With films like Badhaai Do and Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhaan making a substantial impact on the Indian film industry, the LGBTQ+ community is no longer a hush-hush topic in the nation. The pride movement is a recognised phenomenon in the society that can no longer be ignored. In theory, every queer person has the right to live in our society, much like any other individual.
But a single glance at legal proceedings would adequately prove that India is far from eradicating instances of opposition to the community. Such disapprovals can take the form of families simply abandoning their children or even the haunting instances of gay conversion therapies.
What is Gay Conversion Therapy?
Gay conversion therapies entail the use of harmful mental and physical practices that aim to change an individual’s sexual or gender identity. The idea was to “cure” a person. The practice was based on an extremely outdated belief that any identity other than the “normal” was simply unacceptable and that such a person must be “healed” using any means necessary. Such therapies can range from hormonal therapy to physical assault and “corrective” rape.
Why should it be Criminalised?
Several psychological studies have advocated against the use of such practices. Minor effects include lowering self-esteem and a significant toll on emotional and mental health, while more extreme repercussions can make a person severely depressed and even suicidal. There have been known instances of people taking their own lives after being forced into attending conversion therapy sessions. Every respectable mental health organization has denounced the use of such practices for years.
Beyond these direct effects, conversion therapies go against what people of the LGBTQ+ community stand for. It threatens to make homosexual not just immoral, but a recognised ailment. The existence of such practices is a question mark on every queer person’s life. Every effort to provide them basic rights is a losing battle when a therapy like this continues to be practiced. It violates the right to privacy and freedom that our constitution guarantees to every citizen, irrespective of their identity.
It is necessary to empathise with our fellow human beings. No one would take kindly to being forced into becoming something they are not. So why should a gay person be subjected to this inhumane practice?
Instances in India
In 2020, Anjana Hareesh committed suicide. A video on her Facebook feed led to speculations that the reason behind this grave step was forced conversion therapy. Atrocities and medications, in the name of therapy, had been forced upon the 21 year old. The pain of such measures overpowered the student so that she had no choice but to quit her own life.
The incident is a grim reminder that homophobia is still a very real thing in our country. The harsh treatment that is received by the queer community is bad enough on its own, but being forced and manipulated into believing a lie is a torture of another scale. A sexual identity that does not conform to society’s expectations is still treated like an abhorrent offence. The idea of being queer is termed ‘western’. What is being done to the people of the community is nothing short of cruel.
The story of Anjana was not an isolated occurrence. This is a reality that many people are living even today. Familes are still pushing their children into institutions that are designed to suck out their very essence. Licensed practitioners and religious groups are still “treating” the queer. Nightmarish accounts of victims still rear their heads on the Facebook wall. The nation is far from providing justice to hundreds of Anjanas.
What does Indian Law say?
The Indian administration has done some efforts to limit the use of forced conversion practices. The Mental Health Care Act of 2017 ensures that no individual can be forced into any sort of therapy without their consent. Nevertheless, there remains a significant gap to be filled by a legislation that specifically addresses the issue of ex-gay conversion therapies. As the cases of several nations would testify, seemingly consensual cases can involve instances of forced conversions too. Thus, there is an imminent need to outlaw gay conversion therapies in particular.
The Madras High Court banned conversion therapies on its part in 2021. This judgement came as a conclusion to the S. Sushma vs. Commissioner of Police case proceedings. Based on the recommendations of the National Medical Council, the judges gave their verdict. The Court prohibited ‘any attempts to medically cure or change the sexual orientation of LGBTIQA+ people to heterosexual, or the gender identity of transgender people to cisgender’. Such a prohibition needs to be extended beyond the jurisdiction of Madras High Court.
Are There Similar Laws Worldwide?
In 1999, Brazil became the first nation to officially criminalise gay conversion therapy. The legislation was the beginning of a visibly better existence for the queer community in the country. This historic step has since led to many more countries recognizing the need to protect their people through similar laws. This includes Norway, Samoa, Argentina, Fiji, Taiwan, Uruguay, Albania, Ecuador, Malta, Switzerland and several provinces from the United States of America. Besides that countries like Germany outlaw conversion therapies for minors or the use of force to convert adults.
For centuries, queer people have been forced to disappear into the margins of society. The legalisation of LGBTQ+ relationships by amending section 377 of the Indian constitution is a mere start to a long journey. Mindsets opposing the normalization of these identities are still found abundantly across India. The country still has a long way to go before it can become a safe haven for people of all sexual identities.
Criminalising reparative therapies is a step that can go a long way in achieving the perfect India we dream of. The need of the hour is for the country to pay heed to the voices of people who are still being coerced into living a hellish life. A specific law would be a great contribution in effectively doing away with this terrible practice. The people of the country need to be given this long due legislation. The UK government announced the decision to outlaw gay conversion therapy. It is about time that India catches up.