377 ways to differ

Recent judgement of the Delhi High Court striking down some portions of IPC section 377 that legally prohibited gay sex has set many tongues wagging. It is but natural. Unlike contentious issues of runaway fiscal deficits, nuclear energy safety, global warming, aging populations, collapsing urban transport, garbage disposal, & kindred such issues thrown up by the march of human civilization that affect the quality of life of everyone but are best left to ‘experts‘; sex is a topic most feel a mastery over & everyone has a opinion. It is a dearly held & fervidly defended opinion. Other topics that aroused such mass appeal in recent past were terrorist attacks in Mumbai, Communal strife in various places, reservations in education & jobs, son of the soil agitations, etc. A common thread that runs through all these is a sense of imminent alarm caused by fear for life, values, or of loss of entitlements & livelihood. No one then bothers to gather facts or seek reports or expert advice, but everyone has a position borne out of righteous & rightful conviction. While such mass participation is welcome, mass hysteria is best avoided. Unfortunately, battle lines are already drawn, between those who oppose, numerically I suspect numerous, and those who support Delhi high court judgement. Polarization is so complete that no middle ground or gray shades of viewpoints are either conceived or admitted into discourse. Those who support same-sex cause while they themselves have opposite-sex orientation do it from the premise of liberal-ethics that demands tolerance towards views or behaviours not in agreement with their own morals, tastes or aesthetics. Or sometimes simply they don’t care so long as it does not impinge on their freedom or way of life. Those who oppose same-sex orientation converge from varied perspectives conditioned by value system, incipient or inarticulate fears, law & order considerations, or such other premises. It would be a good starting point to review some of these issues to know what exactly is at stake. Hopefully, it would soften the positions & abate the contempt and bitterness directed at the ‘other.

Govindacharya, a former BJP ideologue, today has reportedly said that India has always lived with homosexuality. It is a heartening admission from a person of ‘Hindutva tradition’, since such phenomena are often viewed as recent corrupting imports from the West. Recall the story of Vishnu assuming a charming feminine form of Vishwamohini to gain advantage for the Devs in their ongoing tussle with the Asurs for supremacy. An unforeseen event was the infatuation of Vishwamohini for Bikshadan (form assumed by Mahadev), which ultimately results in consummation & their union is celebrated with a birth of a son named Hariharputra. If one removes the adornment of mythology it is an unabashed mention of homo-sexuality. Incest, a more outrageous instance of immoral conduct, has also found mention in our mythology where Brahma lusts for his daughter Saraswati. Greeks, who have documented history prolifically unlike Indians, have left numerous notes on same-sex liaisons. In male union, the active or insertive role was called Erastes, while passive or acceptor role was named Eromenos or Paidika. In fact, erastes was considered a model of ultimate masculinity. Plato, in the Symposium, argues for an army to be comprised of same-sex lovers. Presumably because they would gravitate into a close knit fighting force with strong bonds of love & loyalty. Apparently Thebes did form such a regiment, the Sacred Band of Thebes (follow this link for a history of homo-sexuality in Europe & Middle East), formed of 500 soldiers, who were renowned in the ancient world for their valour in battle. It must therefore be concluded that whether homosexuals were tolerated or persecuted, they have been around in all climes & times since the historic times and by sensible extrapolation always.

Once antiquity & ubiquity of homosexuality is established, the attention may now be turned to other variants of perceived or perpetrated distortions. Vyalar Ravi, a central cabinet minister, has reportedly yesterday branded homosexuality as elitist phenomenon. If his position is informed by all the hype generated by mainstream media in the wake of the high court judgement, then I am afraid it would appear justified by the overwhelming prominence given to all the high society couples & celebrities. But he would appear a poor & hasty judge if that is his sole database. But his is a classical sample of how middleclass – that upholder of virtue & values for the entire society – informs its own position invariably. Such amoral behaviour it contends is either the preserve of dregs of society – the lower class that behaves like animals in their ignorance & moral lassitude – or of the high society – who are drunk on their power & wealth into stupefaction. One it looks down upon & the other it envies but holds in contempt. It is true that poor, especially those staying in urban slums in inhuman conditions & in intrusive proximity due to high population density, have little time to contemplate virtues & ethics and be bound by them in their daily struggle for existence. Rich don’t care for such niceties because they can afford to do so in their exclusive domains safely tucked away from the rest of humanity. Both lower & upper classes may thus openly display ‘aberrant‘ behaviour albeit for different reasons. Take other instances of social taboos such as extra marital relations, live in relationships or polyandry/ polygamy that are equally repugnant to middle class. While poor may use it as survival strategies, rich are unencumbered by these mores. Rigidity of middle class in these matters and fears of severe strictures or of even being ostracized from the community keeps its members in check & drives such indulgences underground. The fact that these are not seen doesn’t mean they don’t happen. Even when these come to the notice of family or close relations, these instances remain in wraps for fear of loss of face & social standing for the entire group. Visibility therefore can never be taken as a criterion for prevalence of a particular behaviour or its absence.

