GOOD HUMOUR, verging on total irreverence but yet not malicious, is something the British are rather good at. In my youth, I was enthralled and spent countless hours watching the Monty Python shows, John Cleese in Fawlty Towers, Rowan Atkinson in Black Adder, and, not least, Billy Connolly. In their own way, each one of these shows defined British popular culture—at least among the educated middle classes—and phrases such as “upper-class twit”, “don’t mention the war” and “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” have entered everyday parlance.
I am not sure whether the Indian Establishment, particularly the black-robed section, is blessed with sufficient open-mindedness to laugh at itself. If it did, I would be tempted to advise some enterprising comic artists to offer a skit along the following lines.
The scene is a crowded compartment of a train/Metro, with barely standing room. A delicate lady, obviously in an advanced state of pregnancy, enters the carriage and looks here and there for a seat. Her eyes hone in on a few seats clearly marked Ladies. In one of them sits a burly individual, preferably with generous facial hair. The pregnant lady goes up to the hairy person and points to the sign saying, Ladies. The guy is unfazed and thrusts a piece of paper at the woman. It contains the priceless observations, made in the Supreme Court of India on April 18, 2023, by no less a person than the Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud: “There is no absolute concept of a man or an absolute concept of a woman at all. It’s not a question of what your genitals are. It’s far more complex…” The skit can end with the pregnant lady and all her fellow passengers, collectively exclaiming ‘Duh’.
What the CJI said in the court which, according to the report in the Times of India, signalled “a preference for gender fluidity”, isn’t terribly original. In the past few years, social life in the West has been turned upside down by militant trans who insist that gender determination doesn’t happen at birth and is based on a person’s genitalia. It is determined by inner feelings. A person’s genitalia is irrelevant.
Now, we all know of particular individuals who have either been dubbed ‘butch’ or ‘effeminate’ because they didn’t quite fit stereotypes of male and female. Hindu mythology is replete with examples of cross-dressing and gender fluidity. There are no doubt examples from other cultures. It is also true that this sexual ambiguity has invited derision from people who see any deviation from the ‘normal’ as unacceptable. To take an extreme example, the Nazis in Germany sent gays, who were deemed deviants, to concentration camps and gas chambers, along with other ‘inferior’ humans such as Jews and gypsies.
We can understand the need to accommodate trans people in society and ensure they are not victims of simple-minded prejudice. Over the years, not least because of an international movement, gays and lesbians have been accommodated in mainstream society. Although social prejudice can’t be removed overnight, today’s India is far more accommodating towards gay and lesbian couples than was the case even a decade ago. Although I believe the change should have been placed before Parliament, the Supreme Court took the lead in decriminalising same-sex relationships.
The issue now before the Supreme Court centres on same-sex marriages. Since marriage, by definition, involves either a sacred bond or a contract between a man and woman, there are widespread misgivings over extending the institution to same-sex relationships. This is not to suggest that such couples should be totally deprived of all the legal cover that accrues to married couples. A possible way out is for gay couples to enter into civil partnerships which they may or may not describe as marriage. Legal experts can advise whether separate legislation can be enacted by Parliament for this purpose, outside of the Special Marriages Act. A parliamentary route may be preferable since it takes into account prevailing social sensibilities.
That, however, must await the Supreme Court verdict, although the initial comments from the Bench by the chief justice suggest that the verdict will not be a surprise. Nevertheless, what is worrying is the move to suggest that sexual differences must be reduced to subjective inner feelings of individuals. This has already created huge problems in public toilets, with men walking into women’s loos claiming they are women. The idea that a wily manager of a women’s cricket team will recruit a few men who will then claim—genitals be damned—they believe they are women is both funny and preposterous.