In this picture taken on February 11, 2023, same-sex couple Sougata Basu (R) and Mayank Kalra walk outside their home with their adopted children in Bengaluru, India. (Photo by MANJUNATH KIRAN/AFP via Getty Images)
India’s legal, social and political circles witnessed a unique April this year as the country’s Supreme Court started hearing a series of petitions from 18 LGBTQ+ couples, including three who are raising children together, seeking legal recognition of same-sex marriage. According to the petitioners, the issue affects their lives adversely and they want the problem to be resolved.
While India, the world’s largest democracy, has taken important steps in advancing LGBTQ+ rights in recent times with its apex court decriminalising homosexuality in a landmark ruling five years ago, the taboo over homosexuality and same-sex marriage is still around. The government led by prime minister Narendra Modi has opposed the issue, saying it is something that the parliament and not the court should decide upon.
India Weekly spoke to Ankit Bhuptani, an LGBT rights activist and the founder of Queer Hindu Alliance from Mumbai about the debate and he had a mixed response to it.
“It is enlightening! I am extremely excited that such a debate is happening in my life time,” he told the news outlet, but expressing at the same time, a lack of confidence over the political class’s sincerity to facilitate the process, irrespective of party colour.
When Bhuptani was asked about the government’s opposition to the issue being debated in the Supreme Court, he said while ideally the country’s parliament should take a call on the matter, the country is still looking up to the Supreme Court because it is highly unlikely that its parliament will even look into such a matter in the next 50 years.
“We have seen how Shashi Tharoor’s private member’s bill on homosexuality was defeated in the Lok Sabha. So to expect the parliament will take a step on same-sex marriage will be far stretched,” Bhuptani told India Weekly.
On the Narendra Modi government’s viewpoint that same-sex marriage is not compatible with the concept of an “Indian family unit” that consists of “a husband, wife and children which necessarily presupposes a biological man as a ‘husband’, a biological woman as a ‘wife’ and the children born out of the union between the two — who are reared by the biological man as a father and the biological woman as mother”, Bhuptani said the Indian culture needs to be defined.
‘Modi government missing appreciating diversity of Hinduism’
Stressing on history and diverse connotations on homosexuality, he said. “The Centre’s (federal government) stand is missing the value of appreciating the diversity of Hinduism, the compassion of Buddhism & concept of Anekantwaad of Jainism & yet it is called ‘Indian’.”
Does that also mean Bhuptani is not in agreement with the government’s claim that the idea of same-sex marriages reflects an urban elite concept?
“The concept is silly. How many stories related to lesbian couple’s plight originate from big cities? Instances of running away with partners or suicides mostly happen in the tier-II and III cities. They can’t be called urban elites.
“Yes, when it comes to filing petitions in the top court, it is mostly people from urban centres who do them since they have the resources and facilities to do so, unlike people who live in far-away places,” Bhuptani, who has been awarded the ‘Global Diversity & Inclusion Leadership Award’ by the World HRD Congress & has addressed the United Nations Human Rights Council, told India Weekly.
After deciminalisation of homosexuality, is recognition of same-sex marriage the next logical step? While Bhuptani agreed, he said that it should not be seen more like a step 1 and step 2 thing. “There are also concerns over trans rights and together, they make the society more diverse and equitable,” he said.
But while the Modi government is facing questions over its opposition to same-sex marriage, India has seen governments in the past that called themselves secular but yet nothing was done on a sensitive topic as this.
‘India’s political parties are hypocrites’
“All political parties in India are hypocrites. The BJP is less so as it at least says what it does, even if is opposing the idea of same-sex marriage. The federal government has sought viewpoints of India’s states and Union Territories on the same within 10 days but no solid support for same-sex marriage has been seen so far. One leader of the Trinamool Congress has backed it but that too in an individual capacity. What is even more shocking is that some of the non-BJP parties even have LGBT cells but yet they are yet to come out in support,” Bhuptani said.
According to him, the legal push is very important to set the ball rolling and it helps in overcoming the socio-political connotations that come with every social movement.
“In an advanced nation such as the US, too, some states were opposed to same-sex marriage while others were not. But it was the Supreme Court which gave a verdict in favour of same-sex marriage,” Bhuptani said.
Advocates like him are sincerely hoping that something similar happens in India as well.