As approved by the Board of Management in its meeting held on March 29, 2019, the following statement has been resolved to be adopted:
In the social churning, stirred by the strong influences of colonization, Christianisation, Westernisation, merger with India and globalisation, that has caused evolutionary changes in traditional mindsets and gender practices, patriarchy continues to be dominant and women continue to be marginalised.
The marginalisation of women leads to poor health of women, caused by a cycle of poverty, poor access to and use of contraception, high fertility, malnutrition and high maternal mortality. Meghalaya is an example of this vicious cycle, leading to some of the lowest health social indices for women and children in the country. There is a rise in crimes against women, be it rape, domestic abuse or child exploitation.
Social practices favouring men, condoned by our society leads to growing numbers of abandoned women, and the highest percentage of single mother households in the country. Women are unable to negotiate safe sex to protect themselves neither from unwanted pregnancies nor from sexually transmitted diseases because of economical and psychosocial factors.
The marginalisation of women is seen in the deprivation of women from participating in male dominated traditional and modern governance and attempts at equalization of gender opportunity, such as reservation in civic bodies have been met with violent and vicious male opposition.
Apart from women, patriarchal attitudes and practices extend to third genders as well. In many countries, homosexuality is illegal and is punishment may extend to the death penalty. Hardliners in most religions have little to no tolerance towards the LGBTQIA community and not only prescribe ecclesiastical punishments but collaborate with governments in condemning and punishing them.Those who identify themselves as other genders are often deemed to have psychiatric problems and ‘therapies’ like psychological or spiritual counselling to straighten them are advocated.. As much as academic communities would like to consider ourselves enlightened and tolerant, mentions of the LGBTQIA community are made in hushed tones and even academicians are reluctant to address this issue.
Homosexuality has its roots with the evolution of mankind and not just a product of a liberal or millennial mindset. In the ancient world, homosexuality was accepted and practised in virtually all societies. Homosexual and gender-variant individuals were also common among other pre-conquest civilizations in Latin America, such as the Aztecs and Mayans. Pre-colonial societies in Asia, Africa and the Pacific celebrated other gender individuals and relationships in art and literature. These depictions in Japan included Buddhist monastic life and the samurai tradition. Thailand which has never been conquered or colonised has never had social or legal prohibitions against other genders. Ancient Greece and Rome had socially-sanctioned norms of same-gender behaviour.
The indigenous tribes of North America were, in their pristine form, relatively free from patriarchy, mainly because of the indigenous concepts of gender. Respect is ungendered and while there were gender roles, these were not rigid. Women had prominent roles in the economic and political arenas and could take up arms and fight in battles.Transgenders were called for the naming ceremony, were mediators, judges and healers. Children were free to change gender to which they are more comfortable, usually around puberty. Their fluid concept of gender variance enabled the acceptance of multiple genders.
It was only after the Abrahamic religions came into being that the church and the law, backed by the might of patriarchal and imperial domination that homosexuality was socially and legally banned. The Spanish conquerors of South America were horrified to discover sodomy openly practiced among native peoples, and attempted to crush it out by subjecting the berdaches (as the Spanish called them) under their rule to severe penalties, including public execution, burning and being torn to pieces by dogs
Bisexual, asexual and transsexual biology is seen in countless species in nature. Many species change reproductive methods to adapt to environmental changes such as nutrition deprivation. Through evolution, these sexual adaptations have persisted and have helped to enable survival of species.
With the advancement of science, the biological and psychological underpinningsof LGBTIA havebeen explained.Gender dysphoria or gender identity disorder (GID) is a persistent sense of mismatch between one’s experienced gender and assigned gender. This is a multi-factorial phenomenon and several explanations have gained credibility such as: genetic abnormalities, hormonal testosterone or estrogen imbalance in the womb, and social factors like parenting. Other reasons include social, psychological and personal factors in same sex attractions, or the lack, thereof.
