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Indian court raises LGBT hopes of finding home in traditional faiths

Members of the LGBTQ community dance in Bangalore, India, on Sept. 6, 2018, to celebrate after India's Supreme Court struck down a colonial-era law that made homosexual acts punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The court gave its ruling on a petition filed by five people who challenged the law, saying they are living in fear of being harassed and persecuted by police. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi)

NEW DELHI (RNS) — It has been nine years since a Delhi High Court ruling decriminalized sex between consenting adults of the same gender. Sukhdeep Singh — today a 30-year-old software engineer from Kolkata — came out as a gay Sikh after that court decision.

“The verdict gave me ammunition to assert my identity,” he said. “I could claim I’m Sikh and homosexual in the same breath.”

But four years later, India’s Supreme Court overturned the Delhi High Court order and reimposed the ban on homosexuality, legitimizing again the stigma associated with sexual orientation and gender identity.

It was only last week, when the Supreme Court overturned Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, lifting a colonial-era ban on gay sex, that Singh felt he was free to claim his faith again.

As news of the verdict spilled out of the courtroom on Thursday (Sept. 6), Singh and other LGBTQ members waiting outside brandished rainbow flags and broke into an impromptu celebration. “We were euphoric not only because popular morality would no longer suppress constitutional rights, but also because we could now claim our rights in the religious sphere,” said Singh.

Singh recounts how gay Sikhs have been repeatedly shamed on social media for practicing their faith. “They say we’ve gone against the teachings of the Sikh saints and brought a bad name to our community. They demand we take off our turbans.”

Fearing social and religious censure, LGBTQ members have kept away from mainstream religious spaces in India. Gender nonconformists are made to feel unwelcome at formal places of worship, and religious orders reject them as deviants. When they turn to their own families for help, they are often shunned or taken to priests for “psychological cures.”

Increasingly, LGBTQ people have turned to alternative interfaith solidarity networks to seek answers for their internal and social dilemmas.

The court has now given the LGBT community some ammunition to claim its rights, but many gay and transgender people say it is still up to them to push for change.

Tashi Choedup, a 27-year-old queer Buddhist monastic from Bodh Gaya who grew up in the Hindu tradition, said: “The Supreme Court verdict is just a tool that needs to be used appropriately by the government and faith and queer communities to change social attitudes. Otherwise religious othering will continue.”

Andy Silveira, a 38-year-old from Hyderabad, was training to be a Catholic priest for 11 years but left the order in 2009. “My critique against the Catholic Church is that it has to be relevant, it has to be more inclusive,” he said.

Silveira said he’s still inspired by Christ, because he was a rebel who critiqued oppressive institutions. “Similarly, sexual minorities should use this newly won legal right to fight marginalization.”

Badges protesting against Section 377 of the India Penal Code, which criminalizes homosexuality, lie on a table in Mumbai, India, on Sept. 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

The ruling pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party seems to be in little rush to help. It essentially abdicated its position on Section 377 to the “wisdom of the court” — neither criticizing the decision nor particularly welcoming it.

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the parent organization of the party, was similarly lukewarm in its statement on the ruling: “People learn from experience, and so this issue needs to be handled at a social and psychological level,” it said.

For LGBT believers, this makes all the more crucial the question of how faith leaders will respond to the decision, which affects questions of marriage, civil partnership, adoption rights and inheritance. The climate of conservatism is growing in India and the space for fringe voices is shrinking.

“This verdict will help us sensitize faith groups about the need for dialogue with sexual and gender minorities. More queers will come out as believers if there are inclusive spaces,” said Ankit Bhuptani, founder of the Gay and Lesbian Vaishnava Association, a Hindu group in Mumbai.

Bhuptani organizes meetups every month to sensitize LGBTQs about Hindu scriptures and discuss Hinduism and sexuality. He also spearheads interfaith conferences where queer groups talk to spiritual leaders about their faith dispositions.

Choedup said: “Religion teaches us about inclusion, not violence and discrimination. If godmen exclude queers from religious spaces, it’s a sign of their own failing as spiritual leaders.”

Conservative clerics and politicians disagreed broadly with the decision, in which Chief Justice Dipak Misra, who headed the five-judge hearing, wrote: “Respect for individual choice is the essence of liberty; The LGBT community possesses equal rights under the constitution. Criminalizing gay sex is irrational, indefensible and manifestly arbitrary.”

Moulana Mahmood Madani, general secretary of Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind, one of the leading Islamic organizations in India, said the verdict will lead to more sex crimes and push society into “sexual anarchy and moral decadence.”

Christian groups such as the Apostolic Alliance of Churches, Utkal Christian Council and Trust God Ministries also opposed the decision. They argued that the idea of a person being born with a specific gender orientation is not supported by science.

Yet the court clearly galvanized LGBTQ members of India’s kaleidoscope of religions to practice their faith more openly.

Ranjita Sinha, a transgender rights activist from Kolkata, plans to celebrate the annual Hindu festival of Durga Puja in October with fanfare. Instead of upper-caste gods, her community festival will boast idols of oppressed gods and goddesses, and a priest will chant prayers for sexual and gender minorities. “We want to break the identity politics embedded in public festivals. No one can stop us from expressing our faith, not even those who shame us,” she said.

The fight for a greater voice in faith traditions had begun before the court’s order. The Queer Muslim Project, a digital advocacy platform for members to share their dilemmas and experiences, has garnered over 6,500 social media followers since last year. A film on the lives of queer Sikhs and their faith trajectories is in the works.

And skeptics say the impact of the decision on religion is being overstated.

Malobika, co-founder of Sappho for Equality, an activist forum for lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights in eastern India, said the verdict is only a moral boost. “Active engagement in religious life is a far cry because social prejudices remain. Some faith leaders may even exploit the newly empowered queer groups to reap benefits.”

But in the heady days since the court ruled, LGBTQ believers have greeted its action as a new lease on life.

“We needed to be affirmed of our faith journeys. Faith, after all, is about the spirit of a person. It has nothing to do with gender or sexual orientation,” said Singh.

About the author

Priyadarshini Sen

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  • As always, the religions that…

    Have Claimed to have an absolute lock on what the god or gods want from humanity, yet disagree entirely about what that might be…

    Know what gods’ or god’s message to the world is, yet disagree entirely about what that might be…

    Claim to know all about morality, yet disagree entirely about what that might be…

    Have been killing each other for centuries…

    And are perfectly happy to make absurd claims about “sexual anarchy and moral decadence”, while promoting settee and child brides and polygamy and honor killings…

    Seem to think that gay people have something wrong with us, and that they are the perfect people to make that pronouncement.

  • It is.

    One of the Hindu creation myths saysthat the universe was created by— how shall we put it delicately— hot, sweaty, cosmic, mansex. Unfortunately, I don’t remember which one.

    I mythed the bus and faked to record it for my files.

  • In brighter news, the Romanian Parliament just voted, 107 – 13, to allow a popularly demanded referendum which would change their Constitution’s definition of marriage to be between “a man and a woman”, instead of between “spouses” -as the Constitution currently reads. The senators heeded the will of their people, rather than the wishes of their EU overlords in Brussels. Democracy in action.

  • As always, the LBGT lobby skips all the downside of the LBGT lifestyle, the evidence, and turns it all into an attack on religion while claiming non-existent rights.

    Yaaawn.

  • This article is a bit of a muddle.

    The thrust of it appears to be the impact of the Court’s decisions on religions, but in an American context that’s meaningless. An American court could not, for example, cite Obergefell v. Hodges and compel any religion to perform a same sex marriage ceremony.

    The Indian legal situation is a bit different.

    The Preamble to the Indian Constitution includes the word “secular”, while articles 25 to 28 seem to imply that the State will not discriminate, favor, or meddle in any religion.[ Article 25 says “all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practice, and propagate religion subject to public order, morality and health.” Article 26 says that all denominations can manage their own affairs in matters of religion.

