- December 10, 2013
Post submitted by Tushar M, HRC Global Engagement fellow
I have never mistreated anyone. I have always been a nice person. I have been helpful. I have been loving. I have spoken the truth. I have only asked to be treated as an equal, not as someone special.
But I am a criminal.
In 76 countries across the world, homosexuality and/or transsexuality are criminalized. In five countries, it is punishable by death. The extent to which these repressive laws are enforced varies. No matter how great things might seem on the outside, it pains me to think that in some ways, in my own beloved country, I can be called a criminal. The reality is not burdensome for me, personally, but I can’t say the same for people in those 76 other countries. I can’t even be too sure about the status of the millions of LGBTQ people in my own country.
When the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration on Human Rights in 1948, even though it would become the precedent for progress in the entire world, its core message of equality and respect wouldn’t be easy for people across the world to understand, even though it’s been translated into more languages than the Bible itself. The ethos of morality and tradition are, even today, misused and misquoted to justify the gross violations of human dignity and humanity that are occurring in countries across the world. Honor killings are still commonplace in India. Forget homosexuality; if you are a girl who is in a rural part of Haryana and are just seen together with a guy, you can be killed to save the family’s “honor.” And no, you were “asking for it!”
This December 10 marks the 63rd anniversary of the establishment of the International Human Rights Day by the UN’s General Assembly. Even as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights calls for an end to discrimination against LGBTQ people across the world, Russia, China, Cuba, and Saudi Arabia are elected to the UN’s Human Rights Council. It’s harshly ironic, but I hope to think that their election to the Council makes them more accountable. Russia’s ongoing slew of crackdowns on civil society and maltreatment of its LGBTQ citizens is an exemplar in the movement of hate that is spreading to other countries across the world, and everyone is extremely familiar with the status of women in Saudi Arabia. These countries have rarely shown remorse when it comes to justifying their discriminatory policies, but only time will tell what new scapegoats they will use to defend their atrocities now.
In the four years that I have engaged with young LGBTQ people and allies in India and abroad, I found that what binds us all across the world, spanning geography, cultures, and languages, is not love, sadly. The common thread for all of us who are treated differently is fear. The fear of being thought of as “unnatural,” “disgusting,” the fear of being persecuted for loving someone, the fear of not conforming to what society thinks is being “human.” Human rights are for everyone. Unless you are different. And it is this attitude we fight against.
Being young, middle-class, gay, and outspoken in a country like India is not easy, but on the other hand I am educated, aware and well connected. And male. If today someone committed a hate crime against me, I can go out and scream and demand that my rights be respected. I will be demonized, I will be told off. My character will be dissected and my family will be defamed. I will become just another voice on the streets, but some will listen.
But I think about all those women, trans-women, the poor, disabled people, immigrants, people from a non-majority religion, and people who are intersections of those identities and expressions that exist not only in India, but across the globe. My struggles are a piece of cake compared to countless others, whose voices are not only silenced by the system and its oppressive laws, but by the likes of me who feel privileged and feel that only our thoughts, our issues matter. I am fighting for the rights of the LGBTQ community in India and in the world, and I feel that I still have to go miles before I can be satisfied with what I’m doing to create a better society for people who are marginalized, be it on whatever basis.
On this 63rd International Human Rights Day, I talk not as an LGBTQ rights activist. I talk as a criminal, a criminal in the eyes of my own country for loving someone. A criminal for being true to myself and not deciding to hide my identity, my expression. Even though a criminal, I talk as a person who, today, can somehow stand up and demand equality and respect. I have a voice, today.
I ask you to go beyond yourself. To go beyond your rights, your comfort. Fight for those who don’t have a voice. Because someone once fought for the rights you enjoy today. Because someone once fought for the rights I enjoy today.