LGBTQ+ History In India

India’s modern-day society is still riddled with homophobia and discrimination towards the LGBTQ+ community, despite Section 377 being overruled in 2018. There are many academicians who have studied pre-colonial ideas of homosexuality like Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai. Their essay collection, Same-Sex Love in India (2000), is a huge part of this enlightenment. they translated and analyzed stories, poems, letters, biographies, and histories to trace depictions of same-sex love in different social, literary, and political contexts. Ruth Vanita is an author focusing on British and Indian literary history. She taught at Delhi University for 20 years but is now a professor at the University of Montana. Saleem Kidwai is a historian and scholar who is known for his essays on medieval and ancient Indian texts. The collection is broken down into four parts: Ancient Indian Materials, Medieval Materials in the Sanskritic Tradition, Medieval Materials in the Perso-Urdu Tradition, and Modern Indian Materials. 

For example, in the first part, Vishnu Sharma’s Panchatantra tales were analyzed. The Panchatantra tales were written for the King’s five sons who were against learning and these stories include friendships between animals like lion and bull or crow, deer, tortoise, and mole. Vanita elaborates that the established theme of friendship was expressed in ways that implied a deeper relationship between the animals. The oddness of these life-defining friendships between the characters which can be interpreted as the “unnaturalness” of homosexuality are thought as unconventional, defy biology, social custom, and inherited traits. 

Chelsea Peer published a paper in 2016 that elaborates on the history of homosexuality using the text of Vanita and Kidwai. She also mentioned the ways people were punished: they would send captured homosexuals to the pillory (a structure where the prisoners’ hands and sometimes head and feet were locked between two planks of wood in a public place) and be met with ridicule as crowds would throw things from rotten food to stones. This torture system ended at the beginning of the 19th century. 

Wendy Doniger, a religious historian specializing in Hinduism and India, stated that “In the late 18th and early 19th century, India’s downhill sexual journey began.” Indians began to show themselves as asexual or anti-sexual. This is where the repressive attitude towards sexuality began as the government changed their views, censoring their cultural heritage for decades to come.  The legalization of homophobia in India was done in September 2018 with the overruling of the sodomy law, Section 377, a British colonial law. It was drafted by Thomas Macauley in 1838 but was put into action in 1860. 

British ideas of gender brought a binary structure in society which erased a lot of that fluidity we see in ancient texts. Their Victorian ideals led to criminalization in the 19th century. As they grew more powerful, their ideals only got stricter and narrow when it came to culture, society, and the law. It was homophobia that was imported, not homosexuality. Many gender researchers who study Indian texts have noted India’s rich gender and sexual expressions in religious and cultural history. 

In modern times, Devdutt Pattanaik, an Indian author, mythologist, speaker, and illustrator relates mythology to modern times in areas of management, governance, and leadership. He uses ancient Indian scriptures and interprets them to come up with solutions for modern-day society. He has published 41 books and over 1000 columns. He has also come out of the closet in 2018, after the overruling of the law. His renowned works and showcases lesser-known stories bring inclusivity and diversity to the forefront. The way he writes about homosexuality and sexuality, in general, is casual and straightforward. 

Some extra reading that I recommend are:










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