Thursday, September 30, 2004

ASHOK'S RESPONSE TO ARTICLE "Society's not in a gay mood"

From: lgbt-india


It is distressing to read Dominic Emmanuel's ridiculous homophobic article dripping with self-righteous superciliousness laced with camoflaged Christian compassion for his homosexual fellow creatures.

Firstly, the Naz Petition was dismissed on technical grounds and the allegedly learned judges did not even hear out the arguments asked for from the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) and the Union Health Ministry as requested for by the previous bench hearing the petition.

So the glee with which Emmanuel greets the 'rejection' is not just factually incorrect but will be short-lived because we homosexuals will fight it with all our might, come what may.

May I contradict his pulpit pomposity point-by-point?

Firstly, none of us "chooses to be gay" just as nobody chooses to write with his left hand. In a homophobic society where you could be even killed for just being homosexual (as in some Islamic/Christian countries), nobody in his right sense will "choose" to be gay.

It's shocking that Emmanuel knows so little about modern clinical psychology or sexuality and has been given space to defame and make derogatory statements about a community under so much stress by comparing us to murderers,the corrupt and people who wish to bring sati back.

He opens himself to legal proceedings and trying to create unrest between communities based on his hate-speech.

Secondly, the World Health Organisation (WHO), the American Psychiatrist Association (APA), the World Association of Sexologists (WAS) and scores of other professional organisations associated with sexual and mental health now term homosexuality as a "sexual orientation" and not even a mental abberation or "un-natural tendency", as he so delicately puts it.

Thirdly, I find it quite revealing that Emmanuel selectively points out only two examples of places where homosexuality occurs: he mentions male/female boarding schools and defence forces. Has he forgotten the third one? The Roman Catholic Church? The USA's most learned commentator Andrew Sullivan has openly written that you cannot get admission into Catholic orders if you are NOT homosexual. I heartily advice Emmanuel to go to his website ( and read it to reveal the not-so-secret goings on in the Catholic Church.

I am personally counseling numerous Catholic priests who are gay AND HIV positivr and have no support,counseling or help from this self-proclaimed religious nut-house called the Catholic Church.

Fourthly, I have always been making fun of our great BJP-wallahs and the VHP/Banjrang Dal lunatics that Section 377 of the IPC was introduced by a Christian administrator Babington Macaulay, who brought it with him to India as baggage from his home country called 'Great' Britain, where it was introduced into the British Criminal Code from Eclestial Law. Precisely from the King James Bible.

Interestingly,King James,a rampaging homosexual was murdered by his wife after being caught with his male lovers: He could use some of Emmanuel's Christian compassion as his wife got him impaled on a hot rod.

Fifth Point: It is ridiculous that a country with a Hindu majority populace is being governed by a Christian religious treatise, a point to be noted with India having hardly 4 per cent Christian population. This is not just anti-secular but a distinctly undemocratic act, as Emmanuel will agree.

Sixth Point: Emmanuel may also be saddened to know that even Great Britain -- where this law originated -- has now removed it and so have very 'Catholic countries' like Spain and France, a country his head-priest, the Pope has called "Eldest Daughter of the Church".

Obviously, nobody is listening to dear Emmanuel, which paradoxically means "happy tidings" in Latin (!!!)

Seventh Point: We homosexals and others 'sinners' are least concerned with the "quick fixes" the Church is so against. Afterall, the quick fixes are pretty quick while hiding the scandals of gay priests -- there is a letter written by the Church to its various branches in the USA which says such things must not be revealed to the press and public.

The rampant pedophilia in Catholic institutions is a well known fact even in India where such cases have been quickly hushed up by an ever-willing English press which obliges the Church with its coverups; it is only the language press which exposes these incidents in India.

Eighth Point: What exactly does Emmanuel mean by "false allegations that the Church must stop interfering into what happens in people's bedrooms"?

Does this mean the Church has a 'right' to interfere in telling us what we do sexually? Whatever makes Emmanuel think that hetero-normativity is a "sublime and fundamental truth" when his very own Church is staffed by single men who refuse to copulate and are maintained by a dictat of compulsary celibacy?

What happens to that "sublime and fundemental truth" if I were to say that homosexuals too can have children or adopt them. Besides, it might pain Emmanuel no end to know that a majority of homosexuals I have counseled are not just married to women but put them at high risk to both STIs and HIV.

Does Emmanuel know that the highest risk that Indian women face is being married to men: the NACO website clearly reveals that over 80 per cent of Indian women who are HIV positive have had no other partner besides their husbands.

So will Emmanuel then advice Indian women to become lesbian or nuns to boot to escape being infected and dying from various STIs and HIV/AIDS?

Nineth Point: I will request readers to disallow Emmanuel's allegation about Freud. Nowhere did Freud ever suggest that homosexuals could be 'changed' through counseling. Obviously, the Church has done a great deal of "re-writing" Freud and this needs to be condemned. I suggest he re-read Freud because many of us are quite uptodate with Freud's theories, out-dated though they are in the present context.

Emmanuel completely misquotes the Naz Petition when he says  that "Naz concedes too that homosexual relations are highly vulnerable to the spread of HIV".

The correct position is that "unprotected sex" of any kind -- heterosexual or homosexual -- makes one vulnerable to STIs, various viruses like Herpes, Hep-B/C and HIV/AIDS.

It is a shame that the Roman Catholic Church refuses to recognise that condoms are the ONLY protection for millions of women vulnerable to these infections.

The Church is thus complicit in the infections and must be condemned for its stand against the use of condoms in sexual relations even within marriage and thus condemning innocent women to illness and death.

Finally, may I confide in your readers that the Roman Catholic Church is in good company. It was the Church and the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC)which opposed the recent Brazilian resolution at the UN to make "sexual orientation" a basic right for political prisoners to be recognised as such.

I am sure Emmanuel will also agree to the OIC's member countries flogging thieves, amputating limbs and stoning to death 'sinners' and such people all in the right spirit and, of course, without a "quick fix".

Afterall you are known by the company you keep, Emmanuel.

Good tidings indeed!!!

Ashok Row Kavi
Humsafar Trust

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Call for contributions to SCRIPTS

This is the last call for SCRIPTS. The deadline for submissions has been extended to 7th Oct 2004. Looking forward to your contributions.

Call for contributions to SCRIPTS, the queer zine by Lesbians and Bisexuals in Action Issue No. 6 "Body, Appearance and Identity"

Dear Friends,

It is that time of the year again when our rain drenched bodies begin to get out of the somnolence they had been creeping to and we sit up and realise that September is upon us, will indeed have soon passed us over if we did not get up and seize the day and all that sort of stuff. To get to where we are going: it is the time when we open our shop for the second time this year for contributions for the next issue of SCRIPTS, the magazine which we are very fond of and committed to!

So, dear friends, the next issue of SCRIPTS is scheduled to be out in the latter half of October and we take great pleasure in inviting your musings, writings, poetry, fiction, letters, snippets, drawings, cartoons, doodles and scribbles, artwork, photographs, sketches, anything in a printable format that you would like to share with some of the rest of the world.

This will be the sixth issue of the magazine and in this issue we are especially keen to invite contributions that, in diverse forms and degrees, explore, explode, confuse, and engage with our ideas, experiences and lived realities of our bodies, appearances and identities.

We invite you to share work on the experiences of living in our bodies, our rational theorizing around it, our passionate explorations, the boundaries that exist, their movement, transformations and changes, our relationships with our own bodies and that of the world around us, anything that you wish to share or have a conversation about. Send us material on our interface with the world through our appearances – the mix-ups, the missed opportunities, the humour and the trauma of it. Pieces that deal with our confusions, realities, shifts and transformations of identities, the chosen identities, the labels, the non-labels, our constant pull and push within and without them.

We invite work from all, however you may identify or choose not to – QUEER, GAY, LESBIAN, TRANSGENDER, BISEXUAL, KOTHI, EUNUCH, QUEEN, DRAG KING, HIJRA,…. Everybody is welcome to submit their work. You don't have to identify in any category. Only the work needs to reflect any of these sensibilities!

From this issue on, we especially invite submissions in Indian languages other than English. We would like to reserve at least 20% of the pages of each issue for different languages and thus invite you to send us original works with English or Hindi translations. We have a small editorial team, which absolutely refuses to edit any of your submissions but will be part of selecting the pieces for the issue. We are here to make sure that a variety of issues, genres, styles and outrageousness are represented in this issue.

Guidelines for Submissions

For Literary submissions: Poetry, prose, essays, letters, scribbles, fiction – all are welcome. Submissions must be sent by email as text, or as word document attachments. We welcome hand written works to be directly submitted as such. You can send us hand-written documents by post mail or scan them and send them to us as TIFF files. Submissions must not exceed 1000 words.

*We are especially seeking literary contributions in Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Gujarati, Urdu or any other regional languages. We would, in fact, like to reserve 20% of the pages of this issue towards work in Indian languages other than English. Works will be printed in their original language. Where ever possible please send us an English translation transcript along, especially if you would like it printed along with the original language piece.

*Safety. Many people may not feel comfortable or safe publishing their writings under their names. If you so wish we will be willing to publish your work under your pseudonym as well. If there are any other precautions that you would like us to take, kindly alert us of the same.

For Visual arts submissions: Photographs, sketches, drawings, paintings, doodles – are all welcome. Kindly send us your work scanned as TIFF files in high resolution by e-mail, burnt on CD-R's, as Xeroxes or copies by post-mail. PLEASE DO NOT SEND ORIGINAL ARTWORKS.
*Safety. Again please specify under which name the artworks should be printed.

What other info do we need from you?

*Kindly send in your submissions clearly marked with the name of the writer/artist. In case of Visual arts submissions, we encourage you to send a brief write up along with the work if you would like to give it some background. *Do send us a very brief 2 line Bio which we can publish at the end of the book as a note on contributors. Again, if for issues of anonymity and safely you chose not to send this to us, we will understand. *Some kind of postal address so we can send you a copy of the printed zine.