When geography, race, social strata etc. are out of the way as hindrances for free permeation of homosexuality, the attitude that it only happens to them not to us (we or they, them or us, remember this exclusivist paradigm of George Bush & the harm it did?) looses it moorings & is orphaned hopelessly. Once this is realized & accepted, naturally next question to ask is why does homosexuality occur? Baba Ramdev believes & contends that it is a disease & can be cured. Today he has become Brand Ramdev and whole industry & institution have sprung around him. His runaway success as a pranayam & yoga teacher has probably lead him to believe that he can pontificate (monarchical view of intelligence) on any subject that catches his fancy & same will go down well with his constituency (I think the latter point is true). Yet he has a point that needs answering. How do we know like AIDs homosexuality is not some Acquired Sexual Disorientation syndrome (ASDs)! Or some psychiatric conditions like psychosis or neurosis! Large swathes of society have such repugnance & deep mistrust of homosexuality that these objections need to be addressed in any serious dialogue to dispel ignorance & preconceived notions. Let us take AIDs first. Since its discovery among humans the proportion of individuals affected by it has shown great variance depending upon the prevalence of risk factors in a particular community and the degree of success enjoyed by the preventive measures in the same community. Like in any dynamic system percentage of cases shows variation over time as well as geography depending upon the interplay of various variables responsible for it. On the contrary, homosexuality has shown stable expression over comparatively longer time period and across cultures & regions in terms of percentage prevalence in varied populations. Therefore physiologically speaking it doesn’t seem to be infective or contagious. Homosexuals enjoy same level of health or risks as their heterosexual counterparts in a community provided standards of hygiene & precautions observed are pari passu.

From the psychological perspective the jury is still out on this issue. It is noteworthy here that Ramdev has apparently relied upon the opinion of some Spanish psychologist in his appeal before the court. However, an overwhelming majority of psychologists doesn’t hold it to be a mental disorder. This appears to be a reasonable conclusion as homosexuals are as normal, responsible, enterprising, creative, successful, deceptive, violent, dull or antisocial as their heterosexual brothers are from the same community. But for their sexual orientation, there won’t be much to differentiate between the two. In fact because of social repression & taboo homosexuals often have to be discreet & circumspect in arranging their conduct & others are then none the wiser about their sexual preferences & treat homosexuals as one of them. This should convince most that majoritarian view of psychologists has merit. A curious case to compare here is how left handedness was viewed through the ages. Throughout history left handedness was considered as negative. The Latin word for left is ‘Sinister‘. Other connotations associated with it were: “clumsy, awkward, unlucky, insincere, evil, malicious, and so on.” Most societies are biased towards right handedness & left handedness is often severely corrected in childhood. It would be anachronistic today if someone were to term it a disease. It may be noted in passing that in ancient times in combat & in some sports even today it bestows an advantage.

