage as primarily devoted to procreation and raising of able and educated individuals who would contribute to society by performing duties to the living relatives and the dead ancestors. While pleasure (kaama/rati) was one aspect, and a highly prized one, of human sexuality, dharma (moral obligations), artha (commerce) and moksha (liberation) were the other three commitments.

As the homoerotics or the Kinnars were not capable of performing those obligations as they could not procreate, they were made into a special class and given a jati or guild. It may also be pointed out, that many homoerotics, impotents or sperm-count deficient persons, continued to be part of usual varnas and jatis. Ways were found to provide them with heirs, one method being niyoga.

Coming to the present-day situation, it must be said that historical developments have jumbled up the ancient solution. The Islamic intervention in the medieval period altered the status and social acceptability of the homoerotic class. The performing arts of theatre and dance have been taboo in urban life and prostitution has lost its legal and respectable status, though still preserving itself, as a repository of music and dance wherever it survives in, howsoever, an abject state.

Besides the entertainment industry of yore, the homoerotics had a much greater employment in harems of sultans and rajas and a connection with espionage, administration, maintenance and even military protection.

It was the British who delivered the stroke of grace for the homoerotics. The Biblical and Christian prejudice against sodomy turned the Kinnars of India into criminals. It delegitimised the profession they had been legally awarded earlier and prevented them from taking to a new one.

As Indians have been too slow to alter the Criminal Procedure Code, the section stating punishment for homoerotic contact has not been still eliminated from Indian statute books. It should be soon done away with and the traditional freedom restored. But the dismemberment of these people from social order created by the British cannot be restored so easily. It would take some serious research to find out what are they now tending towards as professions. At a cursory glance one may say they are to be found a lot in fashion and film industry.

Indian lesbian couple Baljit Kaur (21) and Rajwinder Kaur (20) answer questions from media representatives in Amritsar, 19 June 2007, during a press meeting following their marriage on 14 June 2007. Across India gay and lesbian couples are increasingly coming out into the open about their sexuality and same sex marriages are becoming more common place. (AFP/Getty Images)Hindu view of gay marriage

I must comment upon the contentious issue seizing the arena of debate, that is, whether gay marriage should be legalised or not. I express my candid opinion that while gay cohabitation should not be illegal, persecuted or even frowned upon, giving the same rights to gay cohabiters as to married heterosexuals couples is not advisable. Some difference between gay partnership and heterosexual marriage is necessary.

The children adopted by gays are very likely going to acquire a pseudo-gay syndrome. This is going to be unhealthy for the institution of family which is already under many threats and is almost on the verge of extinction in Europe and America. Indians have to think upon this matter at length and with seriousness as there are already too many detractors in the media and the press who are working overtime to push the Euro-American homoeroticism.

One must not underestimate the fact that the Western fascination with homoeroticism is based on consumerism. Under the garb of providing equality, the “same-sex right” lobby is going to create greater instability as gay marriages do not hold any particular assurances of stability. The adopted children of gays are very likely to be gay and thus we will create unreal but “rightful” gays.

For the Euro-Americans, the challenges are many and diverse. Russia, for instance, needs a population upsurge. Putin has explicitly stated that Russia is under a population decline and they need more children which gay marriages are not going to provide. Quite a few countries like Greece and in East Europe have the same drawback. Japan is facing the biggest population decline in coming years. The present day advocacy of homoeroticism in the West is not likely to continue for very long.

The task before Indian social thinkers, lawmakers and the judiciary is not only to provide relief in the present Section 377 mainly to undo the criminalisation of a people done under a Biblical bias, but to refrain from developing a discourse that meekly submits to the approach being sanctioned by the modern West. It is also hoped a true appreciation and understanding of the ancient Hindu approach will not be distorted by so called votaries of “Hindu interests”, that the Hindu leaders, scholars, saints and sannyasis (like Baba Ramdev who claims that yoga can cure this “illness”), shall actually consult the Dharmashastras and the legal texts before making pronouncements. In fact, convincing the Hindu laity by and large of the true historical facts will make matters easier for all.

For more on the subject please see these lectures: A, B, C, D, and E

Baba Ramdev poster being carried in a Mumbai Gay Pride ParadeKamasutra and Khajuraho

The Hindu Right has to revise its discourse on both. At present even the Hindu Right has accepted what Wendy Doniger and the likes have to say on it, that is Kamasuutra and Khajuraho were a symbol of sexual freedom and rather even sexual libertinism.