What we can do in return for your precious contributions? *Copyright for all accepted contributions will remain with the
authors. We do not reserve any right to place any of the accepted material for any other publication without the prior written
permission of the authors/artists.

*Accepted submissions will not be paid for, but all contributors are guaranteed a wide motley readership. All contributors whose work has been accepted for publication will receive ONE free copy of the zine.

Where and When to send your Contributions:
Last date for submission: 30th September, 2004
Please send all material to:
Postal address:
LABIA/Stree Sangam
P. O. Box No. 16613
Matunga, Bombay 400 019.

Lesbians and Bisexuals in Action (LABIA), formerly known as Street Sangam, is an autonomous, non-funded collective of lesbian, transgender and bisexual women. LABIA is a campaign and activist group with a focus on queer and feminist activism. We have been in existence in Bombay since 1995. Our activities have included networking with individual queer women as well as queer groups in India and in other countries, campaigning for the rights of peoples and communities of marginalised genders and sexualities with other like minded groups, and organising jointly with the struggles of other marginalised groups, feminist and people's movements. LABIA intends to further this activism and sees SCRIPTS as a vibrant space for multiple conversations of  queer/feminist/activist/creative voices.

Discrimination against trans person on Folsom weekend

Discrimination against trans person on Folsom weekend
Location SF Bay Area

A genderqueer person was asked to leave at the Revels of Venus event (Sunday) at the Cherry Bar on Folsom weekend for not being "trans enough" according to event promoter Ren Davis Phoenix.

The event was billed as dyke and trans inclusive. Rev. Michael, who identifies as genderqueer and is male bodied, was there with the person who calls him her wife. They both identify as genderqueer in some way - in fact, the night before (Saturday) they hosted an art show all about their relationship and their identities as trans.

Event promoter Ren Davis Phoenix asked Michael to leave the event after saying that he is not genderqueer since he is not presenting as female. Ren also pointed to several other people including myself, my wife Turtle, my friend Joli(e) and declared us all to be trans but not him since he is male bodied.

According to Ren's profile at s/he is a "self-identified transgendered, female bodied person beyond specific M/F preferences" yet while s/he organized this event as dyke and trans inclusive, s/he decided that Michael, a male bodied person who identifies beyond specific M/F preferences was not "trans enough" to remain at the event.

Please distribute widely. You can reach Ren Davis Phoenix at redsphx(at)aol(dot)com

Max & Turtle

From Rev. Michel, with his permission.

Original post:


The following is my account of Sunday night, as it is posted for the Screwup list on Tribe:

This Sunday I was the unfortunate target of discrimination when I accompanied a group of friends to a Revels of Venus event at The Cherry Bar. The event was billed in it s flyers as being for leather women and trans people and I was admitted at the door because I am genderqueer
(I think genderfluid is perhaps more appropriate for me) despite the fact that I am male bodied and bearded. I was also not going unaccompanied, and would like to think that the group of queer women and genderqueers I was with could be considered as vouching for my character.

The show of the event was over when we arrived, which was fine with me as I mostly wanted to have a nice cocktail or two with friends. I was quite happy to stay by the bar and chat with all of the people I knew, and I was having a very mellow and pleasant time. My behavior could, at no time, be described as offensive or inappropriate in any possible way.

At some point about a half hour after we had arrived I and two others were asked by someone to come outside for a moment. The person identified themselves as Ren Davis Phoenix, the promoter of the event. S/he was terse, and said something to the effect of either you are the most convincing transman I have ever seen, or you don t belong here. I assured Ren that I was male and not trying to pass as a transman, but that I was most certainly a part of the trans community. No amount of my trying to explain mattered one iota. Once s/he heard I was born male and was not transitioning to female she did not want to hear anything more. I was told I had to leave, as I was not female or a female-appearing transperson. Men were not allowed, unless they were FTM. My genderqueer-ness was not enough, and it did not matter how well behaved I had been or how many women and transfolk (and Cherry Bar staff for that matter) vouched for me.

I was in near tears, but at this point I was willing to leave. I support the concept of safe spaces for women, and according to Ren complaints were being brought to her about me being there from women inside. Who wants to make anyone uncomfortable just by being present? Not me. To be totally honest, I wanted to take my too-male-appearing self home and just forget about what had just happened.

The manager of The Cherry Bar, John, introduced himself to me and wanted me to know that he was appalled at what Ren was doing. We chatted for a while out front while my companions went to say good-bye to our friends inside. During the course of this conversation he made the decision that he did not want me to leave. He asked my friends and I to please all come back inside and have a drink on the house. John said that he did not want to see any sort of discrimination occur at Cherry Bar. We accepted.

When Ren came by where we were (at the bar by the entry) and saw me enjoying a drink I was removed from the bar yet again. This time s/he and John had a long private talk away from me and when she came back she was abusive. When my friends and passers-by came to my defense she became enraged. I actually thought things might come to blows between her and one of my companions. He s a man! He s got a cock! He doesn t belong in there! and words to that effect were screamed by Ren over and over. It was an ugly and traumatizing scene. In the end we were all sent packing, and even now (two days later) I just can t quite shake the awful feeling it left me with.

**About me**
My name is Reverend Michel St. Germain. I am a documentary photographer and I have had the pleasure of documenting and promoting the visibility the queer and trans communities in San Francisco over the past few years. You ll find me happily snapping photos of all the myriad of talent that graces events like Gender Pirates, Karma, Wicked Messenger: A Variant Cabaret, Fresh Meat, Drag Up Knock Down, Transfusion (a now defunct trans wrestling club), and many others, though I am most know for my rabid documentation of Trannyshack. I also have lent support to PiSSR (People In Support Of Safe Restrooms), Harvey Milk Inst., Tenderloin AIDS Resource Center, Community United Against Violence, and the Youth Gender Project.

Physically, I look rather bear-ish. I am a large bellied, beared, kilt wearing (or chaps if I am on my motorcycle), big booted person. My bearing is much more nelly than my appearance, and let s face it- I am a big ole queen. I am also told I have a cuddly appearance. Despite my man-ish appearance I do not necessarily consider myself male. As I mentioned above I am genderfluid. Though I do not wish to transition to female physically I feel my gender is much more female than my appearance. I identify must more strongly with female gender than male, though my sense of gender does seem to evolve and develop fluidly. I am genderqueer.

** About Ren Davis Phoenix **
You can find info about Ren at One of my companions (Max Joire) of the evening in question had an interesting comment regarding Ren ealier in an email I received this morning:

According to Ren's profile at s/he is a "self-identified transgendered, female bodied person beyond specific M/F preferences" yet while s/he organized this event as dyke and trans inclusive, s/he decided that Michel, a male bodied person who identifies beyond specific M/F preferences was not "trans enough" to remain at the event.

Ren Davis Phoenix can be reached at If you would like to comment on this issue or would like to see real trans-inclusive policy at Ren s events in the future please do let him/her know how you feel

Also, please distribute this as you see fit. Discussion on issues like this is very important to our communities.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Something Bad Has Begun

Something Bad Has Begun
(originally published Sep 28, 2004 by the Los Angeles Times)

by Yusuf Islam
I was flying to Nashville last week with my 21-year-old daughter to explore some new musical ideas with a record label there. Ironically, I was trying to remain low-profile because of the speculation that it might have raised in the music world about a return of "the Cat." Media attention was the last thing I wanted. But it seems God wanted otherwise.

Toward the end of our journey from London to Washington, the plane was diverted. The captain announced something about "heavy traffic." After landing in Bangor, Maine, six tall, blue-uniformed officers boarded and surrounded me and my daughter.

"Is your name Yusuf Islam?" they asked.

"Yes," I confirmed.

"Do you mind coming with us and answering a few questions?"

At that point my heart stopped, and my daughter's face turned aspirin-white. This was the start of the nightmare.

Three FBI agents escorted me away from my daughter and asked me questions. At first, it sounded like they might have me mixed up with somebody else, as they repeated the spelling of my name.

"No. Y-u-s-u-f," I carefully spelled out. The agents looked a bit puzzled.

As they continued asking questions, some of their queries were obviously not related to me, so I thought this must be a matter of simple mistaken identity. Whether it was a mix-up or not remained unclear because they weren't under any obligation to give me a reason; the green visa waiver form I had so neatly filled in earlier had effectively denied me any right to appeal or answers. It was only when an immigration official read out to me a legal reference number that he mentioned some implication with "terrorism" — no further details necessary.

The most upsetting thing was being separated from my daughter for 33 hours — not knowing how she was or when and where we might be united. Because my phone was confiscated, I couldn't contact my family.

God almighty! Is this the same planet I'd taken off from? I was devastated. The unbelievable thing is that only two months earlier, I had been having meetings in Washington with top officials from the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives to talk about my charity work. Even further back, one month after the attack on the World Trade Center, I was in New York meeting Peter Gabriel and Hillary Rodham Clinton at the World Economic Forum!

Had I changed that much? No. Actually, it's the indiscriminate procedure of profiling that's changed. I am a victim of an unjust and arbitrary system, hastily imposed, that serves only to belittle America's image as a defender of the civil liberties that so many dearly struggled and died for over the centuries.

Need I say that any form of terrorism or violence is the antithesis of everything I love and stand for? Anyone who knows me will attest to this. I have spent my life in the search for peace and understanding, and that was mirrored clearly in my music. Since becoming a Muslim, I have devoted my life to education, charity and helping children around the world.

Consistently I have condemned the attacks of 9/11, stating that the slaughter of innocents, the taking of hostages and coldblooded killing of women and children have nothing do with the teachings of Islam. I've openly and publicly repudiated the actions of groups that resort to such acts of inhumanity — whatever their names. Any allegations to the contrary are fabricated. The Koran equates the murder of one innocent person with the murder of all of humanity.

Ever since I embraced Islam in 1977, people have regularly tried to link me with things I have nothing to do with. Take the Salman Rushdie case as an example, or the regurgitating of the accusation that I support groups like Hamas.

