Colonising and Queerness in India

“Homosexuality is a western concept.” We must have heard this statement at some point in our lives from people who are proudly rigid to not believe in facts. India was one of the most diverse countries in the world and traces of homosexuality are etched in our scriptures, history and monuments. It was only in 1861, the Britishers introduced section 377 and criminalised homosexuality. 

In the recent wave of ‘nationalism’, we see a lot of devoted nationalists trying to differentiate between the Indian and the western cultural impacts minus the introduction of homosexuality as a sin. Ancient India vindicated the presence of varied sexual orientations and the existence of transgender persons. Pre-colonial India seemed much more tolerant towards owning sexuality and religious scriptures are a proof. 

However, Manusmriti (which according to few scholars was established by the 5th Century C.E), Narada Purana and a few other texts impacted the thinking pattern of a lot of people but it does confirm their existence. These scriptures, in general, have been considered regressive towards women, minorities and the LGBT+ folks.

For those whom religion means everything, most popular religions have strong traces of homosexuality, trans and queer characters. In Hinduism, for example, Shiva is known to fall in love with Mohini (a transitioned form of Vishnu) and even a child was born out of this union known as Ayappa. Hanuman witnessed two women kissing while coming back from meeting Sita in Lanka. Another instance is when Shiva asked all the widowed women to make love to each other and out of one of these relationships was born Bhagiratha who is known to bring Ganga from heaven. 

In Islam, right from Baburnama which mentions Babur’s attraction towards a boy named Baburi in Kabul to Bulleh Shah’s poetry hinting at fluidity in sexuality and his interest in his murshid, Shah Inayat, the language of love has been penned down without the fear of rebellion. 

A lot of temples, especially in South India, have designs of stones where people are engaging in sexual activity with more than one gender, the clear representation of polyamory. All these references in our culture are an indicator that most of our heterosexuality and monogamy is based on moral policing. Kamasutra which talks and guides so much about sexual positions, pleasure and sexualities has been removed from our mainstream education. 

The school syllabus is also limited towards one chapter of reproduction and that too mainly focusing on how to reproduce. There is no mention of pleasure and detailed text on sex to educate young minds which makes them more curious to learn and sometimes they learn the wrong way. 

A progressive (and collaborative) proposal, NCERT’s gender-neutral teacher training manual, was introduced by NCERT and this was immediately taken down after , one person filed a complaint (and a lot of social media outrage) with the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights on the manual. This NCERT Teacher-Training Manual was meant to sensitise the teachers on Transgender lives and theri struggles to make schools and the education system a Transgender-Inclusive School space.  

In summary, there is a dire need for all the colonised countries, which include a lot of them from South Asia, to really question the hatred that was drilled into them by 200 years of British rule. Another important point to be noted is that the UK took down all these laws years ago and we, the colonised countries, still have them in place, if not as IPC 377, then in various other laws. As a society (and systemically), we still have a lot of hatred towards sexual and gender minorities, thanks to British rule!