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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

India’s LGBT facing tough discrimination, visiting professor finds

Published: November 4, 2011
Section: News

Simmons College Professor Jyoti Puri spoke on campus Wednesday about her studies and fieldwork in New Delhi, India, on radicalized communalisms, criminalized queers, the police and the sodomy law in the Indian Penal Code, explaining discrimination that the LGBT community faces.

The sodomy law, or section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, was decriminalized in the Indian Supreme Court in July 2009. Puri, speaking in Rapaporte Treasure Hall, argued that police play an unclear role in India and that society still lacks the information to understand police enforcement of the sodomy law.

“I have been following Section 377 since 2002,” Puri said. “If you think about how sexuality is being produced by the state and the ways sexuality rights activists are imagining what will persuade the state, you will see that the two are mutually productive.”

Puri described Indian police as racist against Muslims and Sikhs, singling them out as religious cultural minorities and acting violently toward them. In addition to Muslims and Sikhs, the Hijra community is the victim of unwarranted violence and hostility under the legacy of section 377 of the penal code.

Hijras are transgender male-bodied people or male-bodied people who have undergone castration as a form of self-identity, Puri said. The police view the Hijra identity as criminal and Hijras are subject to police surveillance and constant discrimination.

Puri described her discussions with the New Delhi police at length, explaining many described the “crime of unnatural sex” and only a few advocated the legalization of consensual sex. While the police emphatically repeated that Muslims and Sikhs commit sodomy more frequently than Hindus, Puri said that Muslims and Sikhs could not possibly account for most of the crime in India, as Hindus make up 84 percent of India’s population.

Puri said that racism against Muslims and Sikhs is a growing problem in India, exemplified through section 377, as Sikhs and Muslims receive much of the blame for “the crime of sodomy.”

Although in Europe and America race is distinguished by physical appearance and skin color, in India, Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs are classified as different races through differences in diet, hygiene and religious practices, despite similar physical appearances.

“I strongly hold the approach that race ought to be reserved for the colonial process,” Puri said. “Racial differences are conceptualized as colonial differences. Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs are not phenotypically different, so how can they be different races?”

Puri suggested that differences among people, even within the same race, are natural, inheritable and enduring. She found through her talks with the New Delhi police constables that the majority of officers feared the decriminalization of section 377 because “unnatural sex acts” will increase.

Recognizing that the police of New Delhi are neither unitary nor homophobic as a unit, Puri said that with increased dialogue between outreach workers from feminist organizations and the police, India can raise the possibility of fractures and inconsistencies of the monolithic unit of the state.