I am a man of peace, and I denounce all forms of terrorism and injustice; it is simply outrageous for anyone to suggest otherwise. The fact that I have sympathy for ordinary people in the world who are suffering from occupation, tyranny, poverty or war is human and has nothing to do with politics or terrorism.

Thank God my daughter and I were relieved of our ordeal and delivered home safely. I also thank all those who prayed for me and supported me through this dark episode; I have never harbored any ill will toward people of God's great Earth anywhere — and wish the reverse was also true.

(Yusuf Islam, the singer formerly known as Cat Stevens, was deported to Britain last week after being refused entry into the United States.)

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Homosexual victim exposes the Delhi press

Homosexual victim exposes the Delhi press

In the case of a double murder in Delhi, it is the "dark underbelly" of print journalism rather than homosexuality that needs to be examined
Aniruddha Dutta

"Double Murder Outs Delhi's Gay Culture": On 14 August, Pushkin Chandra, the 38-year old son of a retired IAS officer and himself an USAID employee, was found dead along with his friend Kuldip, at the former's residence in Anand Lok, Delhi. They had returned from a party given by Pushkin's friend, Uffe Gartner, along two other men. Pornographic tapes of men engaged in same-sex activity were recovered from the site. Pushkin's car and several other belongings were missing. From then till the suspects were eventually arrested about two weeks later, the spotlight of the media rarely wavered from the case. If this seems astonishing in a city where murders are a dime a dozen - there were several other murders and at least one suicide reported around this period - the reasons are soon evident. The victims of the crime were homosexual. The murders opened up one whole tabooed area to the media, and it was clear that coverage would sell. From that very first day, when few fa! cts were available and the police was still very much in the dark, the media focus was relentlessly on a 'gay culture' which it portrayed as a source of endless sleaze. There was endless speculation regarding not only the sexual lives of the victims but also those of homosexual people in general. So the area of concern seemed not to be the fact that two young men had tragically died - but rather, as the Hindustan Times proclaimed in the headline announcing the crime - that the "double murder" outed "Delhi's gay culture."

What this article seeks to show is that it was not the murders which outed gay culture, but the media which did so - using the pretence of investigative journalism to paint a sordid picture around homosexuality which revealed not the truth but prejudice. The TOI stated, "Investigations into the Pushkin Chandra murder are throwing considerable light on the capital's dark underbelly."

But it is the dark underbelly of print journalism that needs to be documented, as do the rare, brighter, exceptions.

'Gay abandon': The articles that dealt with the case itself talked endlessly about Pushkin's lifestyle and even that of his friends. Articles such as "Courting strangers and danger," (HT, 19 August) and "A Reckless life behind a ruthless murder?" (The Hindu, 20 August) were based mainly on conjecture and the focus shifted from available facts to a whole area of activity which were causally linked to the crime - pornography, parties, and multiple partners led to sexual jealousy, revenge, and blackmail, and these must have led to the murders. The responsibility for the crime seemed to belong to the victim's fecklessness alone: "Pushkin Chandra led a dangerous other life. after work. Pushkin hooked onto a network of strangers who emerged from the shadows of lanes and parks. ("Courting strangers and danger", HT.) Devesh K. Pandey wrote in the Hindu, 20 August: "Pushkin Chandra... had lately become easy target for anyone nursing an evil des! ign against him----he apparently did not care much about the background of the young men he would allegedly pick up for company at random."   While this was definitely a factor that precipitated the murders, the connection made was generalized ("anyone nursing an evil design") and relegated the blame to the victim's lifestyle and not the criminals who committed the crime.

However, the slips committed by the police were glossed over. Only one article dealt with the fact that Pushkin's stolen car was taken across Delhi on Independence Day without the police knowing, in spite of the security arrangements ("Pushkin car recovery reveals chinks in cops' armour", TOI, 22 August).

Most significantly, the preoccupation with lifestyle did not stop with only the men concerned. It was linked to the fact of them being gay: for example, lavish parties, smuggling in boys, etc. were described as 'gay abandon' (HT, 18 August.) From here, the case became an opportunity to stereotype an entire section of people.

Heterosexist Voyeurism: Therefore it is not surprising to note that an amazing number of articles completely dispensed with the case, and dealt with what they claimed to be 'homosexual' lifestyle. "Coming out is easier, but it's usually about sex" said the headline an HT article on the 15th. It spoke of people "checking each other out" on the net using webcams, then arranging to meet. It aimed to give insights into gay lingo and habits: "a typical conversation involves questions like 'asl?' and 'top or bottom?'. Age, sex, and location (asl) is a standard opening (to a dialogue over the net) while dominant partners refer to themselves as 'tops'." One could add that 'asl' is a standard opening line for even heterosexuals wooing over the net. Another article in the HT, 17 August, documented the spaces available for homosexuals to interact: from "websites and chat rooms" to "secure networks/established 'social' circles." The arti! cle was titled "Risque business", giving an air of illicitness to perfectly consensual activity. "Top and bottom are words that say it all" from the HT, 17 August, shifted focus on same-sex massage parlours and male prostitutes. One wonders if none of these practices had its counterparts within heterosexuals.

Obviously, such reporting had no insight to offer regarding the case, except to sensationalize homosexuality itself and satisfy the voyeurism of the mainly heterosexual reading public. One only has to look at the sheer number of such articles to show the extent of voyeurism- two in the HT on 15 August, two in the same paper on the 17th.

Linking homosexuality to crime: This was the next level to the stereotyping, of course. There were two main ways this was done. The sexual habits of all same-sex desiring people were generalised, and implicated as factors which would lead to such crimes. The use of the subhead "Gay Murder", in various articles in the TOI, HT and The Statesman, itself suggested this. The Hindustan Times, specifically, used graphics to represent homosexuality, with two signs representing maleness juxtaposed and the caption of "Dangerous Liaisons". This would accompany all their reports on the case. This could be interpreted to mean that even if gay people were victims, they invited crime in the way all of them apparently lived.

The second way was more direct - to portray the 'gay community' as active perpetrators. "Darkness at dusk for gays" (HT, 15 August), spoke about cruising areas which were "haunts for quick and illegal sexual gratification at night". "At Nehru Park, feminine men, wearing cheap clothes, are known to solicit customers. most of their customers, again closet gays, know where to find and use them." The use of suggestive language like "darkness" hinted at crime without offering facts - the phrase "find and use them" clearly suggested exploitation without, again, offering evidence.

Sometimes the reporting verged on slander. Sachin Parashar quoted some anonymous sources to say that "Pushkin was part of a homosexual syndicate which went out of its way to rope in fresh members," ("Gay murders tip of sordid sleazeberg," TOI, 17 August). This extremely serious charge wasn't substantiated by facts discovered subsequently. Another piece entitled "Gay community grows in city' (HT, August 16th) quoted a survey of the State AIDS Control Society which linked growing numbers of homosexuals to growing instances of HIV/AIDS (As if heterosexuals are immune to it or do not take-part in 'high-risk' practices.) Worst of all, the articles quoted the survey to link homosexual activity to child abuse: "The survey found the city's 35,000 street children made easy prey." No details or statistics from this survey were provided in the article. One wonders, what about little girls, even babies raped every other day by heterosexual men?

Space for self-representation: However, some articles did bother to look at the situation that gay people face in their day-today lives, and gave voice to activists who were speaking up against the generalizing and slander. "It's about life under constant scrutiny", said the title of a Times of India article dated 17th August. This article quoted Shaleen Rakesh, a gay-rights activist, speaking on the media's portrayal of the gay community: "It is not just about libidos. We all want to be in a healthy, loving relationship. Don't straight men look for sex?" Specifically about the Pushkin murder, it quoted 'another gay' saying "they are incessantly talking of the porn tapes (that) were discovered at his place. It is disrespectful to make such a deal out of this just because he was gay. We read about men killing their wives and raping their daughters. So why don't we label all heterosexuals as being crazy about their heads?" The writer of the articl! e followed this sentence up with his/her comment: "Point to ponder."

Another article in the Hindu, dated 19th August, recorded the voices of various activists: "'Different' people flay media bias." "Concerned over the 'stereotypical' reporting by sections of the media on the gay community after the recent murders, the activists are worried that it might have an adverse effect on a community that is struggling to stay alive."

The newsweekly, Outlook, also had a feature on 25 August entitled "The Nowhere Men" which looked at the position of gay men in society and their problems, and had an accompanying box that dealt with the reasons why homosexual men are prone to crime and blackmail, locating it not in their lifestyle but their social vulnerability. Homosexuals are prone to social ostracism and abuse, hence often lead closeted lives and are susceptible to blackmail regarding their sexual identity.

Spaces undercut: Unlike this sympathetic stance, some articles which seemed to be anti-homophobic actually distanced themselves from the opinions expressed within. Witness this in the HT article dated 21st August, which had the title "On Balance: Sensationalizing Alternate Sexuality". The article is prefaced by the leader "This is how a member of the community feels," which will obviously distance a 'non-member' from the article. The same page of the paper carried a report on the case accompanied by the graphic stating 'Dangerous Liaisons" - continuing the sensationalism that the other article bemoans.

Another article from the Hindu, "Prejudices out of the Closet" (19 August) was strange in the way it veered from concern for homosexuals to support for an anti-homosexuality law. It began with sympathy and consternation: "His (Pushkin's) alleged promiscuity has sought to be palmed off as the characteristic of the entire invisible minority. Many such stories have been clubbed under a convenient but absolutely obnoxious subhead of 'gay murder'" The same article, however, targeted ads for same-sex body massages. It lamented how the police are not able to curb such activity in spite of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which renders same-sex activity between consenting adults illegal. Besides this tacit support for an overbearing, archaic law, the article problematized the media treatment of the case only when it came to other newspapers, with an implicit moral superiority regarding their own stand. "Some of the largest selling newspapers in th! e capital have gone to town talking about the 'gay murders' in the capital. Many have speculated about his predilection, others shamelessly talked about his weakness for variety when it comes to personal matters." The fact is that even the Hindu, at least on one instance, "shamelessly talked about his.personal matters", viz. "A reckless life behind a ruthless murder?" on 20 August.

