Today as the Indian Queer community celebrates 1st anniversary of one of the most significant verdict of recent times, the decriminalization of IPC 377, we at Gaysi couldn’t have found a better candidate for our celebrity profile than our next interviewee, Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik.
The desi-mythological guru, Dr. Pattanaik is one hell of a captivating speaker and someone who would stump you with his simplicity and grounded approach.
Anyway enough of small talk, here’s my conversation with the dude with the most perfect “Colgate” smile…
Homosexual feelings are natural, hence universal. However, it has been expressed differently in different cultures. What we call ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ today is a Western idea, based on free will and human rights and individual freedom; it discomforts many Indians. In India, homosexuality was mostly expressed through gender transformation where one of the same-sex sexual partners behaved like a member of the opposite sex. So there are many tales where men become women (Bhangashvana, Ila in Mahabharata), and women become men (tales from the Bahuchara Mahatmya).
Every Queer’s favourite man Baba Ramdev is now showing keen interest in politics. Are you excited?
He is a brilliant teacher of yogic asanas and pranayama. As a politician, one has to wait and watch. Will he better than the run-of-the-mill politician? Possibly! Will he be ideal? No. Where queer issues are concerned, his reaction has been most disappointing because, as far as I know, yoga is all about getting rid of prejudices.
We’ve grown up listening to stories of illustrious male bonding. Eg. Krishna & Arjun, Ram & Hanuman. But none when it comes to the opposite sex. Do you think our gender biased mentality has something to do with this?
Across India there are temples of twin goddesses for example Chamunda and Chotila of Gujarat. The relationship is never clarified (sisters, friends, mistress and servant, mother and daughter). Besides in Tantra, there are Matrikas and Mahavidyas and Yoginis, who are collectives of women goddesses. These are folk and occult deities, not popularized by modern and mainstream writers. The idea of women having close woman confidant, or Sakhi, is a familiar theme in traditional epics and ballads. For example, Manthara can be seen as Kaikeyi’s Sakhi, but because she is described as bent and ugly we don’t think in terms of female bonding. Yet, it is a powerful relationship that influenced decisions and shaped an epic.
In Indian mythology, Sex is seen as a medium of either procreation or distraction. Was pleasure never the purpose?
Sex was of three types: Kama sex for pleasure, Dharma sex for procreation and Tantra sex for magic and occult. Kama sex was provided by the Asparas in mythologies and courtesans (Ganikas in Hindu India, and Tawaif in Muslim India). Dharma sex was provided by the wife. Kama sex was feared as it could disrupt society. Tantra sex was part of rituals and restricted to practitioners of the occult. In Tantra sex, women were objects of ritual, and neither objects of pleasure nor subjects of pleasure.
Kings and queens had all kinds of sexual pleasure. This was seen as hedonism that caused the downfall of society because it distracted them from their primary duty – governance.
We come from the land of Kama Sutra; yet we cringe at the very thought of it. Where did we go wrong?
There was always tension in India between the householder and the hermit. The householder contained sex through domestication. The hermit either rejected sex or saw sex as ritual. Buddhists and Jains and later Hindu monks saw sex as something that distracted man from spiritual pursuits. So sex was always seen in India with a degree of discomfort. From the 18th century onwards, puritanical thinking brought by the British masters and European missionaries made Indians defensive and apologetic about their erotic tradition. Indians spearheaded the banning of the Devadasi culture, equating it with prostitution. The 20th century saw the Gandhian movement which looked down upon sex even when it took place within marriage. Naturally Kama Sutra makes us cringe today.
Decriminalization of IPC 377 is a positive step. However, do you think we still have a long way when it comes to changing our society’s primitive mind set?
Laws do not change people. But they inform society what a nation state stands for. Anti-rape laws have neither stopped rape nor punished rapists. But anti-rape laws clearly inform society that rape is not endorsed by the Indian nation state. Likewise, it would be nice if the Indian nation state clearly and unambiguously declares that it has no desire to control the sexual behaviour of consenting adults in the privacy of their bedroom. I do think society is changing. Every young man and woman in college knows what the word gay or lesbian means. That is a lot more than what they knew two decades ago. Gay characters are appearing in films and television shows. They are part of conversation and media. So society is changing. Maybe not fast enough. But society is changing.