I shall like to point out that ancient and medieval treatment of sexuality was highly restrictive. The ancient society was very clear that shringaara was to be indulged only in the grihastha stage of life and was not only to be encouraged but was obligatory. Although part of the obligation was for meeting the demands of procreation for the sake of preserving the family line and the social needs, it was not to be performed perfunctorily but with all the passion and joy that the force of nature releases in a healthy mind. The judicious man was one who knew how to seek sexual fulfillment and yet not transgress in public his other obligations. As Vatsyayana admonishes, one should conduct oneself in such a way in the world that all the three aspirations (trivarga or purushaarthas) of right conduct (dharma), profit (artha) and sexual desire (kaama) are achieved without any one obstructing the other two (“trivargasaadhakam yat syaad dvayor ekasya vaa punah/kaaryam tadapi kurviita na tu ekaartham dvibaadhakam.” Kamasuutra, Trivarga-pratipatti-kara.nam, Chapter 2, Verse 40).

Similarly, it should not be imagined that women dressed the ways the devaanganaas were shown on temple sculptures. These temples belonged to certain Shakti cults, which were not free or open, but esoteric. Yoga was not taught openly, not even asanas. Just till thirty years ago, no asana was done in a park. The Buddhist sexual tantra paintings were made by monks, not by free-wheeling Bohemian painters like M. F. Husain.

Indian intellectuals have a poor understanding of the sexual history of India. The subject has not been studied carefully. We have either men like Subramaniam Swamy who have recently jumped on to the bandwagon of Hindu studies and make misleading statements on homosexuality in India, distorting the historical facts or we have a Sadhu Samaj/VHP aversion to discussion on Hindu sexuality. (Just wait till the courts surprise you as they have done by banning Santhara).

The RSS could have easily arranged for several seminars on the subject through the chairpersons it has appointed to various academic councils and art institutions. There is something more than Aryan invasion and Saraswati river which needs intellectual attention. – Daily-O, 21 March 2016

» Bharat Gupt is a retired Associate Professor in English who taught at the College of Vocational Studies of the University of Delhi. He is an Indian classicist, theatre theorist, sitar and surbahar player, musicologist, cultural analyst, and newspaper columnist.

See also

Queer community looking for a better tomorrow – Vaishna Roy

Gay rights march in New Delhi

Oscar WildeOn February 2nd the Supreme Court in New Delhi agreed to set up a five-judge Constitution bench to reconsider its 2013 ruling that only Parliament can change the 1861 law banning gay sex. Tuesday’s decision is the latest chapter in a long-running legal battle between India’s social and religious conservatives and the gay community over the law passed by British colonial rulers in the 1860s. – Editor

At the Jaipur Literature Festival last month, Stephen Fry spoke about Oscar Wilde. He did not mince words when he spoke of his own, and Mr. Wilde’s, sexuality; about growing up ‘different’ and about dealing with ridicule and harassment. Mr. Fry received a standing ovation, a reaction that sits somewhat oddly with the deep prejudices we as a people often display, but one that also indicates the kind of acceptance we are capable of.

Stephen Fry is an English writer and Oscar Wilde was an Irish playwright. Their countries decriminalised private same-sex intimacy in 1967 and 1993, respectively. In 2015, Ireland also became the first country to legalise same-sex marriage by a nation-wide referendum. But India, a country with an ancient and healthy history of celebrating alternative sexualities, ironically continues to criminalise what it calls “unnatural sex against the order of nature”. And it does so because the Indian Penal Code was drawn up in 1860 as a faithful mirror of colonial [Christian] beliefs, thus trapping India in a prudery that is far removed from its real and rich history of sexual liberty that regarded very little as “unnatural”. Even more important, Indian philosophy, unlike the Western construct of a rigid male-female binary, has always recognised that gender is socially grafted on to what is essentially a sexually dimorphic body. Without even delving too deep, just a cursory understanding of the ardhanareeswara concept amply demonstrates this.

