Kinnar Akhara Mahamandaleshwar

Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights reminds us that everyone is born free and equal in dignity and rights. On January 1, 1942, forty-seven countries signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations including India. While the Supreme Court in its iconic judgement {Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India} ii ruled unanimously that Section 377 was unconstitutional “in so far as it criminalises consensual sexual conduct between adults of the same sex” India has still a long way to go in terms of providing the ‘fundamental rights and respect’ our LGBTQIA community deserves.

We’ve seen employers fire workers, schools expel students, and patients denied access to essential healthcare, all because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. These hostile public attitudes against LGBTI+ people have devastating impacts on members of our own communities and are simply unacceptable. As we commemorate International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia on 17 May 2021, let’s stand united with the LGBTI+ community and remind ourselves of the true essence of human acceptance.

Let’s take a dip as to how India’s majority religion “Hinduism” speaks of sexuality and gender roles:

Hindu belief embraces the beauty of multiple forms of “Atman” i.e; soul. The Hindu tradition includes many figures, both Human and Dieties who are sexually ambiguous, androgynous, who impersonates the opposite sex, or who undergo sex changes. Unlike Judaism, Christianity and Islam, which focus on the actions of a single lifetime, Hindu belief centers on a continuous process of birth and rebirth that ultimately releases the true self from the limitations of body and the ego – a freeing of the spirit called “moksha.” That process includes a release from sensual experiences, including sexuality. Progress towards moksha comes through yogic spiritual practices, and the attainment of moksha implies transcending material desires and impulses, including sexual ones. To put it provocatively, an LGBT person who has mastered his or her impulses (sexual or otherwise) is actually closer to moksha than a non-LGBT person who is a slave to desires. Thus, unlike in other faiths, Hindus cannot point to anything in the sruti texts that supports treating LGBT persons as being inferior to non-LGBT persons, let alone supports their persecution.

Here we cannot forget the valor of Shikhandi, the embodiment of all queer people – from gays to lesbians to Hijras to transgendered people to hermaphrodites to bisexuals. The stories of Ardhanareeshwara (Shiva as half-man, half-woman) and Lord Ayyappa (born to Shiva and Vishnu as Mohini) indicate the subtle approach that Hinduism adopts towards matters of gender. We can’t hush the sensitivity and portrayal of sexuality in texts like Kamasutra or temples like Khajuraho. They are a perfect illustration of how our ancient texts gave voice to the non-heterosexual discourse. The special community has always been acknowledged in one or the other forms in Hindu religion but to be more precise in the later period and practices by foreign invaders, the acceptance of this community has been chosen to ignore, suppress, ridicule, label them aberrants, diseased, to be swept under carpets and gagged by laws such as 377. Human Rights Watch (HRW) report titled This Alien Legacy describes how laws in over three dozen countries, from India to Uganda and Nigeria to Papua New Guinea, derive from a single law on homosexual conduct that the British colonial rulers imposed on India in 1860.

Indian society and its rules are fluid, they change with time and our ancestors recognized that but when the foreign invaders reached India they began with a mindset of “Fixing” India. Indian civilization’s fluidity was never a weakness as portrayed to us by foreign colonizers instead it celebrated dissent, plurality and all the aspects of human life, including its openness towards accepting human sexuality as a fact of life.

Breaking the stereotypes and way forward:

Is this not the beauty of Hinduism that “Kinnar Akhada” is now one among the respected Akhadas that offer its ‘shaahi snaan prakriya’ at the Kumbh Mela confluence! Even before that, the 2016 Simhast Mela of Ujjain was the first mela where the transgender community participated as an organization.

· Apart from scrapping off Section 377 India needs more of such welcoming legislations and actions to the point.

· The passing of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2019 is a righteous step forward. The law states that no establishment shall discriminate against transgender persons in matters relating to employment, recruitment, promotion and other related issues.

· Establishment of National Council for Transgender Persons as a grievance redressal mechanism is a fresh hope in this direction.

· Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) on the basis of this following Act asked all central government departments to include “transgender” as a separate category of gender for recruitment in civil services and other posts. States like Assam who are welcoming these kinds of acknowledgement in State level exams build up a positive impact on this community.

· News of Dutee Chand becoming first openly LGBTQ sportsperson to receive the Arjuna Award fosters the true meaning empowerment.

There is still a lot I can cover and I am not, by any means defending or arguing the malpractices that came by or were spoken of which resulted in the horrors of discrimination and ostracizing of the LGBT+ community. The best outlook lies in ‘acceptance’. Acceptance of all, the ‘nar’-male, ‘naari’-female, ‘napunsak’-third gender and the ‘narayana’-the supreme being in itself. We Indians have always valued the diversity in nature ‘prakriti’. By spreading cultural awareness in our upcoming generations hopefully we can envision homes where it would be absolutely fine accepting relatives and siblings of different gender identities.

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed are personal.

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