Can Hinduism and homosexuality coexist? – Nathan McDermott

Baba Ramdev at Mumbai Gay Pride Parade.

Prof Manu BhagavanProf of History Manu Bhagavan attributes India’s sexually conservative policies to British colonialism. “To say that Hinduism as a religion is theologically anti-gay would be very difficult to prove,” he said. – Nathan McDermott

Anti-gay violence has reportedly tripled in India since a 2013 Indian Supreme Court ruling criminalizing same-sex relations, thrusting the once-taboo topic into the center of public and religious discourse. But just how accepting Hinduism, the country’s largest religion, is of homosexuality remains a matter of continuing debate.

LGBT-rights groups say that nearly 600 people were arrested in India between January and October 2014 for violating a ban on “carnal intercourse against the order of nature,” which includes fellatio and gay sex.

Despite these numbers, Tarun Vijay, a Hindu member of Parliament for India’s ruling conservative party, said India’s Hindu majority makes it “the most tolerant country in the world.”

“When Indian organisations talk about persecution, they are saying it to a Western audience, to people in London or New York, because they want donations,” he said.

Harish IyerBut blogger and activist Harish Iyer disputes the notion that India’s gays and lesbians face no persecution.

“India’s queer citizens are assaulted, beat up and blackmailed all the time,” he said. “ Especially since the Supreme Court’s ruling.”

Theologians and historians often disagree on whether homosexuality is compatible with Hinduism. Some say Hinduism is vaguer and therefore more tolerant of homosexuality than Christianity or Islam, both of which include scripture passages that have been used to justify condemnation of same-sex relations.

“Sexual expression prior to the 19th century was much more free and open. There weren’t any labels like today,” said Manu Bhagavan, a professor of history at Hunter College in New York. “This is manifested in temple carvings and other forms of religious carving, and would be broadly true of trends throughout society, so it wasn’t something that was peculiar or limited.”

Bhagavan attributes India’s sexually conservative policies to British colonialism.

“To say that Hinduism as a religion is theologically anti-gay would be very difficult to prove,” he said.

Not all Hindus reach the same conclusion.

Ramdev & BalkrishnaBaba Ramdev is a nationally known yoga guru in India with close ties to the ruling conservative party and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Ramdev considers himself a defender of conservative Hinduism.

Homosexuality is not natural,” he said. That’s not to say that Hinduism condones discrimination, but that same-sex relations go against the Vedas of Hindu scripture, he added.

Some Hindus highlight one passage in the Vedas—“Vikruti Evam Prakriti,” which roughly translates to “What seems unnatural, is natural”—as evidence that Hinduism tolerates homosexuality, but Ramdev dismissed this interpretation.

Dr Devdutt PattanaikDevdutt Pattanaik is an Indian author of Hindu mythology and considers himself a proud Hindu as well as a proud supporter of gay rights in India.

“Premodern Hindu society wasn’t a paradise for homosexuals,” Pattanaik said. “The Manusmriti, one of the oldest collected texts of Hindu laws, says that men who engaged in sexual activity with other men faced a light penalty, such as taking a ritual bath for purification.”

He points out that the Manusmriti punished heterosexual transgressions more harshly, prescribing the death penalty for Hindu men who were married and committed adultery. For this reason, he doesn’t think critics of homosexuality can root their opposition to gay rights in Hinduism.

Some of India’s most conservative Hindu organisations refuse to weigh in on the debate.

Pradeep Jain is the state coordinator in Gujarat for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a right-wing, Hindu, nationalist charity whose members form the conservative core of India’s ruling party. Jain said there is no uniform view on homosexuality.

“Because of my position, I choose to remain silent on the issue, because so many look to me for leadership,” he said.

Sadhvi Bhagawati: Senior assistant to Swami Chidananda Saraswati of Parmarth Niketan, HaridwarEven in Rishikesh, a small city in northern India and one of Hinduism’s most sacred sites, there is no clear consensus.

There, Sadhvi Bhagawati, an American of Jewish ancestry and a convert to Hinduism, sometimes feels conflicted when trying to reconcile her progressive outlook on homosexuality with her faith.

“The way I’ve accepted it is that if an older couple—too old to have children—came to me and said that they had sex 30 or 40 times a day and they loved it, I would tell them that is wrong,” she said, explaining her belief that having sex to satisfy one’s own desire is selfish and against Hinduism. She applies the same logic to homosexuality.

“Still,” she admitted, “it’s difficult.” – The Columbus Dispatch, 10 July 2015

Homosexual encounter depicted in the Temple of Visvanatha, Khajuraho (10th century).