Delhi High CourtCriminalising a community

In its inspired 2009 judgment, the Delhi High Court seemed to finally acknowledge this history when it read down Section 377, thus allowing consensual sex between same-sex individuals. It was received with jubilation by not just the LGBT community but by every Indian who believes that in a progressive, liberal democracy, the government cannot be allowed into your bedroom. Unfortunately, the ruling was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2013. On [February 2nd], a [three]-judge bench of the apex court heard a curative petition to decide once again on the constitutionality of Section 377.

It [was] a day fraught with tension. A day on which hinges the small, private happiness of countless ordinary people. Just how anxiously they [waited for] the verdict you can see from posts on social media that talk of being “full of hope and prayers”, of “keeping fingers crossed”, of being “filled with unease”. There [was] anxiety but there [was] hope too. As lawyer and activist Vivek Divan [said], the community finds it hard to believe that the country or its courts can brand them as ‘criminal’ any longer. “As a lawyer, as a law-abiding citizen, I find it hard to be told that I am less than equal,” he says.

It is hard to believe that in 2016 we are still debating the legality of an individual’s sexuality, when in 2014 the Supreme Court’s historic NALSA judgment affirmed the fundamental rights and freedoms of the third gender. This surely is an unequivocal assertion of the right to equality of all persons. This right then logically extends first, to every individual whether heterosexual, homosexual or transsexual, and second, to every sphere of their lives, including how they choose to be intimate in the privacy of their homes. As writer Lesley Esteves says, “You cannot recognise their right to life and liberty and simultaneously criminalise their sexual life.”

The 2013 judgment sought to defend Section 377 by claiming that it does not criminalise a community or a sexual orientation but merely identifies certain acts as offences. But how does one separate the act from the person? And there lies its biggest catch. In its implementation, Section 377 does not usually enter the heteronormative bedroom. Instead, it is regularly used to harass sexual minorities. As Esteves points out, hijras, trans men, and gay men constantly face physical violence, sexual abuse, and financial extortion by the police. Last year, the gay student in Bengaluru’s Indian Institute of Science could be openly blackmailed by his classmate because of the threat of prosecution under Section 377.

The second aspect of the 2013 judgment was that the Supreme Court left it to the legislature to amend the law if it is indeed discriminatory. This is unusual reticence from a judiciary that has been both hailed and reproached for its extraordinarily activist stance in most other issues. If the personal liberties of heteronormative Indians are threatened, would the courts see it as a constitutional infringement or ask for Parliament to amend the Constitution?

Supreme Court of India in New DelhiThe meaning of democracy

And finally, when the court dismissed the LGBT community as “a minuscule fraction of the country’s population”, it failed to recognise that a democracy has to protect the liberties even of somebody who is in the minority of one.

In the years between 2009 and 2013, when the LGBT community had the sword of illegality removed from over its head, there is anecdotal evidence, says Mr. Divan, which shows a flowering of liberty in families, schools and workplaces. More gay and lesbian people came out without fear of persecution. It is always easier to fight social prejudice when the law is firmly on your side. This has often motivated the judiciary’s proactive approach to recognise and grant legal rights to, say, women from social custom or to protect the environment from corporate aggression.

On [February 2nd], when the Bench heard the curative petition, there [was] compelling reason to anticipate that the court will not allow even a fraction of Indians to live under a forced veil of secrecy or under the constant threat of violence anymore. – The Hindu, 1 February 2016

Oscar Wilde Quote

Section 377: A Hindu view of alternative sexuality – Sandhya Jain

Sandhya Jain“Hindu tradition … has recognised the wide range of human sexual diversity and proscribed none, though non-mainstream versions have always been relegated to the margins of society. Srimad Bhagvatam says, ‘Sometimes you think yourself a man, sometimes a chaste woman and sometimes a neutral eunuch. This is all because of the body, which is created by the illusory energy. This illusory energy is My potency, and actually both of us – you and I – are pure spiritual identities. Now just try to understand this. I am trying to explain our factual position.'” This verse has generally been understood as recognition of three genders and sexual orientations.” – Sandhya Jain

Shakuni: He is an enigma!The cacophony following the Supreme Court’s verdict setting aside the Delhi High Court’s 2009 judgment on [Chapter XVI,] Section 377 that decriminalised gay sex has generated more heat than light. Till one makes a proper study of the judgement, some points may be made to counter the misinformation dominating the public discourse, with words like ‘liberty’, ‘privacy’, ‘consenting adults’ and ‘religious bias’ being bandied about as substitutes for facts and cogent reasoning. The principal grievance of those unhappy with the Supreme Court decision is that same-sex relations in India will again fall under the purview of a 153-year-old British era law which defines them as “unnatural” and makes them punishable by a potential 10-year jail sentence. This means two things.

