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Conversion therapy is pseudo-scientific process that attempts to convert homosexuals and transgenders to heterosexual cisgenders. The alleged ‘therapy’ includes talks, prayers and even adopts exorcism, physical violence and food deprivation. It inflicts severe harm to the mental health of victims, such as depression, engaging in high risk sexual activity, social withdrawal, hopelessness and increased substance abuse, while also increasing suicidal tendency.
The most horrendous and inhuman among such practices is ‘corrective rape’. It is a hate crime perpetrated against homosexuals and transgenders in a bid to correct them. In India, many homosexuals are forced to endure this cold-hearted treatment which is often perpetrated by family members themselves. Vyjayanti Mogli, a member of crisis intervention team of the LGBT Collective in Telangana, in conversation with TOI, says that families take it up as a disciplining project to ‘correct’ and ‘cure’ homosexuals. The victims are so traumatised that they try to delete it from their memory. This is why such crimes often go unreported. Hyderabad based filmmaker Deepthi Tadanki’s ‘Satyavati’ is a film that portrays the grim details of such practices in India. It is a much needed initiative as there is little to no societal awareness of this barbaric practice.
The term ‘conversion’ is proof enough of our society’s blinkered understanding of sexuality and gender expression. Even worse is the term ‘reparative therapy’ which connotes that anything other than heterosexual cisgender expression is an abnormality. The idea that homosexuality and varied gender expressions are ‘unnatural’ or ‘abnormal’ is collectively held with such conviction that it has become a corner stone of our culture. People often justify their homophobic stance by claiming that homosexuality is a western phenomenon alien to our culture. The Indian style of upbringing often doesn’t allow individuals to explore and understand their sexuality. In a heteronormative society, such an upbringing would only make heterosexuality seem a majority.
Through family, schools and media we internalise the idea that heterosexuality is our default nature. It is disconcerting that homosexuals are often prodded with the question, ‘When did you realise it?’ Why is this never asked of heterosexuals? This tendency stems from our heteronormative conditioning that otherises any other expression of sexuality and gender. It sees homosexuality as a deviance, a ‘preference’ as if one’s expression of sexuality was a matter of choice. Moreover, homosexual relationships are often perceived as purely sexual in nature. Love and companionship are not acknowledged. These attitudes are the seeds of discriminative and oppressive practices such as conversion therapy.
Justice Anand Venkatesh of The Madras High Court, who recently banned conversion therapy, stated that his upbringing treated homosexuality, gay and lesbians as ‘anathema’. This holds true to the majority of the population. To bring about this landmark judgement, he even underwent psycho-educative sessions with professionals to discard his pre-conceived notions. The judge set a precedent by making efforts to understand the LGBT+ community instead of treating its members as an anomaly.
The problem lies nowhere else but with the society. It is a mark of uncivilised behaviour to persecute any one for being their true selves within the limits of personal liberty. It is high time we discard jaundiced stigmas and move towards an inclusive society. That, is true progress.