It is a good time to be an Indian – recent Supreme Court rulings seem to be proof enough that India is taking baby steps in the direction of progressiveness, acceptance, and tolerance. But are court rulings enough to actually bring about a change in the minds of the people that make the nation? We reached out to 7 women to find out what they think about homosexuality, adultery, and Sabarimala Temple.
On 6th of September, 2018, India decriminalised homosexuality.
Unnatural offences: Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.
While this law did make some sense – in as much as it criminalised bestiality – it also criminalised consensual sex between 2 adults, which is in conflict with the constitutional rights that we have as citizens of the country.
“It doesn’t matter whether or not you are a member of the community, it’s a day for celebration when love wins over hate,” Malvika (name changed), a member of the LGBTQ community said when WOM spoke to her. “Obviously there are more issues up ahead – adoption, domestic partnership, and countering the general perception that being anywhere on the rainbow spectrum is ‘abnormal’. But as a start, this was definitely a big step. Maybe it won’t counter homophobia, maybe people will still have to face untold violence every day. But at least it helps to have the law on your side.”
On the other hand, Mrunal said, “It is difficult to form a succinct opinion about this issue. Does it make me happy that the LGBTQ community is now free to love each other, and is protected by law when they express this love to each other? Yes. But what is the point of doing that if you are still going to be ostracised by your peers, family, and in some cases your own parents? They say ‘love’ is worth it... but is it really? It takes more than just ‘legality’ to foster an environment where the LGBTQ community can feel not only safe and protected but also accepted.”
Finally, Rohini told WOM that she would ‘not be able to accept’. “While this is something that has been going on for years together, it is difficult for me to accept it because it seems unnatural. At the same time, I feel the LGBTQ community shouldn’t be harassed in any way. Life is difficult for them on its own, without us making it worse. My sons, my nieces-nephews react very strongly when I show discomfort about these issues; I really get the heat for my attitude! But that’s why I try to talk to the young generation as much as I can. I am not there yet, I am still getting used to the idea. But in a few years – maybe about 10 years – people will become more accepting of it.”
Homosexuality has often been looked upon with disgust and fear, and most people are uncomfortable (to say the least) in the company of LGBTQ people. However, simply decriminalising it is hardly going to solve the problems that the community faces. When an LGBTQ person is discriminated against on the grounds of being who s/he is, it can most definitely be called a moral crime, because we are all human beings and should not be discriminated against on any grounds. However, decriminalising homosexuality does not, in any way, protect the LGBTQ community from discrimination – and that is the least of their problems, alongside various other hate crimes. While it is a positive step, the next bigger, more important step is going to be to have laws that protect the community.
Finally, while we may be quick to accept and cheer the Supreme Court’s decision, whether we would accept one of our own if s/he ‘came out of the closet’, is a question we should all be asking ourselves at this point. Till we all cannot unanimously say ‘yes’, striking this law down is only one tiny step (albeit in the right direction) that we have taken as a society, with at least a mile-long walk to cover, in the coming years.
On 27th of September 2018, India decriminalised adultery.
Whoever has sexual intercourse with a person who is and whom he knows or has reason to believe to be the wife of another man, without the consent or connivance of that man, such sexual intercourse not amounting to the offence of rape, is guilty of the offense of adultery, and shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years, or with fine, or with both. In such case, the wife shall not be punishable as an abettor.
The words ‘without the consent or connivance of that man’. These words made it okay for a married man to have an affair with a married woman, so long as her husband didn’t have a problem with it. In effect, this made it seem like a wife is a husband’s property that other men have to ask for permission to interact with. Also, the fact that the woman – who is in equal part involved in the act – would not be punishable, was another problem with the law.
This is what Rashmi had to say when WOM asked her what she thought about the issue of adultery. “That a woman should, in today’s age, need the permission of a man (be it her husband, or father, or legal guardian) to engage in any kind of activity, is abominable. That two men can have a say in the matter is even more so. However, that is not to say that adultery is right. In my opinion, turning your back on the one person you chose and decided to be physically, emotionally, financially committed to, for however brief a period and for whatever reason, without first trying to resolve the situation through open communication, is ethically and morally wrong... an act of betrayal.”
On the other hand, Riddhi said, “So, according to Section 497, a married woman can not be held liable for the act of adultery; only the man involved in the act can be held criminally liable under the section. Why? Both partners should be held equally responsible for the act of adultery. In the wake of feminism, this law seems obsolete – it is not just the time for equal rights for men and women, but also for equal responsibilities AND equal accountability.”
Marriage is regarded ‘sacrosanct’ by Indian Law. It is a contract, that is entered into by two adults. What happens in a marriage, thus, concerns only the two individuals who are married, and people of their interest. A crime, on the other hand, is an act that goes against society. While adultery may be a moral crime, it is not something that can or should be punishable as a crime by law.
While people may think that decriminalising section 497 threatens the sanctity of marriage and the structure and construct of society, it is important to realise that adultery is still an act of breach of the marriage contract, and is still valid grounds for filing for a divorce.
Romantic relationships of all kinds – dating, live-in, marriage, affairs, etc. – have changed over the years, because of the changing nature of life. Employment of women, faster and easier means of communication, and lack of true connection with people has cultivated an atmosphere where affairs outside of the chosen romantic relationship one is committed to, are becoming the norm. This is something we must think long and hard about, in our attempt to safeguard ourselves from betrayal by our partner.
On 28th of September, 2018, the Supreme Court struck down the 150-year old rule of the Sabarimala Temple that prohibited women in the age-group of 10 to 50 years from entering the temple.
Women belonging to the age-group of 10 to 50 years are not allowed to enter the temple because they are in the menstruating phase of their life, and hence deemed ‘impure’.
This rule is derogatory on many levels: it discriminates against women (gender-discrimination), it considers certain women ‘impure’ (which is a form of untouchability), and it denies women their basic right to worship (protected by Articles 25 to 28 as Right to Freedom of Religion).
Shruti Mohan spoke with great candour with WOM. “My father has been visiting Sabarimala for the last 23 years and I haven't had the privilege of visiting the temple even once, because I'm a woman who bleeds. My problem here is, let's get to the basics. God is God for everyone, it is someone's else version of religious practices and belief systems that easily builds a wall for others. I'm a girl who menstruates, so what? It is as natural as breathing and walking. If every man has the privilege of accessing spaces equally then there is no reason why women have to be at the back foot for something we don't have a control upon. If any certain practice is enabling and fueling walls that are doing no social good for the society but are feeding into this isolation, then I as a woman, as a human, have a problem with me. This is beyond sanctity and purity. If a walking man doesn't ruin the premise of a temple, then a bleeding woman shouldn't too.”
India is a country that practices over ten different religions, is the birthplace of four of the world’s major religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism), and worships 33 crore Gods. India even worships the bleeding Goddess Kamakhya Devi. And yet, to this date, many women themselves believe they should stay away from places of worship in ‘those days’.
It is, however, interesting and important to note that while God-men and pujaris of today have turned these things into a ‘rule’ and a ‘sin’, these are only prescriptions laid down by our forefathers, and not ‘restrictions’ or ‘discrimination’. Menstruation is an energy-expensive process that significantly weakens the human female body. Visiting a temple at such times is not prescribed because temples are places that draw an immense amount of energy of a certain kind (depending on which God the temple has been built in honour of). It was hence thought wiser to not expose a woman who is already weakened to this kind of energy as it may harm her.
Whether a menstruating woman visits a temple when she is on her period or not, should hence be a matter of personal choice; it should not be forced upon by any kind of temple, organisation or institution. No law can be made in this regard because establishing such a law would threaten many of our basic rights, as granted to us by the Constitution of India.
India sure is making progress with these and such steps in the right direction. Change is coming. It may take us longer than other countries because it is not easy to unitedly motivate a nation of over 1.3 billion people for a single cause. But then, there is no other place that could fit so many different people and such a diverse population together in one country either. Till then, we should all do our part in making this nation great.