Tag Archives: homosexuality

Das ist Berlin

Not. This was London. From E. M. Forster’s Maurice

He spoke in despair, but Mr Lasker Jones had an answer to every question. “I’m afraid I can only advise you to live in some country that has adopted the Code Napoleon,” he said.

“I don’t understand.”

“France or Italy, for instance. There homosexuality is no longer criminal.”

“You mean that a Frenchman could share with a friend and yet not go to prison?”

“Share? Do you mean unite? If both are of age and avoid public indecency, certainly.”

“Will the law ever be that in England?”

“I doubt it. England has always been disinclined to accept human nature.”

Maurice understood. He was an Englishman himself, and only his troubles had kept him awake. He smiled sadly. “It comes to this then: there always have been people like me and always will be, and generally they have been persecuted.”

“That is so, Mr. Hall; or as Psychiatry prefers to put it, there has been, is and always will be every conceivable type of person. And you must remember that your type was once put to death in England.”

Never too late

More than half a century after he was driven into committing suicide, UK PM Gordon Brown has apologized for the way Alan Turing was persecuted by the British government. They victimized the man who was instrumental in the defeat of the Nazis in WWII, and who made significant contributions to the field of computer science, all because he was gay. He was forced to undergo chemical castration, and committed suicide some time later.

Last year, while writing about morality, I had said

Homosexuality is another controversial issue and there are many countries in the world (including India) where the practice is outlawed through a technicality – making “unnatural sex” illegal. No distinction is made between sodomy and rape. And society gains a tool to target “different” people. The Islamic theocracy that is Iran hangs gay people. While Iran is an extreme case, I don’t think there are many countries in the world who have not, at some point of time or the other, indulged in “legal discrimination” (discrimination by government, as opposed to by private parties – there is a huge difference in these two concepts and unfortunately, a lot of liberals either don’t understand this or simply don’t want to) against homosexuals.

British mathematician and cryptanalyst Alan Turing was probably one of morality’s greatest victims. Turing was the one who, in trying to tackle Godel’s undecidability question, came up with a design for what we now call computers; and the one who cracked the German Enigma cipher machine during the Second World War. In The Code Book, Simon Singh quotes a Bletchley Park veteran – “Fortunately the (military) authorities did not know that Turing was a homosexual. Otherwise we would have lost the war.” But the government did come to know of it later on. And it forced him to undergo hormone treatment that made him impotent. This persecution resulted in his committing suicide at the age of 42. The British rewarded his contribution to the defeat of Nazi Germany with death.

There are different kinds of apologies. Some are heart-felt, others are tactical, still others are symbolic; some are costly, others cheap. It takes great courage to apologize for a mistake, which is akin to taking a stand, when the cost of the apology is greatest. In 2009, and in Britain, part of Western civilization where homophobia is out of fashion, apologizing for having treated Turing in a particular way doesn’t cost much. But it is important because it recognizes, even if it cannot correct it, a historic wrong. It would have been better if those crusaders of morality who destroyed the lives of millions based on their perverted sense of morality and “justice” had applied their minds to the issue and not indulged in the persecution of “different” people.

If one looks at it from an Indian perspective, the contrast is blindingly apparent. A civilization that lacks any sense of history and that justifies anything and everything based on tradition is yet to come to terms with homosexuality. That explains the government being “undecided” on the question, and the religious orthodoxy’s anger at the SC judgment. The British, for all their flaws and stupidities, past and present, have the decency to apologize for what they did. We, having no sense of shame, will behave as if nothing is amiss.

“Sick minds”

The other day, Anbumani Ramadoss talked about scrapping Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which reads as follows-

“Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with [imprisonment for life], or with imprisonment of either description for term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.”

The Indian Law Ministry, however, is opposed to the same. “This is a section not merely confined to gay rights, it acts as an effective deterrent against paedophiles and those with sick minds,” a senior babu nonchalantly says. And further, “tampering with the well laid out provisions of the IPC could unsettle the legal framework in the country.”

According to his immaculate logic, S377 prevents paedophiles from voluntarily engaging in sexual activities with children (gosh, I never knew India had dropped the age for consent to zero). Further, it seems those bureaucrats who can come up with a hundred different laws and thousands of amendments to existing laws without “tampering with the well laid out provisions of” the existing laws – and all this without breaking a sweat – cannot find a way to amend Section 375 and redefine rape without trampling on basic human rights.

So, for now homosexuals are still second class citizens in India. Thank God those who wrote the Indian Penal Code didn’t get any ideas from Hitler – pink arm bands and all. How could they – it was written by the British in 1860, and they had the sense and morals to scrap the relevant provision in their own country.

“People are entitled to think that homosexuality is wrong, but they are not entitled to use the criminal law to force that view upon others… A society that has learned, over time, racial and sexual equality can surely come to terms with equality of sexuality.” – Tony Blair

Legalization vs. Decriminalization

For the first time ever, Anbumani Ramadoss is talking sense (albeit in a very restricted manner, since his only concern is HIV-AIDS) when he says “Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalises men who have sex with men, must go”. But the article is wrong when it says “the Union Health Ministry on Friday favoured legalising homosexuality.”