First, the Indian Constitution, drafted by the Constituent Assembly, despite quality debates on some issues, is a less than perfect document, being mostly a cut-and-paste job based on the Government of India Act of 1935 and the Constitutions of other, mainly European, countries, with little reference to the culture and traditions of this country. This is best seen in the fact that matters closest to the heart of the Hindu majority, such as cow protection, the issue that sparked the Hindu social and political resistance to the British, have been pushed into the non-justiciable section called the Directive Principles of State Policy.

The great lesson from the revival of the Victorian era law on homosexuality, therefore, is that the Indian Constitution and the Indian Penal Code need to be revisited Clause by Clause; Sections that need amendment must be amended and those need to be junked must be junked. Article 370 and special rights for undefined minorities, imposed by Jawaharlal Nehru, need special examination. Constitutional experts must enlighten us if the Constituent Assembly found it fit to review and discuss the IPC and CrPc as they are tools of implementing critical contents of the Constitution.

The second point that all those lambasting the Apex Court fear to admit is that this Victorian era law derives from biblical tenets which have no resonance in Hindu tradition. Unlike the Abrahamic faiths, Hindu tradition does not have a canon or canonical laws. It is an inclusive tradition. Nothing is proscribed, though some practices are not approved and are sometimes even punished. This is pertinent as the criticism that the judgement reinforces religious prejudice does not seem to target the faith of the former colonial masters, even though the point is made that most Western nations have junked these archaic laws!

Arjuna as the hijra BrihannalaSince the ascent of the UPA, and particularly under UPA-II, there has been a virtual assault on Indian cultural sensitivities with an aggressive in-your-face promotion of alternative sexuality, gay parades, slut walks, and attempts to legitimise these as an equal-parallel form of sexuality through films, with the active involvement of Western activists. Many who gave media interviews at Delhi’s first gay parade had come from the West, mainly America, to attend the event; no one knows how these events are funded. They caused revulsion in society but the media never gave space to these views and demonised those who expressed disagreement.

It may be relevant that nearly two decades ago, when the United Nations was exercised over the burgeoning world population and there was a worldwide campaign for the small family norm, some Western thinkers quietly mooted same-sex relationships as a means of satisfying sexual urges without the side effects of procreation. This suggests that homosexuality can be ‘cultivated’, and this could throw open the doors to wider forms of sexual abuse of men and women. This is an aspect that needs taking care of whenever a stable Government at the Centre moves to protect truly consensual relationships between adults.

Given that the promotion of alternate sexuality is a prominent Western agenda – a bandwagon recently ascended by Pope Francis – it is hardly surprising that the normally reticent Congress president Sonia Gandhi has been quick to express disappointment with the Supreme Court verdict. Saying, “I hope that Parliament will address this issue and uphold the Constitutional guarantee of life and liberty to all citizens of India, including those directly affected by this judgement,” she hinted that this is a priority for UPA-II in its remaining tenure, even though it seems a remote possibility that the lame duck regime can get any important legislation passed. However, it is certain that the regime will file a review petition or curative petition as Finance Minister P Chidambaram and Law and Justice Minister Kapil Sibal have also come out against the judgement.

Krishna & Gopa KumarComing to Hindu tradition, it has recognised the wide range of human sexual diversity and proscribed none, though non-mainstream versions have always been relegated to the margins of society. Srimad Bhagvatam (4.28.61) says, “Sometimes you think yourself a man, sometimes a chaste woman and sometimes a neutral eunuch. This is all because of the body, which is created by the illusory energy. This illusory energy is My potency, and actually both of us – you and I – are pure spiritual identities. Now just try to understand this. I am trying to explain our factual position.” This verse has generally been understood as recognition of three genders and sexual orientations.

