Saturday, November 29, 2008

Exclusive - 'Dostana' in Pakistan

Gay Planet in Karachi

The Dawn newspaper refused to print this op-ed on homosexualism in Pakistan.

[By Irfan Husain, columnist for Dawn]

The furore caused by the movie Dostana underlines the hypocrisy rampant in the subcontinent. The film is an exploration of a gay relationship between two men played by Abishek Bacchan and John Abraham, and is in no way overtly exploitative. Apart from one kiss, there are no scenes containing any sex. Nevertheless, a storm broke out when the film was released in Pakistan.

The truth is that we in South Asia are extremely Victorian in our attitudes towards the discussion of sexual mattes of any kind. Given these taboos, it is easy to understand why a debate about homosexuality remains out of bounds in polite company. And yet, this aspect of human sexuality is rampant in our part of the world, much as we would like to sweep it under the carpet.

Foreigners new to the subcontinent are often shocked by the sight of men walking along, holding hands in public. Even in the most liberal western country, such a sight would be rare in broad daylight along a public thoroughfare. And yet, despite this common display of affection among males, a similar demonstration among young men and women is frowned upon. Indeed, it might well cause couples in Pakistan to land up in jail if they don’t have a marriage certificate.

However, despite our prudish pretence, the fact is that we are relatively tolerant of homosexual behaviour. Our literature contains many references to romantic attachment between men. And for years, homosexuality in Pashtun society has been an open secret, although it might well be exaggerated. According to local tradition, many men live by the credo “Women for duty; boys for pleasure.” Indeed, Afghans often dress up pretty boys as girls, and have them dance in public.

According to Afghan tradition, even birds cover their rear with their wings when flying over Kandahar. In our tribal areas, local society was shocked when one amorous man actually married his young (male) lover after a colourful ceremony a couple of years ago. Muslim aristocrats in Delhi and Lucknow in Mughal India were known for their frequent affairs with attractive young men.

In the West, there have been huge strides in public opinion since the infamous trial and conviction of Oscar Wilde for homosexuality over a century ago. Now, being gay is fashionable in New York, London and Paris. While residual dislike lingers in the working classes, homophobia among educated urban professionals is very rare. And as attitudes change and gays move into the mainstream, their rights are part of the public agenda. Thus, the discussion is now about whether gays can marry, adopt children and live life as normal couples. And these relationships are as much between consenting men as between women. Lesbianism, too, is widely accepted as an alternative life choice.

According to biologists, around 2.5% of the male population has a genetic predisposition towards homosexuality. Apparently, some male babies are born with a different gene pattern, and their sexual orientation is therefore preordained by nature. To demand that such people must conform to the heterosexual norm is both cruel and unnatural.

Such social pressures cause huge stresses on these unfortunate individuals: parents want them to get married and have children, while society demands that they keep their natural desires tightly under control. And yet, transvestites are allowed to exist on the fringes of everyday life. Middle class gay men and women occupy a twilight zone in urban Pakistan (and India, too, I suspect).

In truth, while we reluctantly accept the existence of gay men, lesbianism is something we are much more uncomfortable with. And yet, our rigidly segregated society often forces young women to turn to each other. As there are very few opportunities for young people to mingle and meet, teenaged girls can hardly be blamed for experimenting with their own sex. In some cases, this becomes a lifelong preference.

While many people I know express shock and horror at these alternative lifestyle choices, I find it odd that they should choose to express their abhorrence for matters that are really none of their business. What happens between consenting adults in the privacy of bedrooms should not really concern the rest of us. True, the monotheistic faiths contain injunctions against carnal acts between men; but surely it is for the Maker to allocate blame. I, for one, refuse to be my brother’s keeper.

By driving an entire category of men and women underground, we have inflicted untold misery on hundreds of thousands of our citizen. Our penal system and laws reflect a deeply intolerant mindset that demands conformity at every level. And while we condemn any lifestyle that is not in line with the norm (whatever that is), we never stop to think that gays do not harm anybody else. If anything, they tend to be more creative than straight people. A study in the UK found that in industries like fashion and advertising, gays tend to earn more as a group than do ‘normal’ people. Music and the film in the West contain a disproportionate percentage of gays.

The ‘no-discrimination laws’ in the U.S. and the UK mean that more and more gays have begun joining the armed services. Normally, these are the most conservative institutions anywhere, so this change signifies how attitudes have been transformed within a generation. Despite these profound changes in much of the world, we in the subcontinent cling to our intolerant outlook. Indeed, we take positive delight in making life miserable for nonconformists: anybody who looks, talks or dresses differently is mocked or locked up. Perhaps I am overstating the case a bit, but the fact is that we are a deeply intolerant society.

And yet a TV programme like ‘Begum Nawazish’, featuring a man dressed as a woman, can become hugely popular in a deeply conservative country like Pakistan. How to explain such a seeming contradiction? Clearly, we can laugh at a cross-dressing act as a fiction created by show biz, but would probably be very uncomfortable if we were seated next to an overtly gay person at a dinner party.

But until we can accept and celebrate the reality of all kinds of differences within the vast mosaic that makes up humanity, we will continue to struggle with edgy movies like Dostana.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

what a superb post.

DAWN should have published this piece, nevertheless, this is a great start.

Dostana is a good film - a start to dialoguing openly.

Anonymous said...

Indian subcontinent has suffered over a thousand years of moronic Abrahamic religions. Banish Islam and Christianity and you will get true freedom of the mind and body!

When are they going to get rid of the baggage of Victorian lawmakers from their penal codes?

Connoisseur said...

Deep conservatism comes from the most peaceful relgion the world:) ISLAM. How is that?

Anonymous said...

hELLO THERE tHIS NONSENSE about homosexuality been absent in the Islamic World is bunk people just Ghazni and his General and and Alauddin Khilji and Malik Kafur are not only well known but celebrated just wiki it

Anonymous said...

First I would humbly like to ask you about your religion regardless of your opinion.

This is the Islamic opinion.

We also (sent) Lut: he said to his people: "Do ye commit lewdness such as no people in creation (ever) committed before you? "For ye practice your lusts on men in preference to women: ye are indeed a people transgressing beyond bounds." - Holy Quran 7:80-81

Obviously a Muslim country like Pakistan can not allow such lewdness on a state level and there should be actions taken against it by the Police and a Court of Law so that it is eradicated before it becomes rampant.

Historically, Christianity has generally regarded homosexuality, in the sense of human sexual behavior, to be an immoral practice (or vice). Denominations that continue to condemn homosexuality include the Roman Catholic Church[1], conservative synods of the Lutheran Church,[dubious – discuss] the Eastern Orthodox churches[citation needed], most Evangelical Protestant churches, the Southern Baptist Convention, and the Christian & Missionary Alliance. You can see this on Wikipedia.

Currently, the issue of homosexuality within Hinduism is controversial, especially amongst Hindus in countries where homosexuality is generally accepted. Hindu views of homosexuality are varying and diverse, in part because the accepted Hindu religious texts do not explicitly mention homosexuality. Sex was promoted within the context of a loving couple - usually heterosexual.

Giani Joginder Singh Vedanti, the highest temporal Sikh authority, has condemned homosexuality while reminding visiting Sikh-Canadian Members of Parliament (MPs) of their religious duty to oppose same-sex marriage.[1] In a report published in March 2005, Vedanti said, "The basic duty of Sikh MPs in Canada should be to support laws that stop this kind of practice homosexuality, because there are thousands of Sikhs living in Canada, to ensure that Sikhs do not fall prey to this practice." Speaking of MPs in favour of such relationships he continued, "The Sikh religion would never accept such MPs. Nobody would support such a person having such dirty thoughts in their mind because it is against the Sikh religion and the Sikh code of conduct and totally against the laws of nature. Sikhs around the world must maintain fidelity to these religious teachings," he argued, "and no politician is exempt".[2]

Anonymous said...

Giani Joginder Singh Vedanti, the highest temporal Sikh authority, has condemned homosexuality while reminding visiting Sikh-Canadian Members of Parliament (MPs) of their religious duty to oppose same-sex marriage.[1] In a report published in March 2005, Vedanti said, "The basic duty of Sikh MPs in Canada should be to support laws that stop this kind of practice homosexuality, because there are thousands of Sikhs living in Canada, to ensure that Sikhs do not fall prey to this practice." Speaking of MPs in favour of such relationships he continued, "The Sikh religion would never accept such MPs. Nobody would support such a person having such dirty thoughts in their mind because it is against the Sikh religion and the Sikh code of conduct and totally against the laws of nature. Sikhs around the world must maintain fidelity to these religious teachings," he argued, "and no politician is exempt".[2]

The supreme Sikh religious body, the Akal Takht, has issued an edict condemning gay marriage, and Vedanti's words were echoed by Manjit Singh Kalkatta, another highly respected Sikh preacher who sits on the governing body of the Golden Temple, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee. "The advice given by the highest Sikh temporal authority to every Sikh is saying that it is unnatural and ungodly, and the Sikh religion cannot support it."[2]
Whenever marriage is mentioned, it is always in reference to a man and a woman. Some Sikhs believe that Guru Granth Sahib Ji is the complete guide to life, and if a marriage between two of the same sexes is not mentioned, it is therefore not right.

This describes sexual intercourse between males as an "abomination" that may be subject to capital punishment, although Halakhic courts are not authorized to administer capital punishment in the absence of a Temple in Jerusalem.

The man that lies with mankind as man lies with womankind, or as woman lies with mankind, is a man that is a Daeva [demon]; this man is a worshipper of the Daevas, a male paramour of the Daevas. (Zoroastrianism).

Abrahamic religions such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam, traditionally forbid sodomy and teach that such behaviour is sinful.

Among the religions that originated in India, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, teachings regarding homosexuality are less clear than among the Abrahamic traditions. Unlike in western religions, homosexuality is rarely discussed. However, most contemporary religious authorities in the various dharmic traditions view homosexuality negatively, and when it is discussed, it is discouraged or actively forbidden.Ancient Hindu law books, from the first century onward, categorize non-vaginal sex (ayoni) as impure.

Chastity is one of the five virtues in the fundamental ethical code of Jainism. For laypersons, the only appropriate avenue for sexuality is within marriage, and homosexuality is believed to lead to negative karma because the sexual act is consumed outside marriage.[48] Jain author Duli Chandra Jain wrote in 2004 that homosexuality and transvestism "stain one's thoughts and feelings" because they involve sexual passion.

Many women, gays and lesbians have been attracted to Buddhism because of its relative lack of misogyny and homophobia, when compared to some other religions. But others report "virulently anti-gay sentiments and teachings from religious teachers in Tibetan and other Buddhist" schools.(http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom_budd.htm).

I do not know your religion brother so I have given all these opinions but yes if you are of some other religion please read its Scripture and then lead to a conclusion. With due respect, if we humans had to decide everything to our individual opinions there would have been no need for religions at all. We would have all been atheists. But how would you then prove how we live and why we die.
I only wanted to give some info and not to fight nor to impose my own opinion and not to reply and start a hot debate here. Take care. May the Lord increase you in profitable knowledge.

Anonymous said...

the viewpoint of gays in india is not the same as in pakistan
article 370 that prohibits homosexuals has been recently abolished by delhi high court,,pakistan has along long way to go

Vishal said...

Anon before you say religion originated in India are homophobic, you must visit Khajuraho temples as well as read Kamasutra (has guidelines for homo love)

Anonymous said...

"accepted as an alternative life choice"

How can you consider being homosexual a "life choice"? being vegetarian or having S&M in bed are life choices, not being homosexual. In other words, you dont choose to be homosexual, you are homosexual. Here in west proving this has always been our struggle, and you are associating it as the outcome of our struggle. Please refrain from doing so.

Thanks,

Amit