    However, the Indian meaning of “secular” differs from that in the western countries. In the west, state and church do not intervene in each other’s internal affairs. But in India “secularism” means “respect for all religions” and “keeping a principled distance”.

    The Indian constitution permits the State to intervene in religion based on Constitution. If a tenet, principle, or belief of a religion violates the Constitution, the State may intervene to remedy the violation.

    So, the undertext is that these individuals hope the State will compel religions to accommodate same sex marriage.

  • As always, dear, dear mouth of bob, king and god on BobWorld…

    There is no downside to being gay, as far as I can tell. I have a great life, all of my friends have had great lives, most of the people I know have had great lives. Perfect lives? No. But no worse than anyone else’s, on the whole. And considerably better than most.

    There is no downside, apart from having to suffer the malice of ignorant, bigoted, stupid, arrogant, fearful, god and sin obsessed, vile, violent, nauseating, ignorant, stupid, malicious, sex obsessed, authoritarian, fascist, controlling, hateful, unloving, self deceiving, self hating, irresponsible, uncompassioante, ignoratn, stupid, malicious, despising, hateful, nonsensical. malicious and iggerunt people like you.

    I say that with all love in my heart.

  • You are correct about the word “muddle.” Secularism is a topic that brings out clearly that the significance of the adjective “mystical” which is applied to the Indian traditions. Concepts that are well-defined in the West become a muddle when they are applied to mystical religions. If you have spare time, please read http://www.academia.edu/1243782/Liberal_Political_Theory_and_the_Cultural_Migration_of_Ideas_The_case_of_secularism_in_India

  • Interesting how you stand behind a government which is increasingly attacking democratic institutions, attacking rule of law and sliding towards kleptocracy.
    https://www.politico.eu/article/protest-piata-victoriei-bucharest-democracy-under-siege-in-romania/

    http://www.euronews.com/2017/12/17/democracy-in-romania-facing-its-gravest-danger-since-1990-

    One the EU’s most corrupt nations
    http://www.euronews.com/2016/01/26/where-does-your-country-rank-in-latest-corruption-index

    I guess bible thumping bigots always find a home with corrupt authoritarian types. Which also explains their association with both Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump.

  • Oh, Mouth of Ben, you have nothing but ill intentions towards the Catholics and nothing of value to say about Catholicism.

    And your attribution of malice of ignorant, bigoted, stupid, arrogant, fearful, god and sin obsessed, vile, violent, nauseating, ignorant, stupid, malicious, sex obsessed, authoritarian, fascist, bad, bad intentioned, swollen with pride and fear, deceitful, angry, fearful, self elevating, scapegoating, denigrating, negative, overweeningly prideful, judgmental, hypocritical, prejudiced, bigoted, controlling, hateful, unloving, self deceiving, self hating, irresponsible, arrogant, vile, despising, spiteful, uncompassioante, ignorant, spiteful vengeful, vilifying, stupid, malicious, despising, hateful, nonsensical. malicious and iggerunt to people who don’t see it way proves that.

  • It is always nice to hear from someone so benighted he thinks Hillary Clinton is an honest government servant.

  • Do you meam the indian myths, the myths of any religion, or the myths pf all religions, always and everywhere?

  • I never said Romania was the top o’ the heap, like America proudly purports itself to be ( “democratic institutions”, “rule of law”, etc).

    All I’m saying is that the Romanians got this one right. Absolutely, common sense, God-sense, right. Unlike (ahem) the United States of America.

    Tick-tock, USA. Tick-tock.

  • It is an ongoing pattern of cooperation and admiration between Evangelicals and countries with an authoritarian streak. They helped to sponsor bills and laws in various countries to have gays imprisoned and/or executed in Russia, Uganda, Jamaica…

    Gay hating bigots love dealing with governments looking to whip up hysteria and hatred for their own ends. We all know that such laws, like all discriminatory laws, are passed by a majority vote. That does not change the fact they are attacks on civil liberties. Romania gutted its high court’s judicial independence in order to sustain such a law. Americans with a penchant towards theocracy/dictatorship look to do the same. Like you.