Brunch, the Hindustan Times Sunday Magazine, ran a cover story on 29 August which claimed to be a "first person account of what it's like to grow up homosexual in India". It was written by a gay man who was candid and comfortable about his sexuality. The article was titled "Glad to be gay?" - note the question mark. The piece portrayed homosexuality as a completely normal way of life; but it was accompanied by a box titled "Oh Boy" which advised the reader what to do if he was gay. One of the instructions reveals the way in which limiting representations of homosexuals are sustained: the person should "Get a red T-shirt, tight black pants and music by Cher."

A new visibility? Let us return now to the case. The eventual arrest of the three suspects revealed that it was neither sexual jealousy nor blackmail that had led to the crime - it was a highly peculiar and unique situation which developed when two men who had initially consented to be with Pushkin took offence at his insistence that photographs be taken of the sexual acts. So though lifestyle was a factor (he picked up men unknown to him), it was not the definitive factor. Even if it was proved to be the case, it could never be the occasion to extend it to a very DIVerse group of people encompassed by the term 'homosexual'. In doing so, the media completely ignored its responsibility as a guardian of public opinion. There were exceptions to the rule, of course, but as a whole the media showed little concern about how it might affect an already sensitive, marginalized section.

In conclusion - how did the case alter or influence the media's general perception of homosexuality? In the past, references have tended to revolve around controversies that took root elsewhere - films like Fire or Girlfriend that irked the Hindu right-wing, or the debates surrounding gay marriage that became important during the run-up to the U.S. elections. This seems to be the first time that the print media became so directly involved, and a new level of visibility was reached. Does this mean that it will be easier in the future to bring up such issues in newspapers? It does seem so - looking at articles like "Glad to be gay?" (Brunch, 29 August) and "Still 'nay' to gays?" (Delhi Times, TOI, 18 August), which might have been unimaginable in their frank treatment of the area, some time ago. But as Nina Martyris suggested in the TOI, 21 August, visibility is a "two-edged sword": which means that the more visible homosexuality is in the media, ! the more visible is the "metro's latent homophobia". A lot more activism, a lot more awareness, is needed to change that. Not to mention - a more sensitized and responsible media.

Aniruddha Dutta is a student of literature at St. Stephen's College, University of Delhi. Contact:

Monday, September 20, 2004

There are no short cuts to queer utopia: Sodomy, law and social change-- Arvind Narrain

There are no short cuts to queer utopia: Sodomy, law and social change-- Arvind Narrain



Law stands linked to justice in our very imagination of social change. Perhaps nothing illustrates this process better than the persistent championing of legal reform as the end point of emancipatory change by many social movements. There has been an over juridification of social struggle, converting what is a wider social project into a narrow legal project. This process of envisaging law reform as the end point of social struggle has its hazards particularly due to the undemocratic and secretive way in which the legal process works.

The point of this article is to draw attention to the limitations of law in the particular context of sodomy law reform in India so  that we are better able to locate law reform as a part of a wider and more meaningful  process of social and political change. To do this article will strive to understand what is the meaning of Sec 377 of the Indian Penal Code for India's sexual minorities and critically examine the way law reform has worked in bringing about social change and address what could be the role that law reform ( a la sec 377) could  play in a newly emerging political movement centering around sexuality.

Sec 377 as violent social exclusion

Ever since the emergence of  the queer articulation in the Indian context a lot of effort has gone into focusing on Sec 377 as the locus of oppression of the diverse groups which make up India's sexuality minorities.

Sec 377 which was drafted in 1860 by Lord Macaulay as a part of the colonial project of regulating and controlling the Indian subject reads:

Unnatural sexual offences: - Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment ... which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.

Explanation - Penetration is sufficient to constitute the carnal intercourse necessary to the offence described in this section.
The study of the use of Sec 377 reveals that  it has hardly been used to prosecute cases consensual adult male sexual relationships. Rather the main use of Sec 377  has been to prosecute  cases of child sexual abuse. [1]  

However it needs to be noted that use cannot be seen purely in terms of  reported decisions. There are possibly many trial court decisions in which Sec 377 has been used. Even leaving that aside, documentation in India, through reports such as the PUCL Report on Human Rights Violations Against sexuality  minorities demonstrates that Sec 377 becomes the basis for routine and continuous violence against sexual minorities at the level of the street and the police station by the police. The report in fact goes on to note that the police engage in practices of  illegal detention, sexual abuse and harassment, extortion and outing of queer people to their families,  which are all forms of violence practiced against sexuality  minorities.[2]

While these are indeed important effects of Sec 377, one needs to understand the constitutive role that Sec 377 plays in making possible the  above mentioned forms of violence. What one needs to do when analyzing the role Sec 377 plays is to go beyond the idea of 'enforcement of law'   and look more closely at what is  the socially constitutive role that law plays. The questions one needs to address are whether  the law constitutes a form of social reality, whether it legitimizes  violence against sexual minorities or does the law go one step further and  permeate social discourse and condition the very minds of common people?[3]

The impact of Sec 377 is far beyond the so called  'enforcement' principle. Foucault used the analogy of the panoptic to put forward the idea that the law is not external to you, but rather internal to you. You behave in a certain way because you have internalized the prohibition of the law. The real danger of  Sec 377 lies in the fact that it permeates different social settings including the medical establishment, media, family, and the state. Thus it becomes a part of ordinary conversations and ultimately a part of the very social fabric in workplaces, families, hospitals and the popular press. To take thre eexamples:

*   this emerges strongly in an interview with the Chairman of the National Human Rights Comission, (NHRC). On being asked why the NHRC refused to admit the case of a person who was treated for his homosexuality  with the objective of 'converting' him to heterosexuality, the response of the Chairman was to note that, 'To talk of homosexual rights is okay in other countries but there was little you could do when the law in India, Sec 377  was against it. Youadvised that one should strive to get rid of the law but nothing could be done till it was repealed. This opinion seems to be buttressed by other reported opinions within the NHRC. As one source within the NHRC put it, "homosexuality is an offence under IPC, isn't it? So, do you want us to take cognizance of something that is an offence?'[4]

*  Similarly in an interview with a Police Officer conducted by the PUCL Team it was noted that  'as regards the nature of homosexuality, Mr Hegde was quite clear that it was an animal like behaviour.'[5]

*  In another interview with a doctor who practices aversion therapy to convert homosexuals to heterosexuals  noted, '"Sodomy is illegal in India." (Dr. S) [6]

Thus what is clear is the existence of Sec 377 legitimises  the doctors willingness to treat homosexuals for being homosexual. The very existence of Sec 377 goes beyond the question of the enforcement of the law and crystallizes the deep societal repugnance towards homosexuality by considering it perverted ,animal like behavior. If we have people in law enforcement, medical practice and the judiciary treating homosexuals as people without rights, the power of the societal mindset comes from the law. Thus Sec 377 functions as  a condemnation of India's sexual minorities be it gays, lesbians, kothis and hijras. It is not anymore a narrow technical legal issue of the gender neutral prohibition of sodomy( it applies equally to heterosexuals and homosexuals)  but instead embodies and enacts  a wider societal condemnation of sexual minorities. Sec 377 is thus not just a law, but a worldview which remains entrenched in legal structures, medical discourses, family discourses and media discourses and perhaps most strongly in the 'common sense' understanding of people. It is in this light that the challenge to Sec 377 must be framed.

Law Reform as backroom politics: Some experiences  

Once we are clear that Sec 377 does indeed form a key part  of a discriminatory worldview against sexual minorities, the next question is as to how does one tackle the problem posed by Sec 377. As noted earlier, many social movements see the reform of the law as an end point of their social struggles with all activism  being geared towards bringing about a change in the law. In this context the experience of law reform by the feminist movement in India as well as the experience of anti sodomy law reform in the USA and Sri Lanka will be examined to see what light they can shed on anti sodomy law reform in India.

Law reform in India - The feminist engagement

The feminist movement in India has had an sustained engagement with the question of law reform with many of the demands of the women's movement being  posited in terms of reform of the law.

Flavia Agnes in her study of the womens' movement's engagement with law reform notes that in the context of the women's movement, demands for law reform have often resulted in laws which end up further marginalizing the women and making prosecution that much more difficult.

She gives the example of rape law reform and concludes that, 'the campaign against rape is a classic example of the impact of public pressure on the judiciary. More favourable judgements were delivered before the amendment, during the peak period of the campaign, than during the post-amendment period when they have been consistently regressive. Perhaps public pressure is a better safeguard to ensure justice than ineffective enactments.'[7]

What is being articulated is a notion wherein law reform by itself is not the solution. The movement underlying legal demand remains crucialto bringing about the desired social change. In fact the over reliance on law as an end point of social activism might need to be seriously questioned.

As Flavia puts it, 'This view is only strengthened by the experiences of the women's movement in India, which at least at its inception granted the State the role of a benign patriarch which will deliver goods. Two decades down the line, there is a growing realisation within the women's movement that the plethora of legal interventions has not really changed the ground reality in very substantial terms.'[8]

Though Flavia's articulated this concern is the last decade ,even today it remains a crucial question for the feminist movement to take on board. The recent experience with the attempt at law reform around the issue of domestic violence is telling. While there was an excellent draft prepared by the Lawyers Collective on domestic violence, when the bill went to the state, the state came out with its own draft which in effect was a legitimisation of domestic violence by the man provided the violence was in defence of his private property. Regardless of the final outcome of this process, the signs are clear, one must be wary about approaching the state to change the law , because what you get might be the very opposite of what you asked for, as the example of anti sodomy law reform from Sri Lanka illustrates.

