Understanding Homophobia in the Indian Society (Homophobia – A Societal Fear)

Entry By – Suyash Labh; Hindu College; B.Sc. (H) – Zoology

Although most prevalent languages in India have not had a decent dignified word for the members of the Queer Community nonetheless, there aren’t any linguistic roots that suggest any translatory equivalent of the word ‘Homophobia’ has ever existed.

Certainly, because Indians have only feared the legacy of Inherited age-old spooky midnight banyan tree stories. Something so non-existent for them as Homosexuality cannot possibly turn into a phobia. However, infact, a sense of ‘Homo-alienation’ and ‘Homo-repulsion’ has quite existed among the Indian masses. A very significant cause of this detestation, in rather recent past, has been the implications of the British rule.

The introduction of the Sodomy law or the colonial section 377 is majorly the foundation of the modern ‘Homo-repulsive’ behavior or simply ‘Homophobia.’ However, the British soon abolished their law in Britain. The Indian society, unlike following other trends in western culture, unfortunately clung on to such an archaic law till the September of 2018. When, it was finally stuck down by the Supreme Court of India.

But, the legality of sodomy or absence of it has very little to do with how Homophobia functions in Indian societies. A population which is clueless about the Queerness of its people would least care about whether there is a law that allows or forbids it. This unaware or uninformed self of people is reflected itself in the parents of LGBTQ+ persons. When a child finally musters courage and “comes-out” to their parents, the only initial reaction they receive is of ‘raised-eyebrows’ and prolonged awkward silence. And, when the silence finally breaks, what follows next is a plethora of questions on how, when, whom, whereof…

Something so dramatic, it seems perhaps parents have heard an otherworldly tale. Another anecdote to this train of thought can be quite rationalized by how the traditional transgender community (Hijra community) is perceived in India. Since, the Hijra community has quite marked its presence throughout history; their visibility somehow has convinced people to approve their existence. The other genders and sexuality on the spectrum with lesser visibility sound very bizarre to the society and hence, leads to lesser acceptance. The inability of acceptance therefore, is ‘Homo-repulsion’ which culminates eventually into Homophobia.

Besides, Religion is another significant deterrent that stems Homophobia. Religious preachers have from ages passed down and instilled the notion of homosexuality being a sin. India would infact be the only country, where otherwise hostile religious groups, would come together to oppose something like Homosexuality. Even so when their own religions have ample instances of same-sex narratives. Since, religion shapes customs; it also builds a socio-religious construct that allows discrimination against Queer people. The institutions of marriage have furthered the vent and filled it with, what some may call an ally to Homophobia – The Heteronormativity. The Heteronorm is so pervasive that any association between two people beyond a man and a woman is considered to be ‘unfitting’ and is laced with taboo and stigma.

The LGBTQ+ people face most wraths of Homophobia in their own households. The child who has now supposedly answered the most uncomfortable questions, each challenging their identity, stands astound to hear when their parents say, “What will the people think?” The place of unconditional love suddenly becomes conditioned on the societal acceptance or rejection. This societal fear of parents gradually manifests into hatred and disgust towards their child’s identity. Longing for the previous “normal” family becomes profound. In these cases, parents are driven to force their children into life-threatening and illegal ‘Conversion-therapy.’ The rural households settle their children’s lives for even worse and carry out scarring practices of ‘Corrective-rapes.’ In false hopes of protecting the family name and apparently living, what must appear to be a “dignified” life. Moving to the Metro cities is the only escape Queer lives eventually find their solace in.

The Binary Culture in schools serves yet another manufacturing ground for Homophobia. Schools are places of most self discovery in children. Queer kids discover a major part of their gender and sexuality while in school. Places like these should ideally be a ‘safe-space’ for kids to grow and nurture, but what follows in most Indian schools is otherwise horrifying. The adolescents in process of adulting seldom hesitate to show off their developing masculinity and feminity. And, those who do not fit into these binaries, suffer! The seeds of ‘Gender-roles ‘are planted here. There somewhat appears a shift from choice of academics and leisure to doing what is expected and assumed. This imposed expectation ranges from picking a color; to playing a certain sport; to also opting for particular subjects in High School. Indian schools follow arduous rule of “hammering the nail that sticks out.” Difference is seen as threat in most schools. Not to mention the outdated Biology books and failed Sex-education, which only adds to the existing picture of gender binary. The saddest part of this whole binary atmosphere is that it pushes the queer kids into the mental state of “denial.” It hinders them from accepting their own selves. Infact, these rigid masculine and feminine constructs of gender has led to something which is now being called –‘Internalized Homophobia.’ The Queer people have started to distinguish members of their own community for their gender traits. A stunning example of which is ‘masc-for-masc’ in Gay community.

So, what can be concluded is that Homophobia essentially is ‘A Societal Fear’ and not (as what its literary sense would suggest) a fear of Homosexual persons. More than being a fear for other people, it haunts Queer people.

Despite the improvement in the legal status, the queer-folk of India still face discrimination that proves to be detrimental. From workplace to home, these individuals temper down their Technicolor personalities to fit into a black-and-white shoe boxes. And when they refuse to, some sparkle in the monochrome while others fade away.