Jamaat-e-Islami Hind’s Homophobia

Written by January 16, 2014 4:49 am 11 comments

I was walking past Azad Maidan on my way to CST when I saw something that caught my eye. It was, as most things at Azad Maidan are, a protest. But the nature of the protest is what intrigued me: it was a “protest against homosexuality”, organised by Jammat-e-Islami Hind (JIH), which appraised the Supreme Court verdict of December 11th, 2013, which effectively criminalized consensual same-sex between adults under the archaic Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. This wasn’t surprising since Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH) has been very vocal in its support of the Supreme Court verdict.1 Against my better judgement, I decided to stay there for a few moments, and try to understand what this “protest” was really about. Never before, have I been in an atmosphere that was so intolerant and venomous. I sat amidst JIH volunteers holding placards like: “GAY: God Abhors You!”, “Homosexuals are selfish”, and “Gay rights are not human rights!” It was, also, an atmosphere fraught with fallacies, hatred and misinformation.

Before I proceed with an overview, and criticism of the JIH “protest”, let me clarify a few things: firstly, I write as a student of gender studies, so my views are more concerned with JIH as representing a patriarchal ideology, than they are as a religious organisation. There are homophobic and irrational views across the political and religious spectrum—and most of them are as worse, if not more, than the others. In this case, as it just so happens, Jamaat is an Islamic organisation. In fact, they had even roped in a sadhu to speak out against homosexuality. Secondly, in this article, my argument is against the misinformation, lies and inaccuracies about homosexuality that the JIH presented. Finally, this article attempts to examine how differing ideologies (religious, political) coalesce under patriarchy and, in that respect, it also presents a critique of such pervasive patriarchal structures.

Homosexuality is a Western idea; it is against Indian culture; it will lead to population decline”

First of all, there is no evidence whatsoever to indicate that homosexuality made its way from the West to India—even during colonialism. That India has its own legacy of homoerotic representations in literature and art, and that there are prominent queer themes in Hinduism, too, is entirely (and purposefully) absent in their discourse. As Devdutt Patnaik writes:

“…homosexual activities – in some form – did exist in ancient India…its existence was acknowledged but not approved. There was some degree of tolerance when the act expressed itself in heterosexual terms.”2

Indian “culture”, therefore, for organisations like Jamaat and the political Right, exists purely in a rhetorical space, and is divorced from historical facts. Their limited and myopic reading of history of the West also fails to see the moral panic over homosexuality, even in the United States and Britain, and Europe. As Abhay Kumar points out:

The argument is made in such a way that Indians – both Hindus and Muslims – are opposed to homosexuality, while Indian culture is painted as morally sound and Western culture is morally repulsive and corrupt. The difference between Hindus and Muslims, seen as the source of perennial ‘Hindu-Muslim’ conflicts, suddenly disappears.”

Thus, events like the persecution of homosexuals by the Third Reich, the Stonewall riots, the assassination of Harvey Milk, Proposition 8, and the present-day persecution of homosexuals in Russia—to state a few examples—cannot at all figure in their interpretation of the “West”. It, like their definition of an “Indian culture”, is an empty category to be used for political mobilisation. In fact, what both Jamaat and the sadhu forgot was that Section 377 is an explicitly colonial legislation, based on Victorian morality and control over sexuality. To put it simply, had it not been for the West and British colonialism, there would be no Section 377, and by extension, there would be nothing for Jamaat to protest against.

Likewise, there is no evidence to suggest that it is homosexuality that’s affecting population growth in the West; and the same would hold true for India. An examination of the population growth and total percentage of homosexuals in the United States of America, for instance, lends no credibility to the claims of the JIH. The population of the USA in 1970 was 205.1 million, and in 2012 it was 313.8 million—a population rise of approx. 65.3% in 42 years.3 At the same time, according to a study conducted by the Williams Institute in 2011, an estimated 3.5% of adults in the USA identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual.4 On the other hand, as of 2013, the contraceptive prevalence rate in the USA is 76.4%.5 This, coupled with factors like increased costs of livings, declining family size, capital-intensive labour, and so on, have possibly contributed to a slower growth rate – and, most definitely, not homosexuality.

