by ASHOK DEB
Bangladesh is perceived to be one of the few Islamic states which exercises considerable tolerance towards the issue of homosexuality.The instances of utilising Governmental instruments for persecuting Homosexuals is rare. But practising homosexuality is strictly prohibited by the law under Section 377 A of the CrPC (Criminal Penal Code).The law says- “Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman, or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall be liable to fine.”
Moazzam Husain a notable lawyer of the Supreme Court in Bangladesh opined that penetration itself is sufficient to constitute “carnal intercourse” described in the law.Homosexuality is considered as “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” and hence the practicers are liable to prosecution on grounds of their sexuality alone.Here the private morality of the two consenting individuals is considered redundant and immaterial.He stated “Where sexual behaviour offending against natural order is an offence, consent is immaterial. In case of sexual behaviour contemplated in Section 377 of the Penal Code question of ‘consenting adults’, to my mind, is of no avail. There is no, at least I have not come across any, decision of the Supreme Court on this point.”(DailyStar 5th October 2004)
It is unfortunate that homosexuality,a practice so harmless and personal in practice,have been criminalised in our country. People involved with gay issues have estimated about 5 to 10 percent of the population as homosexual.That would mean a sizeable population prefer same sex relationships.However no serious discussions take place on this subject even within progressive circles as Homosexuality is grossly equated as Perversion.The threat of HIV/AIDS looms heavily over the Bangladeshi gays and male sex workers as very few of them have access to the safe sex concepts.The country’s Criminal Penal Code decrees sodomy or its advocacy as a crime punishable by the law. The Sodomy Act of Article 377 A is more or less utilised to create a fear psychosis,which prohibits the homosexuals from coming out or demand legalisation of same sex relationships.
But in reality very rarily the Sodomy Act has been utilised to prosecute the Homosexuals en-masse in this nation.This so-called benovalence of the Government has lead the international community to believe that the safety of the gays are infact protected in this nation.However an indepth analysis reveals the real stand of the authorities towards same sex relationships and their recognition. Bangladesh hosts the second largest muslim population in the world and hence the society is naturally homophobic .The concept of Homosexuality is completely incompatible with the puritan islamic morals and an obvious taboo for the semi-literate society.The morality minders of the society,policy makers and the ever pervading self appointed guardians of this Islamic nation the mullahs and imams have formulated an easy solution to the problem.Though not declared officially like IRAN, still the general overview about the subject is the concept of homosexuality does not simply exist in the conservative socio-cultural contexts.
This untold dubious policy has yeilded some obvious benefits to the Government. A brutal denial of the presence of Homosexuality have technically terminated all the needs for any debates toward its legalisation.The policy-makers have clearly decided to tread a cautious middle path over this issue.The Government’s stand is crystal clear on this issue that neither the homosexuals will be sentenced to harsh punitive measures like prolonged imprisonment or death penalty nor will the same sex relationships be legalised. Thus issue of LGBT rights have been conveniently shelved into the dark shadowy closet forever by the law makers.Since there is no official persecution of the gays,Bangladesh can maintain its liberal and moderate outlook to the international community and conveniently lobby for financial and humanitarian aides and assistance.On the other hand politicians can openly declare and justify to the masses about their commitment of upholding strong Islamic puritan morals for the society.
Unfortunately it is the gays and lesbians of our society who bears the brunt of this dubious double-edged Governmental policy.Hardly any necessity arises of invoking the legal codes for their persecution as the sociatal homophobia is strong enough to push them deep into the closet.The gay people prefers to let the society ruin their lives rather than risk humiliation which is sure to follow any revelation of their forbidden love. Most of them are afraid to experience the trauma of ‘coming-out’ and thus takes the “Closetted”route to ease the harshness.Most of the homosexuals have to conceal their relationships very carefully from any public scrutiny.Even the mindset of the Human Rights Organisations or the media is so severely biased that they fail to recognise the homosexuals as sexual minorities. In Dhaka an organisation named Bandhu contributed a lot towards counselling and support of the homosexuals.Still the organisation would prefer to be identified as a relief agency for the male sex workers rather than homosexuals. Criminalisation of homosexuality by the government is the main reason behind it.
