By Snigdha Bansal
Our next ally in the “I am an Ally” series is no stranger to pledging her support to social causes she deems greater than herself. The issue at hand though- LGBTQIA Rights for Indians- is something she believes doesn’t have to be a “social cause” at all, since the right to accept your own sexuality and be accepted for it is a basic human right.
A 37-year old writer and former teacher from Dehradun, Sonali Shetty has strong views about LGBTQIA rights and regressive laws such as Section 377 built to keep them in check.
“In India, we see people living free despite committing heinous crimes such as raping minors and women. The judicial system cannot punish the perpetrators of rape, but instead looks at moral policing of people who are no different from the rest of us. Earlier this year, I took some underprivileged children out to eat at a restaurant in Connaught Place to celebrate my husband’s birthday, where the innocent children were humiliated and refused to be served, and we were thrown out of the restaurant. The staff tried to hush it up by giving false excuses. I have been protesting against their behavior and fighting for justice for the children for over three months, but no justice has been granted yet. In such a scenario, determining and controlling the sexual behavior of two consenting adults should be the least of our concerns”
By being around her friends who are homosexual and bisexual, Sonali has seen that they often end up suffering from depression and anxiety disorders due to lack of support and proper counseling.
“Many of my friends have confessed that they often felt like they should slash their wrists as a last resort. They feel the need to behave in a certain way to take the attention off themselves. They have no idea where to go and who to talk to. With all these NGOs mushrooming across the country, I believe one of them should address this pertinent issue and set up a helpline where people from the LGBTQIA can get their questions answered and just have someone to talk to when they need it.”
The dire conditions for the community arise by the “screwed up mentality” that we Indians tend to adopt, she opines.
“Recently I read a book about Rekha, which mentioned that the Bollywood star’s life was shrouded in questions about her sexuality and people often wondered if she was lesbian. The issue is that people enjoy talking about others’ sexual lives. Because this has been built up into such a taboo, people tend to suppress their sexuality, leading to psychological disorders.”
Sonali strongly believes that the only way to get rid of the stigma surrounding the LGBTQIA community is to make the legal system more supportive and sympathetic towards them.
“So many hijras are silently suffering from AIDS because they’re forced into the sex trade for lack of employment opportunities. The government in states such as Kerala is taking steps to provide them respectful jobs, which is commendable. Similarly, the government should also look at other members from the LGBTQIA community by reserving seats for them in jobs in organizations. Gay marriage should be legalized to increase acceptability in the society and get rid of victimization and hate crimes against them. If this is not done, gay people will be forced into heterosexual marriages that will lead to problems not just for them, but for their spouses too. As a trained teacher, I also believe it is important to have a separate subject where children are taught about sexuality, mental disorders and sexually transmitted diseases”
Sonali urges the judiciary to look at crimes such as rape before criminalizing people’s sexuality and stresses on the need for greater acceptability towards the LGBTQIA community in India. Only then, she believes, will we be able to create a better, more inclusive India.