Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code was introduced 1861 during the British rule of India. It criminalised sexual activities that were considered “against the order of nature”. On the 5th September this law was struck down in relation to activities of the LGBT community, a huge step forward in LGBT rights in the nation with many now calling for same-sex marriage legalisation. Indian society is broadly considered to have strongly conservative values, particularly in the lower income population of this very class-based society. Yet traditional religions of India can be seen to be far more aligned with queer rights than those of the West.
An article published on Quartz identifies how the karmic based faiths contain ideas that support queer rights. These include the lack of a judgement day, therefore the possibility of eternal damnation, and that the body, personality and sexuality are outcomes of karmic burden making them natural. God and nature are one and infinite (ananta). Applicants for Theology and Oriental Studies can consider how the juxtaposition between these concepts and the colonial language of Section 377 highlight the impact of religious foundations have on the variances between contemporary values.
Manil Suri, of the New York Times, points out how he has experienced very little homophobia when visiting his family in Delhi. Bollywood is arguably ahead of its Western counterparts with the increasing depiction of gay characters as much more than mere caricatures. Importantly, India can be used as a model for other non-Western societies to follow because it can be viewed without an Imperialist, Western, authority that often is seen as patronising.
Applicants for Asian and Middle Eastern Studies should question whether the historical and religious foundations of Indian culture will result in LGBT rights becoming more accepted within its modern society. Also are other countries more likely to follow suit in increasing judicial liberties or consider these constitutional reforms Western influence in India?
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