It is time to see if biology has some insights to share. In species where choice for propagation & future survival is made in favour of sexual reproduction that presupposes heterosexuality (barring hermaphrodites), emergence of homosexuality certainly appears to be purposeless. But there are other characteristics that appear purposeless. Take the case for example of left hemisphere of the brain controlling the right side of the body and vice versa. Many explanations have been proffered, but none are satisfactory & the issue is still wide open. Natural selection operates on variations produced by mutations. Most mutations are pernicious to the organism concerned & die out with the organism in which they manifest. Some however endow advantage to the individuals in whom they manifest & they survive well in competition and through reproductive success pass it onto progeny. In time such individuals come to dominate the population & those traits get established in the specie. Some other traits may neither be pernicious nor beneficial, but if they occur in conjunction with beneficial traits then they may survive piggyback & consequently get established in the population along with the beneficial ones. Thus they are there by virtue of company they keep, no more. Presence of same sex preference may be a similar phenomenon. Though this answer is benign, the original question is not. “What causes homosexuality?” Way it is framed is a loaded question as it presupposes, like in case of any disease, that it calls for prevention and cure. Secondly it presumes that heterosexuality is a ‘natural’ evolutionary consequence of reproductive advantage & since overwhelming majority practices it, it is well understood as well. Why do we study gravity then since everybody experiences it? Obviously what occurs commonly or is practised commonly is experienced but not necessarily understood. So even why & how heterosexuality occurs needs to be studied & understood? Recent approaches in biology have suggested that biological variables, such as genes, prenatal hormones, and brain neuro-anatomy, do code for sexual orientation, homo as well as hetero. Others contend that biological variables do not code for sexual orientation per se but for childhood temperaments that influence a child’s preferences for sex-typical or sex-atypical activities. These preferences in turn influence how a child may view same sex peers & opposite sex peers. A child that views opposite sex peers as exotic grows to be erotically sensitive to them and conversely grows to be erotically sensitive to same sex peers if it views them as exotic. This theory is called ‘exotic to erotic‘. Though contending theories exist, all converge on one point : theory must explain both homosexuality & heterosexuality.

Those who have travelled thus far only have to contend with fears of apocalypse now or breakdown of human civilization as we know or more accurately perceive. One Suresh Kumar Kaushal in his petition challenging the high court order has reportedly contended that even animals don’t indulge in such activities. This is patently false as there is documented same-sex behaviour in many species from primates to penguins. This comes as a shock to many because what occurs in nature is natural & therefore its inexorable conclusion that homosexuality is natural. We have already travelled beyond this and this need not arrest us here. An interesting extension however I am tempted to follow. Some are horrified that decriminalizing homosexuality today may tomorrow ratchet up demands for legalizing sex with individuals of other species – where even homo or hetero distinction becomes irrelevant. They may be comforted that their thoughts have already been anticipated by ancient civilizations as evidenced in the story of Minotaur & Ashvamedh yajna. Ashvamedh yagna had the following aim : “Sex magic featured in a number of Vedic rituals, most significantly in the Asvamedha Yajna, where the ritual culminated with the chief queen lying with the dead horse in a simulated sexual act; clearly a fertility rite intended to safeguard and increase the kingdom’s productivity and martial prowess.” It is tempting to speculate who a she-goat would choose: a man longingly gazing at her as mutton on hoofs or another amorously imagining uniting with her. A she goat is likely to put up with at worst a small inconvenience resulting from the dalliance of the latter rather than embracing death with the former. Since such tendencies have always existed, there is no cause of alarm that our society will breakup. We must get over this paranoia & become robust in our self conception. One is now ready to face that small band of self proclaimed defenders of morality & virtue in public life. Almost invariably they are misinformed bigots totally unacquainted with spirit of enquiry or scholarship and are alien to humility & doubt. Like all wrong doers they are energetic rabble-rousers who work their ways by frightening the populace. Either it happens through ignorance, but substantially their acts are informed by hidden agendas. If this piece raises doubts & leads to critically examining one’s position, then it serves its purpose. There are many ways we may differ or choose to differ, but it may be done civilly & studiedly.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

17 Responses to “377 ways to differ”

  1. suryakant bal Says:

    Dear Nandu,

    The article made interesting reading to someone like me (a non – specialist in these matters). While I am willing to concede that what happens within the four walls of ones home (its happening anyway!!) is not my business, I too have the freedom of association with those of my choice (whatever the reasons).

    That this minority should not be persecuted in any way is but logical. However, there is no need to glorify them, nor extoll their virtues – much less make them role models to emulate. Does that make me a non-conformist, a deviant or an unreasonable person? If so, i’m truely flattered !!