Homosexuality is a disease; it causes AIDS; it can be cured”

As with their earlier claims of homosexuality being a factor causing population – and thereby, civilizational – decline, these claims of the JIH, too, are untenable. First of all, in 1973, the American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-II) eliminated ‘homosexuality’ as a mental disorder. Through this elimination, argues Dr Robert Spitzer, who authored the paper:

“…we will be removing one of the justifications for the denial of civil rights to individuals whose only crime is that their sexual orientation is to members of the same sex.”6

Clearly, then, homosexuality per se is not a deviance, or a disorder, and much less a disease.7 Further, questioning the givenness of gender and sexual identities, anthropologists have presented compelling cases wherein several indigenous cultures (and, even biology) do not conform to the binary model of gender. Anne Fausto-Sterling, for instance, has presented a historical overview of “intersex” identities and argues for a need to think of five sexes, and not two.8 Sharyn Graham, studying the Bugis in Indonesia, too, presents a case for five genders, as well as a ‘meta-gender identity’.9

Their arguments on HIV and AIDS, too, are ill-founded. The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is transmitted by only four means—of which, homosexuality can account for only one, i.e., unprotected sexual intercourse with an infected partner. It is estimated that 85 to 87% of all HIV transmission is through unprotected sex. And while anal sex does increase the chances of HIV transmission, it is difficult to estimate exactly how much of it is through homosexual sex. Thus, homosexuals who have sex without using condoms would be at no more, or less, risk of contracting HIV, than heterosexuals who do the same.

According to the Supreme Court verdict, HIV prevalence among MSM (Men who have sex with men) is approximately 7%, and that there are about 25 lakh MSM in India presently.10 This, however, is a contested figure, as the category of MSM does not just include gays, but also men who are married, and do not identify themselves as homosexuals. According to the Behavioural Sentinel Surveillance (BSS) report in 2006, “three percent” of all respondents “indulged in sex with males in the last one year”. And, in the states with high awareness on the issue “the involvement was also reported to be the highest”; among these, “only one-fifth used condoms during the last occasion of sex with a male partner”.11 The BSS 2006 report on MSM further estimates that, on an average, consistent condom use among MSM is approximately between 35 to 36% (this includes both, with commercial and non-commercial partners, in 10 Indian cities).12

Thus, on a practical note, the dynamic (and dangerous) nature of HIV transmission makes it extremely difficult to chart out an exact statistical figure of risks. Instead, it is more feasible to understand the notion of “risk” through vulnerabilities—that is to say: communities that are socially, economically and culturally vulnerable are at a greater risk of contracting HIV. By forcing the question of AIDS on only homosexuals, we run the risk of misunderstanding how it affects other marginalised groups, like drug users, female sex workers, AIDS widows and orphans. Furthermore, factors like stigma, discrimination, violence etc. are responsible for driving the disease underground, and these seriously harm intervention efforts that are trying to address issues like transmission, prevention and building support systems for people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHAs).13 This persecution of homosexuals—and, those who work on health issues of MSM—is, thus, framed under the misguided assumption that social ostracism can deal with AIDS.

In fact, JIH wants these people to hide, and be underground—to live in khauf (fear), as one of their speakers put it.They said, that after the 2009 verdict, gays “came out on the street and marched fearlessly”. This, for the JIH, is in absolute contravention of patriarchal norms. Homosexuals, further to being persecuted, must also be deeply shamed for being who—and, what—they are. More to the point, not only is this attitude being deeply dehumanizing, it is, I argue, also one that seeks to entrench them in the worldview of the dominant patriarchal discourse.

The questions that I have raised above, however, are of no concern to the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, and other patriarchal ideologies. They are resistant to viewing social reality, and problems, as complex; for them, the force of their arguments comes from simplifying issues of sexuality, reducing it to a notion of patriarchal control over bodies, and stems from the concern—or obsession, more correctly—over control of sexuality and property rights. For instance, their supposed “cure” for homosexuality is early marriage. In older days, they said, people were married off precisely because this “prevented them from getting homosexual desires”. So, for people to get these “desires” in the first place, would not the homosexual desire be “natural” in all of us?—which must, then, be “prevented”?