These sexual minorities face multiple challenges in society because of social stigmata, which may result in strong feelings of antipathy towards the LGBTIAcommunity. They are called derogatory names, their voices and mannerisms mimicked by friends, shamed and made fun of. Some are being pressurised or forced to marry somebody of the opposite sex, just so that their “gayness” could be hidden from public scorn. They are not only victims of bullying and violence, but denied job andeducational opportunities and even face rejection by family.
Many homosexuals live under the constant fear of being discovered and afraid to ‘come out’.Living with dignity becomes a challenge. Orthodox societies regard them as sinners even just by identifying as gay. They are made to suffer from guilt and shame, have difficulties in initiating and sustaining relationships. Isolation takes a heavy toll, resulting in high prevalence of depression and suicide in the LGBTIA community.
The government and churches have taken insufficient notice of these issues and infact are complicit in worsening the plight of women and the LGBTQIA community through misplaced priorities and teachings, leading to the further marginalization of women and other gender minorities.
To quote a few passages from the judgement of the Supreme Court of India in striking down the draconian portions of Section 377:
The overarching ideals of individual autonomy and liberty, equality for all sans discrimination of any kind, recognition of identity with dignity, and privacy of human beings constitute the cardinal four corners of our monumental Constitution forming the concrete substratum of our fundamental rights that has eluded certain sections of our society who are still living in the bondage of dogmatic social norms, prejudiced notions, rigid stereotypes, parochial mindsets and bigoted perceptions.
We have to bid adieu to the perceptions, stereotypes and prejudices deeply ingrained in the societal mindset so as to usher in inclusivity in all spheres and empower all citizens alike without any kind of alienation and discrimination.The natural identity of an individual should be treated to be absolutely essential to his being. What nature gives is natural………… Non-acceptance of it by any societal norm or notion and punishment by law on some obsolete idea and idealism affects the kernel of the identity of an individual…Identity is destiny.
An Asian level consultation on Church Responses to Human Sexuality and Gender Minorities was held at the Ecumenical Christian Centre, United Theological College, Bengaluruin 2017. This initiative of the National Council of Churches in India brought together delegates from South Asian and South East Asian countries. The delegates included theologians, gay seminary students, queer theologians, church leaders and Christian representatives from the LGBTIA communities. Excerpts from consultation are highlighted below:
A lesbian pastor from Hong Kong spoke of the need to challenge the hetero-patriarchal normative, and the need for a theology that liberates queers from heterosexist domination and stigmatisation. She also stated that “the right of LGBTQIA is a justice issue, not a moral issue.” A doctor from the Queerla movement in Kerala presented a study of 155 Christians who were gay or lesbian. The findings of the study showed that church and faith questions had been a major cause of ‘damage’, and that while some were still in the faith, others had abandoned it.
One group discussion report opined that “we need to re-look at the curriculum in theological colleges; church counsellors don’t have skills to attend to the LGBT so make that part of the curriculum” in Bible studies.Materials on human sexuality is there but it’s expensive. We need to write at several levels: academic, popular writing, Bible studies, short reflections, material for youth, kids (Sunday school materials that raise gender questions and strategic material calling for solidarity.”
Many universities all across the globe have taken radical steps in embracing LGBTQIA and other gender issues, and also are taking steps and measures in making themselves an all-encompassing and prejudice-free university. Princeton University, USA an LGBT+ centre which hosts a wide range of both educational and cultural events including guest speakers, film series, and performance artists. They also offer LGBT Peer Education courses and awareness programs. Tufts University, USA offers campus housing specifically for LGBTQIA students, called Rainbow House.
The University of Birmingham has an LGBT+ Association and a support group called the University of Birmingham Rainbow Network. They observe a pride festival every year. Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, has started Dhanak, a campus queer group that is active in sharing important information, and hosting debates and other events, all to keep the conversation afloat. IIT Bombay’s Saathi is one of the most proactive groups for LGBTIA support.
MLCU, while promoting gender justice through its life skills, sexuality and reproductive health programs and many seminars and workshops need to do more than merely teach or conduct research on gender issues. It also needs to address apathy and ambivalence among its own faculty and staff.
It is recommended that the University intensify its efforts and contributions to emerge as a leader in the state and region in the crusade for gender parity. This may be accomplished through the following: