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Prod to Delhi on UN gay rights decree

Mumbai, June 3: This is India’s chance to come out.

After a landmark UN resolution on granting human rights to homosexuals was derailed on April 25, gay and lesbian activists here want India to take a strong positive stand on the issue. India, if not downright critical, was clearly not in favour of the initiative that took up the subject of gay rights for the first time in UN history.

Five countries — Malaysia, Pakistan, Egypt, Libya and Saudi Arabia — manoeuvred procedural delays to defer the issue. Others which were opposed to the draft resolution were Cameroon, Gabon, Kenya, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Syria, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

Catholic establishments are also opposed to human rights being granted to homosexuals. They have appealed to pro-family supporters to fight the proposed UN resolution, which has been deferred to 2004.

Armenia, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Guatemala, Ireland, Japan, Poland, South Korea, the Russian Federation, Sweden, Thailand, Ukraine and the UK were in favour of the resolution, while the US, Chile, Cuba, Paraguay, Peru, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Swaziland, Togo, Uruguay, Venezuela and Vietnam abstained from voting.

At the UN, India leaned towards a “no” with Argentina, China, Congo and Senegal. Homosexual activists here want the government to rectify its stand.

They will take up the issue at a news conference in the city on Friday. They believe that if the UN adopts the resolution, it will go a long way in helping their cause.

“We will get in touch with the Indian representative in Geneva,” says Geeta Kumana of Aanchal, an outfit of lesbian activism which is hosting the conference with Humsafar, a gay rights organisation run by Ashok Row Kavi, and other human rights and women’s groups like Lawyers’ Collective, Aapne Aap, Shakti Trust and Point of View. “Such a resolution means we can hope for non-discriminatory laws against homosexuals. This is India’s chance to come out,” she says.

The move is being greeted by others in the gay and lesbian community. If any country needs a change of law, it is India, they feel, where the community still remains largely invisible, particularly lesbians.

“Any legal resolution is welcome in the country,” says Chayanika Shah of Stree Sangam, which works on lesbian rights. “There is still notional criminalisation of homosexuality according to the law,” she adds.

Homosexual activities can still be punished as sexual offences under Article 377 of the IPC, which deals with “unnatural acts”, a phrase that is stretched to include gay behaviour.

Gay activists have moved court that the Article be dropped. Their case has been dragging on at Delhi High Court.

But the change should also come from within the community, says Kumana, who came out and took up activism for her community. She feels gay people should come out in greater numbers, individually and collectively.

“Coming out has been hard for me. It means a constant conflict, a constant self-erosion, self-depletion. But it is rewarding, too. I don’t have to pretend. Nobody asks me to marry a man anymore,” she says.

Kumana adds that gay people should come out in another sense, too. “For a long time, we have stuck to ourselves. It is now time to move with the others. We need to work with other groups working for social change, like human rights and women’s organisations. The conference on the UN resolution will involve them, too,” she says.

“Finally, only a change in law will not be sufficient. We have to reach out to the people, our neighbours, friends, relatives, because at the end of the day, life is lived with them.”

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