Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Religious Right Around the Globe: Anti-LGBT Voices in India

Until recently, when I thought of religious fundamentalism in India, I always assumed it took the form of Muslim or Hindu fundamentalist groups (i.e., Sri Rama Sena). Little did I know that several conservative Christian groups call India home, or that they would attract global attention for their stance on an overturned Indian law.

In 1860, British colonizers introduced Section 377 into the Indian Penal Code, which banned sodomy. In 2009, the Delhi High Court overturned Section 377, thereby decriminalizing gay sex between consenting adults. Naz Foundation India Trust, an HIV and sexual health program based in New Delhi, successfully brought forward a public interest petition to overturn the law, according to Time Magazine. Naz' petition argued that Section 377 was a violation of human rights and an impediment to HIV outreach with men who have sex with men, according to Human Rights Watch.

The Indian LGBT community was jubilant, but conservative Catholic figures were not. According to the Deccan Herald, Kerala Catholics Bishops Council spokesman Fr. Stephen Alathara decried the decision, calling homosexuality an "illness." Delhi Archbishop Vincent Concessao also disapproved of the decision, according to Christian Today India.

Last month, however, India's Supreme Court began to officially heard arguments against decriminalization of gay sex, reports Pink News. The arguments have featured anti-gay religious voices, as well as contradictory statements by Indian government officials. According to Pink News, Additional Solicitor General P.P. Malhotra claimed that gay sex was "immoral" and argued against decriminalization. On the other hand, another Additional Solicitor General, Mohan Jain, told the Supreme Court that the Indian government's Health Ministry supported decriminalization. These contrasting statements led Supreme Court judges to warn government ministers not to make a mockery of the court with contradictory testimony. BBC News reports that the Supreme Court has requested data on India's LGBT population, as well as the number of HIV positive gay men.

Predictably, conservative religious voices are opposed to decriminalization of gay sex. The Times of India quotes Radha Krishana, a representative of an unnamed Catholic organization, as describing homosexuality as a foreign import. Krishana reportedly said that gay matters were being "dumped" into India and that a "horrendous situation" would erupt if gay sex were allowed in society. According to the Indian Express, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, the Utkal Christian Council, and the Apostolic Churches Alliance also opposed the Delhi High Court's 2009 decision to overturn Section 377.

I did a little digging and found that the Utkal Christian Council has openly disapproved of LGBT equality in India. For example, a statement at the Utkal Christian Council website stated that gays are "sick people" and that the Delhi High Court's decision was "absurd and unnatural." The statement insisted that homosexual sex is unnatural, "dangerous to civilized society," and anathema to high moral values. (See utkalchristiancouncil[dot]org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=140:delhi-high-court-judgment-on-gay-sex-is-the-death-of-indian-culture&catid=43:news&Itemid=106)

In another press release, Utkal Christian Council blasted the decriminalization of Section 377, claiming that homosexuality is "abhorrent" and that rejection of the "Divine Order" will bring down God's wrath. The press release referenced the Biblical Sodom and Gomorrah story to buttress its argument (see Genesis 19:1-13). Like its Christian Right counterparts in the U.S., Utkal Christian Council lamented how the media was allegedly "glorifying homosexuality." (See utkalchristiancouncil[dot]org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=139:utkal-christian-council-&catid=43:news&Itemid=106)

In short, anti-gay Christian groups in America and India use similar rhetoric to disparage the LGBT community. When the Utkal Christian Council calls homosexuality pathological, unnatural, immoral, unbiblical, and detrimental to society, their rhetoric sounds all to similar to that of the American Religious Right. When they cite the Sodom and Gomorrah story to demonize homosexuality, they are but the latest in a long line of anti-gay fundamentalists who have quoted scripture to defend inequality.

India, like the U.S., may be having a culture war of its own surrounding LGBT equality. The outcome of the Indian Supreme Court's hearings remain to be seen, but I hope that justice will triumph over the din of religious homophobia. 


  1. Amazing, in India? Thanks for the reporting, Ahab.

  2. Donna -- Even in India. Startling, isn't it?

  3. No matter where in the world you go or what religion you're looking at, it always turns out that intense religiosity is a force for social reaction. Imported religions seem to be among the worst, perhaps because they bring the fervor of the newly converted, or disrupt accommodations which have evolved over time in a society. Muslims in western Europe have become the most radical anti-gay and anti-science force there. It's not surprising to see Christians in India acting similarly.

  4. One thing you can say about these anti-gay Christian groups is they seem well-organized. That's about the only positive thing I can say about them.

  5. Infidel753 -- I wonder if and how their Christian brethren in the West are influencing their homophobic attitudes. We've seen it in Uganda...

    Cognitive Dissenter -- They are indeed well-organized, which is how they've come so far. Progressives must be organized in response.


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