Session on 377: ‘Rights talk seductive, not inclusive’

The discussion on section 377 at the Bangalore Literature Festival, titled ‘An equal world: beyond 377’, started off on a promising note but failed to hold the interest of the audience for long.

The panellists were Aatish Taseer, Madhavi Menon, Vasudhendra and Robert Dessaix and the talk was moderated by Anjali Gopalan.

Anjali Gopalan, a human rights and animal rights activist, started off by saying that even though the court ruling that decriminalised gay sex was a progressive step, a lot more needed to be done. She noted that it amounted to telling the LGBTQ community that we don’t see them as criminals anymore; but we still don’t want to give them those rights that the heterogeneous world takes for granted.

Kannada author Vasudhendra drew on his knowledge of mythology to highlight the present situation of the Indian society. He said that the ‘virata parava’ (year of exile in disguise) is over for the community but the war is still left.

Recounting a personal experience, Vasudhendra said that a senior Kannada author once asked him if he contracted the ‘gay virus’ while in the US.

He added that this showed the mindset of the society which considered homosexuality a disease and a Western concept. Talking about how we don’t have the required knowledge base to educate both the LGBTQ and the normal community, he said that there was a lack of regional literature on this topic. He also stressed on the need to train psychiatrists and psychologists, many of whom he says are homophobic. 

Madhavi Menon, a professor of English at Ashoka University who also writes on desire and queer theory, spoke about how Indian culture had always embraced homosexuality. She asked people not to put too much emphasis on rigid definitions of sexuality, adding that “identity is a trap; we shouldn’t be put in a box”. 

Robert spoke about how homosexuality became legal many years ago in Australia but it didn’t make much of a difference because most Australians didn’t care about the sexuality of a person.

He added that it was important in India to change the narrative of what it means to be a man or a woman.

British-born writer-journalist Aatish Taseer said that he thinks of himself as a sexual refugee. Previously, he was in a relationship with Lady Gabriella Windsor, daughter of the Prince and Princess Michael of Kent. In 2016 he married his now husband, Ryan Davis.

He says that the resistance from both sets of parents was immense. Hailing the Supreme Court’s ruling that decriminalised gay sex, he said that it gave him a sense of freedom and protection. The polite disagreement between Madhavi and Anjali was the interesting part of the discussion. When Madhavi said that the Indian society has regressed, Anjali pointed out that male homosexuality is accepted in our society as long as we don’t talk about rights.

Later Madhavi pointed out that a rights-based discourse is very seductive; when you give a group a place to talk about their rights, its almost always at the expense of other groups.

She added that she was looking forward to the day when anyone can have sex with anyone, as long as they are not hurting anyone. Anjali again differed with this opinion and said that some lines are needed in some cases.

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Session on 377: ‘Rights talk seductive, not inclusive’

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