Homosexuality is Not a Crime. Time to Ask, “But What about Our Soldiers at the Border”?

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Homosexuality is Not a Crime. Time to Ask, “But What about Our Soldiers at the Border”?

Illustration: Akshita Monga

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esterday, the outdated notions of masculinity and morality that are still depressingly prevalent in our country’s institutions were brought to light when Army chief General Bipin Rawat said that despite homosexuality and adultery being decriminalised by the Supreme Court, the army was “conservative” and these practices would not be allowed to “perpetuate in the army”.

Unfortunately, he isn’t wrong. Though the Supreme Court repealed the laws on adultery and homosexuality, or more precisely, “unnatural” sex, in two landmark judgements last year, they are still illegal under the Indian Army Act, 1950, and considered punishable offences with a jail term of upto 10 years. So yes, technically, he is still well within his rights to “deal with them under various sections of the Army Act”. And while he couched his pigheaded, regressive statements with the qualifiers that the army is “certainly not above the country’s law”, realistically, it took over a decade’s worth of activism for two 158– and 154-year-old draconian laws to be struck down. So one can only wonder how long it will take for the army to catch up, especially when the old men in power are so comfortable upholding the highly discriminatory status quo.  

Incidentally, The Air Force Act, 1950, and the Navy Act, 1957, consider homosexuality “unnatural” and a “cruel” act, as well. So, General Rawat and others who share his views might thwart basic human decency on a technicality, but they doesn’t have to get a free pass while doing so.  

If ever there was a legitimate time to trot out the trite “but what about our soldiers?” argument that is always hovering on the lips of anyone taking umbrage to any perceived criticism of the country or the current government, it would be now.

So yes, technically, he is still well within his rights to “deal with them under various sections of the Army Act”.

The brave Indian jawans men as well as women who serve in inhospitable terrain and extreme conditions — and the many hardships they endure as they stand guard at the border, willing to take a bullet on the behalf of us all, have been summoned at lightning speed by many among us, in an attempt to win un-winnable arguments by shaming people into silence.

The sacrifices of the jawan are listed, usually with a grave face, while debating everything from the hardships faced by the country during the poorly executed “war on black money” that was demonetisation, to public scrutiny over the egregious human rights violations committed under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), and much else in between. These jawans have served us tirelessly and well, both at the border, and in the charged intellectual debates we hold on Twitter and TV. They’ve helped us feel secure in our nationalist and patriotic fervour from the comfort of our own homes, while lecturing others to have the decency to suffer without complaint.

The jawan’s plight is of great relevance to every conceivable problem plaguing the country — every problem, except those that directly affect the lives of the jawans themselves.

Shamefully, despite our propensity to bring up soldiers in practically every matter of national import, none of us were actually concerned, or even wondered about their rights in passing, until a journalist decided to directly ask General Rawat what the changing legal landscape of the country meant for them. Amid all the revelry last year over the country’s two big steps toward a more humane and equal society, we conveniently forgot the soldiers who might still be suffering silently under the terrible burden of being forced to hide their true selves from the very people they are taught to think of as family, the even greater burden of not having agency over their own bodies, and the tragedy of having their right to love someone restricted due to the whims of a group of conservative men.

These jawans have served us tirelessly and well, both at the border, and in the charged intellectual debates we hold on Twitter and TV.

Serving in the defence forces requires grit, will, determination, and the strength to forego many of the rights and freedoms that the rest of us so freely enjoy. But how is it acceptable to snatch away a person’s freedom to love, and their right to simply exist, just because a general said so?

General Rawat and his cohorts might have the power to create innumerable obstacles on the path to securing the basic fundamental right to life and equality for the LGBTQ+ officers serving in secrecy in the army, but even they cannot pretend to be deaf in the face of roaring public opinion. So unless you believe that a soldier’s sacrifice means nothing if he/she doesn’t wish to copulate in a manner that appeals to your sensibilities, now is the time to ask, over and over again, and loudly, “What about the soldiers serving at the borders?”

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