In a statement to the political parties of India and others who supported the Supreme Court’s ruling on Section 377, author Vikram Seth reminded the country of its homosexual history. According to Seth, “it is homophobia that came into India and not homosexuality.”
Vikram Seth is a 61-year-old novelist and poet. He was born in Calcutta, India and has traveled to Britain, the U.S., and China. He is most known for his novel “A Suitable Boy”, which chronicles a young girl in India, in the 1950s and her search for a husband.
Vikram Seth became angry when advocates for the Section 377 law, which made homosexual sex in India illegal, stated that homosexuality is “unnatural” or “against Indian culture”. “Look into our history before you say this is Indian and this is not Indian”, says Seth. He and other Indians like himself consider homosexuality and sexual tolerance to have been an integral part of Indian history. It was British colonialism that brought the idea of sexual wholesomeness to India.
The presence of homosexuality in Indian history is well-preserved in relics from ancient times. In his statement Seth mentions the Khajuraho Monuments and the Kuma Sutra, great artificats from India’s past.
The Khajuraho Monuments are a group of Hindu and Jain temples that can be found in Khajuraho, a town in the state of Madhya Pradesh, India. Built from around 950 to 1050 A.D. the monuments are richly decorated with sculptures of deities and there attendants. Some scenes are of everyday life, while others are explicitly sexual. Nick-named the “Kuma sutra” temples the Khajuraho monuments attest to a time of enlightenment and sexual tolerance in the history of India
It is said that the sexual postures portrayed in the Khajuraho Monuments are visual guides to the Kuma Sutra. Put together in the third century, the Kuma Sutra is the only remaining text that can give scholars an insight into what life in India was like in those times. More than just a book of sexual positions, the Kuma Sutra is a complete manual to how to live a good life.
In the Kuma Sutra is mentioned a group of people who lived in Southern India, who practiced acts of sodomy, or unnatural sexual practices. Sodomy may include oral and anal sex, and sex between a human and a non-human animal. The Kuma Sutra also mentions a “third” sexual nature which differed from the heterosexual norm. Third nature sex is carried on through today’s Hijras of India. The Hijras are a group of people in India who, though genetically male, look, dress, and act like females. Hijras are also allowed to perform ritual removal of their sexual member in order to complete their female identity. Hijras identify themselves as female, therefore, any man who is pursued and engages in sexual activity with one is not considered to be homosexual.
Though Hijras have been a part of India for over 4000 years they still face a lot of prejudice and discrimination. Once believed to have been blessed by the gods with the ability to bestow good luck and fertility; the Hijras of today are hard out of luck themselves. Being disowned by family, facing violence and hatred, and having few legal rights in their own country are just a few aspects of the life of a modern Hijra.
Vikram Seth also mentions Babur, the founder of India’s Mughal Dynasty, and his candid, autobiographical description of how he fell in love with a youth. In his autobiography, Babur speaks of how he was married to a woman at age 17, and how he had not interest in the woman. He recounts days when his mother would force him into the room of his new bride. Though a prince and required to fulfill his duty, Babur’s interest lay with a market boy named Baburi. In lines like, “I developed a strange inclination for him, rather, I made myself miserable for him”, Babur describes how deeply he fell in love with the other man. Seth calls the accounts “very moving”, while others may find it to be quite scandalous.
India is very much a country with a long rich history. The Khajuraho Monuments, the Kuma Sutra and Babur’s autobiography are only a few remnants of that history and contain only a few of the evidences of India’s homosexual past.
Vikram Seth can be quoted saying how the upholding of section 377 has pushed India as a country backward in time. Apparently a push further back in time may be exactly what India needs. Perhaps reminding the country about its liberal and tolerant past will be exactly what India needs to help it overcome prejudices.
By Earnestine Jones