news Thursday, June 11, 2015 - 05:30
  A recent newspaper report about men and women who are LGBT being raped in order to “correct” or “cure” their “problem” has sparked interest and disbelief in equal measure. The Times of India reported last week that the LGBT Collective in Telangana had recorded 15 instances of “corrective rapes” in the last five years. In one horrifying instance stated in the report, a woman was forced to have sex with her son - in this case the act of forced sexual intercourse could have been carried out after coercion from other family members. “Corrective rape” is another form of “conversion therapy” that has emerged in a heteronormative culture which places men higher than women, and advocates that heterosexuality is the only form of sexuality. Such a society puts great pressure on men and women to get married to the opposite sex and have children (the onus of which is higher on women). Anything else is stigmatised. But while the general stigma, police atrocities and other forms of discrimination against the LGBT community around the world get some attention, the pressure exerted by families on men and women to be “straight” and the extreme measures resorted to are possibly even more traumatic, and therefore more difficult to talk about. "When Anitha turned 30, she finally told her family that she was attracted to women. Her family reacted by saying it didn’t matter who she liked as long as she satisfied her husband and gave them a grandchild." Conversations with Indian LGBT rights activists suggest that the real number of people subjected to “corrective rapes” may be disturbingly higher. “Parents see it just like other means of converting gays like sending them to asylum and giving them shock treatments,” says Abhishek, an LGBT activist who is part of Queer Campus Hyderabad, an independent student group. Abhishek feels that sheer ignorance about sexuality has led to this scenario. “We live in a society that does not accept gays and where it is illegal to be gay. So the parents use corrective rape to get the victim to conform to social norms. What they do not realize is that they are traumatising the boy or girl,” he tells The News Minute. ‘A rape is a rape’ Gowthaman Ranganathan, a lawyer with Bengaluru-based Alternative Law Forum, says the term “corrective rape” is a misnomer. “A rape is a rape, whatever may have been the intention behind it. Some resort to it to punish people, some do it to ‘discipline’ or ‘cure’ them. Nothing justifies the act and categorising it only gives the accused the benefit of doubt,” he says. Gowthaman says that the most common reaction to such reports is one of disbelief because it is unthinkable that the family can perpetrate such violence against its own members. According to Gowthaman, people are capable of going to extreme measures to get what they want. Referring to the episode where a woman was forced to have sex with her son, he says, “The mother perhaps could have been forced by the family to take the bizarre step and is equally traumatised.” Magdalene Jeyarathnam, a Chennai-based counselor, tells the story of Anitha*, a lesbian whom she has been counseling for some years now. Anitha was 16 when she was married to her mother’s brother. Back then she didn’t really understand that she could be attracted to women. Her parents suspected something odd with her and thought marriage would solve the issue. Before long, her husband started complaining about the lack of sexual intimacy. When things did not change as she grew into adulthood, her family started demanding a grandchild. “Since she got married in the family, she did not have any place she could go to if she left her husband,” Magdalene says. Under extreme pressure, she caved in. When she had difficulty in conceiving, Anitha was even okay with the idea of artificial insemination. When Anitha turned 30, she finally told her family that she was attracted to women. Her family reacted by saying it didn’t matter who she liked as long as she satisfied her husband and gave them a grandchild. Although marital rape is not an offence under India’s rape laws, sexual intercourse against a woman’s will is an offence. “In such cases, it is not just a person who is raping a woman, the entire community is responsible for what happened to her,” Magdalene says. Although gay men too face harassment, some of it is qualitatively different and often the threats range from breaking family ties to being cut off from property. Heteronormative tendency is reflected in experience of the Chennai-based East West Centre for Counselling. A few years ago, during a campaign, the organisation had distributed pamphlets about its counseling services for the LGBT community. Men would call on the helpline number asking to speak to lesbians. When asked why, they would reply, “They have not met a real man till now. If they meet me, they will change their mind.” The implication was that the man could “cure” her, presumably, with heterosexual sex. Given this state of affairs, Gowthaman is of the opinion that the need of the hour is not legislation, but awareness and discussion around LGBT issues. It’s time to address the larger questions of tolerance and the right to choice, since law is not always a remedy, he says. (*Name changed to protect identity) Images for representation