Last Tuesday’s debate on decriminalising homosexuality mirrored various factions of society
SELF-DEPRECATORY HUMOUR IS A SIGN of intelligence but, equally, laughing at yourself is a sign of discomfort and an attempt at deflection from the real issue. And, so, October 23rd’s debate on decriminalising homosexuality was a mirror of society at large. There were Rotarians comfortable with homosexuality being decriminalised, others who said they were comfortable but were not there yet and yet others who were simply against it.
The room was filled with wit and sarcasm as the house was divided into two. Rtn. Zeenia Master, Rtn. Satyan Israni,
Rtn. Suhail Nathani debated for decriminalization of 377 while Rtn Haresh Jagtiani, Rtn. (Dr.) Prakriti Poddar and Rtn. Natasha Treasurywalla were against the verdict.
Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code is a section of the Indian Penal Code introduced in 1864 during the British rule of India. It is used to criminalize sexual activities “against the order of nature”. On September 6th, 2018, the
Supreme Court of India announced that the application of Section 377 to consensual homosexual sex between adults was unconstitutional, “irrational, indefensible and manifestly arbitrary”.
The debate at the weekly Rotary meeting was carried forward along the same lines. Rtn. Zeenia Master opened the debate by questioning our role in someone else’s love affair. By literally defining criminalization, Zeenia wondered why the Government wanted to know who was in bed with whom rather than focusing on other important state affairs. She called it a game of distraction played well by the government in a country where people had zero tolerance for happiness and love. She said she believed that as long as you are not a public nuisance, you are free to live your life as you wish. Accepting the LGBT community would help breaking the rigid stereotypes of our society. Zeenia concluded by asking why anyone would stand between any two people who loved each other.
Called to speak against the verdict of the SC was Rtn. Natasha Treasurywalla, who used wit to make it clear which
side she was on. She sarcastically brought into light the urgent need of government to look into pressing matters like building the Shivaji statue, which she said should be the priority of national officials, rather than 377.
Remembering which side she was in, she returned to speaking against the verdict, saying that decriminalization would be disgusting with increased public display of affection and she called it unnatural. The sarcasm continued thereafter, making the house wonder if she was against decriminalisation or for it. The house enjoyed light-hearted moments of hilarity at the points sarcastically mentioned by Natasha.
Rtn. Satyan Israni followed and brought the house back to order by pointing out how grave and serious the issue was. He gave references to religious texts and also statistics and cases of physical abuse under section 377. He added that homosexuality had been part of Indian society since ancient times. He also brought to notice the flaws and contradictions of the 377. Satyan touched upon the history and the evolution of the LGBT movement against section 377 and concluded by pleading with members to take decriminalization seriously and respect the SC verdict.
After knowing the facts and technicality of the section from Satyan, Rtn. (Dr.) Prakriti Poddar brought into the house a psychological aspect in her stand against decriminalisation. Prakriti asked Satyan if he would want his son to bring home a husband. She then addressed the same question to all in the house. She said she believed in going with the order of the day and listening to the system. While the LGBT community has been fighting to bust the myth that homosexuality is a choice, Prakriti insisted it was so and added that it brought, with it, a lot of sychological concerns like anxiety, depression, etc. which were unnecessary. She concluded by saying that if she didn’t want her children to bring home same-sex life partners then it was better for them to not be exposed to it at all.
Noting the last point Prakriti made, Rtn Suhail Nathani, in his final remarks for decriminalization, blended the entire moral, religious, psychological and population debate. He reminded the house that we were all very well exposed to the community around the world and seemed unaffected by it. Being with someone was a personal choice and should not take into consideration class, caste, or sex. Eight per cent of the Indian population was believed to be
homosexual out of which so many were forced to get married to the opposite sex due to societal pressure. Suhail brought to light that about 25 per cent of such people wanted to end their marriages and free themselves. Hence, it was important to accept them within us.
Rtn. Haresh Jagtiani made the summing remarks against decriminalization by calling the opposition anti-democratic,
anti-police, anti-national and antilawyers. He said it was against the ethos of a majority of this democratic
population. The sentiments of the majority were not being taken into consideration he said.
Though the debate was not a legalized one, Rotary, with its respectful members of esteemed standing in society, set a
good example by showing that the way forward was always to communicate. The motion was put forth by the house
formally and a majority in the house were in favour of decriminalization of homosexuality.