Gurpreet Singh: Many Canadians of South Asian descent support struggle for LGBT equal rights
The Indian Supreme Court decision upholding a regressive law that bars homosexuality as a punishable offence reflects very badly on the world’s largest secular democracy.
The apex court of India recently overturned the Delhi High Court verdict of 2009 that decriminalized homosexuality. The lower court had rejected the validity of section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which is a tool of the British colonial era and describes homosexual union as crime.
Ironically, the British government has allowed same-sex unions, whereas India—despite independence from the British occupation in 1947 and tall claims of progress and modernity—continues to cling to an outdated law.
The verdict has obviously outraged LGBT people both in India and Canada.
In Vancouver, South Asian gay and lesbian activists rallied outside the Indian consulate December 13, defying rain and cold weather.
The controversial decision has particularly saddened LGBT people of Indian origin, who feel that the queer community continues to be oppressed and discriminated against in their home country.
At the same time, they face double discrimination, and in case of lesbians—triple—in a foreign land because of their race, gender, and sexual orientation.
The verdict sends a wrong signal and reinforces stereotypes and myths about the homosexuals within the South Asian community. In several instances of hate crimes against homosexuals in Vancouver, South Asians were reported to be potential suspects.
Several years ago, the social enviornment within the Indo-Canadian community was quite hostile against homosexuals. The clerics and the self-styled gate keepers tried to make everyone believe that homosexuality is a moral crime.
I remember that openly gay former NDP MP Svend Robinson was sometimes ridiculed by a section in our community in spite of his passion for the rights of ethnic and religious minorities, including Sikhs and Muslims.
Robinson vehemently opposed human-rights violations and persecution of minorities in India. His support for LGTB rights was hardly endorsed by the South Asians at the time.
Itrath Syed, a former NDP candidate, also faced undue criticism by the Muslim clerics for being in a party that supports same-sex couples' rights.
However, I have noticed a wind of change in my own community recently. All the hype about social conservatism in the South Asian community is not entirely true.
If my open-line radio show on recent developments in India is any indication, the majority of South Asians are pained by the verdict. They feel that it is an attack on the rights of a gendered minority.
Many feel that the law should not interfere into the sexual preferences of people and that the Indian parliament should eliminate this draconian law or make amendments to ensure safety and protection of the queer community.
It is worth noting that Dr. Barjinder Singh, a prominent human rights activist, has expressed his solidarity with homosexuals. He's the leader of the Sikh Nation, a campaign that organizes annual blood donation camps across Canada in memory of the victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom.
Thousands of Sikhs were murdered by goons influenced by leaders of India's Congress Party following the assassination of then-Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984.
Singh said during live talk show that the Indian judiciary, which has already failed the Sikh minority, has once again failed to protect the rights of a minority. Singh, who is influenced by the values of Sikhism, draws inspiration from the ninth master of the Sikhs, Guru Tegh Bahadur, who laid down his life for the sake of Hindus who were being persecuted by the Islamic rulers.
Singh feels that though Guru Teg Bahadur did not believe in Hinduism, he sacrificed his life for human liberty. Therefore, Singh believes that whatever may be the sexual orientation of the majority, we must stand by the gendered minority.
Years ago, the World Sikh Organization (WSO) also supported the rights of gays and lesbians when books about same-sex parents in Surrey schools stirred an unwanted debate.
In 2005, when the orthodox Sikh clergy in India ordered the Sikh MPs in Canada to vote against the same-sex marriage bill, then-Liberal MP Navdeep Singh Bains, a devout Sikh himself, defied the edict. The WSO supported his stand.
One may disagree with the WSO’s politics and its inclination toward theocracy, but it definitely scored a point over the so-called moderates in the Sikh community. As against WSO’s progressive position, a prominent moderate leader, Balwant Singh Gill, once trashed homosexuals, only to later apologize.
Former B.C. premier Ujjal Dosanjh, who's of Sikh heritage, has consistently and vocally supported the cause of the homosexuals in the South Asian community. He also tries to educate his compatriots on this subject, even at personal level.
Dosanjh, who is socially progressive in many aspects, also defied the Sikh clergy by voting in support of same-sex marriage as a Liberal MP in 2005.
Baljinder Narang, chair of the Burnaby board of education, is another example. A practising Sikh herself, she spoke passionately about the rights of the the LGBT community when they came under attack in her city.
All this indicate that the homosexuals should not feel alone, as many respectable and prominent South Asian immigrants stand by them.
The Indian establishment should wake up and acknowledge the changing landscape of the world, instead of talking about symbolic development and progression by way of sending mission to Mars and also courting religious conservatives at the same time.
India, after all, belongs to its diverse population, including people with different sexual orientations—and not only to those who while away their time in religious places and spit venom against humanity.