Sodomy law reform as politics: From Sri Lanka to the USA

Two countries illustrate well the dangers and opportunities presented by sodomy law reform. The Sri Lankan case is illustrative of the dangers of trying to force change from above, while the USA example illustrates the social context in which law reform succeeds.

a) Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has  a similar provision  to Sec 377 in its Penal Code. The changes to the Penal Code were recommended in the context of the need for amendments to the law to protect the victims of incest, marital rape, sexual harassment and the exploitation of children. Though gay rights groups and human rights activists such as the late Neelan Thiruchelvam clearly opposed the continued operation of Sec 365A of the Penal Code arguing that the provsion was archaic,  the amendment
broadened the ambit of acts considered criminal under the law. The term 'man' was changed to 'person' and 'carnal intercourse against the order of nature' became act of 'gross indecency with any person.' Thus, a provision which did not apply to lesbians in its colonial avatar was actually expanded to include lesbians in the wake of this reform rather than ceasing to apply to gay men.

What the Sri Lankan story tells us very clearly are about the hazards of law reform in a context where there is no movement. Nandita Haksar could very well have been speaking about the Sri Lankan case when she noted, "[A]n alternative to a movement cannot be a petition. I strongly feel we should resort to the law only when the movement is strong enough to carry the law reform forward. In almost all such cases a legal battle should only supplement the political battle outside the courts. If the legal battle is allowed to take precedence over the political one the law is easily used by the state to subvert the political battle's objectives."[9]

b) USA

The US Supreme Court in a  1986  decision , Bowers vs Hardwick [10] decided that  the anti sodomy law of the state of Georgia does not violate the constitutionally protected right to privacy. In 2003 the same US Supreme Court  in Lawrence vs Texas,[11] struck down the anti sodomy law on  the same ground that it does indeed violate the constitutionally protected right to privacy.  The question to be answered is  what enabled a conservative US Supreme Court to strike down the anti sodomy law in 2003, expressly overruling its 1986 decision?

Cass Sunstien notes that the 'the decision was possible only because of the ludicrously poor fit between the sodomy prohibition and the society in which the justices live. And if I am correct, Lawrence will have broad implications only if and to the extent that those broad implications receive general public support. For example, the Supreme Court may or may not read Lawrence to require state  to recognize gay and lesbian marriages. But if it does so, it will be following public opinion and not leading it. Political and social change was a precondition for Lawrence, whose future reach will depend on the nature and extent of that change.'[12]

Sunstien's argument is that the answer lies in the dramatic change in public opinion since the days of Bowers. It is difficult to find public sympathy with an archaic statute which criminalizes sodomy.  It is not to say that public opinion is uniformly sympathetic to gays and lesbians in the USA, but merely to note that while gay marriage , and gays in the military might be issues on which US society is split, the anti sodomy law has lost its public force. Of course this remarkable shift in public opinion has been the result of the sustained advocacy of the gay and lesbian movement in the USA. Perhaps a fascinating vignette which captures the nature of change is the fact that in the Bowers court none of the judges knew anyone who was gay or lesbian where as in the Lawrence court , even the most conservative judge knew someone who was gay or lesbian. This would have naturally had its impact on the decision which was delivered.

Further the point about law reform which emerges through Sunstien's analysis is that in the context of sexuality, law fails to deliver justice until and unless there has been preceding work in building a movement. It is only the impact of the movement which results in a momentous decision such as Lawrence vs Texas. Sunstien speculates, that if the US Supreme 'Court had held in 1980, that the due process clause requires states to recognize same sex marriage, it would (in my view) have been responding to the right conception of liberty. But it would undoubtedly have produced a large scale social backlash, and very likely a constitutional amendment, that would have made same sex marriage impossible.'[13]

Sec 377 : Whither now?

The question to be answered is in the context of  the above discussion is, how then can we approach the question of the reform of sec 377 in the Indian context. The feminist experience with law reform in India along with the analysis of the experience in Sri Lanka and the USA with respect to anti-sodomy law reform  leads us to the conclusion that law by itself is not an answer. It is clear that any petition can only be supplementary to the movement. The petition should be a part of a wider socio -political struggle.[14]

This conclusion is further buttressed when we consider that  in its response to the Sec 377 petition filed by Naz Foundation, the Government Affidavit literally buried any notion that the state might respond to the carefully calibrated submission. ( reading down not repeal  , decriminalize private consensual sexual activity between adults ) in a sane and reasonable manner. It seriously questions the notion that if the queer rights movement makes 'reasonable', 'sane'
demands the Government would see the sense of it and  acquiesce to the reading  down of Sec 377. In fact what the Government's response indicates is a virulent homophobia which is willing to give no quarter to the emerging  queer rights movement.

The Government response indicates that it sees itself as articulating and reflecting public morality, protecting women and children and keeping closed the flood gates of delinquent behavior. The protection and defence of Sec 377 emerges as a key Governmental concern and  the Government significantly enhances its public role as the guardian of societal morality. Perhaps one should read this response as being a part and parcel of the Hindu right's ideology which is based on demonising and stigmatising difference, be it religious or sexual in nature. The Affidavit signals the Hindu Right's deep and unremitting hostility to queer people who have always been defined as 'aliens' and threats to Indian culture and values. As the Affidavit notes, 'objectively speaking there is no such tolerance to practice of homosexuality/lesbianism in the Indian society.'

The Government's response outlines the fact that 'change from above' is not an option in sensitive issues such as sexuality.  Lobbying for change is not only not going to work ,but more importantly it might be a totally misplaced strategy. The question to be answered is that if one sees that there is no necessary link between law and justice and if experiences documented above with the process of legal change demonstrate that it is important be sceptical of the law's ability to
deliver justice then  what is the way forward ?

Does one take the line that the legal space needs to be vacated and one needs to  concentrate on  building the political struggle ? Or are there ways of working with the existing petition making it an instrument of socio-political change? It is contended that the law remains an important site of struggle, but one needs to locate legal change as a necessary part of a wider socio-political change. The premise of change with respect to sexuality is as much a change in societal mores as it is about legal change. If that is indeed the case, then there should be a campaign to repeal Sec 377 with the petition forming one part of the proposed change.

If this analysis holds the only way forward is to mobilize and convert the petition from a narrow legal struggle to a wider political struggle which takes on board the concerns of the queer community. The petition should be the peg on which on hangs a campaign whose objective is to question the homophobic resilience of Sec 377 in the structures of media, medical establishment and in public opinion. The legal outcome should not be the focus of the campaign but rather the process of questioning itself. This of course flows from the understanding that since Sec 377 is not purely a legal issue, the way we tackle it cannot be through the court room alone. One cannot expect judges to decide on Sec 377, positively  if we have not started a process of public education about queer rights. If we want the courts to give us a decision like Lawrence vs Texas , then there is no way out of the difficult process of building a campaign based on queer visibility.


[1] Alok Gupta, The History and Trends in the Application of the Anti-Sodomy Law in the Indian Courts, The Lawyers Collective, Vol 16, No.7,p.9.


[3] For a powerful analysis of the constitutive role that law plays in producing a regime in which gays and lesbians are ultimately encouraged to police themselves and the way in which sodomy laws function as symbolic statements and as threats of criminal punishment and disempower lesbians and gays in a range of contexts. See  Ryan Goodman, Beyond the Enforcment Principle, California Law Review Vol 89:643 2003. 643

[4] Arvind Narrain , Queer: Dispised sexuality, law and social change, Books for Change, Bangalore , 2003. p. 120.


[6] Vinay Chandran et. al,  Its not my job to tell you that its okay to be gay , ( on file with the author)

[7] Flavia Agnes, "Protecting Women against Violence?: Review of a Decade of Legislation, 1980-1989", in State and Politics in India (Partha Chatterjee, ed.), Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1997,p.523.

[8] Ibid. ,p. 522.

[9] Nandita Haksar, "Human Rights Lawyering: A Feminist Perspective" in Engendering Law (Anita Dhanda et al., eds.), Eastern Book Company,
Lucknow, 1999, p.87.

[10] 478 U.S. 186(1986)

[11] 123 S. Ct. 2472 (2003)

[12] Cass Sunstien, What did Lawrence hold ? Of Autonomy, Desuetude,
Sexuality, and Marriage,

[13] Ibid. p22.

[14] There is a petition filed in the Delhi High Court by Naz Foundation making the case that Sec 377 violates the constitutionally guaranteed protection of equality, ,privacy and freedom of expression and asking the court to read down Sec 377 so as to exclude consensual adult sex in private from the framework of Sec 377. The dilemmas which are inherent in a legal strategy which is not simultaneously a political strategy emerge strongly as police violence is about the public space where as the legal remedy specifically asks for decriminalizing  same sex acts in private.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Austria: Enduring Persecution of Gay Men

Almost Exclusive Enforcement Against Gay Men

Platform Against Art. 209 calls for repeal of the substitute for the anti-homosexual Art. 209

Austrian Minister of Justice, Karin Miklautsch, in replying to a parliamentary question announced that the substitute provision for anti-homosexual Art. 209 Criminal Code, repealed in 2002, while being gender-neutral in wording, still is enforced nearly exclusively against same-sex relations.

More than three quarters (78%) of all cases brought to court in the first half of 2004 concerned homosexual relations. All of the persons carcerated under that law were homosexual men.

One man has even been convicted despite the fact that the court did not know anything about his partners; the court did not the nature (!) or the amount of the remuneration nor did it know how “immediate inducement” (see Art. 207b par. 3 below) did take place; it did not even know the identity or the age (!) of the adolescents. The Minister of Justice – despite having been specifically asked for – refused to reveal how the court, on this basis, could come to a conviction, what reasons
it has given for the conviction.

The Minister also revealed that criminal proceedings again and again are instigated without reasonable suspicion for an illegal contact. Sexual contacts with adolescents between 14 and 18 alone (without more) suffice for the prosecutors to ask for criminal investigations to find out whether one of the offences enshrined in Art. 207b might have been committed. That is as criminal investigations would take place for each sexual contact to clear whether it is rape or not.