Several texts, including the Kama Sutra and Narada Smriti, and medical texts like the Caraka Samhita (4.2), Sushruta Samhita (3.2) and Smriti Ratnavali, and Sanskrit dictionaries and lexicons like Amarakosa and Sabda-Kalpa-Druma include references to tritiya prakriti (eunuchs, or persons who cannot be exclusively categorised as male or female). This third gender has generally been held to include bisexuals, homosexuals, intersexuals, transexuals and asexuals. Patanjali takes notice of the third sex, as do some medieval era Jaina Acharyas who note that third-sex desire can be very intense.

The overall attitude has been one of accommodation. The Dharma Sastra and Dharma Sutra texts maintain that the third gender should be minimally maintained by their family members as they usually do not have children (Manu Smriti 9.202, Arthasastra 3.5.30-32), and do not inherit property. The Vasista Dharmasutra advises the king (state) to maintain third-gender citizens with no family members and the Arthasastra forbids vilification of third-gender men or women (3.18.4-5). In the Mahabharata, king Virata shelters Arjun as the eunuch Brihannala; he teaches dance to the royal princess who later becomes his daughter-in-law.

In totality, ancient India was not enthusiastic about same sex relations, but persecution was generally absent in Hindu society. This, as the Supreme Court noted, is the reason why there have been barely 200 prosecutions of homosexuals under a law that has been around for over 150 years. Thus, it may be desirable to amend the Criminal Procedure Code to accommodate same sex relations, but it is puzzling why this should be the priority of a tottering regime. – Sandhya Jain Archive, 14 December 2013

» Sandhya Jain is a journalist, political analyst, independent researcher and editor of the opinions forum Vijayvaani. She is the author of Adi Deo Arya Devata—A Panoramic View of Tribal-Hindu Cultural Interface and Evangelical Intrusions. Tripura: A Case Study

See also

  1. Homosexuality and Hinduism – Ruth Vanita
  2. Homosexuality and Hinduism: Beware of alien Christian morals – Swami Aksharananda
  3. Homosexuality in India: A literary history – Nilanjana S. Roy

Homosexuality and Hinduism – Ruth Vanita

Loving IS a crime according to the Indian Supreme Court!

Prof. Ruth Vanita“A marginal homophobic trend in pre-colonial India thus became dominant in modern India. Indian nationalists, including Hindus, internalized Victorian ideals of heterosexual monogamy and disowned indigenous traditions that contravened those ideals. Nevertheless, those traditions persisted, for example, in the very visible communities of hijras, transgendered males who have a semi-sacred status and often engage in sexual relations with men. … Most modern Hindus … believe the popular myth that homosexuality was imported into India either from medieval West Asia or from modern Euro-America. It is symptomatic of this ignorance that the democratic and secular Indian government has retained the British law criminalizing sodomy. ” – Prof. Ruth Vanita

Kamadeva on his ParrotHinduism is the world’s oldest continuously practiced religion and Hindus constitute a sixth of the world’s population today. Most Hindus live in India but there are about 1.5 million Hindus, both Indians and non-Indians, in the U.S.A.

Modern Hindus regard all beings, including humans, animals, Gods and Goddesses, as manifestations of one universal Atman (Spirit). There is a Hindu deity and story related to almost every activity, inclination, and way of life. Every God and Goddess is seen as encompassing male, female, neuter, and all other possibilities.

Baba RamdevHinduism and sexuality

Hindu texts have discussed variations in gender and sexuality for over two millennia. Like the erotic sculptures on ancient Hindu temples at Khajuraho and Konarak, sacred texts in Sanskrit constitute irrefutable evidence that the whole range of sexual behavior was known to ancient Hindus. As Saleem Kidwai and Ruth Vanita demonstrated in Same-Sex Love in India: Readings from Literature and History, traditions of representing same-sex desire in literature and art continued in medieval Hinduism as well as Indian Islam. When Europeans arrived in India, they were shocked by Hinduism, which they termed idolatrous, and by the range of sexual practices, including same-sex relations, which they labeled licentious. British colonial rulers wrote modern homophobia into education, law and politics.

A marginal homophobic trend in pre-colonial India thus became dominant in modern India. Indian nationalists, including Hindus, internalized Victorian ideals of heterosexual monogamy and disowned indigenous traditions that contravened those ideals. Nevertheless, those traditions persisted, for example, in the very visible communities of hijras, transgendered males who have a semi-sacred status and often engage in sexual relations with men.

Hinduism sees all desire, including sexual desire, as problematic because it causes beings to be trapped in a cycle of death and rebirth. Procreative sex, circumscribed by many rules, is enjoined on householders, but non-procreative sex is disfavored. Most Hindu texts assume that everyone has a duty to marry and procreate.

However, Hindu devotional practice, philosophy and literature emphasize the eroticism of the Gods, and Kama (desire) as one of the four aims of life. In the earliest texts Kama is a universal principle of attraction. In the first millennium C.E., he becomes the God of love, a beautiful youth, who shoots irresistible arrows at people, uniting them with those they are destined to love, regardless of social inappropriateness.

Baba Ramdev at Mumbai Gay Pride Parade.Homosexuality and Hindu law

Ancient Hindu law books, from the first century onwards, categorize ayoni (non-vaginal sex) as impure. But penances prescribed for same-sex acts are very light compared to penances for some types of heterosexual misconduct, such as adultery and rape. The Manusmriti exhorts a man who has sex with a man or a woman in a cart pulled by a cow, or in water or by day to bathe with his clothes on (11.174). The Arthashastra imposes a minor fine on a man who has ayoni sex (4.13.236). Modern commentators misread the Manusmriti’s severe punishment of a woman’s manual penetration of a virgin (8.369-70) as anti-lesbian bias. In fact, the punishment is exactly the same for either a man (8.367) or a woman who does this act, and is related not to the partners’ genders but to the virgin’s loss of virginity and marriageable status. The Manusmriti does not mention a woman penetrating a non-virgin woman, and the Arthashastra prescribes a negligible fine for this act. The sacred epics and the Puranas (fourth to fourteenth-century compendia of devotional stories) contradict the law books; they depict Gods, sages, and heroes springing from ayoni sex. Unlike sodomy, ayoni sex never became a major topic of debate or an unspeakable crime. There is no evidence of anyone in India ever having been executed for same-sex relations.

Swami Ayyappan: The son of Shiva and Vishnu!Diversity in sex and gender

Hindu scriptures contain many surprising examples of diversity in both sex and gender. Medieval texts narrate how the God Ayyappa was born of intercourse between the God Shiva and Vishnu when the latter temporarily took a female form. A number of fourteenth-century texts in Sanskrit and Bengali (including the Krittivasa Ramayana, a devotional text still extremely popular today) narrate how hero-king Bhagiratha, who brought the sacred river Ganga from heaven to earth, was miraculously born to and raised by two co-widows, who made love together with divine blessing. These texts explain his name Bhagiratha from the word bhaga (vulva) because he was born of two vulvas.

Another sacred text, the fourth-century Kama Sutra, emphasizes pleasure as the aim of intercourse. It categorizes men who desire other men as a “third nature,” further subdivides them into masculine and feminine types, and describes their lives and occupations (such as flower sellers, masseurs and hairdressers). It provides a detailed description of oral sex between men, and also refers to long-term unions between men. Hindu medical texts dating from the first century C.E. provide taxonomies of gender and sexual variations, including same-sex desire.

Most modern Hindus are ignorant of this rich history, and believe the popular myth that homosexuality was imported into India either from medieval West Asia or from modern Euro-America. It is symptomatic of this ignorance that the democratic and secular Indian government has retained the British law criminalizing sodomy. The Indian LGBT movement is now challenging this law as unconstitutional.

Sri Sri Ravishankar: Boy oh boy!Modern trends and views

Indian Hindus living in the U.S. maintain strong ties with India. Although influenced by modern homophobia they are also exposed to LGBT movements and literature. There are now many Indian LGBT groups in the U.S. and India, most of whose members are Hindu in origin. Trikone, the LGBT South Asian magazine published from San Francisco since 1986, carries many essays on Hinduism and homosexuality.

Rightwing Hindu groups, active both in India and the U.S., who aim to remake Hinduism as a militant nationalist religion, express virulent opposition to homosexuality, inaccurately claiming that it was unknown to ancient Hindus.

However, several modern Hindu teachers, who draw on traditional concepts of the self as genderless, emphasize that all desire, homosexual or heterosexual, is the same, and that aspirants must work through and transcend desire. Thus, when Swami Prabhavananda (1893-1976), founder of the Vedanta society in the U.S., heard of Oscar Wilde’s conviction, he remarked, “Poor man. All lust is the same.”