See also

2 Responses

  1. We need to focus on how this impacts on our progress towards moksha…in the Gita Bhugwan states that we should not criticise or judge or cause harm as in ahimsa ….so my take is that if it causes you no harm and doesn’t affect your spiritual progress then why pontificate on it . Hinduism has allowed others to live and prosper always … is a biological act and need ..the challenge is to control ones urges as well as all other urges …a homosexual has the similar challenges which only that individual can overcome . Don’t add to their problems and create a karmic issue for yourself. ……


  2. Hindus must abandon the Victorian Christian morality they have unwittingly picked up and internalised in their convent schools and help the transgender community obtain a productive and respected place in Indian society. After all, transgenders are very much part of Hindu social culture, religious literature and festivals (even if Dr Swamy and other Sangh Parivar old goats don’t think so).


    Transgenders may soon be able to choose their gender – Subodh Ghildiyal – TNN – Times of India – New Delhi – Jul 1, 2015

    NEW DELHI: Transgenders may soon be able to choose their gender and undergo surgery to make the transition, courtesy the government.

    The Centre is mulling a proposal to help transgenders adopt their identity with surgeries in public hospitals. It has to decide if the cost of these interventions are to be borne by the government or will be subsidized.

    For the “third gender” now in policy focus, it may be a big boost given that individuals are stuck in their identity of birth, and are unable to take the next step of adopting one of their choice.

    A government decision to provide ‘gender-transition services’ will be a big help for the vast section of people who mostly come from the poor segment.

    ‘Gender transition-related health services’ were first recommended by an expert committee of the social justice ministry. The ministry is now considering the recommendation for the law it is finalizing for the welfare of transgenders.

    Transgender people have a raft of surgeries to make the transition. For those wishing to be female, the available procedures are neo-vagina creation, penectomy (removal of the penis), orchedectomy (removal of the testes), clitoroplasty (construction of a clitoris), breast augmentation, rhinoplasty and hair transplants.

    For adopting the male gender, bilateral mastectomy (removal of the breasts), hysterectomy (removal of uterus), oophorectomy (removal of ovaries) and phalloplasty (construction of penis) are among the surgeries required.

    Transgenders also require some non-surgical procedures like hormone therapy and voice modulation for the transition.

    While the expert committee has listed these surgeries as needs of transgenders, the Centre is to decide if ‘gender-transition’ should be put in the proposed law it plans to bring in Parliament in the monsoon session. Else, it may figure in a policy that may be formulated for welfare of transgenders.

    As per the plan, the government will identify public hospitals where surgeries will be made available. A final decision will be taken on the expenses.

    Ignored socially for a long time, transgender welfare was thrust upon the government with a Supreme Court ruling that the Centre should recognize them as ‘third gender’ and formulate a policy for their care.

    Then, Rajya Sabha in the budget session witnessed a rare development of a bill moved by a non-government member being carried through.

    DMK MP Tiruchi Siva’s ‘private member’ bill enjoins upon government duties for the welfare of transgenders. As a result, social justice minister Thaawar Chand Gehlot has announced that the government would bring a bill in Parliament in the coming session.

    Over 70,000 transgenders in rural India: Survey – IANS – Times of India – Kolkata – Jul 4, 2015

    KOLKATA: Rural India has over 70,000 transgenders, with Uttar Pradesh topping the list with nearly 13,000, and West Bengal home to around 10,000, reveals the Socio Economic and Caste Census 2011.

    The census’s gender analysis reports rural India has 74,286 transgenders.

    Uttar Pradesh tops the list among 35 Indian states and Union Territories with 12,916 members, Bihar comes in second with 9,987 transgenders and rural Bengal ranks third with 9,868 members of the third gender.

    According to Ranjita Sinha, transgender activist and a member of Bengal’s Transgender Development Board, the survey released on Friday reflects the growing recognition of the third gender in the state.

    “The census will provide a way to frame better policies for the third gender in the state. A lot of positive things are happening in Bengal and the official record of the numbers are evidence of the growing recognition, especially in the rural areas,” Sinha told IANS.

    The survey reports a population of 7,07,68,606, and 1,57,56,852 households in rural Bengal. The proportion of transgenders in the state is around 13.3 per cent of the national total.

    Sinha, also the secretary of the Association of Transgender/Hijra in Bengal, said the statistics and data will help further strategies in health and education of the third gender.

    “We have our rights just like any other citizen of India and being assigned a column in the survey is a step forward in mainstreaming,” Sinha said.

    Recently, the state government roped in India’s first transgender college principal Manabi Bandyopadhyay to work with its transgender development board in framing a new policy for the third gender in Bengal.

    Bandopadhyay made headlines with her appointment as the head of Krishnagar Women’s College in Bengal, a first for India.

    While states like Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra have transgender welfare boards, Bengal has the country’s sole development board for them.

    This year, universities like Presidency University and Jadavpur University introduced separate criteria in admission forms for inclusion of the third gender.

    At the national level, the Rights of Transgender Persons Bill, 2014 was passed by the Rajya Sabha in April.

    For the first time in 45 years, the Rajya Sabha unanimously passed a private member’s bill. It envisages creation of a national commission for transgender communities and state level commissions.


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