  2. Shashi Bal Says:

    Must say a indepth analysis with both pro and con view points,with many cases from the past to present.I personally think let people be as far as they do not corrupt young minds, and I fear that children may try to experiment when they are not fully aware of what is right or wrong, and may not have homosexual tendencies.

  3. Suvrat Kher Says:

    yep, good article.

    I liked the explanation that homosexuality if it does have a genetic basis could be piggybacking on some other trait. A more specific way to think about this is to use the concept of inclusive fitness. Homosexuals could pass on genes by helping their close relatives – siblings, nieces, nephews reach reproductive age. Since a proportion of genes are shared between close relatives , genes for homosexuality which relatives carry but don’t express get passed on.

    I also like two other explanations (assuming there is a firm genetic basis for homosexuality);

    1) A small proportion of homosexuals do reproduce. its a mistake to say that homosexuality means a reproductive dead end. its not that these men are incapable of reproducing. lots of men who have homosexual inclinations marry and have children due to societal reasons or even have brief interludes of attraction to the opposite sex. human behavior is quite plastic. even if one or two percent of homosexuals procreate that in the long run is enough to maintain a low frequency of “homosexual genes” in the population.

    2) This is the why do men have nipples explanation. it deals with the way bodies develop. men and women share the same genes for a lot of functions. Men have nipples because women need them, and there is a single genetic program that both men and women have that generates nipples.mutations that knock out the nipple gene in men will knock them out in women as well. which is why evolution preserves nipples in men. So why are men attracted to other men? because women need to be attracted to men. we share the same genetic architecture for sexual attraction, its just modulated differently in men and women. if the wiring for that goes a little haywire during the development of the male brain, in effect making it more similar in terms of sexual attraction to a female brain then that could result in attraction for the same sex. A similar explanation for lesbians as well (women like women because men need to like women).

    I like this explanation a lot because it really stems from our shared humanity, something we need to stress to overcome discrimination against gays.


  4. satark Says:


    Yes!! I know of 2 individuals & also know of some others who in turn directly know a few others, who are either bisexuals or have had as you say brief interludes of opposite sex attraction or its obverse – i.e. brief interludes of same sex attraction. This way the homosexuals gene/s, if they do exist, could have avoided as you put it reproductive dead end.

    What beats me though is how forefathers of today’s humans who roamed the earth say some 4000 years ago seem to have anticipated so called deviant behaviour or concepts about self that today we seem to rediscover anew? Their creativity was not limited by imagination or intellect, however, greatly circumscribed only by the technology & science available then. Probably, the answer lies in the fact that 4/5 thousand years are not sufficient for genetic variations to accumulate to a level where there would be a qualitative jump of such a magnitude in human nature that it would leave minds of either ages inaccessible to the other. Imagine Assyrians, Harappans, Nubians or Aryans were to visit us today. While they would be dumbstruck by the symbols of physical modernity & sophistication of weaponry, they would find no difficulty in conversing with modern humans as their intellectual or civilizational equals. If this thought appears quirky to some, then all they have to do is ponder over how literature, paintings, ancient sites etc. left by ancient civilizations are still accessible to us for reconstruction. With this somewhat lengthy but purposeful digression I want to point out that your acute ‘nippular’ (I can’t resist fashioning a new adjective) observation was anticipated in Mahabharat in somewhat ‘reductio ad absurdum’ fashion. Arjun, it was said was the only person without nipples, not even mighty Bhim or wily Shri Krishna, or patriarch & brahmachaari Bhishma, and therefore ‘True Male’ or 100% male.

    Biologically speaking I understand that there is hardly any difference between male & female zygote except for the sex determining gene on Y chromosome. This gene acts more as a switch to turn on & turn off certain events in the development of foetus which give rise to what appear to be such fantastic
    differences. Some biologists claim that every individual has ‘undifferentiated sexual orientation’, which gets differentiated with prenatal & postnatal developments as referred to in the original post.

    Your observations have added value to the discussion. Thanks


  5. Suvrat Kher Says:

    “Imagine Assyrians, Harappans, Nubians or Aryans were to visit us today. While they would be dumbstruck by the symbols of physical modernity & sophistication of weaponry, they would find no difficulty in conversing with modern humans as their intellectual or civilizational equals. ”

    no doubt. we don’t have Assyrians or Harrappans to talk to but there is an interesting analogous situation. As late as the 1930’s tribes were discovered in New Guinea and Amazon living in the stone age, without any contact with other peoples for thousands of years. Their children and grandchildren have leapfrogged over the bronze, iron and coal ages into the silicon age without any difficulty.

    So yes the human mind has not changed that much, in the sense that primitive cultural need not mean a mind incapable of understanding current trends.


  6. Chandrakant Bal Says:

    It’s all in the head.

    If you have a copy of “Why men don’t Listen & Women can’t read Maps” do turn to pages 59 to 69 to read the Brain Wiring Test. The test is designed to indicate the masculinity or femininity of your brain patterns. The result simply indicates the probable level of male hormone your brain did, or did not receive around six or eight weeks after your conception. This reflects in your preference of values, behaviours, style, orientations and choices. So there are high feminine brains and high male brains, and some brains give overlapping results to the test indicative of the brain having one foot in both camps.

    Low scores for women indicate lesbian tendencies. High scores for a man indicate the chances of him being gay. Viva the difference.

    If you do not have the book referred to, I can type out the test for you. You do not have to disclose your preference of values etc to any one.



  7. Chandrakant Bal Says:

    Hi Sadanand,

    Have a laugh reading something that tickles and put it away. I do not know what makes people gay or lesbian. Perhaps you have an answer? The question of 377 is not what makes them so, but how society views them, accepts them, or rejects them. Such persons have been around for ages, in all societies.


  8. Angad Patwardhan Says:

    Well Baba’s point is well-taken, but Rahul Kaka, if u could type out the test n send me i’d be thankful!!

    Having some interest in psychology, i’m surely interested in what a test of this kind would be like, to know the sorts of questions asked, regardless of whether it’s accurate or not, where the latter shall most likey be the case!! 🙂

    So aw8ing ur reply…..thanx a lot!!


  9. Sanjay Rao Says:

    Next time I am trying to read a map (with my sense of direction, that happens not infrequently) and listening to someone talk, I must remember that I am trying to do something profoundly impossible.

    I was watching “60 Minutes” the other day, where they had a piece on research in the field of reading human thoughts being conducted in the US and Germany. The idea is to use a modified MRI scanner called FMRI (Functional MRI). It was pretty amazing.

    The subject was asked to lie under the scanner and shown pictures of various objects. The subjects was then asked to think about the object and the computer could identify objects by recognizing brain patterns caught on MRI. They expect to move well-beyond objects in the next 5 years. Big corporations are already investing in this field for advertising and marketing application. A whole new field called “neuro-marketing” is emerging. People are talking about the ethics of using it. As you know, when the ethicist comes in… its serious…:). I guess the days of the “tests” are numbered. Soon we shall have scanners doing the job and … a whole new generation of scammers. I digress….

    I thought Sadanand’s peice was very insightful. Got me thinking…So when was the last time I used the words gay and happy together. These days the word “gay” seems to make people cringe. So i don’t use it anymore.

    Luckily we have other synonyms …like glad. So I’m glad that people are having this debate in India. Its good for our society to attempt to come to terms with things that exist but are not acknowledged because it too uncomfortable. When we were growing up (in the 80’s) the only thing I knew about the gay community (no one ever mentioned anything about lesbians) was a magazine called “Bombay Dost”. I never saw any issue of the magazine, so I don’t know if this is fact or fiction. I also knew a couple of friends who were molested on the local trains in Mumbai. In the men’s compartment of course.

    So with this legal acceptance of the gay/lesbian community into the mainstream, the next step in the evolution will be the persecution of the pioneers, the ones who come out of the closet. Caste, religion, gender…Now we add sexual-orientation to the list. Vive la difference???? I think it would be premature of us to celebrate the difference before we learn to live it.

    Talking of politicians, check this out http://noiseofindia.com/. The piece on Advani is good.


