LGBT rights

In addition to decrying the Orlando massacre, why not work to decriminalise homosexuality in India?

The Islamic State and the American Right both encourage LGBTQ hatred. India should not.

It is far too early for us to understand what motivated Omar Mateen to allegedly walk into a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida with an assault rifle and kill 50 people. Authorities claim Mateen called the police before the attack and pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. Mateen's father thinks he might know why his son picked that particular nightclub: He told NBC News that Mateen had been enraged by the sight of two men kissing each other months earlier, and said that might be related to the massacre.

Even with those indicators, we don't know yet if it was indeed homophobia that inspired the worst mass shooting in American history. Yet, as Equality Florida pointed out in a statement, gay clubs – starting with Stonewall Inn in New York – have long been integral to the LGBTQ rights movement.

"Gay clubs hold a significant place in LGBTQ history. They were often the only safe gathering place and this horrific attack strikes directly at our sense of security."

Indeed, even if the motive hasn't been established, the attacks are likely to have the effect of turning gay clubs into targets, and leaving some in the LGBTQ community afraid to go to them. Even with America's horrible record of mass shootings – there have been more than 130 this year alone – the fact that the deadliest one in its history took place at a gay club is hard to ignore.

If it is indeed homophobia that motivated the attack, as Mateen's father has suggested, it has not emerged in a vacuum. The Islamic State, to which Mateen allegedly pledged allegiance before carrying out the attack, betrays horrific intolerance towards people from the LGBTQ community in Muslim societies around the world.

But Mateen himself didn't grow up in a Muslim society. He was born in New York and surely has been witness to the evolution of the LGBTQ rights movement over the last few decades. Although great advances have been made on this front, with the Barack Obama administration in particular putting its weight behind legalising gay marriage, the debate has also included the rancorous atmosphere that the American religious Right has helped create.

Organisations like the Westboro Baptist Church, famous for holding public protests proclaiming "God hates fags", were encouraged by members of the Republican Party, who have sought to portray the LGBTQ community as sinful deviants.

This is one of many matters on which right-wing Americans and Islamic fundamentalists can actually make common cause, and the presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump continues in that long tradition of encouraging hatred towards the gay community.

Meanwhile, over in India, the condemnations follow a much more straightforward script without acknowledging the important LGBTQ dimension to the attack.

Indian politicians and others in public life condemn the massacre with the same global sentiments that come up after every mass shooting in America, most commonly a sense of disbelief that one of the most developed nations on Earth still has not figured out how to control guns.

While condemnation and solidarity is important, there is an even more empowering response to the horrific attacks that would represent a truly appropriate reaction: Working to strike down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.

The Orlando shooting has given people of the LGBTQ community a reason to fear going to a gay club in case it were to be attacked. With India, that fear is built-in, because gay sex is still illegal. Section 377, a colonial law that criminalises "unnatural sex", remains on the books in India. Although it is barely enforced, the very fact of its existence gives people and authorities an easy excuse to harass those from the LGBTQ community. What better way to say that India is hostile to gay people than by saying their way of life is criminal?

Efforts have been made to get rid of 377. In 2009, a landmark judgment saw the Delhi High Court striking down parts of the section, thereby decriminalising consenting homosexual sex between two adults. Four years later, however, the Supreme Court overturned this verdict, saying that only Parliament can alter such a law, not the courts.

Just last year Congress Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor was prevented from even introducing a Bill attacking Section 377 in Parliament. Politicians from across the spectrum have made noises suggesting support for the LGBTQ community but the lack of numbers and opposition to Tharoor's Bill made it clear that the political class either doesn't consider the issue important enough or is afraid of the fallout of striking down 377.

For all those who complain about toothless slacktivism and a cycle of endless violence that results in condemnations and little else, the Orlando attacks remind us of a far-too-real injustice that India continues to perpetrate by keeping a bigoted law on its books. It may not mean much for the families of those whose lives were lost in Orlando, but every such attack is a reminder that India can do much more to ensure the safety of those who have been turned into targets far away.

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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.

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During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.