Hindu philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986), who set up a center in Ojai, California, said that homosexuality, like heterosexuality, has been a fact for thousands of years and becomes a problem only because humans over-focus on sex. When asked about homosexuality, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (born 1956), founder of the international movement, Art of Living, said, “Every individual has both male and female in them. Sometimes one dominates, sometimes other, it is all fluid.”

Mathematician Shakuntala Devi, in her 1977 book, The World of Homosexuals, interviewed Srinivasa Raghavachariar, head priest of the Srirangam temple. He said that same-sex lovers must have been cross-sex lovers in a former life. The sex may change but the soul retains its attachments, hence the love impels these souls towards one another. In 2002, I interviewed a Shaiva priest who performed the marriage of two women; he told me that, having studied Hindu scriptures, he had concluded, “Marriage is a union of spirits, and the spirit is not male or female.”

As Amara Dasa, a Krishna devotee and founder of Gay and Lesbian Vaishnava Association (GALVA), notes in his recent book, Tritiya-Prakriti: People of the Third Sex, several Gaudiya Vaishnava authorities emphasize that since everyone passes through various forms, genders and species in a series of lives, we should not judge each other by the material body but view everyone equally on a spiritual plane, and be compassionate as God is.

RSS Sarsanghchalak K.S. Sudarshan: An outdated homophobia so typical of right-wing Hindu nationalists.Gay activist Ashok Row Kavi recounts that when he was studying at the Ramakrishna Mission, a monk told him the Mission was not a place to run away from himself, and that he should live boldly, ignoring social prejudice. Row Kavi went on to found the Indian gay magazine Bombay Dost. In 2004, Hindu right-wing leader K. Sudarshan denounced homosexuality. Row Kavi, identifying himself as “a faithful Hindu,” wrote an open letter to Sudarshan in the press. He asked Sudarshan to read ancient Hindu texts, and noted that modern homophobia is a Western import.

Despite these enlightened opinions, there is little discussion of the issue in most Hindu religious communities. Consequently, some teachers and most lay followers remain homophobic, which has driven many gay disciples out of religious communities and some, both in India and the U.S., even to suicide.

Indian newspapers, over the last 25 years, have reported several same-sex weddings and same-sex joint suicides, mostly by Hindu female couples in small towns, unconnected to any gay movement. Several weddings took place by Hindu rites, with some family support, while the suicides resulted from families forcibly separating lovers. In [her] book Love’s Rite: Same-Sex Marriage in India and the West, Ruth Vanita analyzes these phenomena, which suggest the wide range of Hindu attitudes to homosexuality today.

The millennia-long debate in Hindu society, somewhat suppressed in the colonial period, has revived. In 2004, Hinduism Today reporter Rajiv Malik asked several Hindu swamis their opinion of same-sex marriage. The swamis expressed a range of opinions, positive and negative. They felt free to differ with each other; this is evidence of the liveliness of the debate, made possible by the fact that Hinduism has no one hierarchy or leader. As Mahant Ram Puri remarked, “We do not have a rule book in Hinduism. We have a hundred million authorities.” – Galva-108, 2005

» Ruth Vanita is the author of Same-Sex Love in India: Readings from Literature and History, and Love’s Rite: Same-Sex Marriage in India and the West.

Must read

Indian Lesbian Couple Baljit Kaur,21 ,(L) and Rajwinder Kaur 20,(R) answer questions from media representatives in Amritsar, 19 June 2007, during a press meeting following their marriage on 14 June 2007. Across India gay and lesbian couples are increasingly coming out into the open about their sexuality and same sex marriages are becoming more common place. (AFP/Getty Images)

Pope Francis on gay marriage: Not so humble here!

 

Homosexuality and Hinduism: Beware of alien Christian morals – Swami Aksharananda

Swami Aksharananda[Many Hindus] claim that having a liberal and enlightened attitude towards homosexuality means that we are giving in to Western influence and values. It is always intriguing when we hear uninformed people speak of homosexuality as a form of colonialism. Aren’t they aware of the apparent contradictions? Of all the institutions we have inherited from the colonial past, there is none more thoroughly colonial and Western, heart and soul, than Christianity—a religion whose scriptures are often invoked when vilifying homosexuals.” – Swami Aksharananda

Sri Krishna as Mohini.When Guyana’s inter-religious organisation issued a statement denouncing homosexuality, the central argument was that unseen parties want to influence and corrupt young impressionable minds to promote homosexuality. The statement instructed us that the scriptures of all religions condemn homosexuality, as against the “natural law,” violating the natural plan of creation, that will lead to the damnation of our nation and to our extinction.

