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Aug 12, 2009 at 12:42am IST

SOTN: Homosexuality still a taboo in India

At the end of this week, India will celebrate Independence Day. All through this Independence Day week, CNN-IBN and Hindustan Times present a survey on how Indian society has changed since Independence. On Monday, the topic of discussion was what Indian society actually thinks of homosexuality.

Gay rights have been a subject of heated debate since the Delhi High Court ruled that private adult consensual sex between gays is legal and this legality is in tune with the freedoms guaranteed in our Constitution.

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On the panel of experts to debate the issue were author and historian, Saleem Kidwai; Spokesperson Delhi Catholic Archdiocese, Father Dominic Emmanuel; and Director of the Bollywood film Dostana, Tarun Mansukhani.


The CNN-IBN-Hindustan Times poll was conducted by GfK Mode in street corners and homes in 16 cities (metros, large towns and small towns) spread across the four zones of the country. 3,506 people were interviewed between July 19 and 23 for the survey.


Should same sex relations be considered illegal?

73% feel homosexuality should be considered illegal

17% want homosexuality to be legalised

10% have no opinion on the issue

Is the attraction towards a member
of the same sex unnatural?

77% or 3/4ths of the respondents consider attraction towards the same sex unnatural

23% are of the view that it is natural to be attracted to the same sex

Is being gay or lesbian a disease?

60% or 6 out of 10 feel homosexuality is a disease

38% feel homosexuality is not a disease

If homosexuality is a disease, can it be cured?

62% of those who feel homosexuality is disease feel it can be cured

18% of those who feel homosexuality is a disease feel it cannot be cured

20% can't say or don't know

Is homosexuality against Indian culture?

83% or 4 out of 5 feel that being gay or lesbian is against Indian culture

11% feel that homosexuality does not threaten Indian culture

6% don't know or can't say

Do you have a gay or lesbian friend?

94% or 9 out 10 do not have a homosexual friend

Only 6% said they have a homosexual friend



It seems as if the judgement of the Delhi High Court was out of touch with what a majority of Indians think of gay rights as 73 per cent of those who participated in the survey said that gay sex should be made illegal.

Saleem Kidwai said that he was not sure whether the survey could be trusted or not. "Most people surveyed here have also said that they do not even know a homosexual person, so how can they decide whether homosexuality should be legalised or not or whether it is even part of Indian culture or not. I can't trust their judgement. And secondly, what the society feels and what the court decides can't always be in sync because if that were to happen, then no social change would ever happen through courts. Courts very often take positions which are not acceptable to a majority of people in society and that is the only way ahead for social change."

Father Dominic Emmanuel however, said that he did not think that the survey was a result of peoples' ignorance.

"I don't agree with Dr Kidwai at all. I think people know very well what homosexuality means. I am not surprised at the result of the poll, but what I am surprised at is the fact that this large section of the populace was never represented by the media. The media just went on one side and hyped up the issue," he said.

However, he added that homosexuality was not a disease and should not be considered as one.

Dr Kidwai interrupted here saying that there was a battle for education which needed to be fought here and a battle for information as well as sensitisation. "I think this response is coming from people who are not thinking about the issue too deeply. I believe that Indian society has always been very tolerant and that's why I feel that these results don't show anything," he stated.

He added that there was a need for the gay community to reach out to people and for others to listen to them and respond sensitively.

Father Emanuel said he agreed that the gay community needed to be accepted and treated with compassion and sensitivity. "We want to extend a hand to them, but we still believe it is immoral."


Tarun Mansukhani joined the debate at this point saying that while he had made a film on men who pretended to be gay, it would not be a bad idea or a difficult task to make a film which would actually explore the concept of homosexuality seriously.

"All I want to say is that a director has to take care of everyone who is watching a film. You can't be brash and call a film artistic and just say and do what you want so in a sense my film took care of all the viewers. Coming to the statistics in your survey, yes 73 per cent do say that homosexuality should not be legalised but it does not take majority to bring about a change. I think we should be looking at the 17 per cent who have said they are okay with the idea of homosexuality being legalised," he said.


Father Emanuel interjected at this point saying, "I would say it is thanks to the media that there is a 17 per cent out there who are okay with the idea."

"Religion is on display all the time in India but I don't see atheists standing up and saying why are you talking about God, we don't believe. It's got nothing to do with you and what you believe. It was something which was historic and the media covered it. Are you upset with the media or are you upset because according to you homosexuality is immoral? Take a stand. Also, I don't think this is even your stand to begin with. You are following the stand of a church. What is your opinion? Tell us that," Mansukhani retorted.

