Is Sikkim's attitude towards homosexuality discriminatory and ignorant?

Is Sikkim's attitude towards homosexuality discriminatory and ignorant?

Homosexual by definition means sexual attraction or romantic love exclusively for people of the same sex or gender or in other words people who love those of the same sex, while heterosexual is a term applied to those who are attracted to the opposite sex. Homosexuality simply refers to the experience of being passionately attracted to a member of the same sex and that man who develops a strong feeling for other men is called homosexuals.

Gay is a term that primarily refers to a homosexual man or who is sexually attracted to people of their own gender. Gay and male homosexuals are two terms that convey the same meaning. These two terms can be used interchangeably or the term gay is also used as a synonym for homosexual. Gay can also be defined as two people of the same gender who are physically and emotionally attracted to each other. According to Sigmund Freud homosexuality is the result of conflicts of psychosexual development, including identification with the parent of the opposite sex.

The existence of discrimination against homosexuality is found in almost every society. The word discrimination means unjust treatment or harassment of an individual or a group of people based on their sex, gender, race, age, sexual preference etc. Discrimination can take several forms such as verbal abuse, physical violence, ragging, bias attitude etc. The act of discrimination is always carried on by the dominant group hence it develops the source of oppression. 

Discrimination and prejudice are found in every corner of the world while every human being has the right to be treated equally and live respectfully. Discrimination because of sexual orientation can be direct or indirect. It can take the form of harassment, prejudice attitude towards gender identity. For many gay male discriminations is their everyday reality because most of the people have a negative attitude towards homosexuality or the same sexual activities. These negative attitudes can lead to a refusal by their family and peer groups. It can be the consequences of homophobia and stigma that exists in our society. Homophobia and stigma may cause violence, harassment, physical assault to people who are attracted to the same gender. Gay or homosexual people experience severe discrimination and harassment because of their sexual orientation. 

Homosexual people are considered shameless, deviant, anti-cultural, and abnormal for being who they are by many societies.  In fact, during the 1990s, gay people were considered abnormal and homosexuality was taken as a state of mental illness. They are discriminated against in the workplace, school, neighbourhood, as their character is associated with women. The society expects masculine behaviour as they are termed male. Under such pressure, it becomes difficult for them to maintain dual gender identity. Perhaps, some of the causes for hatred and homophobia towards gays is rooted in psychological science itself. 

As Freud claimed that homosexuality is the result of a conflict of psychosexual development in the Oedipal stage, this led to a widely viewed belief that homosexuality was pathological and was the result of dysfunctional parent-child relationships. The severe experiences of discrimination and stigmatization can cause extreme pressure for a person to fit into society. Even though there is an increasing acceptance of same-sex relationships in society they still become the victim of discrimination and gender stereotype plays an important role in determining the people’s attitude towards homosexuality. Many societies over the world still treat homosexuality as a taboo. Some of them fully condemn and others just deny its occurrence.

The term homosexuality first appeared in the 19th century in Europe and gradually became widespread. The term was coined by a German psychologist, Karoly Maria Benkert in 1869. At different epochs and different cultures, homosexual behaviour has been accepted, tolerated, punished and banned.

Homosexual was not an unpopular phenomenon in ancient Greece and Rome, the sexual relationship between same-sex individuals was accepted and even celebrated. For example, Alexander the Great and the founder of stoicism, Zeno of Citium, were popular for having an interest in men. On the other hand, it was not approved by many Jews and Christian leaders. Further essentialists argue that sexual attraction is observed rather than created. Ancient Greece had no term that could correspond to homosexuality/heterosexual division; people could only notice men who were attracted to a person of a particular sex. So, with this view homosexuality is natural rather than cultural or historical product.

The attitude of Roman towards homosexuality began to change and it is visible in the Roman law. In Justinian’s Code implemented in 529 forbids the homosexual sex and if anyone were found indulged in homosexuality were to be executed. In the 19th century, there was a notable reduction in extreme punishments. The Napoleonic code decriminalized homosexual sex and the Code spread with Napoleon’s conquest. But in most of the countries, it remained a severe crime.

Furthermore, during the 1930s a particular program of anti-homosexual was formed under the Nazi regime in Germany. After the Second World War, the Golden age of homosexuality came to an end and homosexual activities became a taboo, they were sent to concentration camps. Even today same sexual activities are perceived as a sinful act by Muslim and Christian community. They highly condemn same-sex attraction and consider it unnatural. Like other groups have suffered discrimination and suppression so has the gay community but they are gradually recovering from their past. Ancient Greece shows that homosexuality could be noble and dignified when respected by society and not repressed.