There is a big difference between legalizing something and decriminalizing it. And the difference lies in the way these words relate to “rights”. Homosexuality, prostitution, discrimination by private parties, hate speech, use and sale of drugs and weapons, practice of a particular religion, non payment of compulsory levies etc are decriminalized. Murder, rape, theft, fraud etc are legalized. The first category of “offenses” don’t violate the rights of others. Those in the second category do. That is the essential difference.

Laws are meant to protect the “rights” of people, not restrict them based on the personal likes and dislikes of a whole bunch of others.

A different morality

A lot of people speak of morality as if it is cast in stone and is some kind of universal truth. It is not. At best, it is something that works on the “to each his own” principle. It follows then that there would be many “flavors” of morality. There is the morality that emerges from teachings of imaginary deities, the Marxist morality practiced by communists around the world, morality of the Objectivist kind, Nietzsche’s master and slave morality, and so many others (Nietzsche actually considers morality a ruse used by the weak to rule the strong). Morality is important – everything we do is influenced by our morals – but so is identifying its source; more so when morality is codified and becomes law – something that every citizen of a country is expected to follow. Bad choices here will lead to disgruntlement and chaos.

Abortion and euthanasia (or even suicide) are issues that affect women and the terminally ill. But law is used to deny them the right to their own bodies and lives. “Taking a life” is immoral – this idea is taken to its extreme to justify bans. This report on abortion was run by the BBC some time back. It is related to the access women have to abortion in Northern Ireland. Then there was another report which talked about a woman in Britain who planned to go to Holland for euthanasia and who feared that her husband would be arrested when he returns to the country. I can’t find that particular report but this one explains the problem.

Homosexuality is another controversial issue and there are many countries in the world (including India) where the practice is outlawed through a technicality – making “unnatural sex” illegal. No distinction is made between sodomy and rape. And society gains a tool to target “different” people. The Islamic theocracy that is Iran hangs gay people. While Iran is an extreme case, I don’t think there are many countries in the world who have not, at some point of time or the other, indulged in “legal discrimination” (discrimination by government, as opposed to by private parties – there is a huge difference in these two concepts and unfortunately, a lot of liberals either don’t understand this or simply don’t want to) against homosexuals.

British mathematician and cryptanalyst Alan Turing was probably one of morality’s greatest victims. Turing was the one who, in trying to tackle Godel’s undecidability question, came up with a design for what we now call computers; and the one who cracked the German Enigma cipher machine during the Second World War. In The Code Book, Simon Singh quotes a Bletchley Park veteran – “Fortunately the (military) authorities did not know that Turing was a homosexual. Otherwise we would have lost the war.” But the government did come to know of it later on. And it forced him to undergo hormone treatment that made him impotent. This persecution resulted in his committing suicide at the age of 42. The British rewarded his contribution to the defeat of Nazi Germany with death.

Prostitution, nudity and anything related to sex has always been controversial, particularly because of religious reasons. Iran (again) has recently decided to punish bloggers who write things that are detrimental to society. And freedom is such a precious commodity here in modern India that sometimes I wonder whether we fought for freedom or for freedom to enslave. Well, here you have to be careful what you write about. Write bad stuff about India’s royalty – the Gandhi family, or about Hindu gods, or warrior kings, or politicians and you could be thrown in jail and thrashed soundly. Worse, someone will arrive at your place and thrash you. While the Hindu epics describe kings having multiple wives, wives with multiple husbands, children born out of wedlock etc etc, and there did exist a time when sex and nudity was not considered taboo (Kamasutra and the Khajuraho temple complex, for example), present day India is imprisoned in a Victorian era morality. Raja Ravi Varma too seems to have played a major role in the covering up of the Indian body. The various religion-based outfits apparently suffer from amnesia, or stupidity, or both.

Drugs, smoking, views on charity – the list goes on. Society and government intervene into areas that have absolutely nothing to do with them, according to one morality, on the strength of laws and customs based on a different morality. This is a clash between different moralities and there can be no meeting point. This is the primary reason why societies find themselves caught up in conflicts. And unfortunately, present day government offers no solution to the problem. The best we can do is limit the applicability of “moral laws” to small territories – on a city or state level rather than on a national level. While moving from country to country is not possible for many, people unsatisfied with the laws in one city or state can move to another one. And it is so much easier to get the laws changed at the local level than at a national level since a small electorate means each voter has more say. But this requires politicians with the intelligence and drive needed to make it happen. And we don’t have them.

For all the idle talk of morals and civilized behavior, when people fail to come to an understanding, they turn into cavemen and resort to the use of force. “As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me,” Orwell once wrote (The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius). Theirs is a different morality, he should probably have added.