Posted by Chez
The Prime Minister,
Narendra Modi, of India
Warm wishes into our sixty-eighth year of Indian Republic.
A reason to be proud. My contemporaries perhaps undervalue the freedom fought for by brave men and women, in difficult times, for a considerable time in our history. There were differences amid them like there are differences in any movement that involves a multitude. There are differences, over seventy years into independence, between political parties of different interests in the name of governance – a trend witnessed in most parts of the world; and why not – this isn’t Utopia. Nonetheless, insofar as our freedom fighters were concerned, they agreed on definitions of independence. They defined it similarly, and on basis of these definitions, they wrote down our Constitution, with a commendable effort put into it. Today, here I am, reaping the fruits of their perseverance; lives spent in the name of independence, which they recognised as the whole country’s fundamental right. Here we are, now, with our own challenges and our own goals, but none as grave as theirs many a decade ago.
A country, if I may remind you, of one and a quarter billion citizens, diversified incredibly in cultures, languages and experiences. So diverse it is only reasonable that we recognise it as Incredible India. Citizens as they are, promised freedom, promised acceptance and promised protection of their rights. Sure, we have our shortcomings – failure to ensure equality, different kinds of pollution, incredible poverty – but our diversity is at the pinnacle of our pride. With diverse ideas and experiences, often so honest, it indeed is a traveler’s fortune to be overcome by emotions. Diversity in cultures, diversity in religions, diversity in landscapes, diversity in trades.
And yet, in certain cases, it is diversity itself, the kind beyond man’s control, that serves as a curse for some. Diversity such that – some in it accepted, others invalidated. Diversity wherein – through law, order and societal misconception – a sizeable number of citizens, if even the minority, are denied unreasonably the same freedom, respect and fundamental rights that our freedom fighters so ardently fought for. On that score, Mr Prime Minister, it’s not only my but even your contemporaries, especially the ones in your office, who undervalue their efforts.
In that light, how free, in your governance, is this country really? Twice, nearly a year ago, when such a noble and reasonable man as Shashi Tharoor tried introducing a Bill in favour of India’s LGBT community, the parliament, constituted mostly by your party members, refused even to hear his stand on both occasions. Indeed, his deep concern for the rights of LGBT citizens was questioned, rather unnecessarily, in the form of mockery. You must agree, in our day and age, this isn’t acceptable by elected representatives.
This brings me to the very definition of a republic: a state wherein power is held by its people and such elected representatives, and not at the hands of a monarch. Oh no, I don’t mean to accuse you of monarchy. Flawed as it may be India is definitely a democratic nation. Albeit, in distributing power amid citizens, is the power for some of them justly substituted for restraint and threat? When science has validated them, when many respectable nations have validated them, when the popular opinion of their own countrymen has validated them, then – in the name of a few, baseless religious tenets – is it fair to criminalise the identities of our LGBT citizens?
About a week ago, India’s queer capital observed its largest Pride event in Queer Azaadi Mumbai, wherein thousands of SGM (sexual and gender minorities) publicly claimed their pride in being who they naturally are, and a sizeable number of their allies displayed solidarity.
Yet, notwithstanding their optimism, it would be fair to examine how proud they must feel – considering the many times some of them were reported to be blackmailed, beaten, raped and once even burnt at the hands of the law enforcement (in the form of police forces). Proud, perhaps, of their identities, but proud of its consequences? Being rejected by their family members, being stigmatised by the society they partake in, being threatened by the law, being depicted falsely through entertainment. For what comes naturally to them, what is their nature worth if it invites societal prejudice and parliamentary intolerance?
Freedom, they call it, from an empire that ruled us for about a couple of centuries – only to restrain a considerable size of its population. Leading Indian psychologists support the claim that an approximately 5-7% of the adult population is non-heterosexual (note we are not even considering transgender persons, who face the worst from of that violence). To finish the math, this means that averagely seventy-five million of your citizens are subject to imprisonment by the law. Or, in other words, ten more million than the entire population of the UK, who, ironically, introduced the law in the country in the first place.
Almost exactly fifty years ago, they were themselves free of that law having recognised its atrocities, while we have allowed religious institutions to support a value that was never Indian to begin with. Speak of irony, no? A perfect exhibition, if you ask me. In fact, our country acknowledged, if not celebrated, diversity in sex and sexuality. Our scriptures exemplify this, no one can deny.
