Suffering from a western disease

India’s Health Minister recently referred to homosexuality as a western disease. Of course other politicians, keen to show India as progressive, are climbing over themselves to reject the assertion.

Those who know me know my, erm, interest in Indian men. Since my teens I have had this interest (I remember a cute boy in a Pataks advert – I blame the media) and I have developed this interest as I’ve got older. But I’m also very interested in India and had the opportunity to spend three weeks there two years ago. It just so happened that upon my arrival, the Indian High Court ruled that the ban on homosexual acts was unconstitutional. I thought “my work here is done”.

The perception in developing nations that homosexuality is western is fairly common. I blame the Greeks for inventing democracy and gayness. Interestingly, an Indian academic friend told me that the ban on buggery in India and throughout the British empire was not to prevent homosexuality but to deter bestiality. So by default India should be proud of its history of carnal relations with animals. Nice.

One of my favourite films is “My Brother Nikhil”which tells the story of a gay swimming champion in Goa who acquires HIV in the early 1990s. The story follows his struggle with the disease, the authorities and his family. But the number of gay themed Bollywood films can be counted on one hand. They are few and far between.

Last year Dunno Y … Na Jaane Kyun was released and was seen as outrageously gay for the Indian market. I haven’t seen this yet (although will be dropping hints to friends heading to Bombay soon) but the controversy around it was huge. Press coverage here centred around the main actor being disowned by his family for playing he role. Indian friends are more sceptical and suggest this was a PR stunt to generate international interest.

Homosexuality has of course existed in India for centuries – long before the British came. The Arthasastra refers to it but considers it such a minor “crime” so as to only allow a small punishment.  The Manusmriti also refers to it but only in terms of controlling. The Kama Sutra is of course unabiguous.

The Health Minister referring to homosexuality as a disease is not unique to India either. In Europe homosexuality has been defined both as a disease and a mental disorder. The terminology used by the Minister recently wasn’t helpful, but the reaction has been.

Which pretty much means it is my duty to attend the famous Gay Bombay New Year party just to make sure….

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