Gay rights mean little in Indian state

Gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people in Jammu and Kashmir unlikely to benefit from historic Supreme Court ruling
Gay rights mean little in Indian state

Indian supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community celebrate in Bangalore on Sept. 6 after the Supreme Court decision to strike down a colonial-era ban on gay sex. (Photo by Manjunath Kiran/AFP)

Ajaz Ahmad Bund, a champion of gay rights, faces death threats and vilification in India's Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir, where many view homosexuality as a foreign perversion.

Bund, a research scholar at the University of Kashmir, has been targeted in the restive region bordering Pakistan since taking up the cause of gay and transgender people several years ago.

His advocacy has included writing a book on their plight and running the Sonzal Welfare Trust, a non-profit rights organization.

"Homosexuality is considered Western and therefore Muslims hate and oppose it," Bund said, adding that transgender people are often looked down on.

The long-running regional secessionist conflict, together with tensions between India and Pakistan, dominates media attention and overshadows any discussion of minority sexual rights.

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A Sept. 6 Indian Supreme Court ruling endorsed the legality of same-sex unions and the right of gay people to constitutional protections but did not legalize same-sex marriages.

However, the ruling overturning a 160-year-old British colonial law criminalizing physical homosexual relationships has been criticized by many social and religious conservatives in India.

Bund said that in Jammu and Kashmir most gay people have been unwilling to be open about their sexual preference, let alone fight publicly for gay rights.

He does not believe the Supreme Court ruling will help lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as they have been widely regarded as an affront to Islamic norms.

Muslim cleric Molvi Javaid Ahmad said that society does not have a problem with transgender people and that no one should ill-treat or ridicule them. However, this latitude does not extend to same-gender sexual relations or to any acceptance of same-sex marriage.

"The Quran speaks in detail of the story of Sodom several times, condemning its people's overall immorality, and specifically criticizing its men for going to other men out of desire instead of to women," the cleric said.

The state, where some 70 percent of the population of 12 million are Muslims, has fewer than 500 transgender people, according to government data. There are no official records available on the number of gays and lesbians.

Bund said the lack of statistical information partly arises from people being afraid to express their minority sexual orientation.

Abdul Hameed Dar, a 42-year-old transgender person, is often harassed. "When we enter even mosques, we are bullied," Dar told ucanews.com. "We can't even walk on roads because anyone from anywhere can bully us with impunity. This is the reality and we have accepted it." 

Dar said that people could be murdered in Jammu and Kashmir for expressing support for same-sex marriage against a backdrop of hate campaigns emanating from some mosques and through social media platforms.

Bund said he had received anonymous death threats. "We are yet to give women their due, leave alone the rights of sexual minorities," Bund said.

According to a study conducted by the University of Kashmir, members of sexual minorities are often denied roles in social and political decision making as well as access to the educational opportunities needed to obtain well-paid white-collar jobs.

Harassment from their own families, peers and communities caused many to move to more progressive states and cities in India, the study found.

A significant proportion suffer from psychological problems ranging from stress disorders to panic attacks, depression and suicidal tendencies.

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