‘The Manusmriti equates homosexual sex to a man having sex with a menstruating woman, or having sex during the day, and the punishment involves purification rites: bathing with clothes on, and fasting for a night, and eating specific cow milk and urine related products. Failure to purify can result in loss of caste. The crimes of heterosexual adultery and rape, and deflowering a virgin, have much higher fines and more intense purification rituals. (XI:175)’
I grew up in a highly privileged orthodox Bihari family with strict rules and stricter gender norms. At a very young age, I realized that something is ‘different’ about me. Homosexuality still remains a taboo topic in society, and thus it is no surprise that growing up gay has its own set of challenges which unfortunately is not acknowledged by the majority of people. Looking back to the earlier times and comparing it with today’s situation would be preposterous because even though the world is getting inclusive each passing day, the challenges of being a rainbow child in the family never get better. Decriminalization of section 377 in the year 2018 was a major step towards a positive change in the lives of the LGBTQ+ community but unfortunately does not ensure their safety and discrimination by the society which looks at them with utmost disgust and shame.
Human society in Southeast Asian nations is based on two things: Honour and Shame. When it comes to honor, people don’t hesitate to kill their own children to protect it whereas when shame enters the chat, disowning a child and breaking all the bonds is not considered twice. Honor and shame, are the two pillars on which everyone’s life and identity depend here. The whole idea of honor and shame is also deeply interlinked to religion and culture. The culture which we take a lot of pride in, the religion which we consider the best amongst others is exclusive to those who follow the written rules of the handful of dominant patriarchs who refused to embrace diversity.
When we speak of Hinduism, which is the religion of the majority of people of India (with almost 80 percent of its population identifying as Hindus), it is important to know that it has been codified in a certain way which has restraint the true essence of the religion, reducing it to the four walls of a shrine whitewashing the majority of the myths and anecdotes. This ‘whitewashing’ is what I and most of the people interested in religion, sexuality, and gender studies are against. When we do an in-depth study of the religion, we will find many stories where sexuality, gender, and sex have been discussed openly without any hesitation throughout our rich & ‘honorable’ culture. Not only stories, but even the early Indian history before the British and the Mughal invasion also had a much open-minded society which let women and effeminate men seek pleasure without any judgments or criticism. In fact, Kama (sexual desire) was considered to be a part of the four human goals of life. The sculptures in Khajuraho temples of Madhya Pradesh built by the rulers of the Chandela dynasty are a great example of India’s liberal past. The Virupaksha temple of Karnataka, the Konark sun temple, the Lingraja temple in Bubneshwar, and many other architectural wonders represent India’s easy-going liberal past. Women are shown seeking pleasure, homoerotic intercourse and orgies are clearly visible.
In Hindu mythology, we see gods and goddesses taking a form of the opposite gender and many times, even having a child! During the infamous Amritmanthan when the sweet nectar of immortality gets in the hands of the asuras, Vishnu takes the form of Mohini, a beautiful celestial woman exceptionally talented in nritya sangeet. Mohini successfully flirts with the asuras and is able to get the nectar of immortality from them. She again appears to save Shiva from bhasmasur. Vishnu successfully saves him in the form of Mohini but Shiva falls head over heels for her and him and Mohini end up copulating and giving birth to a child called Ayyappan, who is worshiped in the Deccan region of the subcontinent (the god associated with the Sabrimala temple). Let alone these stories, in Hinduism there is a goddess dedicated and worshipped by the transgender women (Hijras) called ‘Bahuchar mata’ who rides a rooster. The legend goes that a young bride discovers that her husband – who never comes to her room, but rides out his horse at night is homosexual. Furious that he tricked her into a false marriage that will ruin her life, she turns into a goddess, punishes her husband, and offers him salvation from worldly bondage only if he becomes a hijra and serves her. This also shows a kind of transaction between the transgender community and the normal straight society.
A more realistic character would be of Shikhindi from the epic Mahabharata. She was raised as a boy and later on Arjun used Shikhindi as a shield and was able to kill Bhishma. She was a woman in her last birth and a divine voice told Drupad to raise her like a son. He trained her in warfare and even arranged a female to marry her. On the wedding night when her wife came to know the truth, she insulted her but later on Shikhindi changed her sex with a yaksha. I find homoeroticism to be more alluring in Hindu mythology but sadly, it’s not as much part of popular culture as other histories/mythologies.
While we do see some positive changes around us as the society is learning and unlearning about the LGBTIQ community, we still have a long way to go to ensure the basic rights of the queer community members. Ironically, the arguments presented against the community are mostly based on culture and religion which clearly shows that there has only been superficial glancing and we lack an in-depth understanding of our own religion which was much more progressive centuries back than it is today.
“I would still be with you. But I could sleep outside, so it would not be so obvious. I do not need to attend your councils. I—’
‘No. The Phthians will not care. And the others can talk all they like. I will still be Aristos Achaion, best of the Greeks.
‘Your honor could be darkened by it.”
‘Then it is darkened.’ His jaw shot forward, stubborn. ‘They are fools if they let my glory rise or fall on this.”
The above lines are taken from Madeline Miller’s ‘The Song of Achilles’ which is a book on the romance between two Greek warriors in Homer’s Iliad.
- The familiar unfamiliar – Culture vs. Homosexuality - June 9, 2020