Yes it is indeed heartening to see pride parades in the heart of urban Indian cities, asserting the rights and individual essence of people hailing from the LGBTQ fraternity. Yes indeed discussions on Twitter are gaining momentum around this once hushed and closeted reality of the human race. However, on a parallel vein, families in rural India have their own ways of dealing with LGBTQ individuals.
In some villages, secret honour killings are planned. So the only way for a young gay man or lesbian woman to survive is to run away to another place (often the nearest city), with no money or social support. Even today in many parts of India (particularly in the conservative states) lesbian women are subjected to family-sanctioned corrective rapes, which are often perpetrated by their own family members.
While today Indian youth (in general) have an unprecedented acceptance of homosexuality and queer identities, the struggles and realities of people belonging to this fraternity within the boundaries of their own homes remain largely unchanged. A recent study found that one of the major factors that results in the stigmatisation of LGBTQ people is parental reaction towards homosexuality. The study goes on to conclude that most LGBTQ people are acceptable to family only if they agree to behave like heterosexuals.
According to psychologists, there is a widespread practice of family members forcing LGBTQ people to undergo 'corrective' therapy. This is a more rampant phenomenon in semi-urban and rural India. There are even horrifying and real accounts of people who were forced to stay at psychiatric wards for undergoing corrective treatment that was invariably harsh at both the physical as well as the psychological level. "From administering psychotic drugs to conducting torturous psychosexual experiments, these so called corrective centres do it all," says a lesbian from a suburb in Chennai, on condition of anonymity.
One can rightly conclude that these primitive measures can cease completely if the doctors (who are approached by the families of LGBTQ people) do not hesitate to state the truth- that being a lesbian or gay is as natural as being a heterosexual and that therefore this condition does not require any correction or treatment.
"While not all doctors follow unethical practices, LGBTQ people and their parents must know that there are doctors who follow trends just to adjust their current practices to what will get them more clients and money," says Madhu Kundra, a psychiatrist.
So should LGBTQ people really be forthcoming about their sexual identity and gender disposition? Should they be candid irrespective of the dangers and threats that might lurk in their immediate ecosystem?
Sakshi Juneja, founder of Gaysi, an online space for LGBT people, says, "These people do not owe it to anyone to come out. So, I would say they should take their own time and come out to only those that they are comfortable with. And this is particularly important for those who live in shackling communities in rural India. Financial and emotional stability are must-haves before they communicate with their family."
Although the lack of parental support can potentially be debilitating, it does not mean that all is lost, says Kundra. "I know many LGBTQ citizens who have formed alternative support groups, or family-like units, when their own families have been less supportive. Fortunately, in urban India, at least, we have strong LGBT associations and communities in most big cities, so people are never alone. However, to state the obvious, such support groups are acutely lacking in rural India."
So what is the way forward? "The communities operating as support systems for the LGBTQ fraternity in urban areas need to simply find innovative ways of extending their reach to rural India," says Kundra and adds, "Small steps like initiating theatres and street plays to sensitise communities in rural India and initiating online platforms where LGBTQ people from the hinterlands can come together are crucial first steps that can go a long way. It is very important to have emergency helpline numbers (to prevent crimes and abuse against theme) at village and district levels," she adds.
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