The government always has emphasized that it did not want to criminalize consensual sexual acts but only certain constellations of abuse, in which the will of a juvenile is overridden by unacceptable means. Critics however feared that relations with adolescents would be put under a general suspicion of criminality and that the sole fact of a sexual contact would give rise to criminal investigations. Exactly that is taking place now. An outraging example being the case where the
prosecutor initiated court proceedings on the ground of an ad in which a person searched for adolescent partners; so on the ground of completely legal behaviour.

The European Parliament in 2003 called on Austria to enforce Art. 207b without discrimination (Resolution on Fundamental Rights in the EU, 04.09.2003, par. 79).

“The plan of the government turned out as quite successful: the justice system has accepted the substitute provision for Art. 209 as substitute in the true sense of the word”, says Dr. Helmut Graupner, spokesperson for “Platform Against Art. 209”, “We are calling for the repeal of the law and we ask the Minister of Justice to, at least order the prosecutors to enforce the offence on the basis of the law”.

The interdenominational and supra-partisan Platform Against Article 209 comprises more than 30 organisations that joined in the fight against the discriminatory supplemental minimum age of 18 years for homosexual relationships between men only (in addition to the general age of consent of 14 for heterosexuals, lesbians and gays alike), as set forth in article Art. 209 of the Criminal Code. Nearly all associations of the homosexual movement, but also general organizations are members of the Platform, like AIDS-help-organisations, the Ombudspersons for Children and Adolescents of the States of Vienna and Tyrol, the Austrian National Student Union, the National Association of Probation, the Austrian Society for Sexual Research, and many others more. After the repeal of Art. 209 the Platform works for the release of all prisoners, for the deletion of all verdicts from criminal records and for just satisfaction of all victims of Art. 209. In addition it monitors the enforcement of the new Art. 209-substitute-provision, Art. 207b Criminal Code.

Reply of the Minister of Justice (full text):

Art. 207b Criminal Code contains three offences. Paragraph 1 makes it an offence to engage in sexual contact with a persons under 16 which for certain reasons is not mature enough to understand the meaning of what is going on or to act in accordance with such understanding provided that the offender practices upon the person’s lacking maturity and his
own superiority based on age. Paragraph 2 makes in an offence to engage in sexual contact with a person under 16 by practicing on a position of constraint. Paragraph 3 makes it an offence to immediately induce a person under 18 against remuneration.

More information:
Platform Against Art. 209: +43/1/876 30 61, 0676/3094737, HYPERLINK

Friday, September 17, 2004

International Dialogue on Gender, Sexuality and Human Rights: Strategies for Change

Dear all,

We are excited to announce a conference entitled "International Dialogue on Gender, Sexuality and Human Rights:  Strategies for Change". ARC International is working in collaboration with with the Liu Institute for Global Issues to present this conference that will take place from December 9th to the 13th, 2004 in Geneva, Switzerland. (A brief description of both sponsoring organizations is below.)

We hope to be able to accommodate approximately 50 participants comprised of stakeholders in the international arena from all geographic regions, particularly those with experience at the CHR or similar UN fora. We invite you to apply by September 30th, 2004 using the form below.

Building on a smaller consultation held in Rio de Janeiro last year, and taking into consideration feedback from participants at the 60th session of the UNCHR, the goals of this Dialogue are to:

* Develop agreed-upon principles for working together (based upon CHRevaluation) and some basic structure, e.g. working groups;
* Carry out some CHR-specific training;
* Engage with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights;
* Identify strategies and concrete follow-up re: Brazilian resolution; some engagement with Brazil and key missions;
* Raise awareness of other CHR resolutions & identify lobbying priorities;
* Some engagement with Special Rapporteurs;
* Raise awareness of other international entry-points, e.g. International Criminal Court, UN Committees, Human Rights Committee, etc;
* Explore faith-based responses to human right issues;
* Identify regional priorities, and some engagement with key funders to assist in advancing those priorities.

In terms of funding, we are hoping to assist all selected delegates from Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America to attend this conference. "Assisting" might mean direct funding through us, for which we have received monies from the
Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), or facilitating individual delegates to approach their own regional funding sources. We are still in the process of fundraising for conference activities and interpretation/translation,
and any assistance that individuals and organizations can provide, including letters of support, would be most appreciated.

As we confirm participants, speakers and venues we will send out more comprehensive information.


Kim Vance, ARC International
John Fisher, ARC International
Robert Adamson, Liu Institute for Global Issue, Global Justice Program


1. What is your name and city/country of residence?

2. What is your organisational affiliation(s)?

3. What is the primary focus of your or your organisation's work (e.g. human rights, women's rights, sexual and reproductive rights, lgbt, faith-based, labour, youth, etc.)?

4. We are seeking funding to enable the Dialogue to take place, as much as possible, in both English and Spanish.  Please indicate whether you will be able to participate in either of these languages.  If so, which do you prefer?  If not, what other language(s) can you communicate in?

5. Why do you wish to participate?  What do you feel you would bring to the Dialogue?  What do you feel you would get out of it?

6. What international knowledge or experience do you possess (e.g. World Conferences, CHR attendance, regional conferences etc)? Please explain.

7. What regional/domestic knowledge or experience do you have (e.g. mobilising national networks, influencing governments, local activism or regional networking)? Please explain.

8. Please describe any ways in which your participation will help ensure a diverse and representative consultation (e.g. are you a member of a racialised/indigenous group, person with a disability, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, intersex person, etc)?

9. Do you have experience working on sexual orientation or gender identity issues? Please summarise.

10. There will be a registration fee of US$200/Euros 175 to help cover the costs of the Dialogue.  Do you require funding assistance to attend? If so, please indicate whether you need support in paying for airfare, accommodation, a registration fee reduction or waiver and/or per diem meal allowance, and briefly explain why you or your organisation need financial support to attend.

11. Do you have any special or accessibility needs (e.g. dietary restrictions, wheelchair access, assistance with childcare etc) that you would like us to consider when planning this conference?

12. Is there any other information you would like to include?

Please apply by September 30 to For more information, contact above e-mail address or phone Kim at 1-416-238-7981.

This conference opportunity is being facilitated by ARC International and the Liu Institute for Global Issues.  ARC International ( is a project-driven organization designed to make a contribution to the development of a strategic international LGBT human rights agenda.  ARC works cooperatively with existing domestic and
international organizations active on LGBT and related issues to foster the development of networks, positive communications and access to international human rights mechanisms through the development of resources.

The Liu Institute for Global Issues (, based at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, Canada, pursues interdisciplinary and policy-related research and advocacy on global public policy issues related to
human security. Its research agenda embraces international relations, human security, peace and disarmament, global public opinion and democratization, the environment, conflict and development, and global health and international justice issues.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004


Did you guys hear about the marriage of one of our closest gay friends?! More than surprising or shocking it’s sad. Sad that someone like him should go and do this… someone who shares with me the same adoptive ‘mama’, Rakshaben; someone who was very close to Bombay Dost-Humsafar parivar; someone who years ago co-founded a group for young gay men along with me, his own boyfriend, ‘U’ (who incidentally has been dreamy-eyed about gay marriage and adoption for as long as I can remember) and mine, as well as two other friends; someone who has been closely involved with the virtual gay community; someone who even came out to his dad as a teenager!

I do not know the details, why M did this, but he very well knew what we at BD-HST say often: no one’s holding a gun to your temple and forcing you to get married. Yes, I know he belongs to a North Indian clan that’s just as famous for its conservative attitude as its kanjoosi. And I refuse to believe that he would have done it just so that he is not disinherited of his family fortunes. More than 10 years of being a self-identified gay man, 10 years of telling your father that you do not feel attracted to women but to men, 10 years of interaction with gay men who are highly politicized, a lifetime of loving men…and at the end, this! I just do not understand why he got married…why? why?!

Monday, September 13, 2004

The appeal of 'queer theory' has outstripped anyone's sense of what exactly it means - Michael Warner

Queer Theory
Annamarie Jagose
© all rights reserved

The appeal of 'queer theory' has outstripped anyone's sense of what exactly it means
By Michael Warner

A response to this piece has been received from C.W.Young

Once the term 'queer' was, at best, slang for homosexual, at worst, a term of homophobic abuse. In recent years 'queer' has come to be used differently, sometimes as an umbrella term for a coalition of culturally marginal sexual self-identifications and at other times to describe a nascent theoretical model which has developed out of more traditional lesbian and gay studies. The rapid development and consolidation of lesbian and gay studies in universities in the 1990s is paralleled by an increasing deployment of the term 'queer'. As queer is unaligned with any specific identity category, it has the potential to be annexed profitably to any number of discussions. In the history of disciplinary formations, lesbian and gay studies is itself a relatively recent construction, and queer theory can be seen as its latest institutional transformation.

Broadly speaking, queer describes those gestures or analytical models which dramatise incoherencies in the allegedly stable relations between chromosomal sex, gender and sexual desire. Resisting that model of stability--which claims heterosexuality as its origin, when it is more properly its effect--queer focuses on mismatches between sex, gender and desire. Institutionally, queer has been associated most prominently with lesbian and gay subjects, but its analytic framework also includes such topics as cross-dressing, hermaphroditism, gender ambiguity and gender-corrective surgery. Whether as transvestite performance or academic deconstruction, queer locates and exploits the incoherencies in those three terms which stabilise heterosexuality. Demonstrating the impossibility of any 'natural' sexuality, it calls into question even such apparently unproblematic terms as 'man' and 'woman'.

