India: A look at Queer Pride, section 377 and hijras in 2015

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In the Indian state of Kerala, the capital city of Thiruvananthapuram will host the sixth annual Queer Pride Keralam on Saturday, although traditional tensions are blatant against the local LGBT community.

The New Indian Express reports that LGBT organisation Queerala activist Jijo Kuriakose said: “The LGBT community faces several problems in their day to day life, due to opposition from the society.

“The march aims at bolstering their spirit.”

Due to lack of local support, Queer Pride had to be publicised through social media, but the expected number of involvement in the parade is more than one thousand attendees.

In the country, same-sex intercourse is punishable by law, as section 377 of the Indian penal code states.

It was debated around 2009, when it was declared unconstitutional. For a short time, members of the LGBT community felt safer in public, being able to report persecutors and date the same-sex.

However, the law was re-instated in 2013.

After the US Supreme Court decision, Union Law Minister DV Sadananda Gowda has recently suggested section 377 be overturned.

Activist Manish Sharma told I Am In DNA of New Delhi: “Life is terrible for us with no support from friends, family or community.

“We are tagged as ‘criminals’.

“We have become insecure and lonely people as two people in love cannot commit to each other.

“Consequently, lot of people from the community get depressed, indulge into drug abuse.”

With zero LGBT opportunities for a presence in pop culture, though, traditional views have remained.

Although doctors disagree, many Indians consider homosexuality to be a mental illness.

Corrective rape is a horrifying act that happens throughout the country without being reported, so statistics on it are few and far between.

The national aversion to Westernisation only increases the prejudice against the LGBT community.

In a 2014 Pew Research survey about India’s views on morality, 67 percent of polled Indians ranked homosexuality as unacceptable.

A mere 9 percent deemed it acceptable.

The only other issues to result in such high negative percentages were premarital sex at 67 percent and gambling at 69 percent.

Kuriakose said to the Times of India: “The people from other districts of the state openly admit that they are a gay or a lesbian compared to those from the capital city.

“Change is happening in a small way somewhere.

“Queer pride is trying to help those in need.”

In 2014, Newsweek ranked the nation as one of the 12 most homophobic nations, along with Saudi Arabia, Honduras and Lithuania.

According to a 2014 World Bank study, however, the Indian economy could be suffering as much as a $30.8 billion loss annually because of homophobia.

Much of this is attributed to the tourism industry, as LGBT visitors are far less likely to travel to the country.

While India has been a leader in recognising individuals who identify as third gender, homosexual activities are criminalised, with sentences as long as life in prison.

Hijras- the term for the third gender- can be recognised officially on passports, election forms, and are prevalent throughout both the history and culture.

While transgender and transsexual individuals can be among the Hijras, not every transgender or transsexual is a Hijra. The terms are not interchangeable.

Typically, hijras are biologically male, who identify more as female, and undergo the surgical removal of both the penis and testes.

The traditional version of the surgery- nirvan- is against the Indian law, although it still occurs.

Because the third gender cannot reproduce, hijras remain in their own gender category.

Certain city businesses provide a third bathroom for the third gender.

Hijras, although more socially accepted because of the culture, are only permitted the jobs of singing and dancing at marriages and births.

Otherwise, traditionally, they beg.

In modern times, many have been forced to become sex workers, while custom dictates they stay abstinent.

However, many of the third gender belong to the faith of Islam, taking on feminine Muslim names and marrying men.

Ancient Indian literature deems the hijras as capable of magic, with the abilities to bless and curse.

One- Sushruta Samhita- is documented saying that sexual orientation is decided at conception.

Several Hindu historical figures, including incarnations of gods and goddesses, are noted to be androgynous and not to be discriminated against.

Looking through history, LGBT equality maintained a strong presence in the developmental years of India until British influence came into play.

Sahayatrika coordinator Beena S said to The New India Express in reference to Kerala: “A transgender born as a female might be forced to marry, or might be locked in their households.

They too flee in large numbers to neighbouring states, unable to bear the persecutions.”

Still, transgender and transexual individuals experience a great portion of prejudice, dealing with practically non-existent social status, police violence and both housing and employment discrimination.

According to the Times of India, transgender Pride participant Sreekutty said: “We just want to be accepted like any other human being and lead a normal life like any other person.

“People are ready to take selfies and photographs with us, but refuse to share a seat with us in the public transport.”

Groups of LGBT activists are still enduring. Rallies take place and, with the younger generations, it seems attitudes could change to being more tolerant and accepting.