The Supreme Court’s recent ruling in section 377 might have come as a progressive step in Indian cities, but its impact is yet to reach its villages. A large majority of Indians live in its villages. Thus, the impact of any important legal aspect cannot and should not be generalized by its impact on the urban population.
What makes rural India different from urban India?
City-dwellers might not even understand the concept of rural India because they haven’t been there. To the average ‘modern’ young person, Indian villages mean agriculture and pottery. While agriculture and pottery do make a significant part of our villages, rural India has many more dimensions.
The awareness about human rights in general and LGBTQ rights, in particular, is much lower in villages than in cities. Then, there is a much lesser role of social media and online platforms in our villages. To make things more difficult for the LGBTQ community, the administrative system is not uniform across different villages, and there is very little, if at all, understanding about the community.
At a time when the availability of electricity and rising loans among farmers are making news, how do we make sure that the LGBTQ community in rural India gets their rights?
Social mindset regarding homosexuality
When you see that the typical reaction of the so-called ‘urban and modern’ society towards homosexuality is disbelief and ridicule, how do you think the rural society will react to it? Needless to say, people don’t understand homosexuality. Most people believe that it is some disease or mental condition that can be cured by doctors, or worse, by witchcraft.
Villagers are afraid to come out of the closet because they will be ostracized and disowned by their families. These basic fears of homosexuals in rural India are not very different from those of homosexuals in cities. While the latter can look for support groups and platform to raise their voice, the former has no way to do so.
Real examples and real concerns
Hari Prakash lives in a small village near Unnao in Uttar Pradesh. He found out about his sexual orientation when he was 16. Because he did not understand what was wrong, he never discussed anything with anyone.
“I always I liked boys but that is not how it is supposed to be, right?”, he asks. “I got married but I can’t make love to my wife because it doesn’t feel right to me. But whom could I have spoken to?”
“I was happy when I heard about court and section 377. But still, I cannot tell anybody because my family will be ridiculed and asked to go away from the village. So, I just have to pretend to live like everything is normal.”
Hari’s situation brings two important points to light:
- There is a dire need of spreading information and awareness about homosexuality in our villages.
- The local social system has a strong impact on the way people think.
Likewise, Shanti, from a village in Madhubani district of Bihar realised that she was not of the ‘normal’ orientation since puberty. However, she didn’t know what to do about it.
“I never liked dressing up and mingling with boys. I liked the beauty and charm of girls and their feminine ways. But I didn’t know whom to tell this. I tried to tell my mother once, but she grew furious and slapped me hard”, she says.
“My mother did not mention anything to my father or family, because she was afraid that we will be ostracised from the community. So, I could not do anything and married the man my family chose for me. Who asks women about what they want?”
Today, Shanti has two children from a sexual relationship that she does not want. The plight of Shanti and many more women like her remains a life-long situation.
Rural India has a long way to go before we can see the LGBT community live in peace there. There is a pressing need to bring relevant and correct information about homosexuality to our villages. We need support groups that help people who seek answers to their sexual issues.
If people try to look beyond the sexual aspects and try to understand the human side of the LGBTQ community, there will still be hope.