India celebrates its 70th Independence Day today. But for queer Indians, freedom is far from reality.
Exactly 70 years ago today, the sprawling Indian subcontinent collectively known as the British Raj was granted full independence from the United Kingdom. Despite the initial turmoil and bloodshed that accompanied this partition, Independence Day has largely become a symbol of pride and patriotism among Pakistanis and Indians alike… a time for South Asians to celebrate their freedom.
Except that for most LGBT people in India and the rest of South Asia, this freedom is merely lip service. Gays and lesbians continue to face legal and social difficulties not experienced by heterosexual people. Forget about the freedom to marry who you love, even the mere fact that you’re gay can be a cause for harassment, extortion, or even a criminal conviction. All because the country has hung on to an outdated piece of legislation dating back to 1860 that criminalises homosexuality. The British, who bequeathed us this law when they left, have gone on to make great strides in recognising LGBT rights, even so far as legalising same-sex marriage back in 2012. But for some countries, this road to equality hasn’t always been easy.
Over the course of my life, I’ve met many loving gay and lesbian couples who want nothing more than to be treated the same way as their straight counterparts. They want to be able to share and celebrate family events with their partners, knowing that they have the support and recognition of their families. As a parent, I can imagine nothing more rewarding than sharing our children’s joys, triumphs and sorrows. But until mainstream attitudes change, many Indian children will continue to hide their sexuality (and often even their lifelong partners) for fear of rejection.
For Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans living here in Australia, I recognise that it can sometimes be a struggle to reconcile our culture with this country’s more liberal attitudes towards social issues. And I can see why you may be tempted to take the side of culture when it comes time to vote during the upcoming postal survey on same-sex marriage.
But let me tell you this: we’ve all been here before. There was a time not long ago when Brahmins couldn’t marry Dalits, when Hindus couldn’t marry Muslims, when widows were forbidden from remarrying while babies were wed at childbirth. We have changed the definition of marriage time and again, and the world didn’t end. We can’t go on denying gays and lesbians their rights under the guise of cultural values, because every generation gets to define its own values. And this is your chance to make a difference.
So during the upcoming postal plebiscite on marriage equality, make sure you make your voice heard. That’s the important thing. Don’t sit around waiting for things to happen. Be an agent of change. Challenge the status quo, and let’s make history happen. And if, by chance, you decide to vote YES, rest easy in the confidence that you’re far more likely to be on the right side of history.
Enrol to vote here: http://www.aec.gov.au/enrol/