Father Emanuel gave a weak response to this saying, "I think sex and every body organ has its own purpose. What happens to a female body when it gets ready to accept a male organ. Can the same happen to man's body? It is immoral because God has created these organs for a certain purpose. There is a purpose of procreation certainly."

Mansukhani responded saying, "You are saying that gay relationships are all about sex. I think you are forgetting a major fact that it is all about relationships and love. Don't just say it's all about sex and say gay people are immoral."

Some religious leaders were of the view that if gay relationships are natural, then why don't animals also exhibit gay tendencies? To this Dr Kidwai said that it was wrong to think that animals did not exhibit gay tendencies.

"There are umpteen documentaries which have documented homosexual tendencies amongst animals so lets not even go there," he stated.


Should the society allow homosexuals to get married?

83% or 4 out of 5 are against homosexuals getting married

17% feel there is nothing wrong with homosexuals getting married

Would you give your house on rent to a gay or lesbian couple?

10% said yes they would

90% or 9 out of 10 people said no they would not

Would you be comfortable discussing homosexuality with your children?

76% or 3 out of 4 parents find it uncomfortable to raise the topic of homosexuality with their kids

24% parents say they will not feel uncomfortable talking about homosexuality with their kids

Will you have a problem if you find your family member is gay?

80% or 4 out of 5 people will have a problem if they have a homosexual in their family

20% will not have a problem if they have a homosexual in their family

What would be your reaction if you find that one of your family members is gay or lesbian?

71% or 7 out of 10 respondents will counsel and help in case they find a gay or lesbian members in the family

18% will disown the homosexual person in their family

Only 11% said they will accept a homosexual person in their family


Dr Kidwai has written about gay rights and homosexuality in India, so did he think that there was nothing un-Indian about being gay? To this Dr Kidwai said, "There is evidence from over 2000 years ago and published evidence suggesting that there is a fairly widespread tolerance of it. I am not saying there is total acceptability, but there is widespread acceptability - much more than there is in any other civilization."

He said that being a gay person himself, he understood a lot of problems. "Everyone has problems coming out of the closet. They have problems even today, forget 20 or 30 years ago when I was younger. Families love people despite their sexual status."

Father Emanuel interrupted saying that the whole society was threatened by this kind of behaviour and activity. "we have always held that we have no problem with homosexuals but with homosexual activity. This damages the institution of marriage and for us at the church, sex outside of marriage - heterosexual or homosexual - has no place. If gay marriages are legalised in our country then our society is on the slippery slope to ruin."


Do Indian films treat the issue of homosexuality seriously or make fun of them?

54% feel Indian films make fun of homosexuality

46% feel homosexuality is depicted seriously by Indian films

Tarun Mansukhani said that directors had realised that there were stories here that had to be told and they had begun to take the subject of homosexuality a little more seriously.

"We can take baby steps first. We can't just make a Brokeback Mountain and force it down the society's throat. I don't think we are ready to put it in that kind of money yet into a film like that and take a risk. i can't say whether we as a society are ready or not. People say Dostana made fun of the gay community but as far as I am concerned, the film actually put the topic out there, for people to discuss," he stated.

He said that there was a certain percentage of people who while they would laugh when they saw Dostana, would also actually want to discuss the topic more seriously later.

Dr Kidwai agreed saying, "I loved Dostana and I think it was fun in a good humoured sort of a way. I wasn't offended by the film at all. I would of course want there to be more serious films on the subject in the future but I think Dostana was a great beginning."

However, Father Emanuel said that the more films that are made on the subject, the more people would want to move towards the trend just to explore.

"Why does media encourage people to explore things which are by and large not accepted by society? It's like drugs. Do you want to advertise drugs on television, so people might want to explore? I think that is what Anbumani Ramadoss was trying to do when he banned smoking on screen and I think films on homosexuality should not be made," he stated.

He said that there were a lot of people who claimed that they were homosexuals but they have been helped. "There are reports which say that a far less percentage than is reported are actually out-and-out homosexuals. Others think they are but they actually are not. I think there are a lot of people who just want to experiment. The more the media creates a hype, the more people want to experiment. I am not saying that there are not real people who are not struggling with it. We want to journey with them and share their struggle, extend help and compassion. It is not a disease," he said.

Mansukhani said that he did not agree with Father Emanuel.

"It seems that your and my definition of family seems to differ. Yes there is a traditional family of husbands, wives, parents and children, but then there is a family at work, there is a family comprising of friends. We resort to our various families in different times and different requirements and I think none of that fabric of family is ever going to break because somebody is a homosexual," he concluded the debate by saying.

Watch this space for Tuesday's State of the Nation: What relations do Indians have with the English language? Do we feel it's necessary or do we feel it is a loss of our own culture?