Further, the attitude towards homosexuality is changing gradually and it could be the result of the gay rights movement in the mid-20th century. A gay community emerged in the twentieth century which were achieved by the gay libertarian movement. The Stonewall riots marked the birth of the modern gay and lesbian liberation movement. The Stonewall Inn was a gay bar in New York’s Greenwich Village. On the morning of June 28, 1969, the police carried a raid on the bar without their routine so the crowd from inside and outside the bar fought bravely against the police. The riot continued for five days, this incident changed the face of gay and lesbian life forever. For decades the riots have been celebrated by LGBTQ community in the month of June and call it a pride month. 

Efforts have been made by many gay people to fight for their human rights especially in the United States. “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations Green Assembly in 1948 testifies that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights’’ under United Nations Article 1.’

Today, many of the LGBTQ community have gained worldwide recognition. In 2013, the United Nations even organized the Free and Equal campaign to bring awareness against the homophobia among the people and to reduce discrimination against the LGBTQ community. Currently, same sexual activities are recognized nationwide including countries like the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Spain, South Africa and India.

India's Gay Liberation Movement

The struggle for the decriminalization of homosexuality started in the early 1990s. On August 11, 1992, the AIDS Bhedhav Virodhi Andolan (ABVA) protested against harassment and arrest of suspected homosexuals under Sections 72-73 of the Delhi Police Act. There were marches and parades in front of the police headquarters in New Delhi. Inspired by the tradition of stonewall, the small group of men and women realized they faced enough of violence and being victimized and took a stand for themselves. In the same year, a petition was sent to the petition committee of parliament that seeks for the decriminalization of homosexuality by the removal of Section 377. 

The main reason for this liberation movement of gay rights in India is their voices for the right to be treated equally, fairly as the citizens of India and right to be respected irrespective of the identity, marital status and sexual orientation. The demand for freedom of gays and lesbians was first put forth in late 1991. Protest and demonstration reached its peak when the male homosexuals were denied condoms in Tihar Jail by authorities despite knowing the sexual activities prevalent inside. 

The fear of the spread of AIDS led the people to protest against unjust discrimination. This struggle went on until 2018 when the Supreme Court ordered to repeal Section 377. In the historic landmark judgement, India has decriminalized homosexuality on 6th September 2018 by declaring Section 377 as unconstitutional. Section 377 was introduced during British Rule that restricted same sexual activities for decades stating it as against the order of nature. The bench, led by the chief justice of India Deepak Mishra held that the sexual activities between adults of same gender or sex is considered legal and said criminalization of homosexuality between adults under 377 of Indian Penal Code is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court also ordered that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is the violation of one’s fundamental rights. It is the landmark victory of Indian gay rights movement.

Sikkim's attitude towards homosexuality

Sikkim is a land of multiple cultures; different groups and the state has a blend of different religions. As society is prone to change, it cannot be preserved in a museum. It is changing every day and is wide open to changes. For the past years, Sikkim has seen a lot of conflicts and debates about homosexuality. Although people have started changing their perception after Section 377 has been revoked but the social stigma against homosexuality is still prevalent in society.

Young adults conceal their sexual orientation for fear of meeting with discrimination by the public. They are compelled to hide their identity to avoid prejudice and discrimination. In Jorethang, People who are manly with gay feeling are addressed by names like “chakka’’ or “hizra’’.

In one of the speeches by former Chief Minister of Sikkim Dr. Pawan Chamling, gave warning of zero tolerance of homosexuality in Sikkim. He said he would never allow the gay and lesbian culture to enter Sikkim as it would wipe away the purity and pollute the state. He also ordered the Gram panchayats to pass a resolution against homosexuals in Sikkim. Such is the mentality people have in their mind towards homosexuality. Although his statement was criticized by many human rights activists in the state, we still see hostility towards gay and LGBTQ community.

However, the state witnessed its first-ever pride march at Gangtok, on 27th January 2018, four months after the decriminalization of homosexuality in Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. The city was full of rainbow-coloured flags and the gay people in colourful outfits were seen in the streets to celebrate the victory. The pride march was also participated by lesbians, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex and asexual. The participants were not only from Sikkim but it was also joined by LGBTQIA people from adjoining areas like Kalimpong, Darjeeling, Guhwati and Bhutan. It was organized through the combined efforts of Gangtok based Rainbow Hills Association and Darjeeling based Mitjyu Society. The main motive behind this pride march was to show that they have won the law.

As already mentioned, that the acceptance of gay depends on the societal norms and values hence It is important to do a research about the treatment of gays in Sikkim as the state consists of people belonging to different religious and cultural background. Homosexuality is still considered taboo in many of the cultural practices and people still have the gender stereotype of what masculine and feminine is. It becomes difficult for people to accept the third gender such as the member of LGBTQ. Even after the repealing of Section 377 LGBTQ people are struggling to win society and convince the society to accept them.

Sanju*, a closeted gay man, says “I haven’t disclosed my sexual identity with the family because I’m an only son and I have two sisters, so my parents expect me to marry a girl and look after my parents also I’ll have to marry off my sister. I’m not sure if I’ll ever tell my parents about me because my happiness lies with them and I’m ready to do anything for them.”

Another explains, “I come from a Bihari community and coming from such a conservative community it is not possible to convince my parents that homosexuality is as normal as heterosexual, Also the wedding rituals is above everything in our community. I think I will never tell my parents about me. Another gay individual name changed (Raila) stated: “It is my personal choice not to reveal my identity to the family or to the public because it is not necessary to expose yourself to everyone. I expose myself to close friends who I’m very comfortable  with.”

Gay men are often been harassed or made uncomfortable by people and they are likely to be bullied in school, college campus and workplace. Harassment can take the form of verbal abuse, physical violence, threatening and so on. Such cases are often reported in the news. In Sikkim, gay men are made to feel uncomfortable in public places. Most of the respondents expressed that they face a lot of harassment in their daily life because of their sexual preference. 

They experience harassment in forms like verbal abuse, physical violence from their own sex partner, some even got beaten up in their childhood for adopting a feminine character. even the children use words like “chakka” on their face and treat them like they are aliens. People give hateful looks and always use harsh words on them. Some people even call them a curse in society and advise them to go to church or seek help from doctors. They face a lot of criticism from people for being who they are.

Rajni* another gay man said that he was in a live-in relationship for 13 years and he was sexually abused by his own partner, but he was afraid to report to the police because of fear of being judged by the neighbour. Rajni also faces harassment in the workplace from his co-workers, they ask for his phone number, and tries to keep physical contact to entertain them. 

Many of the people perceive gay identity as abnormal, sin, or deviant behaviour in society. It has been almost 16 years for Rajni* that he is surviving with the hostile attitude of people towards him. He had some terrible memories of his childhood days when he used to get beaten up by elders for behaving like a girl. Although he does not face the same treatment now, his neighbours give hateful looks when he is walking around. Since he was in a living relationship there was not even a single day that went by without people saying him a harsh word. He has even tried to end his life twice as he could not endure the social stigma associated with his sexual orientation. Such a negative attitude of people has made his life miserable. To avoid meeting such harsh treatment, most of the gay people do not reveal their identity. 

Shan*, a shopkeeper who is queer, used to face a lot of humiliations in school days as he used to along with only girls, boys used to tease him “why do you pee with girls” and he felt awkward but there was nothing he could do, he was helpless. Even now he experiences humiliation every day. 

There is a lack of education in this section of the population with only one state in America, California, who has made it mandatory to study the history of the LGBT movement in their school curriculum. It leaves us wondering, what would have happened if education about this marginalized section was made mandatory in India too. LGBT education can be fulfilled in several ways, such as getting to know a family of a gay or transgender. 

It can also be done through social media consumption that features these people. This could help to change from prejudice to acceptance. Even in school teaching about this section of the population would help them to understand the LGBT people more and be supportive of them. Most of the respondents said it is due to the lack of education gay men or LGBTQ face discrimination in society. People are not aware of the existence of homosexuality so it is the responsibility of the government to make education about LGBTQ compulsory in school. For some, it is due to the stigma attached to homosexuality. 

For a few, discrimination against gay men is rooted in stereotypical gender roles. The people believe that there are only two genders, male and female, so they are not aware of the third gender. Anju* says, If a person is doing something different from the generic way of society, or in a country like India if you are going different from the society’s perspective of sexual orientation and coming with the terms of society then obviously you are likely to face discrimination”. 

There has been a tremendous increase in the acceptance of gays and lesbians in the contemporary world. Today, homosexuality is being accepted and is becoming more visible in many of the societies, particularly American society. After the Supreme Court revoked Section 377 in India, there is an increasing acceptance of homosexuality among the Indian citizens. 

Anju states, “Recently people are accepting homosexuality, I believe with the pace of time it will be as normal as heterosexuals. The acceptance of homosexuality will be a normal phenomenon”. Few of the community members also believe that the younger generation is more accepting and it may be because of social media as they are exposed to different content. So social media can be a tool to educate people about their existence.

In recent days there is an increasing acceptance of homosexuality in Sikkim and one can see the attitude of people changing after Section 377 being repealed by the Indian Supreme Court on September 8th 2016. Our only hope is that it stays and progresses forward. 

By Sharon Tamang