It’s now one hundred and fifty-seven years ago since the British introduced Section 377 in India. Sixty-seven years of democracy, one hundred and fifty-seven years of protecting a law that isn’t a product of Indian values. Doesn’t quite reflect the purpose of Swarajya, wouldn’t you agree?
It would be fair to assess how much has changed since a hundred and fifty-seven years ago. Technology, particularly, has expanded incredibly. Communication and transport have developed in ways it would have been impossible to imagine in 1860. There have been sincere efforts by many governments, Indian included, to shift the dependence on energy to cleaner sources. Information is no more as much bought in bookstores or seen on television as “browsed through” under our fingertips. The medical industry is making breakthroughs in simplifying (complicating?) our lives. Inventions have revolutionised the world: from industrial robots to instant coffee, from ATM to LSD, from Kidney dialysis to Breast implants. But in this letter, Prime Minister ji, one invention is of significant relevance to us. I refer to the deadly, ammunal invention of the repeating rifle. The repeating rifle, not for lack of irony, was invented in the year 1860. Since then, it has been responsible for many wars and for terror spread across nations.
One hundred and fifty-six years after its invention on a grave day, not just in LGBT history but in the history of man, terrorist Omar Marteen fired a similar repeating rifle in the Orlando gay night club, Pulse, thereby killing nearly 50 innocent people and resulting in over a hundred casualties. One hundred and fifty six years after its invention, while reputable nations have sensitised themselves and recognise such acts of violence, hatred and misconception as unacceptable, tens of millions of Indians are subject to criminalisation by the law and denied protection of basic human rights. They are disowned, blackmailed, beaten, raped – all for identities that inherently define them. You, of course, have remained mum. In wake of the Orlando shootings, you showed the audacity to express solidarity with the USA though in your own country you haven’t even cared to say the word, “gay” on record.
Has it ever occured to you, that queer Indian men and women are subject to invariable threats, disapproval and violence rooted in one draconian law? Trans-women especially are visibly attacked every now and then, and trans-men are invisibilised to the extent of being known nothing about. That is not to hide albeit that these men are raped by their own families as a measure to “correct” them (incidences of “corrective rape” were reported in India less than two years ago). That’s inhumane. One hundred and fifty-seven years is not a short time, especially considering our immediate neighbor, Nepal is taking large steps in the direction of progress, pluralism, tolerance and acceptance. Dr Shashi Tharoor, in wake of parliamentary defeat, wrote to you via change.org – I, along with tens of thousands other citizens, signed his petition – but you seemed not to have considered it worth your time to reply. This is difficult to imagine given, as citizens of this country and people who based our trust on you before the 2014 elections, we expect you to ensure that complete justice is reached to every citizen, not just those who supposedly fit the norm.
You have expressed concern for our transgender persons but only inasmuch as their fundamental rights outside their bedrooms are concerned. Even with such provisions, they remain a target of Section 377 and most of them are forbidden by law for expressing the desire for sex, which is unreasonable, given that cis-heterosexuals are not demonised for the normal, healthy desire for sex.
People often discuss the problems gay men and women face, but a less known fact remains that the majority of LGBT members (if even not visible) consists of bisexual individuals. But I have to think how much of this is of any relevance to you. Given elections in UP are underway, and given a decision or two you made went horribly against you (and so the time needed to mop the mess), ensuring the rights of every Indian citizen is of little significance to you, am I right? It can wait, can’t it? Just tens of millions of Indians, who year after year walk on streets and appear on news arguing for their validation. They can wait till the popular opinion is crystal clear. They can wait till the babas and the netas finally understand the science behind the way they are. Just a few cases of suicide, blackmail and serious rights violations.
You sit back, sir, evade our concerns. It’s best for the country – our moral improvement, our global aspirations, our prosperity and equality, our religious beliefs, our patriarchy, our chaste culture (I’m bemused that the temples in Khajuraho are still standing), its centuries-old pride of (first by others and now itself) indignation and suppression. Bliss in ignorance. Need I even tell you?
Chez is just another guy, unsettled by the inadequacy of our governance, and committed to inspiring dialectical communal arguments. He can be reached at email@example.com.