I hope the court seeks our opinion on 377’

The head of the Indian Psychiatric Society, which recently declared homosexuality is not an illness, on ignorance, awareness and taking a stance

While the government is dragging its feet over a review of the archaic Section 377 that criminalises homosexuality for being unnatural, the 4,000-member Indian Psychiatric Society (IPS) has adopted an official stance on the matter. According to the IPS, being gay is not a mental illness; it’s a sexual preference that is a variation on nature, and not an aberration. It has also said that people with a different sexual orientation should not be punished or ostracised. This announcement was

Actually, we have always taken this position on the issue. Some eight or 10 years ago, a former IPS president had signed a document with the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and Royal College of Psychiatrists, London, and, with that, agreed that homosexuality is not a pathological condition. This was signed but we never made a noise about it because we didn’t feel the need to. But the ins and outs of Section 377 were bothering us. So last year, the former president constituted a ‘Task Force on LGBT’, which met first in Bhubaneswar. There, we took a stand to deal with homosexuality with much more empathy. A need was felt to take it to the bigger cities, so I reconstituted the task force this year, with Dr Kersi Chavda as chair, Dr Amrit Patta Joshi as co-chair and Dr Avinash De Sousa as convener. It then met in Mumbai in March.

Did any particular case or incident trigger your announcement?

Apparently, when that predecessor made those remarks, a senior IPS member resigned in protest. So I thought there is a need to officially endorse our stance.

Did you face any opposition?

So far only one person from the IPS, who is fairly senior, has rung me up to ask if I was doing the right thing. But at least 200 psychiatrists have congratulated me. In fact, it’s interesting that we didn’t even cast a vote [to arrive at the decision].

How does the task force plan to fix the current practices, in which some doctors use conversion and aversion therapies to cure homosexuals?

We will organise awareness lectures both for the public and healthcare professionals (from IPS members to paramedics, and GPs and gynaecologists). We have just got done with a professional meet in Mumbai, and will hold similar meets in other cities. These are not didactic lectures; these allow for the dissemination of information about the biology and psycho-social factors that operate in homosexuality.

What if the medicos don’t adhere to the IPS mandate? Will you penalise them?

No. We just mean to gently communicate to them that what they are saying (or doing) is scientifically unsound. We have no coercive powers whatsoever. We can, at the most, pull up people for unethical practices. Through our lectures, we are asking doctors to not force anybody to undergo such therapies. Instead, they should tell the patients that all the therapy that is going to be given to them, is to either come to grips with, or make them feel comfortable about, their orientation.

Do you plan to implement your vision outside the medical circle?

I hope the courts ask for our opinion [on Section 377]. They never do. I know Naz Foundation is protesting against it, but I don’t know if any private psychiatrist has been called to the court to give his or her opinion on the matter.

So why does the IPS not reach out to the court instead?

Why should we? There are lots of people fighting for it. Also, we have other issues to look into such as the Mental Healthcare Bill. We are not saying that homosexuality is not an important issue for us, but the homosexual community has never approached us to do something about it. I don’t know why that is so. I don’t know if it’s a fact that the mental healthcare fraternity has earned a bad name, but it’s possible.

Where does this declaration put India on the world map of inclusivity?

Until Sec 377 goes away, we will have a poor image (unlike Holland and Denmark). It has to go. What’s the big deal about two consenting adults indulging in acts that don’t hurt anybody?

What will take for Indians to accept the LGBTQIA+ community as just regular people?

Law will definitely help. Affirmations by the technical experts like us, too. But this transformation is going to take time. I would say two more decades. That is how much time it takes for any kind of social change.

made by the current president of the IPS, Dr Ajit V Bhide. A video of the announcement, made at a recent meet in Mumbai, was uploaded online earlier this month. In an interview with Mirror, Dr Bhide suggests, among other things, that mental healthcare professionals need to upgrade their knowledge about fluid identities, because “if it bothers people, we must be bothered”. Excerpts:

In 2014, when your predecessor, Dr Indira Sharma, labelled homosexuality as unnatural, other members of the IPS publicly refuted that claim. Why did it take the IPS so long to make its stance official?

Mumbai Mirror