The recent intervention of this confrontational word 'queer' in altogether politer academic discourses suggests that traditional models have been ruptured. Yet its appearance also marks a continuity. Queer theory's debunking of stable sexes, genders and sexualities develops out of a specifically lesbian and gay reworking of the post-structuralist figuring of identity as a constellation of multiple and unstable positions. Queer is not always seen, however, as an acceptable elaboration of or shorthand for 'lesbian and gay'. Although many theorists welcome queer as 'another discursive horizon, another way of thinking the sexual' (de Lauretis, 1991:iv), others question its efficacy. 1 The most commonly voiced anxieties are provoked by such issues as whether a generic masculinity may be reinstalled at the heart of the ostensibly gender-neutral queer; whether queer's transcendent disregard for dominant systems of gender fails to consider the material conditions of the west in the late twentieth century; whether queer simply replicates, with a kind of historical amnesia, the stances and demands of an earlier gay liberation; and whether, because its constituency is almost unlimited, queer includes identificatory categories whose politics are less progressive than those of the lesbian and gay populations with which they are aligned.

Whatever ambivalences structure queer, there is no doubt that its recent redeployment is making a substantial impact on lesbian and gay studies. Yet, almost as soon as queer established market dominance as a diacritical term, and certainly before consolidating itself in any easy vernacular sense, some theorists are already suggesting that its moment had passed and that 'queer politics may, by now, have outlived its political usefulness'. 2 Does queer become defunct the moment it is an intelligible and widely disseminated term? Teresa de Lauretis, the theorist often credited with inaugurating the phrase 'queer theory', abandoned it barely three years later, on the grounds that it had been taken over by those mainstream forces and institutions it was coined to resist.

Explaining her choice of terminology in The Practice of Love: Lesbian Sexuality and Perverse Desire (1994), de Lauretis writes: "As for 'queer theory', my insistent specification lesbian may well be taken as a taking of distance from what, since I proposed it as a working hypothesis for lesbian and gay studies in this very journal (differences , 3.2), has very quickly become a conceptually vacuous creature of the publishing industry'. 3 Distancing herself from her earlier advocacy of queer, de Lauretis now represents it as devoid of the political or critical acumen she once thought it promised.

In some quarters and in some enunciations, no doubt, queer does little more than function as shorthand for the unwieldy lesbian and gay, or offer itself as a new solidification of identity, by kitting out more fashionably an otherwise unreconstructed sexual essentialism. Certainly, 'its sudden and often uncritical adoption has at times foreclosed what is potentially most significant--and necessary--about the term' 4 . Queer retains, however, a conceptually unique potential as a necessarily unfixed site of engagement and contestation. Admittedly not discernible in every mobilisation of queer, this constitutes an alternative to de Lauretis's narrative of disillusionment. Judith Butler does not try to anticipate exactly how queer will continue to challenge normative structures and discourses. On the contrary, she argues that what makes queer so efficacious is the way in which it understands the effects of its interventions are not singular and therefore cannot be anticipated in advance. Butler understands, as de Lauretis did when initially promoting queer over lesbian and gay, that the conservative effects of identity classifications lie in their ability to naturalise themselves as self-evident descriptive categories. She argues that if queer is to avoid simply replicating the normative claims of earlier lesbian and gay formations, it must be conceived as a category in constant formation:

[It] will have to remain that which is, in the present, never fully owned, but always and only redeployed, twisted, queered from a prior usage and in the direction of urgent and expanding political purposes, and perhaps also yielded in favor of terms that do that political work more effectively. 5

In stressing the partial, flexible and responsive nature of queer, Butler offers a corrective to those naturalised and seemingly self-evident categories of identification that constitute traditional formations of identity politics. She specifies the ways in which the logic of identity politics--which is to gather together similar subjects so that they can achieve shared aims by mobilising a minority-rights discourse--is far from natural or self-evident.

In the sense that Butler outlines the queer project--that is, to the extent that she argues there can't be one--queer may be thought of as activating an identity politics so attuned to the constraining effects of naming, of delineating a foundational category which precedes and underwrites political intervention, that it may better be understood as promoting a non-identity--or even anti-identity--politics. If a potentially infinite coalition of sexual identities, practices, discourses and sites might be identified as queer, what it betokens is not so much liberal pluralism as a negotiation of the very concept of identity itself. For queer is, in part, a response to perceived limitations in the liberationist and identity-conscious politics of the gay and lesbian feminist movements. The rhetoric of both has been structured predominantly around self-recognition, community and shared identity; inevitably, if inadvertently, both movements have also resulted in exclusions, delegitimation,
and a false sense of universality. The discursive proliferation of queer has been enabled in part by the knowledge that identities are fictitious--that is, produced by and productive of material effects but nevertheless arbitrary, contingent and ideologically motivated.

Unlike those identity categories labelled lesbian or gay, queer has developed out of the theorising of often unexamined constraints in traditional identity politics. Consequently, queer has been produced largely outside the registers of recognition, truthfulness and self-identity.

Queer, then, is an identity category that has no interest in consolidating or even stabilising itself. It maintains its critique of identity-focused movements by understanding that even the formation of its own coalitional and negotiated constituencies may well result in exclusionary and reifying effects far in excess of those intended.

Acknowledging the inevitable violence of identity politics and having no stake in its own hegemony, queer is less an identity than a critique of identity. But it is in no position to imagine itself outside that circuit of problems energised by identity politics. Instead of defending itself against those criticisms that its operations inevitably attract, queer allows such criticisms to shape its--for now unimaginable--future directions. 'The term', writes Butler, 'will be revised, dispelled, rendered obsolete to the extent that it yields to the demands which resist the term precisely because of the exclusions by which it is mobilized'. The mobilisation of queer--no less than the critique of it--foregrounds the conditions of political representation: its intentions and effects, its resistance to and recovery by the existing networks of power.

For Halperin, as for Butler, queer is a way of pointing ahead without knowing for certain what to point at. "'Queer" ... does not designate a class of already objectified pathologies or perversions', writes Halperin 6 ; "rather, it describes a horizon of possibility whose precise extent and heterogenous scope cannot in principle be delimited in advance". Queer is always an identity under construction, a site of permanent becoming: "utopic in its negativity, queer theory curves endlessly toward a realization that its realization remains impossible" 7 . The extent to which different theorists have emphasised the unknown potential of queer suggests that its most enabling characteristic may well be its potential for looking forward without anticipating the future. Instead of theorising queer in terms of its opposition to identity politics, it is more accurate to represent it as ceaselessly interrogating both the preconditions of identity and its effects. Queer is not outside the magnetic
field of identity. Like some postmodern architecture, it turns identity inside out, and displays its supports exoskeletally. If the dialogue between queer and more traditional identity formations is sometimes fraught--which it is--that is not because they have nothing in common. Rather, lesbian and gay faith in the authenticity or even political efficacy of identity categories and the queer suspension of all such classifications energise each other, offering in the 1990s--and who can say beyond?--the ambivalent reassurance of an unimaginable future.

Annamarie Jagose is a Senior Lecturer in English at Melbourne University. This piece is extracted with permission from her new book, Queer Theory, University of Melbourne Press, 1996.

See the discussion on Global Queer in emuse and Dennis Altman's target essay On Global Queering

A response to this piece has been received from C.W.Young


1. de Lauretis, Teresa (1991) 'Queer Theory: Lesbian and Gay Sexualities', differences: a Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 3, 2, pp.iii-xviii

2. Halperin, David (1995) Saint Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography, New York: Oxford University Press.

3. de Lauretis, Teresa (1994a) 'Habit Changes' differences: AJournal of Feminist Cultural Studies 6, 2-3, pp. 296-313.

4. Phillips, David (1994) 'What's So Queer Here? Photography at the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras', Eyeline 26, pp. 16-19.

5. Butler, Judith (1993a) Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of 'Sex', New York: Routledge.

6. Halperin, David (1995) Saint Foucault: Towards A Gay Hagiography, New York: Oxford University Press.

7. Eldeman, Lee (1995) 'Queer Thory: Unstating Desire', GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 2, 4, pp. 343-6

Friday, September 10, 2004


After months of negotiations, EU Heads of State and Governments reached a historic agreement on the EU's first ever Constitution on 18 June. The final text pre-serves the great majority of the draft text proposed by the Conven-tion but the price of the agreement was the en-trenchment of unanimity in some areas such as tax, for-eign and security policy and in any future review of the Constitution.

From an LGBT perspective the key elements are:

Non-discrimination and equality are included both in the values and the objectives (PART I)

The draft constitution includes the Charter of Funda-mental Rights of the Union (PART II )

Article III-3 (new) – horizontal clause: "In defining and implementing the policies and activities referred to in this Part,
the Union shall aim to combat discrimina-tion based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or be-lief, disability, age or sexual orientation."

Article III-8 (ex Article 13 TEC) – legislation requires unanimity in Council:

1.      Without prejudice to the other provisions of the Constitution and within the limits of the powers assigned by it to
the Union, a European law or framework law of the Council may establish the measures needed to combat discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation. The Council shall act unanimously after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament.

2.      By way of derogation from paragraph 1, Euro-pean laws or framework laws may establish ba-sic principles for Union incentive measures and define such incentive measures, to support ac-tion taken by Member States in order to contrib-ute to the achievement of the objectives referred to in paragraph 1, excluding any harmonisation of their laws and regulations."

The Constitution is now due to be ratified by the 25 Member States over the next two years. With referenda due to take place in at least 9 member states (Denmark, Ireland, the UK and Luxembourg will hold a referendum on the Constitution; Poland, Spain, the Netherlands, Bel-gium, France and others could do so as well), the entire project is still highly vulnerable to rejection if not ratified in any one Member State.

Taking a step forward

Dear All

The Government of India, especially the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) has commissioned the Humsafar Trust to write a position paper on the status of gay men, MSM and other sexual minorities in India as a first step towards a comprehensive policy document that will help in health programs across the country with a special focus on STI control and HIV/AIDS.

Last year and early into this year the Humsafar Trust completed two major tasks set for it. It was asked to help write up a comprehensive counseling manual for sexual minorities in Voluntary Confidential Counseling Testing Centres (VCCTCs) across India, This task was completed after a panel of psychiatrists and academics helped polish the preliminary manual started/written up by the Humsafar Trust. This manual was then extended further to include help in counseling other
sexual minorities and marginalised groups like victims of sexual assault, prison populations and vulnerable youth. This too was completed early this year.