  • If there were a clear guide to determining the “will” of god, there wouldnt be any question about what it is and there wouldnt be 2000 years of christians murdering christians or any other religions.

  • I agree.

    Still it is worthwhile looking at the contrast set I alluded to above: the contrast set helps to understand why the mystical religions are orthogonal to law.

  • Yup. Four times married, three times divorced, fornicating Kim Davis was on that tour getting th3 Romanians to vote on the civil rights of gay Romanians beucase she is so against anybody’s sins but her own. Romania has a history of fascism and authoritarianism, and a government that will only follow that lead, rather tHan lead them out of it.

  • You sure do live to recap others’ failures, Oh Mouth of Ben.

    Let’s take a look at how things are doing over on your side of the tracks:

    https://www.hrc.org/blog/teen-dating-violence-among-lgbtq-youth

    “In one of the only studies on LGBT teens, the Urban Institute reported in 2013 that transgender youth are the most vulnerable to dating violence with 89 percent reporting physical violence, 61 percent reporting sexual coercion and 59 percent reporting emotional abuse. Although transgender youth were under-sampled in the study, these figures are still alarming.”

    “LGB youth also showed significantly higher rates of dating violence compared to non-LGB youth. Of the youth surveyed, 29 percent of heterosexual youth reported physical abuse by dating partners while 42.8 percent of LGB youth reported the same; 59 percent reported emotional
    abuse, in comparison to 46 percent of heterosexual youth; 37 percent reported being abused or harassed online or other electronic forums, in comparison to 26 percent of heterosexual youth; and 23 percent said they had experienced sexual coercion, in comparison to 12 percent of heterosexual youth.”

    It’s as bad among LGBT adults.

  • Yup. Gay people are the victims of violence. Thanks for supporting that. And you can take That any way you like.

    As you are the patron saint of whataboutism, I could certainly not expect anything better from you.

  • Oh, Mouth of Bob, you have nothing but ill intentions towards the LGBTQ+ community and nothing of value to say about LGBTQ+ people.

  • The material I provided demonstrated that the single largest group of perpetrators of violence on LGBT persons are LGBT persons.

    I have previously given you the similar information on adults.

    With the “whataboutism” mantra used when anyone provides contradicting facts, context, or comparisons demonstrate that you are a craven propagandist rather than a fair debater, a seeker of truth, or anything else that adds value to a discussion.

  • Couldn’t care less about Kim Davis, except to note that her divorces, etc;, occurred before her conversion, so likely not relevant to her life as a Christian.

    Amusing that you would cite Romania’s past problems with fascism and authoritarianism when what we have here is a grass roots democratic movement, the people speaking out against EU attempts to force its own policies on an unwilling people, and its own government, which would prefer closer ties with the EU. This is the people calling their government to account – the very opposite of authoritarianism and fascism.

  • That’s what I like about you, Charlotte. You always get right to the point, and you don’t waste any time indulging in Alt-Left fantasies like Mr. Spuddie.

    Romania, not America, chose to define marriage ON ITS OWN as an exclusive union between man and woman. “Male-Female Gender Complementarity” — which is indispensable to marriage & family. 98% of the entire planet, whether religious or non-religious, agrees with Romania.

  • India’s indigenous religious traditions did not reject homosexuality. The homophobic culture which came to roost in India, and is now being rejected, came about because of Western (Christian) colonialism.

  • From the linked report;

    “LGBTQ youth often have no idea that they are in a volatile, dangerous or unhealthy relationship,” explains Dr. Alex Karydi, a psychologist and the LGBTQI Youth Coordinator for the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice. “Because LGBT relationships are only recently and still rarely visible in popular culture, they have few role models to aspire to in terms of what a healthy LGBTQ relationship looks like.”

    Existing curricula on teen dating violence and related topics like sex education or domestic or sexual violence prevention education are rarely inclusive of LGBTQ youth. Only four U.S. states and the District of Columbia require school sex education curricula to include LGBT-specific content. Moreover, many curricula do not teach youth about healthy relationship skills or how to set and respect relationship boundaries.

