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Untangling Colonial Legacies: Homophobia in India's Historical Context

Historical context

Siddhi 1: India, a country filled with a complex yet diverse culture. Somehow, even with such a diverse and interconnected mixture of cultures, India’s homophobia is one of the most daunting and controversial subjects to discuss.

Akanksha 1: Our Indian society has grown into a community where we reject the overall idea of the LGBTQ+ community, however, did you know that same-sex attraction and being transgender is deeply engraved within our culture and has been embedded for centuries which can be seen throughout history. In fact, it can be proven that this pesky concept of homophobia has made its way to India like an unwanted souvenir, straight from the British colonial days. My name is Akanksha Kapoor,

Siddhi 2: and my name is Siddhi Jairath, we are your hosts for today and we’d like to welcome you to episode 1 of the Fight4Rights podcast. Today our topic of conversation is, ‘The history of lgbtq+ in India and how homophobia is a direct consequence of colonization’ Let’s dive deeper into this, and go back to our hindu deities. Our ancestors, in this day and age would be considered pretty progressive, when it comes to same sex relations.

Akanksha 2: In fact, indirect representation of the LGBTQ+ community is consistent throughout ancient scrolls and Hindu texts, such as in the Mahabharata and the Upanishads, there are references to same-sex love and desire. For example, the Mahabharata describes the deep friendship and love between Krishna and Arjuna, which some interpret as having romantic undertones.

Siddhi 3: Hindu mythology also includes tales that depict same-sex relationships. The story of Mohini, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, involves her seducing and marrying Shiva, highlighting the fluidity of gender and the possibility of love beyond traditional male-female pairings.

Akanksha 3: In addition to mythology, Hinduism has a rich tradition of poetry and literature that explores same-sex love. The works of ancient poets such as Kalidasa and Bhartrhari often depict same-sex desire and relationships, emphasizing the universality of love and the power of human connection.

Siddhi 4: These texts are the most highly valued and ancient texts even to this day and the representation of same sex relationships does not seem to be limited in any way proving that the concept of the LGBTQ+ community was not something new.

Akanksha 4: Fast forward to the Mughal period, where same-sex love was not only acknowledged but highly celebrated at that time. We had poets like Amir Khusrau weaving tales of passion and desire into their verses, and even Mughal artwork showcasing same-sex relationships in all their artistic glory.

Siddhi 5: Not just same sex relationships, throughout the course of our Indian history, there has been prominent trans representation. If your car has ever been stopped in India at a red light you may have encountered Hijras. Hijras are considered a distinct social and cultural group in India, with their origins dating back to ancient times. They are often seen as occupying a "third gender" category, beyond the male-female binary.

Akanksha 5: Hijras have traditionally held unique roles in society, such as performing at birth ceremonies, blessings and even singing and dancing during auspicious occasions like weddings. They have their own customs, rituals, and even a distinct language called Hijra Farsi.

Siddhi 6: This is due to the historical belief that ‘one who changes their physical being to be closer to their inner identity, is the one closest to god and the one most capable of giving blessings’.

Akanksha 6: In Hindu mythology and ancient texts, there are references to transgender or gender-diverse characters, highlighting the acceptance of gender fluidity. Even in the Kama Sutra! Homosexuality was simply, just a part of life!

Siddhi 7: Taking an example of, the epic Mahabharata which my grandma would narrate to me every night mentions characters like Shikhandi, who was born female but later identified as male and played a pivotal role in the Kurukshetra war. Aravan, another character in the Mahabharata, was a transgender warrior who sacrificed himself for the victory of the Pandavas.

Akanksha 7: In some Hindu festivals, such as the Koothandavar festival in Tamil Nadu, Hijras have an important role as devotees. They dress in vibrant attire, participate in processions, and offer blessings and prayers for fertility and well-being. They are often believed to possess spiritual powers and are sought after for their blessings. They serve as a reminder of hindu culture and the core of hinduism. Yet today, if a person were to come out and identify as a transgender person, they’d be bashed by society.

Siddhi 8: So why is it, after such a rich history of acceptance when it comes to the concept of fluid gender and sexual identity, that we are still so cold towards the LGBTQ+ community?

Impact of British colonialism

Akanksha 8: Well a simple answer to this is, ‘Homophobia is the direct impact of British Colonialism.’ ’Enter the British Empire. The idea of same-sex relations was considered as one of the worst offenses under British rule. These Victorian values were enforced upon us as a nation, resulting in the introduction of Section 377 in the Indian Penal Code, born in 1860, making consensual same-sex relationships "illegal" and casting a gloomy shadow on our rich and diverse rainbow-colored history.

Siddhi 9: Yet, after the British left, their impact still remained, and so did Section 377. The homophobic mindset was imprinted upon our Indian society, resulting in homophobic views and the complete rejection of the LGBTQ+ community.

Akanksha 9: But worry not, various acts in 2009 led to Indians fight for the decriminalization of homosexuality. The most recent good news for the LGBTQ+ community has been in 2018 when the Supreme Court realized that love is love and declared section 377 unconstitutional.

Siddhi 10: Finally!

Akanksha 10: Though it is still opposed to same-sex marriage and it still isnt legal, but progress is progress!

Siddhi 11: Coming towards the end of this podcast, we would like to conclude by talking about how even though section 377 is no longer applicable, the homophobic mindset still remains. This shift in mindset is one that may take time, yet through the enthusiastic pride parades and representation, this mindset is shifting and as every day passes,it is clear that our India is moving forward towards an accepting and discrimination-free nation.

Akanksha 11: Thank you so much for listening to this podcast.

Siddhi 12: Please do check out our Instagram page @fight4rights_official. We’ll see you in the next one!

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