(CNS): Well, why do we need to celebrate such a day? "Homophobia is expressed in ways which does not treat MSMs, lesbians and transgenders with respect, and prevents their access to basic human rights, particularly the right to live with dignity. So, it is imperative to draw the attention of various countries, particularly of the South Asian region, to this fact. The main challenge before all of us is to create a conducive atmosphere for making appropriate health and other services accessible to persons with different /alternate sexuality" said Shivananda Khan, who has been honored with Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) by the British Queen, for his services to HIV/AIDS prevention and among marginalized communities in South Asia. Shivananda Khan is one of the keynote speakers at the High Level Dialogue to discuss punitive laws, human rights and HIV prevention among men who have sex with men (MSM) in Asia Pacific, in Hong Kong on 17th May to mark the International Day Against Homophobia.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health (ACPOM) and the Center for Comparative and Public Law (CCPL) at the Faculty of Law, The University of Hong Kong will also release the key findings and recommendations of the UNDP-APCOM study entitled: "Laws affecting HIV responses among men who have sex with men and transgender people in Asia and the Pacific: an agenda for action" during a High Level Dialogue to honour the International Day against Homophobia on Monday, 17th May 2010.
Shivananda Khan rightly feels that this issue has two components –the legal component, by way of primitive and punitive laws, restriction on movements of such people, the insensitive and biased attitude of the administrations, and the second component, which involves behavioural attitude of fellow citizens, which treats MSMs and transgenders like social outcasts and is perpetrates a whole range of inhuman and violent actions against them.
The latest Delhi High Court ruling on Section 377 in 2009, legalising same sex behaviour in adults is indeed a welcome move. But, then according to Shivananda Khan, this will have to percolate to the grassroots. Amending laws will have to be complemented with a change in attitude of society in general. In some countries like Phillipines, there is some level of social tolerance for transgenders. But there is a general denial of basic rights to gay men and lesbians. On the whole, there is a lot of social discrimination against this community. The situation is worse for lesbians in a country like India, where traditionally a woman is not supposed to have any sexuality or sexual preferences. Her role in society is pre defined to get married and produce babies. In such a scenario, if a woman dares to openly admit her sexual preference for another woman, all hell is let loose.
Arif Jafar, Executive Director of Maan Foundation in India ('Maan' means pride) rues the fact that due to the existing social taboos, on one hand there is a high level of violence (in the form of rape, physical abuse, assaults, etc) against people with different sexuality. It is believed that 40% of them have tried to commit suicide, and 70% have faced assaults from friends and family members. On the other hand, most of these cases go unreported, due to the heavily biased attitude of the police against them.
As human beings, we must respect our fellow beings, irrespective of their caste, creed, religion, cultural and sexual preferences. Why should anyone of us be denied basic human rights, just because we do not conform to the social norms of others? This may be tall order for India, where even heterosexual relationships invite the wrath of the so called moral leaders; where fathers/brothers are killing their own kith and kin in the name of family honour.
We indeed have a long way to go, as Arif Jafar rightly thinks. But the process has been set into motion, and would, hopefully, be propelled forward by this forthcoming meet.
Let us work together to maintain unity in diversity, without affecting the sensibilities of each other. (CNS)
Shobha Shukla - CNS
(The author is the Editor of Citizen News Service (CNS), Director of CNS Diabetes Media Initiative, and CNS Gender Initiative, has worked earlier with State Planning Institute, UP, and teaches Physics at India's prestigious Loreto Convent. She is invited by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to write on the International Day Against Homophobia in Hong Kong. Email: [email protected], website: www.citizen-news.org )