  10. Arun Jain Says:

    Dear Sadanand,
    I enjoy reading your mails – your command over the language and the subject is superb.
    The poem from Sudhir was indeed interesting and I also agree that we will have to ‘learn to live with it’.

    I feel that to be a gay or not to be is not a legal issue but a psychological issue.
    If law accepts gay behavior as legitimate then there should be no objection to incest , prostitution, polygamy or polyandry.
    I believe that society must be mature enough to accept gays but accepting gay behaviour ..???
    I am not sure. I Accept the people with different orientation but do not accept different orientation as correct orientation.
    Just because west has acceptance to an issue does not make the issue right. ????????
    Giving the issue so much footage is not necessary.
    Arun Jain

  11. Falling birth rates! Fall of civilization? « Chintan Says:

    […] Anil, coincidentally wrote in to say, “Have recently seen your article on controversy about article 377 and the exchange of views between cross section of people on the same subject. Recently came across […]

  12. Angad Patwardhan Says:

    Dear Arun Chacha,

    I agree with you that homosexuality is not a legal issue but a psychological one! Obviously, it seems that it is not unnatural, but i doubt that the causes are known when it arises out of instinct, and not out of choice (or rather lack of choice, as in convicts thrown together in a jail).

    However, i disagree that “if law accepts gay behavior as legitimate then there should be no objection to incest, prostitution, polygamy or polyandry”!

    In a such free society where women are actually at par with men as far as rights,responsibilities and decision-making privileges are concerned, polygamy and polyandry can, perhaps, prevail without objection; of course, with the obvious consent of the spouse that is going to “face competition”!

    As far as incest is concerned, probably we can even do away with the ethical issues, but the biological factors may hamper a potential relationship as far as the health of the offspring is concerned.

    But prostitution is one of the highest degrees of exploitation that human society has seen. One can not imagine how it must feel to mortgage something as personal as one’s own body JUST to earn a living!! In fact prostitution is accepted in society even today, but prostitutes are NOT!! What an irony that is! Actually, not only must we strive towards rehabilitating prostitutes in other professions and into society itself, but we must also create such a society where no girl/woman shall be forced into prostitution under any circumstances ever!!

    And i have a question!
    “I believe that society must be mature enough to accept gays but accepting gay behaviour..??? I am not sure.”
    What difference do you exactly mean between gays & gay behaviour??


  13. Aruna Kotwal Says:

    Hi Angad,
    I have been following this discussion. I have the same question as you. What I do not understand is how can one separate gays from gay behavior! By gay behavior do they mean only openly gay behavior? Is whatever they do in the privacy of their homes ok? Isn’t that hypocrisy?

  14. Chandrakant Bal Says:

    Prostitution IS the oldest profession in the world. Incidently, As I understand incest is not a crime mentioned in the IPC!!!!!!!!!!!. Perhaps, you as lawyers, can confirm this.


  15. suryakant bal Says:

    Prostitution is in competition with espionage as the oldest profession:the two have very close links.


  16. Sadanand Patwardhan Says:

    I have no idea how this phrase, “……is THE oldest profession…”
    gained such a widespread currency as to become self evident truth. It is quite similar to another myth (according to Neuro-Linguist Steven
    Pinker) that claims that Inuit language has 30+ different words for ice commensurate with their intricate knowledge of arctic conditions.
    The business of profession is where colloquial & formal planes intersect. Colloquially speaking “occupation” is a better word.
    Formally speaking, Profession has certain characteristics,
    1. A recognised body of knowledge.
    2. Association of practitioners.
    3. Code of conduct & ethics.
    4. Definite pedagogy to prepare new initiates., etc. at the minimum.
    Some of the oldest recognised professions are Divinity, Medicine, Law & Military.

    Somehow, in the current context the term is immutably used deploringly or dismissively rather than respectfully as in almost all other cases. Why is it so I do not know.

    Please read these two sites
    for more than this.


  17. Dhar Says:

    The debate seems to fading away.. or the forum got occupied with more concurrent issues to tickle their nerves and derive linguistic pleasure out of it? 🙂

    I came across an equally engaging post on wordpress by Ach. Agyaat Darshan. Probably more from spiritual view point..


    You may like to have a view and comment..


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: