Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Section 377 of Indian Penal Code Supreme Court Ruling Exposing Ignorance, Racism

India's Supreme Court Ruling Continues British Raj Era's LGBT Discrimination ; American Reaction Turns Ugly

Following today's controversial Indian Supreme Court's ruling to recriminalise homosexuality, the reaction on some American-based Web sites has revealed cultural and historical incompetencies by the West of the East.

Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalises homosexuality, was enacted in 1860 by the British Raj, the former colonial rulers of India. "Enacted" is a relative term, because the law was basically imposed on India the way British colonists imposed everything else on Indians. Because British rule lasted from 1858 to 1947, and the culture and values of modern India are still informed by the shadow of injustice and discrimination that marked British colonial rule, including lingering laws on India's books. Also note that the inception of the epoch of British Raj overlapped with British Victorian Era, a period of extremely conservative moral values.

When news broke about the Indian Supreme Court's ruling on Section 377, people with no knowledge of India's history instantly reached for charicatured generalisations of Indian culture based on stereotypes of IT tech support and call centers.

"India's Supreme Court rules Gay Sex illegal ... it's time to pull out of that shithole .. bring Tech Support back on-shore," wrote one prominent LGBT activist on Facebook.

On the popular LGBT blog named Joe My God, one commenter wrote, "we need to get a list of all companies using call centers based in india. and boycott indian restaurants. they use a lot of products coming straight from their homeland." (India Court Recriminalizes Homosexuality * Joe My God)

A Facebook follower of Joe Jervis, the author of the Joe My God blog, commented on Facebook that, "The tech companies and the Queen of England should weigh in on this." Never mind that there are companies in India other than "tech," and India endured a violent partition once it was liberated from British rule. Even though the Queen of England has no more power or authority over India's governance, this one comment had attracted four Facebook "likes."

Another commenter on the Joe My God blog wrote, "I wonder how many of the corporate sponsors of the Sochi Olympics have call centers in India?" While presumably the author of this comment was trying to find an intersectional-political pressure point between the violent crackdown against LGBT Russians and the Indian Supreme Court's disappointing ruling, it's notable that the commenter's focus was, again, a call center.

On another popular LGBT blog, Towleroad, the very first commenter posted this reaction to the Indian Supreme Court's ruling : "If you use a call center that is based in India then contact the company that subcontracts their call center to India and ask to use a non-Indian call-center." Another commenter on Towleroad posted, "Does anyone have a list of US companies who subcontract their helpdesks and call centers to India." (In Shocking Ruling, India's Supreme Court Restores Criminalisation of Gay Sex * Towleroad)

These harmful, divisive stereotypes contrast with an article posted by Cathy Kristofferson on OBlogDeeOBlogDa, where she wrote : "India is one of the many countries in the world still suffering with a left over British colonial penal code criminalizing homosexuality."

And the hurtful generalisations about India also ignore the very visible and organized opposition and protests taking place in India against the Supreme Court's "retrograde" ruling.

Another indication of uninformed reaction to the Indian Supreme Court's decision was that in the long string of organising, litigation, and politicking for LGBT civil rights right here at home, American LGBT's were dealt a major setback in 1986 with the SCOTUS decision in Bowers v. Hardwick, which upheld the constitutionality of anti-sodomy laws in the state of Georgia. It took 17 years before the SCOTUS overturned Bowers with the Lawrence v. Texas decision. During that time, were Indians calling for a boycott of McDonalds ?

Many prominent Indians are even denouncing their own Supreme Court's adversarial decision, including famous Bollywood actor Aamir Khan, but Americans, who are uninformed of Indian culture, would not know the full spectrum of debate taking place in India right now, sometimes highly conflicted. How can one have a meaningful debate to change the hearts and minds of people, to ask them to make room for equal rights for everybody, when one first resorts to unfairly categorizing Indians as a way to assign blame for a Supreme Court ruling that frustrates the march to equality ?

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