by LAUREN CODLING
LGBTQ+ British Asians have warned that it will take time for attitudes in India to shift following the decriminalisation of homosexuality as Friday (6) marks a year since the law was changed.
In spite of the ban on same-sex relations being lifted last September, Ash Kotak, an award-winning writer and curator, claimed that there is still progression to be made in the country,
Referring to the 1967 decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK, Kotak admitted that some thought that massive changes would occur instantly. Unfortunately, he said, a law change cannot immediately shift attitudes.
“It is the law, but so what? People still have these internal values that change the way they see the world.” he said. “Part of the problem for (LGBTQ+ British Indians) was that we were considered perverts, distant from India and giving up our culture.
“But now we can say that we are ahead the same way that India is, you are the ones who are behind, and you can catch up with us. But that takes work on our part to make these conversations happen.”
Section 377 banned gay acts as “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” and allowed for jail terms of up to life. However, after years of campaigning, the law was quashed last September.
India’s chief justice Dipak Misra said at the time that it had become a weapon for harassment for the LGBTQ+ community.
“Any discrimination on the basis of sexuality amounts to a violation of fundamental rights,” he added in the ruling.
The decision caused mass celebration across India, after activists fought against the ban since the 1990s.
Reshma Johar, a senior tax manager from London, visited India with her wife after the ban was lifted. They travelled to major cities including Amritsar and Mumbai, encountering no problems booking shared accommodation.
“No one batted an eyelid,” she told Eastern Eye, adding that they attended an LGBQT+ event in India while there.
Although some are arguably more accepting of LGBTQ+ groups, many still struggle against prejudice and homophobia.
Kotak told Eastern Eye that some of his Indian friends still feel under pressure to hide their sexuality and get married. One close Indian male friend was married to a woman, despite identifying as homosexual.
But he remains confident that perceptions can shift if people are open to it.
“When we look at decriminalisation, of course it helps that India have said they are accepting of homosexuality,” Kotak, who organised a recent arts event to explore the queer British Asian experience, said. “It was something that was inconceivable 20 years ago…I hope that it is going to bring about change.”
Khakan Qureshi, a Birmingham-based campaigner, said he is optimistic that the changes in India would have a wider, positive impact on those settling here in the UK.
“It does have a ripple effect in terms of prejudices from that side of the world coming over here,” he told Eastern Eye. “I am hopeful it will reduce in time.”
Although encouraged by the law change in India last September, he hoped that similar stances will be made in other south Asian countries such as Pakistan where laws currently prescribe criminal penalties for same-sex sexual acts.
“There is still a long way to go,” he said.
In regard to Section 377, Johar emphasised that the legislation in India did not exist pre-British rule.
She noted that the piece of legislation against homosexuality was in place for 158 years in India while the law in the UK could be traced back over 470 years.
The UK enforced all colonised countries with legislation and forced countries to change their mind set towards the LGBTQ+ community, she said.
“India and its communities have suffered from being colonised, through partition and displacement across the world,” she said. “The south Asian communities now need to better educate themselves on why same sex relationships are not wrong.”
“As a south Asian lesbian, I urge the south Asian communities, including temples, to hold discussions, embrace those that are LGBTQ+ and show acceptance.”
Claiming that she had faith that India would continue to “evolve, embrace and celebrate” the change in law, Johar was aware that it could longer than a year for perceptions to adjust.
“But with the support of allies this can be achieved,” she said. “I have every faith that my LGBTQ+ friends and family across the world will remain strong and courageous, whilst they come to terms with their sexuality and journey of self-acceptance as well as from family and friends.”
Vijay Patel, a performance artist from London, wants to visit India to see how his theatrical work is received there. Within some of his shows, he uses the aesthetic of Indian culture in drag and cabaret performances.
“I would imagine it would be more accepting since last September,” he told Eastern Eye. “I’ve always wondered how my work and I would be received and if I could walk around wearing whatever I wanted to wear without people questioning it.”
Stressing that his own family in the UK are incredibly accepting of him – “I’ve always felt that love and respect, I’ve never felt ashamed” – Patel is hopeful that outlooks have improved in India.
He recalled feeling encouraged by the law change, referring to it as a “step in the right direction”.
“It was one of the best things that could have happened to give us that reassurance to show that things were moving forward,” he said. “The more places that decriminalise homosexuality is a step forward.
“It shows acceptance and shows that you can love whoever you want and that’s okay.”