By Suparna Mathur
“If you listen with your ear to the ground, there is that definite rumbling, the unmistakable buzz that now, more than ever before, women and men – lesbian, gay, or of any other persuasion, can finally awake to new possibilities…” — Vikram Phukan, Bombay Dost magazine
In recent years, the South Asian subcontinent has simultaneously seen notable achievements and drawbacks for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities. These opposing forces have developed at varying paces in South Asian ‘queer’ communities across the globe.
In November 2008, Nepal’s Supreme Court passed a landmark judgment in favor of laws guaranteeing full rights to all LGBT people, including the right to same-sex marriage. This decision to define sexual minorities as ‘natural persons’ resulted in changes in attitude for the historically conservative nation. For the first time, gays contested the polls and elected the nation’s first openly gay Minister of Parliament (MP), Sunil Babu Pant.
Over a year later in July 2009, India finally repealed Section 377 of the Indian penal code, which previously criminalized homosexuality, punishable by a 10-year sentence. This was a landmark victory after a long and controversial legal battle loaded with political and social undertones.
While Nepal and India have taken steps forward, homosexuality is still illegal and a punishable offense in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Maldives, and Pakistan.
Miranda Kennedy reports that no one has been executed for sodomy in Pakistan’s recent history, and that “in some areas, homosexual sex is even tacitly accepted – though still officially illegal – as long as it doesn’t threaten traditional marriage…Most people know it happens – from the police to the wives of the men involved.”¹ This is similar to the hidden acceptance of homosexuality in many Islamic countries, where gay populations flourish, but are still largely secretive.
Despite its staunch position against the legality of homosexuality, Pakistan’s Supreme Court passed an unprecedented decision to award the transgender population equal financial benefits in July 2009.