India: An Open Letter to Kiran Bedi – Homosexuality, Privacy Rights and the forth-coming Delhi Assembly Elections
The right wing nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has projected you as the Chief Ministerial candidate in the Delhi Assembly elections scheduled for 7 February, 2015. The lawyers in all the subordinate courts of Delhi have opposed your candidature reminding the electorate about the brutal lathi charge in 1988 leashed upon them under your stewardship while you were the Deputy Commissioner of Police (North). One of the injured lawyers is presently functioning as a judge of the Delhi High Court; he was given eight stitches for the injuries sustained during the lathi charge. Subsequently a Judicial Commission of Inquiry headed by Justice D.P. Wadhwa indicted you. All this is fresh in public mind. What needs to be highlighted is your homophobic views aired publicly while you were the Inspector General of Prisons (Tihar, Delhi).
Your prejudices effectively ensured that the Jail inmates were denied access to condoms. Media reports at that time indicated that you consider homosexuality to be “abnormal” and would like to take all steps to give the inmates “a chance to be normal”. You had opined, then, that you would not hesitate to step up surveillance to “ensure” that inmates do not indulge in homosexual activity. Moreover you saw “no need” to amend Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). To recapitulate what you said:
“I am still not reconciled to except homosexuality as a normal human practice. We need to undertake a massive education programme among the inmates so that I could at least give them a chance to be normal. The first step would be preventive, through an education programme. If that doesn’t work, the next step would be to increase surveillance.
“If that too fails, I would go in for increased counselling. Only after that would I consider anything else.”
You also said that supplying condoms “would amount to encouraging people to indulge in homosexuality. It would be like legalizing drugs.”
Constitutional lawyers at that time had dubbed your assertions about surveillance to be preposterous; and that it would be the death of liberty of prisoners.
It will be a bit too late as well as embarrassing for you to say that you have been misquoted, as the above quotes are from The Pioneer dated 21.02.1994 and the reporting is by Amit Prakash. The Pioneer’s editor is a Rajya Sabha member courtesy BJP; the paper is pro-BJP.
You would recall that members of AIDS Bhedbhav Virodhi Andolan (ABVA) had an official meeting with your good-self in 1994 within the precincts of Tihar Jail and had given you a copy of “Less Than Gay”, a Citizens’ Report on the Status of Homosexuality in India, brought out by ABVA in November-December, 1991. This report was the first such document published in India. ABVA had requested you to go through the report and shed your prejudices against homosexuality and come to terms with the fact that a percentage of people (males and females) have a different sexual orientation which is both normal and natural; these are the gay and lesbian people. Homosexuality is innate; you are born with it. Access to condoms will not make a heterosexual person to ‘become’ a homosexual person.
Ms. Bedi, when you were planning to increase surveillance of inmates at Tihar Jail did you realize that you would be subverting the fundamental rights enshrined in the Indian Constitution available to all citizens of India including those inside the jail? Article 21 of the Constitution of India guarantees the right to life and personal liberty. The Right to Privacy is an essential part of the Right to Life as enunciated in several Supreme Court judgements.
We wish to refresh your memory that in 1994 ABVA had filed a Civil Writ Petition no. 1784/1994 titled AIDS Bhedbhav Virodhi Andolan v. Union of India & others wherein you as Inspector General of Prisons (Tihar, Delhi) were respondent number 4. The petition prayed interalia:
“(a) to declare that section 377 of the Indian Penal Code 1908 is unconstitutional and void –
as being hit by the provisions of Articles 13, 14 and 21 and 25 of the Constitution of India. …
(d) to restrain the respondents from segregating or isolating prisoners with a certain sexual orientation or those suffering from AIDS or from commencing prosecution against those prisoners who are suspected to have participated in consensual anal intercourse.”
To refresh your memory we reproduce relevant points from the counter affidavit filed by you in the said writ petition in September, 1994:
“… there is no justification and legality for supply of condoms in the prison. Supply of condoms will promote homosexuality.”
Outlining the steps taken to discourage homosexuality in jail the affidavit elaborated that senior level check at night is being taken; as also an Open Panchayat system which allows free interaction on development in the prison; and mobile petition box system to encourage anonymous information of all kinds of incidence of behavior.
Your affidavit betrays your ignorance on and prejudices about homosexuality as also your intention to undertake surveillance on the private lives of prisoners.
Ms. Bedi, do you still hold the same views on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) issues after a lapse of more than two decades?
For your ready reference we may point out that a large section of civil society appears to be in favour of decriminalizing consensual homosexual acts. Amongst the political parties and their allied groups, the Bharatiya Janata Party, Vishva Hindu Parishad, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh perceive gay sex to be unnatural. The Left parties and Aam Aadmi Party are in favour of decriminalizing homosexuality. Both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi of Indian National Congress have publicly supported the removal of Section 377, IPC – an archaic, repressive and unjust law that infringes on the basic human rights enshrined in our Constitution; Sonia Gandhi hopes that Parliament will address this issue and uphold the constitutional guarantee of life and liberty to all citizens of India.
Lastly the LGBT community is not a miniscule minority. No authentic census has been conducted in India on the exact number but the number is likely to be close to 4% of the population, if one were to go by the studies done by Alfred Kinsey, an American scientist in the last century. There is no known reason to believe otherwise. This constitutes a sizeable number of potential voters for any party. Reports indicate that President Obama got re-elected courtesy a swing of this section of voters towards the Democratic Party in the U.S.A.
[Dr. Paramjit Singh Sahni is one of the founder members of ABVA; Shobha Aggarwal is an advocate and the ABVA’s writ petition was filed through her. Both are members of Public Interest Litigation Watch Group.]
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