Pope Francis is a rock star. The Church has never had so cool a Catholic leader, who espouses sensitive issues such as gender equality, champions climate change concerns and shows compassion to homosexuals.
Pope Francis said on Sunday that Christians and the Roman Catholic Church should ask for forgiveness from homosexuals for cutting them off the society. When devout Christians have always maintained distance from anything related to gay rights, calling it a crime against god, Pope Francis’ liberal comment on homosexuals can bring in a huge attitudinal change among the Catholics around the world.
Contrast the Pope Francis ’s comment to India’s common view on gays. We deny that anything as “sickening” as homosexuality exists, and shoo it away from the collective psyche. The Section 377 fiasco best depicts India’s fear for homosexuals. The LGBTQ community sent out whoops of joy in 2009, when the Delhi High Court struck down Section 377, the archaic Colonial rule that criminalises homosexual acts.
A legacy of the prude Victorian era British rule, the court dismantled Section 377. With this, unlike many of us feared, the Indian society did not collapse. But in 2013, the Supreme Court overturned the High Court’s decision.
Shortly after the Supreme Court upheld Section 377, Maulana Madni, of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind said: “If these same sex couples adopt children, the child will grow up with a skewed version of a family. Society will disintegrate.”
Om Prakash Singhal, the Vice President of VHP, a group that otherwise can’t stand Muslims, agreed with the Maulana and said: “Homosexuality is against Indian culture, against nature and against science… The SC had protected our culture.”
“We will train them and (give homosexuals) medicines too,” quipped Goan sports and youth affairs minister Ramesh Tawadkar. BJP leader Subramanian Swamy was more vocal in his dissent. “Homos are genetically handicapped.”
The most famous of all was Baba Ramdev’s statement, who claimed he could “cure” homosexuality through Yoga. Gulam Nabi Azad, former health minister had something similar to say: “Homosexuality is unnatural and a disease”.
Our homophobia is so big that we shy away from words like ‘lesbians’, humiliate gay men as “chakkas” or “hijras” and don’t acknowledge that the transgender people are a part of our society. Quite often, the penal code is misused by the police to harass, persecute, or blackmail the sexual minorities within India.
In 2015, there were 578 arrests under Section 377. Because the LGBTQ community is pushed into the dark corners of the society, a 2014 report conducted by the World Bank states that India suffers a loss of between 0.1% and 1.7% of GDP because of homophobia.
But amid all the homophobia we have a few emancipated leaders who have come out in support of decriminalising homosexuality in India. Last November, finance minister Arun Jaitley and his predecessor P Chidambaram unanimously agreed that the Supreme Court should not have reversed the Delhi high court order.
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor has been an avid supporter of gay rights, notwithstanding the scathing comments that he received from the BJP. RSS leader Dattatreya Hosabale first supported gay rights, and then as if suffering at the hands of those in the unit, did a surprising U-turn and described homosexuality as “socially immoral act”.
Such is our fear of being ostracised that we can’t be openly supportive of the LGBTQ group. But Pope Francis has shown the way. We can have our reservations about gays, but we can do better with tolerance and compassion.