Further, they claimed: “If we legalise homosexuality today, then tomorrow will we also legalise crime, rape, sodomy, bestiality, incest, and so on?” Once again, the Jamaat speakers displayed their ineptitude at understanding Section 377. In cases of rape and sodomy, insofar as there is evidence to indicate that it was non-consensual and/or coercive, Section 377 can, in theory, be applied—and the victims of such sexual assaults could be women, minors and even other men.The merit of the Delhi High Court verdict was that it presented such a nuanced reading. But nuances, for Jamaat, and other like-minded organisations, are almost incomprehensible, it would appear. In fact, they would rather cite the “historical evidence” of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, to justify their view that homosexuality is a sin, that it is immoral, and so on. I won’t even try providing any credible references to refute these claims because that would only insult my intelligence, and that of the readers’. Their entire “protest” was rife with such logical inaccuracies. This evidently demonstrates that the JIH did not have the first clue about what homosexuality actually entails; theirs was, from the beginning, a prejudiced view—nothing more, nothing less. However, the crux of Jamaat’s protest, I suspect has more to do with their desire to portray themselves as a masculine, chauvinistic outfit, than one actually concerned with religion.

The government must not amend Section 377, or they will lose our votes”

I confess, they did not use the exact same words; but, their sentiments were apparent. Indeed, this was their primary reason for holding the “protest”. They said, Congress ministers who are supporting the amendment of Section 377, and thereby “decriminalising homosexuality”, should think twice about it, given the 2014 General Elections are only a few months away. There was also a vague, and snide, speculation over Rahul Gandhi’s (prolonged) bachelorhood, and the Congress’ desire to amend the said Section. Jamaat’s criticism of the Congress, thus, was an implicit projection of their support for the BJP (as if the presence of the sadhu was not enough)—whose president, Rajnath Singh, “welcomed the Supreme Court verdict”, making their stance on homosexuality quite clear.

Jamaat-e-Islami Hind’s intolerance of homosexuality, and its alignment with the Hindutva Right on this, therefore, is much less a coincidence, than it is an indication of a condition that gives them power and legitimacy in the dominant patriarchal nature of politics in India. This kind of political machismo and parochialism aims to ‘emasculate’14 a certain section of the population, and is perhaps the most prevalent form of power-mongering in Indian politics—the MNS’ tirade against the “north Indian migrant”; Shri Ram Sene’s and the VHP’s assaults on women in pubs and public spaces; the violence directed on individuals by the Khap Panchayats in the form of “honour killings”; and, now, this renewed persecution of homosexuality. These are, all of them, indicative of a masculine politics of domination in a system of the patriarchal moral-political economy. Patriarchy, more than being a redundant concept, is widespread in contemporary society, institutions, and politics in renewed and pervasive forms. It functions on the subordination and persecution of sexualities (and other caste, religious etc. identities), and aims to punish the transgression of patriarchal norms.

Moreover, what I found particularly infuriating was one speaker’s reference to Ambedkar, and how, he added, the constitution must “prevent homosexuality from spreading”. As an admirer of Ambedkar, this statement was offensive to me personally, and it also undermined and insulted Ambedkar’s legacy, and all that he stood for. Ambedkar was a revolutionary—if not the most revolutionary—thinker of 20th century India. Besides his struggles against Brahmanical hegemony, it was Ambedkar’s Hindu Code Bill that not only challenged Brahmanical patriarchy, but also gave civil liberties to Hindu women, such as rights over property, divorce, and so forth.15 As with the championing for the rights of marginalised communities, the legacy of Ambedkarite political thought underscores the contemporary struggles against the homophobia and sexism of (patriarchal) organisations like Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, and the Hindutva Right-wing. Homosexuality—as with giving property rights to women—is precisely the target of such masculine politics of domination, because it deeply unsettles the notion of power that comes to be defined in terms of, and gains privilege from, a hegemonic masculinity.