The most extraordinary claim, however, is that homosexuality is a product of Western culture, a new form of colonialism.

This statement reflects a host of irrational fears that cannot be empirically supported by social reality anywhere in the world. People are not converted to homosexuality in the manner of religious proselytizers who, through unconscionable and despicable methods, unapologetically and deliberately target young and impressionable minds and prey on people’s vulnerability.

Of all societies in the world where homosexuality is accepted as an alternative lifestyle, none has suffered the kind of the degradation that our religious leaders fear may take place here in Guyana. The Netherlands, for example, and particularly the Dutch city of Amsterdam, is perhaps one of the most liberal places in the world. The city even boasts a monument devoted to the memory of homosexuals who have been persecuted throughout the ages. There can be few places in the world that breathe such an air of freedom, sophistication and culture, music, art and literature, much of it contributed by homosexuals themselves, as Amsterdam.

Shiva as ArdhanarishvaraFrom Finland to Italy and across the Atlantic to United States and Canada, liberal, compassionate and enlightened attitudes towards diversity and alternative lifestyles are an integral part of peaceful, progressive, humane societies. In these nations, the family continues to prosper. There are no signs of “extinction” and “damnation.”

Such fears derive not from homosexuality, but from irrationality and fanatic religious zealots of every stripe and star, from those religious persuasions which claim to be the sole repository of the truth to which all else must be converted, and from followers of such religions who do not have the patience to wait for unbelievers and homosexuals to be punished in the afterlife, as their teachings go, but who with awesome zeal seek to do so here and now.

So, who or what poses the greatest dangers to society? Is it homosexuality, or is it religious intolerance? The clear and unambiguous truth is that the greatest danger lies among those aggressive, intolerant religious creeds of the world that see unbelievers and those whom they believe violate the “natural law” as agents of the devil and enemies of God.

We must guard against the self-appointed arbiters of morality, the moral policemen, who claim to derive their authority and inspiration from ancient and divine writs that, implicitly and explicitly, leave no room for toleration of religious differences—or other diversities such as sexual orientation.

Pope Benny & BoyThis brings us to the claim that having a liberal and enlightened attitude towards homosexuality means that we are giving in to Western influence and values. It is always intriguing when we hear uninformed people speak of homosexuality as a form of colonialism. Aren’t they aware of the apparent contradictions? Of all the institutions we have inherited from the colonial past, there is none more thoroughly colonial and Western, heart and soul, than Christianity—a religion whose scriptures are often invoked when vilifying homosexuals.

The fact of the matter is that homosexuality is as old as humanity itself. It has been practiced for untold centuries, in one form or another, even in those societies where, today, death can be the penalty for homosexuals.

We must also be concerned about what is glibly and uncritically invoked to be the position of scriptures on homosexuality. There is hardly any consensus here. While it is true that some religious books consider homosexuality an abomination, Hinduism, for example, offers a much more nuanced and sophisticated perspective on the matter. While Hinduism does not approve of homosexuality, it admits of a wide range of sexual orientation possibilities; therefore, the vehemence and stridency of loud anti-homosexual sentiments cannot be shared by Hindus.

Monument to gays and lesbians in Amsterdam.Rationality is all I am advocating. Religious people often decide which things are right and wrong based on what they believe and imagine to be true, which in turn is based on what is stated in their religious texts. How does one know whether a religious scripture is right? The answer is that it is the inviolable, unalterable word of God. And, how does one know that it is the word of God? The only answer is because God says so. Quite an eternal conundrum!

When held beyond the scrutiny of reason, no religious scripture, no matter how sacred we hold it to be, can ever be a safe ground on which to decide important issues that may have implications in matters of life and death.

» Swami Aksharananda, Ph.D. in Hindu Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (USA), is principal of the Saraswati Vidya Niketan. He is also a founder of Guyana’s Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh chapter.

See also