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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 7, February 8, 2014

’Tactical Unity of the Orthodox’: Who is Smiling Over The Judgement on Article 377?

Monday 10 February 2014, by Subhash Gatade

The recent judgement by the Supreme Court which has recriminalised homosexuality might have baffled a broad section of peace and justice- loving people but it has definitely emboldened many a self-proclaimed leader of religion and purveyor of morality who feel vindicated. It was only last month that a few of their representatives had held a press conference proclaiming their support to the decision of the Supreme Court on Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code as it was “[n]ot only in line with the eastern traditions of this country, moral values and religious teachings but it also removes apprehensions about invasion of Western culture and disintegration of the family system and fabric of social life—the inevitable fallouts of the Delhi High Court order of 2009 wherein it decriminalised homosexuality”.

The bonhomie exhibited by the holymen of different faiths was for everyone to see.

Definitely they are not concerned over the curious fact that the Britishers, who had introduced Section 377 as they feared “their Army and daughters would be tainted by Oriental vices”, had repealed it in their own country. Neither are they ready to acknowledge that ‘gay sex by consenting adults was not a crime in all of Europe and the US’ nor are they in a position to differentiate between a secular democracy like India and a theocracy. While they are entitled to their views on what does or does not constitute a sin, it is high time that they realise that in a democracy punishments are only prescribed for crimes, not for sins.

One wonders whether they ever exhibited similar eagerness to come together over any issue of real material concern for their own followers or when hatred poured out on the streets dividing people into ‘us’ versus ‘them’ camps.

THIS episode reminds one of a period 80 years back when India was still under the yoke of the colonial government and there was talk of enacting the Sharada Act which prohibited marriages of girls under fourteen. Not very many people would know today that the initial impetus to enact the Act had come from the revulsion felt by the articulate sections over the death of Phulmoni, a child bride who had died after her marriage to a man much older than her, was consummated. The ‘pious’ and the ‘holy of both faiths’, namely, Hindu and Muslim, had then come together to declare that they would not allow this ‘outrage on their deepest convictions and their most cherished rights’.

It would be opportune here to discuss Nehru’s writing on the subject that had appeared in Modern Review (December 1935).

“Some years ago I happened to be in Benaras... We saw Brahmins.. marching shoulder to shoulder with bearded Moulavies.. and one of the standards they carried in triumph bore the flaming device ‘Hindu-Muslim ekta ki jai (Victory to Hindu-Muslim unity)’!.. This was a joint protest by the orthodox of both religions against the Sarada Act’”

He adds: “Offensive slogans were hurled at us and there was some jostling about. Just then, the procession arrived at the Town Hall and, for some reason or other, started stone throwing. A bright young person thereupon pulled some crackers and this had an extraordinary effect on the serried ranks of the orthodox. Evidently thinking that the police or the military had opened fire, they dispersed and managed (this) with extraordinary rapidity. A few crackers were enough to put the procession to flight..” (Social and Religious Reform, Amiya P. Sen, OUP, page 118)

Nehru also notes the reluctance of the Western educated liberals to support the venture and how they viewed the issue of social reform. In this context he quotes Sir Muhammad Iqbal, a leader of the solidarity of Islam, who was in cordial agreement with the orthodox Hindus:

“I very much appreciate the orthodox Hindus’ demand for protection against social reformers in the new constitution. Indeed, this demand ought to have been first made by the Muslims.” (Ibid.)

The author is a writer and social activist; he was publishing a Hindi periodical, Sandhaan, sometime ago.