    “I see a lot of cases where these youth think that abusive or violent relationships are ‘normal’ because it has been so hard for them to find love and acceptance in their own family or community – they don’t want to lose even one person who claims to love them,” Karydi says. “In some contexts, their relationships are seen as sinful, so these youth get the message that any negative aspects of their relationship are justifiable or to be expected. It is our responsibility as individuals and a community to build awareness and education to protect our kids and future no matter what their relationships look like.”

    Emphasis mine.

  • Oh god, she’s back!

    Sandi N Windsor it was so nice around here when you were on vacation.

    You are also mixing up two different organizations because they share an acronym. Your first link is about a guy connected to founding the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights organization with HQ in WA, DC. At this point these are charges, not a conviction. And it has nothing todo with pedophilia, it was a teenaged boy, looking for sex on Grinder.

    The second is regarding a man who was a member of the City of San Fransisco’s Human Rights Commission, an entity of the city government. He is charged with child porn, not having sex with children.

    If both of these men are found to have committed their crimes it proves one thing, there are bad people on all degrees of the sexuality spectrum. Yes, there are bad, disgusting gay folks.

  • Sorry, you have the cart before the horse here. Romania hasn’t yet changed their constitution regarding marriage. It may chose to do so, or, it may not, the referendum on marriage hasn’t been held yet. Their national legislature has only set it up that the referendum will take place.

    Ireland held a referendum and marriage equality won. We can only hope that Romania won’t roll back human rights.

  • Charlotte, calm down a bit. You’re looking silly here because you aren’t following the conversation well. At this point in the comments, he is speaking about Romania, not India.

  • So, the undertext is that these individuals hope the State will compel religions to accommodate same sex marriage.

    That isn’t my take on the article. Members of the LGBTQ community in India hope that now that homosexuality isn’t a crime, that there will be faith communities which soften their anti-LGBTQ stance. As represented in this quote;
    “This verdict will help us sensitize faith groups about the need for dialogue with sexual and gender minorities. More queers will come out as believers if there are inclusive spaces,” said Ankit Bhuptani, founder of the Gay and Lesbian Vaishnava Association, a Hindu group in Mumbai.

  • It was a boy of 15 and he admitted to the sex, trying to buy him off.
    Nope same commission.
    Don’t you ever get anything right?

  • In response to your quote – homosexuals are not Christian. Christians gave their sin to Christ and He bore them on the cross. Homosexuals hold tightly onto their sin yet, trying to declare it an un-sin – hence, they are not Christian.
    Christ taught that marriage is a man and a woman and confirmed that stance with:

    Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” 2 But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. 3 The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife.” But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband.” 1 Corinthians 7
    Anyone “softening” their stance on homosexuality would be joining the sinners in defying the Word of God.

  • Anyone interested can read your links above and if they have excellent reading comprehension they will see that everything that I stated was correct.

    We are done here.

  • Yes, you have regaled us with your opinion on the matter many times before. However, the gentleman in the quote isn’t claiming to be Christian, he is a Hindu.

    And just as you are entitled to believe that, other folks are entitled to believe something different.

  • not my opinion, Christs. Christ taught that homosexuals will not see the Kingdom of Heaven. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11
    Ephesians 5:5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

    Leviticus 18:22 – 22 You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination.
    Leviticus 20:13 – If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them.
    Hindus won’t see the Kingdom of Heaven either.
    Your argument, as always, is with Christ, not me

  • I don’t have an argument deary, I was giving another person my take on the article and you barged in with your opinion which had nothing to do with my comment. So you and your Bejesus can happily take your threats of hell and find somewhere else to rant.

  • Let me ask….do you still think Christ is giving you a direct revelation contradicting everything He taught against for 3000 years, but you have miraculously been shown otherwise 3000 years later? Then, we can discuss if you know Jesus.

  • I’m not interested in your opinion as to whether I know Jesus.

    And yes, it’s your opinion. We’re done here.

  • Actually, it’s Christ’s.
    Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. 2 Peter 1:20 New International Version
    You are done here, my friend but Christ will forgive and help you.
    Blessings

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