Often the family members react in shock and despair after discovering the sexuality of their offsprings and force them into sham marriages or quacky medications which may include the same electro-shock procedures utilised to neutralise insane patients.Bangladesh is ranked among one of the poorest nations and operates just at the basic level of survival.Hardly any resources are allocated for LGBT or gender studies.Bangladeshi medical practioners have failed to identify the complex socio-cultural and biological reasons for the cause of Homosexuality mainly due to inavailibily of modern medical journals and their repulsion towards this subject.The absence of any organised research on this subject have lead the doctors to device their own quacky doctrines as its cause of this phenomenon. Recently some Dhaka University scholars have blamed the arsenic contamination in water as the main reason behind rapid rise of this so-called immoral behaviour.It is extremely ridiculous that the research and its subsequent conclusions were based on the studies of african mice rather than human volunteers.While the right wing islamic coalition parties have blamed the influencing western culture and have called for stricter puritan SAHABI lifestyles and legislisations.
The homosexuals of the metropolis of Dhaka have the luxury to slip into the invisibility of the cyber world to look for partners.These closetted gays oscillate between confusion, guilt and fear. “Why do they hate us?” asked a gay man in Dhaka. “Except for preferring people of the same sex as partners we have done nothing wrong.” I repeat my views again that Criminal Behaviour One of the reasons that homosexuality is treated so gingerly is that the country’s Criminal Code decrees sodomy (homosexuality or advocacy of the same) a crime which is punishable with a jail sentence. Any discussion, not to speak of debate, is hence ruled out and homosexuality is driven into the shadowy world of apathy.The gay scene in the rural areas is diametrically opposite.The secret same sex relationships lasts till the society has no clues about it.On revelation of any such activities most couples are forced to break off their relationship and bluntly deny their forbidden love to the society.If a homosexual couple fails to oblidge to these dictatorial social norms,they are subjected to the holy grail of the islamic justice the FATWA which may include public humiliation, canning or a forced eviction from village.Infact the government law enforcers stand as mute spectators fearing the wrath of religious fanatics and society members for obstructing JUSTICE to the sodomisers.
The conditions of the lesbians are much worse than their male counterparts.In this marriage oriented society a marital life is considered to be the ultimate NIRVANA for a woman.Any unmarried woman is looked upon suspiciously as an immoral whore by the pre-dominantly muslim society. So most lesbian women succumb to parental pressures for getting married.During my stay in Bangladesh I have not come across any women who have indentified herself as a LESBIAN,which sometimes really provocked me to believe that infact Lesbianism may be absent in Bangladesh.But later i conceived that the society infact have much lower tolerance threshold for lesbianism.Thus to avoid social abrobation and rejection a lesbian opts to live with a male partner and producing his offsprings.The prevalence of Sakhi Culture among the fairer sex inner circles,indicates to the existence of the socially invisible phenomenon.
Now the simple question arises
WHERE DO WE HEAD FROM HERE ??
Will the same sex relationships be legalised in Bangladesh?
Will the Controversial Article 377 scrapped from the constitution?
Will the social dejection and homophobia be stopped by special legalisation which calls for punishment to the offenders against homosexuals ?
The answer is a pessimestic NO in all the above queries.No political parties dares to talk about the rights of sexual minorities to uphold their puritan image among the masses.Sadly enough the country has been put on the track of Talibanisation since the last one decade.The leaders of Islamic Ain Bastobayon Samity and the Islamic Oikyo Jot headed by Fazlul Amini wants to implement the strictest Homophobic Law in the nation….the so-called DIVINE SHARIA LAW hithero unknown in the subcontinent.The Jamayet e Islami leaders have been groomed and funded by the Wahabist of Saudi.From the ranks of Islami Chatra Shibir (student wing of JEI) the volunteers for Jamayet Ul Mujaheedin and Jagrata Muslim Janata are regularly drafted.The semi literate masses of this deltaic nation is bewildered by the corrput political processses and hence supports the ideals of creating a pure idealist Islamic state as proposed by the radicals.
To be honest enough, I perceive that the present Government holds a loose control over Bangladesh.While the radical Jehadi Islamists has spread deep tentacles inside the army and security forces.The latest scandal was the armed revolt in BDR forces by JMB supporters.The United Nation has asked Bangladesh to withdraw its peace keeping forces echoing similar concerns .In my view,we are facing the days similar to the Shahs rule before the Islamic Revolution in Iran and its just a matter of time when the democratic goverment will be overthrown by the radicals.
Thus the road ahead for the Homosexuals in Bangladesh in the coming time seems to be more grim and disturbing.We really need intervention of the International Community to ensure safety of the SEXUAL MINORTIES in Bangladesh.I had the oppurtuanity of meeting prominent Gay Rights Activitists while in exile and most of them is completely unaware of the dejection,discrimation and persecution the Homosexuals are facing in our nation. This is a small effort from my side to make the World know about the silent persecution and genocide the homosexuals are bearing and will bear in the days to come.