by Ritu Dalmia
The next two years were strange for me. I had a constant barrage of nasty messages being posted on my Twitter account. Until then, I was only used to getting fan mail. I had the word ‘lesbian’ sprayed on my car window, a stone was hurled at me, a man spat at me at the Delhi airport in front of everyone… I was no longer the darling chef of the country but the dirty lesbian who had the cheek to file this petition.
Yes, there were times when I regretted my decision, when I wondered if I had acted foolishly. The strange part was that after a few agonising hours of self-doubt, I always arrived at the same answer: I had done the right thing by filing the petition, and if I didn’t do anything I had no right to complain, like Ella had said to me.
6 September 2018: It was 6 am in London – where I was on work – when the judgment was read out in the Supreme Court of India. I was stunned, shocked and so happy that my jaw started hurting.
When I had decided to file this petition, I truly did not believe that I would see a change happening in my lifetime. And on this day, two years after filing the petition, history was finally being rewritten. I am not an activist and never wanted to be one; yet for me this was my life’s biggest accomplishment and nothing else in my life till then had ever given me this sense of pride.
On June 12, a 22-year-old lesbian student from Kochi sat in a doctor’s office as her life choices were being dissected. She was taken to a hospital by her parents without her consent. A doctor from the reputed hospital offered to ‘change’ her sexual orientation by admitting her, offering medication and counselling. In other words, we are speaking about another instance of conversion therapy. The practice caught our attention again in March when Anjana Harish, a 21-year-old student committed suicide in Goa after being mentally and physically tortured at a ‘de-addiction centre’ in Palakkad where she was taken against her will by her family.
Dhanya Ravindran, a board member of Queerala, an LGBTQIA+ community in Kerala, who is acquainted with the woman says, “My friend was taken by her family to get ‘treatment’. Even after Anjana’s case, where a child’s life was lost due to something like this, the doctor asked to admit her there. They promised to help the parents by offering counselling and asked her to get admitted there. They also wanted to check if she had any physical issues. She did not agree. When we inquired further, we also found that the doctor who claimed to be a psychiatrist was actually a psychologist.”
In 2018, when the Supreme Court decriminalised Section 377, the Indian Psychiatric Society (IPS) disavowed conversion therapy and released a statement completely discrediting the practice. According to Om Prakash Singh, Editor of the Indian Journal of Psychiatry and Professor of Psychiatry at the West Bengal Medical Education Service, “We have given a statement strictly criticising this. And since homosexuality is not a disease or a disorder, there is no question of conversion or any kind of treatment for that. Secondly, even if an organisation is offering such a thing, it is not going to work. They are basically deceiving people. Medication could not possibly alter your sexual orientation.”
After Anjana’s suicide became public and the video was available online, Queerala sent it to the Indian Psychiatric Society’s Kerala Chapter and organised a consultation with them in February. After being informed, they released a statement about their position against conversion therapy. At the same time, they also sent a complaint to the Kerala State Mental Health Authority from whom they are yet to receive a response. As the next step, the organisation plans to submit a writ petition to the Kerala High Court. During the incident that occured on June 12, the girl was able to record the 30-minute long conversation that she had with her parents and the doctor. Here are excerpts from the conversation that Queerala has shared with us:
Continue reading at: https://www.edexlive.com/happening/2020/jun/26/the-horrors-of-conversion-therapy-for-queer-folk-kerala-doctor-assures-family-of-changing-girls-12912.html (Source)
A recent murder case in Gujarat India highlights the plight of lesbians who are trapped in abusive situations in countries with high rates of family imposed sex-based abuse and homophobia and where living independently as a woman and lesbian is difficult. Where there are few to no legal or social remedies to prevent violence against themselves and their loved ones, abused lesbians may have no meaningful choices other than to remain in danger or breach legal or social rules. All courses of action open to them will be harmful, and possibly dangerous. Retaliating to stop the violence may stop familial abuse but results in exposure to significant legal sanctions. The emotional and psychological toll of facing these choices and their consequences adds to the tragedy of women trapped in this way.
In early April 2017, the body of a man, Yunis Maniya, was found in Bharuch dictrict of Gujarat, India. A woman (Mayaben), reportedly the lesbian partner of the victim’s daughter (Jaheda), and an unrelated male (Jayendra) have been charged with the man’s murder. The motive for the murder is reported by the local police responsible for the investigation as the ending of sexuality-based domestic violence:
“The motive behind the murder was the victim’s opposition to the lesbian relationship. The accused was having an affair with the daughter of the deceased. He used to beat his daughter in a bid to discourage her from having a relationship with the accused. This incited the automobile broker who later hatched the plan to murder him,” said deputy SP of Bharuch N D Chauhan.
Information on this case is scarce in English and the articles do not appear sympathetic to the plight of the abused daughter or her partner accused of the murder. What isn’t clear, reading only the English articles, is what the options would be for women experiencing domestic violence on the basis of their sexuality in a country where sex-based violence against women alone is endemic, homophobia is widespread and women’s capacity to leave the family circle is limited.
While domestic violence is illegal in India, women and girls remain highly susceptible to abuse within the family. In 2016 it was reported that so-called honour killings had risen by 800% year on year, although it is unclear whether this represents an increase in the killings or an increase in reporting.
Lesbians are particularly vulnerable given the criminalisation of same sex activities under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, introduced in 1860 and only repealed in 2009. In 2016 the Indian Supreme Court committed to reviewing Section 377 after a 2013 decision had reinstated the law . Only months before, a 2 judge bench of the Supreme Court named homosexuality “a social evil for some” in a tax ruling on a Gujurati film on homosexuality. The Supreme Court action was reportedly the last chance for law reform, save only an appeal to the conservative politicians of India.
Although the legal sanctions are not directly applied, they remain a potent backdrop to social sanctions and persecution in a country where national surveys report a 75% disapproval rate of homosexuality and in which lesbians face a double oppression as both women and lesbians.
A brief reading of lesbian writings about their life in India demonstrates some of the risks lesbians face, both on the basis of their sex and their sexuality.
This Gujurati case represents the catch-22 lesbian around the world can face – how do lesbians being abused for their sexuality and relationships defend themselves in societies where violence against women is endemic and where homosexuality is punished? This is a no win situation for lesbians who are trapped in violent situations with few options for escape or defense, and where retaliatory violence exposes them to far greater legal sanctions.
When lesbians have no safe way to leave or stay, what meaningful choice remains?
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More on the legal situation and processes: