It has been an eventful year for sexual minorities in India. After successfully challenging in the Delhi High Court a Colonial-era law that criminalizes homosexuality, the community cleared another hurdle last month when the Central Government declined to take a stand on the issue and left it up to the Supreme Court (which is hearing a challenge to the high court ruling) to decide. Now the community is working toward social acceptance: they are joining in to observe traditional festivals until now the prerogative of heterosexual couples.
As we discussed in earlier posts, the ruling -- if it stands in the apex court -- will only have decriminalized homosexuality, not accepted such relationships. In fact, social acceptance is going to come slow, if at all. But the relaxed law has eased the coming-out process for many in the community.
On Wednesday, several Indians celebrated Karva Chauth, a dawn-to-moonrise fasting ritual traditionally observed by married Hindu women for the well-being, prosperity and longevity of their husbands. It is mostly observed with much fanfare in the northern and western states of India. Over the years, the ritual has ceased to be the domain of married women alone; living in a working women's hostel in India, I watched with much amusement as girls, all dolled up, walked to the balcony after sundown with their plates of offerings, waiting for the moon to rise, all in the honor of their boyfriends or fiances (a couple husbands included). Thanks to Bollywood movies, the tradition has been glamorized and immortalized over the years.
Now the gay community wants a piece of the traditional pie. Headlines such as "Not Straight and Simple Karva Chauth", "Gay and Fasting on Karva Chauth", and "It's a Pink Karva Chauth" dotted newspapers. The ruling that finally stops viewing gays as criminals has given the community a fillip. As a couple -- fasting for each other -- tells The Times of India:
“After such a long time, we are enjoying a certain amount of freedom thanks to court’s order. We are like any other couple and have normal feelings,” said the “husband” on condition of anonymity.
The irony of it all is that the ritual itself has often been criticized for being symbolic of patriarchy: the fact that it's one-sided with only the women fasting for her husband's well-being has left many modern couples uncomfortable. To be fair, a lot has changed. Many women observe it voluntarily (there's a gift waiting for you at the end of the day, after all, besides all the shopping for clothes and jewelry!) and some husbands join in the fasting too. A bit of detoxification can't hurt. Other couples savor their tandoori chicken. A good part of the country doesn't observe it all. But the "good-wife-tradition" tag, family pressures to observe it, and accompanying festivities have remained, making it a popular festival. Thirtysix and Counting has never observed it:
[F]asting for the health and longevity and such like of the husband was acceptable only if he would consent to return the favour. Which of course, he would not. [...] But the practice is a beautiful one, symbolic as it is of a woman’s ability to ensure for the wellbeing for her spouse and her family. I endure snoring through the night. [...] I endure unmentionable bodily sounds. I endure said spouse vegetating in front of the television for three days continuously during long weekends without insisting I be taken out and entertained. [...] When it comes to food and being fed I have zilch endurance. To keep my spirits up, and to end my self flagellation over not being a good wife, I decided to list out why I am a good wife.
1] I never say no. I never have a headache. I am never too tired.
When I mentioned to S that gays were reportedly observing the fast, he smiled: "One step forward two steps back".
I see where he's coming from, but I understand why observing such mainstream traditions are attractive to a group of people who have struggled for years to get social acceptance (It's another matter that I don't see or hear the voices of lesbians in the whole debate. Where are they?). It probably has little to do with
patriarchy and more about celebrating something that we always associated with heterosexual couples. To quote a gay man who is observing Karva Chauth for his lover (Hindustan Times),
“Don’t mistake me; my lover is no God and this fast is not for him.” [...] “It’s for us.”
Whatzinaname! hasn't come to terms with homosexuality entirely, but is all for freedom of choice/liberty
Ritu gives the low down on Karva Chauth at Freeflow
Crazy Sam at the Straight-Friendly Gay Blog
Rituparna Bhowmik's Reuters blogpost on social acceptance
Neha Vishwanathan's list of Bollywood stereotypes about gays/lesbians
BlogHer posts on India's gay rights movement:
Landmark Ruling Boosts India's Gay Movement
Gay India Comes Out In Force
Sexual Minorities In India Fight Archaic Law