By HH Mohrmen
A little less than ten years ago in the second half of 2009, I wrote in this column on the issue of the rights of LGBTQIA+ which some readers did not like. No doubt the Shillong Times had in the past published write-ups on the issue, but till then it was perhaps the first time that a local perspective of the issue was carried by this esteemed paper. It was rather expected that a large chunk of the population in the state should be judgmental and non-accepting in their attitude towards the community. The reason is primarily because of the lack of awareness or perhaps many still see the issue as part of the bad influence of the western culture. I know this because I also had a similar experience when I was a young man of a little over twenty years old in 1989.
My first exposure to the gay and lesbian issue was when I was in Manchester, England and it was then that I came to know about it, and initially I was in shock too and found it hard to believe. Same sex union was not only considered immoral and against the teachings of many religious books but three decades ago, it was also still an illegal act even in the west. Like many of us my first reaction was, ‘No, this is not in our culture. We don’t have this in our culture and it happens only here in the west.” But my friends and colleagues in the seminary told me that it is very much there because it is only natural that people will have different sexual orientations.
When I came back, I took a hard look and realised that it is true. There are people who have different sexual orientations and some are even very closely related to me and they are almost everywhere in the society. We are not aware of them because they do not dare come out in the open for fear of being stigmatised and even ostracised by the community and even by their own families. And in our case, the community hesitates to come out because their sexual orientation was still considered to be illegal till the Supreme Court judgement last Thursday. While in the other places the community organises gay pride parade for people to show solidarity with the LGBTQIA+ community, in Shillong or Meghalaya in general no such event was organised in the past, perhaps because the community still felt vulnerable to expose themselves.
Now after the Supreme Court has struck down section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which criminalises same sex relationships I can see the same episode which occurred to me thirty years ago repeating again. The apex court judgement has sparked debates in private talks and discussions and there are interactions about the consequences of the court ruling even on different social media platforms. The first and immediate reaction of many members of our society was – this is not part of our culture and it is only the influence of the western culture. The second major argument was – it is against the Church’s teachings.
With regards to religion I can only speak for myself and my own belief that all humans are children of the same God who is the Father and the Mother and I respect the dignity of every human. The cultural part of the argument can be argued by the fact that perhaps our predecessors who in the past were apprehensive of sending their children to school, also made the same argument because it was not part of our culture to send kids to school then. And on the same lines one can also argue that it was never part of our culture to wear clothes either, but look at us and where are we now? Where would we be without our clothes?
Like everything else in the universe, culture also evolves with time and what was not part of the culture in the past is now becoming part and parcel of our customs and practices. Take for example the scenario in a dorbar shnong a decade or so ago. The members attending the durbar will mostly constitute of men with their turbans, moustache and long beard. But now women are taking active part in the dorbar shnong and we now have a village like New Nonglamin in Nongtalang which has a female chief. Culture too changes with time and in the past the LGBTQIA+ issue was not talked about because it was unconsciously suppressed by the society and maybe the members themselves were ashamed of coming out of the closet.
In the past; the LGBTQIA+ community were not obvious because they were not organised and the mere fact that they do not come out openly does not mean that they do not exist. They are there in the society in body and soul. They are not aliens who came from the outer world. They are our very own relatives and friends. It is just because we do look hard enough to see them or maybe we deliberately turn our blind eye to them because we already have our biases; hence we don’t notice them. The fact the LGBTQIA+, a minority community which had come out openly and have now won their fight against being oppressed, stigmatisatised and ostracised is a major achievement and a reason to celebrate for them and their supporters.
One major hurdle has been removed but the journey will not be easy for the community. The LGBTQIA+ group still has a long way to go and the major challenge is being accepted by the society. This is the next obstacle that groups will have to prevail against in the very near future. Again if one is to judge from the kind of arguments and post on social media, it is obvious that a large section of the population is still against the idea. They still find the judgment hard to digest and will not readily accept the community.
Initially Churches or religious organisations will also outrightly reject the community and surprisingly in Meghalaya even denominations which had shown some leniency and accepted the community in the west remained silent even after the judgement. In the UK, Canada and USA Churches like the Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists were in the forefront of the movement for gay rights but their counterparts here are silent and remain a mute spectator of what is going on.
In the west the Unitarians and Unitarian Universalist not only opened the church’s door to solemnise gay marriages but members of the community were even ordained as ministers and serve the church in different capacities. There are of course other Christian denominations which also support gay rights but none have taken an official stand to support the community in the state. We are yet to see any church in Meghalaya making public their stand on the issue.
The members of the community like any other human beings are spiritual beings too; they will definitely need support from the church and religious organisation but that is not forthcoming as of now. Given the situation that they are in now one can’t help but wonder what would Jesus do if he is with us here now? Will he join with everybody and cast his stone, or will he tell us about the loving Father who showed everlasting love and mercy to everybody.
If I am to remind our readers the title my article in 2009 was ‘Standing on the side of love,’ it is also the slogan of the movement for gay rights led by the Unitarian Universalist Association in USA. The whole gay rights movement is about love and no doubt the Supreme Court’s judgement has helped love triumph over one hurdle but the race is not over yet. The battle is won but the war for changing mindsets still has to be fought. It will end only when we accept and embrace the LGBTQIA+ community. The war will be over when all sections of the society accept them without any condition. That is when love will win and love will prevail over everything else.