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Prof lectures on Indian homophobia

Contributing Writer

Published: Monday, November 7, 2011

Updated: Monday, November 7, 2011 23:11


Jenny Cheng

Simmons College Professor Jyoti Puri discussed India and the homophobic attitudes of its security services in the Mandel Atrium last Tuesday.

Jyoti Puri, a professor from Simmons College, discussed homophobia and racism in the Indian penal code and police department in a lecture titled "Racialized Communalisms, Criminalized Queers and the Police in Contemporary India" last Wednesday in the Mandel Center for the Humanities Atrium.

Puri is a professor of sociology at Simmons and received the Fulbright Award. In her lecture, she discussed communalism as a lynchpin of power, knowledge and pleasure in modern India, as well as Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code and on the inherent police bias against Hitras, a caste made up of of eunuchs, transsexuals and transvestites.

The debate about Section 377, which criminalizes sexual activity "against the order of nature," centers around the possible decriminalization of sodomy. It epitomizes the intersection of sexuality and state and illustrates "the anxiety around sexuality and how it ought to be regulated," said Puri in her lecture.

Puri opened by speaking about homophobic attitudes among police. Puri used interviews with officers, students and constables to support her ideas.

"The police in India is one of the most opaque institutions," said Puri. There was widespread evidence of police brutality against homosexuals, but officers made no attempt to cover it up. Instead, it was justified by police.

Delhi officers perpetrated widespread brutality against homosexuals and they justified this behavior by stereotyping homosexuals as an inherently violent and criminal social group who warranted officers taking preemptive "crime prevention" steps to safeguard the public. These steps are considered unwarranted brutality by Westerners. Police, for instance, are openly violent toward Hitras. "To be a Hitra in the eyes of the Delhi police is to be a criminal," Puri said. Hitras are automatically suspected of kidnapping and castrating children and deemed a group of hereditary criminals.

One constable interviewed said, "I say what I have seen," after making a statement that the majority of crimes and unnatural sex were perpetrated by "Mohamedans," the colonialist term for Muslims used in a derogatory manner by the Delhi police force. Puri explained that the majority of the force shared this perspective.

However, Puri explained the police felt that the law itself was misunderstood. The law refers to unnatural sex as sex with animals, old men raping young children and wives who were forced to have anal intercourse. It was not written as inherently homophobic.

In regards to social issues, the police ran into further problems because India is a divided nation, with Muslims constituting a mere 12 percent of the population, while Hindus make up 84 percent.

"The mostly Hindu, male police is prejudiced," said Puri.

The anti-Muslim sentiment affects Sikhs and Muslims in every aspect of their lives. For example, there are "widespread and disproportionate gaps in education attainment [for Muslims]," said Puri.

On the topic of Section 377, the law concerning unnatural sex, the police are divided about whether it should be changed or not. "If this is removed, it will increase homosexuality," said a Delhi police officer, according to Puri.

The force articulated that they felt there was something inherently wrong with same-sex sexual activities. However, one officer, according to Puri, said "that the law is wrong when it applies to two consenting adults and that the law should change."

Many of the complaints classified under Section 377 were made by underage children raped by adults. Although the law was seen as inherently homophobic, it also functioned as protection from sexual assault for minors, explained Puri.

Puri said that the police are neither pro-change nor unified in their homophobia, raising the "possibility of fractures in these seemingly monolithic structures."

Students said they enjoyed the lecture for the way it articulated the sensitive subject of homosexuality and the law and tied it in with the anti-Muslim sentiment in Indian policing.

"I really appreciated ... how [the lecture] approached this from a different cultural context, and the ... way we look at homosexuality, especially from a legal perspective—how it doesn't always translate into other languages and cultures," said Sarah Herson '14. 

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