The present work is generic in nature in that it has a set format for all vulnerable groups across the board starting with women vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, female sex workers and finally gay men, MSM and sexual minorities. The work is quite difficult as it has to be backed up by evidence, both through epidemiological data and sociological insights
in each case. However, thanks to friends all over the country, the first draft has been completed and written up in close collaboration with the Humsafar Trust's outreach and advocacy staff and looks quite comprehensive for the record.

Just as an aside, it has been observed that even a week after the Delhi High Court judgement threw out the PIL filed by the Naz (India) Foundation in the Delhi High Court, it doesn't seem to have occured to anybody that there is practivally no discourse, discussion or dialogue, on any lgbt list that I've been on, on the subject. Maybe the criminalisation of homosexuality in India doesn't seem to be of much concern to the emerging LGBT communities/identities in India. Or
maybe there are other concerns which seem to have been prioritised.

Be what it may, our position paper is ready and it has had to mention that the gay communty or MSM don't really care much about Section 377 or HIV/AIDS. That has been observed and noted. Thank you all for the

Ashok Row Kavi
The Humsafar Trust
Mumbai Metro

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Dear friends,

The petition challenging the anti-sodomy law in India, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) was dismissed by the Delhi High Court, by the bench comprising Chief Justice BC Patel and Justice BD Ahmed, today, i.e. 2 September 2004.

The petition had been admitted on 15.1.2003, meaning thereby that the petition had to be fully heard on merits. Notice had also been issued to the Attorney General in view of the constitutional importance of the issue. However, two of the Respondents to the petition, i.e. the Delhi State AIDS Control Society (DSACS) and the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) had not filed their affidavits despite the order of 15.1.2003.

Today, when the matter was taken up as the last item just before the Court rose at approximately 4.15 pm, the advocate for the Petitioner, Trideep Pais, pointed out that the two Respondents, DSACS and NACO, had not filed their affidavits despite the order of the court dated 15.1.2003. The Court in turn asked whether there was any case or FIR filed against the
Petitioner, i.e. NAZ Foundation (India) Trust, under S.377 of the IPC, to which the advocate mentioned that there was none. The Court dismissed the petition on the ground that since there was no FIR, there was no ‘cause of action’ for the petition. The exact court order is not yet available.

We feel that the order of the Delhi High Court is not correct as:

1. The petition was already admitted which meant that it had to be argued and heard fully on the merits of the case and it could not be dismissed on the preliminary point viz., ‘cause of action’ not existing. 2. Notice had been issued to the Attorney General, which meant that the court felt earlier that the constitutional validity of S.377 was a matter of import that had to be gone into by the court. This also fortifies the argument that the matter had to be argued on merits. 3. It is settled law that an apprehension of violation of fundamental rights, i.e. the likelihood of an arrest under S.377, itself is a ground for approaching the High Court or the Supreme Court and constitutes a ‘cause of action. Actual arrest or registration of an FIR is not necessary. 4. A public interest petition can be filed bona fide by public spirited citizens, in this case NAZ Foundation, when others are unable or incapable of approaching the court, in this case MSM who do not feel confident of approaching the court themselves.

At this time we feel that there are certain options possible like a Review Petition before the Delhi High Court or a Special Leave Petition before the Supreme Court (a follow-up email explaining these options will be put on the list-serve in the next couple of days). However, we would appreciate any inputs from all those concerned to decide the best course of action to be

We feel extremely dejected at this juncture but also feel that this is a time to regroup and renew efforts around S.377. It would be useful if this list-serve space could be used as one in which further discussion takes place. We would be keen to see what follow-up is possible so that all of us can brainstorm further. We look forward to getting feedback from all of you
on this list-serve and also via email at or

In solidarity,

Naz Foundation (India) Trust & Lawyers Collective HIV/AIDS Unit

Baina beach demolitions: What about the sex worker’s right to shelter? By Rakesh Shukla

Acting on orders by the Goa bench of the Bombay High Court, around 250 huts belonging to sex workers, on Goa’s Baina beach, were bulldozed in an effort to ‘clean up’ Goa. ‘Operation Monsoon Demolition’ appears to have been based on the assumption that sex workers have no right to shelter

This year, the rains that bring joy to millions of people in India brought only grief to the residents of Baina beach in Goa. Carrying an order by the Goa bench of the Bombay High Court, for the identification and demolition of 250 huts being used by sex workers, the state government set about bulldozing hundreds of hutments right in the midst of heavy rains lashing the area.

The rationale: The restoration of an ‘unspoilt Goa’ by cleansing it of the ‘sin’ of prostitution.

The huts are the homes of women who have been living here for the past 40 years. They have valid ration cards, voter identity cards, electricity bills and tax receipts as proof of their being bonafide residents of Baina; their children attend schools in the area. In fact, many children born in Baina are, today, vote-casting adults. Now, attempts are being made to class them as ‘outsiders’ from Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka and send them back once their homes have been demolished.

Using the ‘outsider’ bogey as the cause of all ills and whipping up chauvinism is a populist strategy often used by unscrupulous politicians. Like the Shiv Sena campaign ‘Maharashtra for Maharashtrians’ in the ’60s-’70s, there have been similar campaigns all over the country including Goa. Displaying remarkable foresight, the Constitution of India -- under Articles 19 (1) (d) and (e) -- specifically guarantees, as a fundamental right, the right ‘to move throughout the territory of India’ and the right ‘to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India’.

Labelled as ‘loose’, ‘immoral’ and ‘sinful women’ who lure decent men away from their wives and families, women in prostitution are at the very bottom rung of the social ladder. They stand lower even than that epitome of exploitation -- the worker. In fact, attempts to get them the higher status of ‘worker’ are reflected in the term ‘sex worker’ instead of prostitute.

The application of the law to this community is swayed entirely by people’s moral condemnation of prostitutes and their work. The right to a roof over one’s head, that is, the basic right to shelter and a life of self-respect and dignity, is an undeniable part of the right to life and liberty as enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution. Yet, in a settlement of hundreds of hutments, it was the homes of women in prostitution that the high court ordered demolished.

Social attitudes seem to cut across institutions and influence the legislature, executive and the judiciary. In 1997, John Emanuel Vaz, the then MLA of the area, led a morcha demanding a ‘cleanup’ of the red-light area. The Goa government, exploiting sizable support from society for the demolition of the sex workers’ homes, went ahead and tore down a large number of structures including bars, shops, contract workers’ homes, even those of lower-level municipal staff workers. The prime land being cleared probably meshed in nicely with larger plans to privatise and expand Vasco port, and invitations to big business and corporations including multinationals to build hotels and tourist resorts in the area. Officially, however, sanction for ‘Operation Monsoon Demolition’ remains the assumption that sex workers have no right to shelter, and that it is okay to destroy their homes.

Ashwini Kumar, secretary at the department of women and child development, government of Goa, describes the demolitions as a “righteous, neutral and unique action of protecting the rights of women”. Women in prostitution are obviously to be denied even their basic identity as ‘women’, and violations of the rights of ‘fallen’ women are to be projected as a protection of the rights of ‘pure’ women. Prostitution cannot be abolished from society by demolishing houses and rendering women homeless.

When the first settlements came up at Baina, in 1964, the then chairman of the municipality, Y D Chowgule, was of the opinion that since there was a port nearby, prostitution was inevitable. Officials of the Mormugao Port Trust, possibly more grounded in reality and less hypocritical than top-echelon bureaucrats, believed that no one could stop a sailor from visiting a red-light area after having spent months at sea. They accepted that, as in Amsterdam, Antwerp or Hamburg, red-light areas were an inevitable part of every port in the world. The only difference was that prostitution has been legalised in Europe, so there is greater medical regulation. In India, the health of women in prostitution is largely ignored. In fact moral condemnation and social prejudice, leading to practices like coercive blood tests, result in women in prostitution having minimal access to public health services.

Coloured by this prejudice and steeped in righteousness, even in the light of scientific evidence by the World Health Organisation and the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) that driving sex work underground proves counterproductive in the fight against the spread of HIV and AIDS, Ashwini Kumar asserts that the “continuation of the flesh trade at Baina was a potential source for the spread of HIV/AIDS”. Evictions do not stop prostitution, they only serve to scatter the trade and make it more difficult to implement measures like distributing condoms to contain the spread of HIV/AIDS.

The stigmatising attitude of society with respect to the rights of sex workers gets translated into other areas of the law as well. The law with regard to assault, grievous hurt, rape and kidnapping makes no distinction and is uniformly applicable regardless of the victim’s identity. However, such lofty principles dwell only in the ivory tower pontifications on human rights in judicial pronouncements. In reality, ‘non-persons’ like sex workers are fair game to be beaten, raped and sodomised with no fallout for the perpetrator. Incidents involving violence towards sex workers/prostitutes generally do not even merit public attention. Last year, a prostitute from G B Road in Delhi was kidnapped by a policeman, taken across the border and so severely raped, beaten and brutalised that the case did surface in the media. Despite this, no action was taken against the perpetrator.

Recently, Kokila, a hijra(transsexual woman) sex worker was raped, beaten and brutalised by a group of men in Bangalore. Instead of lodging a first information report (FIR), the police chained her naked in lockup, tortured, humiliated and sexually abused her. At the initiative of SANGAMA, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) working in the area, human rights activists staged a dharna at the statue of Mahatma Gandhi on Bangalore’s M G Road. Later, a protest rally was taken to the chief minister’s residence to demand the arrest of the culprits. The four policemen identified have not been prosecuted.

The message is loud and clear: You can beat, rape and sodomise ‘perverts’ like sex workers, hijras and other marginalised communities in complete violation of their guaranteed fundamental rights of life, liberty and shelter.

--Rakesh Shukla is a Supreme Court advocate Baina beach demolitions: What about the sex worker’s right to shelter?