By the end of the “protest”, I wanted to speak out, and question their claims. But, to be really honest, I could not take that suffocating and venomous atmosphere anymore. I left. And then, I Tweeted this whole incident—a pointless exercise, really. Not entirely because I failed to say this to the JIH “protestors”; but because they—like other organisations are trying to assert a patriarchal moral superiority—did not possess the acumen or sophistication to engage in any kind of debate, especially one that would undermine their masculine imagery. Their attack on homosexuals is an empty exercise to gain masculine capital in a patriarchal moral-political economy. To conclude, therefore, Jamaat’s “protest” was no more than a self-congratulatory exercise; a desperate bid to keep itself—and its sense of morality and patriarchy—relevant in a charged political scenario.

Update: Article edited on 17.1.2014 to include explanation for usage of the term ‘emasculate.’

Endnotes & References

  1. Abhay Kumar, for instance, provides a more thorough review of the Urdu Press’ reactions to the Supreme Court verdict. See, Abhay Kumar. (January 3, 2014). ‘Homosexuality and Islam—Indian Muslims’ Responses’, Kafila. Accessed from: http://kafila.org/2014/01/03/homosexuality-and-islam-indian-muslims-responses-abhay-kumar/
  2. Devdutt Patnaik. (2000). ‘Did Homosexuality Exist in Ancient India?’ Accessed from: http://devdutt.com/blog/did-homosexuality-exist-in-ancient-india.html
  3. United States Census Bureau & US Department of Commerce, ‘Population Estimates’ Accessed from: http://www.census.gov/popest/data/national/totals/2013/index.html
  4. Gary J Gates. (April 2011). ‘How many people are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender?’ The Williams Institute, Accessed from: http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/Gates-How-Many-People-LGBT-Apr-2011.pdf
  5. Central Intelligence Agency. (2013). ‘The World Factbook: United States’ Accessed from: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/us.html
  6. American Psychological Association. (1973). ‘Homosexuality and Sexual Orientation Disturbance: Proposed change in DSM-II’, p. 3 of 3. Accessed from: http://www.torahdec.org/Downloads/DSM-II_Homosexuality_Revision.pdf
  7. However, the ASA’s usage of the term ‘Sexual Orientation Disturbance’, too, is extremely problematic. But that’s an argument for another discussion.
  8. Anne Fausto-Sterling (March/April 1993). ‘The Five Sexes: Why male and female are not enough’, The Sciences, pp. 20-24
  9. Sharyn Graham (April-May 2001) ‘Sulawasi’s Fifth Gender’, Inside Indonesia 66. Accessed from: http://www.insideindonesia.org/weekly-articles/sulawesis-fifth-gender
  10. Supreme Court of India (December 11, 2013), ‘Suresh Kumar Koushal and another v/s Naz Foundation and others’. p 39
  11. National AIDS Control Organisation & Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. (2006). ‘National Behavioural Surveillance Survey (BSS) 2006: General Population’, p. xix
  12. NACO & MHFW. (2006). BSS 2006: Men who have sex with men (MSM) & Injecting drug users (IDUs), p. 42
  13. Shivananda Khan, 2004, ‘MSM and HIV/AIDS in India’, Naz Foundation International.
  14. The term “emasculation” is used here very specifically. In case of analysing violence against homosexuals, and especially gay men, it is important to see how entrenched patriarchal and homophobic attitudes work insidiously to deny them a “gay” masculinity—because, that would mean the constitution of a masculinity outside of the hegemonic and patriarchal moral-political context. ‘Masculinity’ is a reified category precisely because it is such reification that gives it power in certain contexts. Thus, something as ubiquitous as using the term “gay” or “faggot” as an insult, seeks to undermine (and, in more serious cases, deny) masculinity to even (presumably) straight men, until they conform to the notion of hegemonic masculine identity. I have explained this in detail in an academic research paper on masculinity in the critically acclaimed TV show,The Wire. Access it here
  15. B.R. Ambedkar. (2013). ‘The Hindu Code Bill: Hindu Marriages Validity Bill’, ‘I belong to the other caste’ & ‘On the Eve of Resigning from the Cabinet’, in Against the Madness of Manu: B.R. Ambedkar’s writings on Brahmanical Patriarchy. Sharmila Rege (Ed.), Navyana, pp. 204-243.

This post was written by:

- who has written 3 posts on Nirmukta.

Proshant is an independent researcher based in Mumbai, with research interests in culture and identity, gender studies, and AIDS healthcare.

11 Comments

  • Though I whole-heartedly agree with the liberal view point of ‘live and let live’, I still have a few questions regarding how much liberalism we are willing to accept and, consequently, are we any better than those we label narrow minded?

    One of the foremost arguments in support of accepting/legalising LGBT lifestyle, is that since it does not harm/affect others, there should be no problem for society in general. It is also not ‘unnatural’ since it is commonly seen in many species. It is also beyond the control of the individual. And finally there is now a sizable minority who belong to this category (and growing); it is not ‘rare’.

    Following the same line of thinking, shouldn’t incest (consensual betweeen adults) and bestiality (so long as the animal is not distressed) be legalized/accepted also? These are just two taboos off the top of my head – there could be more. Aren’t we being hypocritical when we allow one and not the other? Though such taboos are probably legal somewhere in the world, most of the people in support of LGBT rights would probably find both incest and bestiality repulsive. I wonder how many would turn up for a protest for legalizing these ‘deviancies’.

    Also, the argument that these are mental diseases does not seem cogent, since it may be possible for someone to fall in love with their sibling or, for example, a farm boy to enjoy sex with animals well into adulthood. Though this might sound farfetched to some, it is important to remember that the idea of gay sex is also viewed in the same light by many, and therefore just because you find it repulsive doesn’t mean that everyone should.

    Some might say that it might not be possible to ensure that the animal is not in distress if bestiality is allowed. Firstly, just because rapes can occur does not mean you ban sex in general. A counter argument could be that animals cannot speak up. But there could be conceivably many ways to ensure that the animals are genuinely not stressed like centers with trained professionals etc. Again, though it may seem farfetched, my point is that possible animal distress is not a valid excuse for banning bestiality. Lastly, given that millions of animals are mercilessly slaughtered/tortured everyday and that there is no possibility of that ever stopping, it will suffice to say that animal distress reasoning flies out the window.

    As for the point of rarity, it may be possible that once the stigma is removed more and more people ‘come out’ just like the case with homosexuality.

    This brings me to my final (and main) point – are we liberals really any better off than those we judge? We decide to draw the line at incest, bestiality etc. Others draw it at homosexuality.

    • Satish Chandra

      If you include this premise in your reasoning, it will make things a lot clear – consent. Incest, especially that of parent-sibling kind, involves a big power differential and so it can be non-consensual. In bestiality, the other animal cannot give consent. You might argue that we already kill animals for meat, when you include consent, the logical conclusion is that you don’t torture and kill other animals.

      PS: Your comment is derailing the topic at hand. Future comments on the topic of incest or bestiality will be deleted. I suggest you go to our facebook groups or the forums if you want to discuss further.

    • First of all, thank you for the comment.

      As a logical exercise, I think, talking about homosexuality – and of our acceptance/intolerance, or legalizing it – vis-a-vis our attitudes towards incest and bestiality would make sense. That would entail a closer examination of certain ideas and values that we take for granted.

      However, I believe that talking about incest and bestiality in the manner that you do, misses the point of my argument completely.

      First, incest is a social taboo and has numerous explanations for it. The anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss is one such prominent example, as is the Oedipus complex and so on. But these offer no conclusive insights on the current persecution of homosexuals and transgenders in our society.

      Incest, also, is very ambiguously defined. Like Satish said, there is definitely a power differential in certain forms of sexual relations that happen to be incestuous. But then again, you have several communities for which incest is an established and non-taboo social practice. It could, very simply, be a way of keeping property within a kinship group – or to maintain a degree of kinship or consanguine purity. The stigma and taboo with incest (or its acceptance) is, in a way, another form of larger patriarchal control of bodies of individuals and of property. Clan endogamy, for instance, is also seen as incestuous – and is the subject of brutal sanctions. How do you conceptualise that in your very narrow framework?

      Now, about bestiality, I don’t think it is pertinent to our debate on homophobia and persecution of people based on their sexual orientations. Jamaat, and other conservative organisations do not protest against bestiality. Offer me conclusive evidence to show that there is a connection between my argument, and a (supposed acceptance) of bestiality, and I would gladly engage you in debate. Until then, I would suggest you stay on topic and talk about what really is at stake here – the persecution of a social group because of how they define themselves in terms of a sexual identity (which, we must remember, is with human beings, and not animals).

      Cheers!

    • And, no, I don’t think there is any semblance in your logic of “drawing lines”.

      “Drawing lines” cannot, by any standard, entail the persecution of a group of people; nor does it give a right the so-called custodians of morality and truth or whatever, to spread lies and misinformation about – which eventually entail persecution of – a social group.

      By that standard, scientists who were researching AIDS in the 1980s – who tried proving that homosexuals, Hispanics and Haitians were responsible for AIDS – were also as complicit as are the religious and patriarchal organisations today.

      You see, I draw the line at that – that a group cannot be persecuted by reducing their identity to just one dimension (and, I also suspect that I speak for a lot of other rational, ‘liberal’ people when I say that).

  • First, thank you for posting about this protest and for providing such an informative and critical (thinking) post with actual references and real research. I doubt has you spoken up at the protest that you would have been heard and so it seems more generative to me that you have taken the time to share this in writing.

    Of course, I am used to reading the first comment or comments on such subjects and finding someone linking some or all aspects of homosexuality with bestiality and incest. I am surprised, however, that pederasty was not mentioned–someone was simply not on the ball! In this US, this would certainly have led to additional comments about marriage to one’s pet and/or one’s end table, but that is another continent.

    But seriously, I really am not used to it-any of it. I am always dismayed not only in reading about the latest attacks on sexuality (“homo” or otherwise) but also in reading comments that seem equally based in ignorance, even if articulated in a more appropriate manner. Witnessing either pains me and angers me.

    I am not sure if people simply find it too difficult to acknowledge the reality that homosexual peoples are continuously wrongfully (morally wrongfully) persecuted that they feel the need to divert the topic to a theoretical level, or if this attempt is simply another form of discrimination–one that is not difficult to follow to an end that also involves righteous persecution.

    Or, on a more optimistic note, perhaps an occasional person really does want an answer to the issue they raise and they do not know how to think it through for themselves.

    In any case, please keep fighting and keep writing–you are doing great work.

  • I meant to say in *the* US, not in “this” US, although as an America I know that many Americans think of the entire world as “this US”–I do not!

  • Well, the US as an entity is singular, but if you say “the states,” that would be plural. However, if you say the United States, that would go back to being singular, as it is an entity (regardless of what Texas likes to think.) :)

  • Firstly there is the suggestion that most religious make that homosexuality is immoral simply because “morality is determined by religion/God”. Their classic “morality is derived from god, without god anything is permitted” as religious’ attempts to hijack onto morality. The reality is quite the opposite. A very good rebuttal can be found in Elizabeth Anderson’s essay title “IF GOD IS DEAD IS EVERYTHING PERMITTED?”

    I quote “(Plato) asked divine-command moralists: are actions right because God commands them, or does God command them because they are right? If the latter is true, then actions are right indepen­dent of whether God commands them, and God is not needed to underwrite the authority of morality. But if the former is true, then” God could make any action right simply by willing it or by ordering others to do it. This establishes that, if the authority of morality depends on God’s will, then, in principle, anything is permitted.”

  • Secondly there are also suggestions of it being purely a lifestyle choice whereas numerous studies have suggested that it may have a strong genetic X environment interaction basis with Xq28 being identified in more than one study. There are also numerous neurobiological differences that have been observed yet this is hardly mentioned.
    1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biology_and_sexual_orientation
    2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuroscience_and_sexual_orientation

    Thirdly there is also it being termed a mental disorder yet this norm was rejected/declassified in psychology as well. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homosexuality_and_psychology

    Lastly the usual claim that it is “UN-NATURAL” (= not observed in nature) which like their other claims is not a fact but quite the opposite is true http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homosexual_behavior_in_animals http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_animals_displaying_homosexual_behavior

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