Dear Prime Minister,
A few days ago, I watched you speak in the US Congress. You came across as a poised, persuasive and superbly witty world-leader. You were a picture of confidence and I felt proud that my PM held his own on the world stage.
Two days after that historic speech, a terrible massacre took place right there in the United States. Fifty innocent people dancing in an Orlando nightclub lost their lives to a bigoted gun-man. While we were reeling from the horrific news, you tweeted; expressing shock and offering prayers for the bereaved and their families.
While your words seemed kind and compassionate, I would like you to know, sir, that they shook me up. I have never felt more betrayed. Your 110 character tweet was missing five important characters. Five characters that would reveal a truth that your government is refusing to acknowledge-‘LGBTQ’!
The Orlando shooting took place in a gay club. Those that perished were all members of the LGBTQ community. You surely know sir, that LGBTQ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer people. It is an umbrella term for a people with an alternative sexual orientation. We exist not just in the United States and the rest of the world, but in India too.
We have existed since time immemorial. Indian mythology is replete with instances of same-sex unions. But you know that already and that is not the point of this letter. I am concerned with the omission of those 5 important alphabets, and a tweet that is only a half-truth.
Since your tweet, social media has been abuzz with this question; Why didn’t our PM acknowledge what all other world leaders are openly acknowledging? Since you are known not to address such issues from our own soil, here is my own theory.
A barbaric law
When the Supreme Court of India overturned the judgement decriminalizing homosexuality in 2013, it was a big blow for India’s LGBTQ community. For four years it had been lulled into a false sense of security and many had bravely come-out of their closets. But suddenly, the community became exposed. The LGBTQ were deemed criminals again, and it had nowhere to hide anymore. The whole world could see this travesty and everyone from the United Nations to the WHO condemned the upholding of this barbaric law.
Human Rights Organizations, NGOs and a wonderfully responsible Indian media tried desperately to bring to your attention the horrors of 377, but pleas for justice fell on deaf years. We soon learned that the alphabets ‘LGBTQ’ just didn’t exist in the books of the political class.
This was despite the Supreme Court ruling that the amendment to Section 377 should be a matter left to parliament. We waited in hope, but the newly elected NDA government did not entertain the issue. When Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, attempted to introduce the private members bill to amend 377, he was laughed at and ridiculed for daring to speak of the 5 invisible alphabets. Aspersions were cast on his own sexuality and the issue was quickly forgotten. This happened twice.
Could it be dear sir, that had you called the LGBTQ community by its name, you would have faced a backlash from your supporters back home? What then would be the reaction of the sadhvis and babas who profess a cure for this ‘dreaded disease’? What would happen to the openly anti-gay stance of some of your party leaders?
Did you also fear that by displaying compassion towards a bunch of Gay, Lesbian and Transgender people in the US, you would be expected to show some love to members of the same community in your country? Would it then expose to the world leaders you rub shoulders with, the true state of sexual minorities in India?
Most states in the US acknowledge people of the LGBTQ community as complete citizens, with voting rights, the right to marry and the right to live a fulfilled existence. People from the LGBTQ community in the US are key decision makers in politics, media and industry. It is possible to be Apple’s Tim Cook, whom you hosted recently, tennis’s Martina Navratilova and politics’ Barney Frank and still be gay!
LBGTQ is about human rights
When foreign dignitaries tweeted their condolences for the LGBTQ in the Orlando shootings, those alphabets stood for respect, for diversity, for human rights.
That is perhaps why you could not include those alphabets in your tweet. Because LGBTQ stands for quite something else in India. Its stands for a people deemed as criminals; for the ‘sick-minded in need of a cure’; for people who are suicidal; for those prone to rape; to discrimination at the workplace. For humiliation, for loneliness.
While these are all traits common to homophobia the world over, and one cannot deny that it could be the primary cause for the Orlando shootings, India’s LGBTQ community is tragically worse off.
Because unlike the Americans, the LGBTQ in India cannot fight for justice. It must suffer in silence, because if it asked for help, its members could be arrested, harangued and blackmailed by the very keepers of the law. Isn’t it heart-breaking sir, that citizens who contribute to India’s economy, cannot seek the support of the PM it elected?
And the irony, it seems to me, is that just like those missing alphabets in your tweet, the LGBTQ community remains invisible to you.
I’m hoping dear sir, that you will tweet again. This time to the ‘LGBTQ’ community of India, acknowledging its existence and its struggle. Your ‘thoughts and prayers’ are needed to stop the slow massacre of India’s sexual minorities. To stop the massacre of its soul and its self-esteem.
Maybe then, India will also reveal its hidden Tim Cooks, Martina Navratilovas and Barney Franks to the world.
Apurva Asrani is a National Award winning film maker and script writer