Asia / Faith and religion

India: Upsurge in hate speech after anti-gay ruling

AIDS activist L. Ramakrishnan reports on a resurgence of homophobia in India in the wake of last month’s Supreme Court decision that reinstated a colonial-era law against homosexual activity.

By L. RAMAKRISHNAN

Thada Rahim, a leader of the Indian National League party, said that U.S. embassy staff members who are homosexuals should be arrested in response to the arrest of an Indian diplomat in New York. (Photo courtesy of NTD.tv)

Thada Rahim, a leader of the Indian National League party, said that U.S. embassy staff members who are homosexuals should be arrested in response to the arrest of an Indian diplomat in New York. (Photo courtesy of NTD.tv)

On December 11, 2013, India’s Supreme Court overturned a progressive 2009 ruling of the Delhi High Court. In doing so, it effectively re-criminalised same-sex behaviour among consenting adults in private, setting back more than a decade of activism by human rights groups and LGBT activists.

Several prominent individuals including the Attorney General of India, the Law Minister, Finance Minister, and bodies such as the National Human Rights Commission, academic institutions, human rights groups and civil society agencies have issued statements and press releases expressing concern over the retrograde decision of the Supreme Court. The Government of India has also filed a review petition pointing out 78 grounds on which the Supreme Court decision is flawed.

Indian National League poster says gays are terrorists who deserve the death penalty. (Photo courtesy of M. Mukesh.)

Indian National League poster says gays are terrorists who deserve the death penalty. (Photo courtesy of M. Mukesh.)

At the same time, the country is witnessing an upsurge of homophobic groups trying to shout down the supportive voices.

Tamil Nadu, a traditionally progressive state in southern India, and the only state to have a transgender welfare board constituted by the state government, is seeing unprecedented protests from groups voicing religion-based opposition to homosexuality.

Shortly after the verdict, Indian National League (INL), a Muslim political party, put up posters in public areas of the temple city of Madurai, calling homosexuality an assault on “traditional values.”

Poster for Christians Against Homosexuality in Chennai claims that gays and lesbians are a threat to children. It urges political action to block any attempts to amend Section 377 so as to decriminalize homosexual activity. (Photo courtesy of T.D. Sivakumar)

Poster for Christians Against Homosexuality in Chennai claims that gays and lesbians are a threat to children. It urges political action to block any attempts to amend Section 377 so as to decriminalize homosexual activity. (Photo courtesy of T.D. Sivakumar)

On Jan. 5, the state capital, Chennai, saw the first rally by Christians against Homosexuality, a newly formed collective of members of clergy and lay persons of diverse denominations. The fear- and hate- mongering group conflated homosexuality with pedophilia, claimed homosexuality was a Western important and warned parents of the allegedly dire consequences of decriminalizing homosexuality.

Newly established Christians Against Homophobia includes members from churches including Lutheran, Roman Catholic, the Church of South Indian (Anglican) and Assembly of God. (Graphic courtesy of BornLikeThis.org)

Newly established Christians Against Homophobia includes members from churches including Lutheran, Roman Catholic, the Church of South India (Anglican) and Assembly of God. (Graphic courtesy of BornLikeThis.org)

Responding to this hate speech, a collective of LGBT and heterosexual Christians have formed a collective called Christians against Homophobia, and had a press conference after the hate rally on Jan. 5, citing Biblical messages of love and acceptance.

Current activist efforts are focusing on using LGBT-affirming voices from among the communities of faith to counter the ignorance and hate.

L. Ramakrishnan works at the non-profit Solidarity and Action Against the HIV Infection in India (SAATHII) in Chennai, India. He is part of the volunteer team that is archiving materials on Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code at 377.orinam.net.

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