Anjana Harish, a 21-year-old student from Kannur put a live video on Facebook on 13th March 2020 accusing her family of physical and mental abuse. However, it was not just a live video talking about her struggles. It was a call for help. On 13th May she was found hanging from a tree in Hosdurg in Goa. It would have been called suicide, however, this is yet another institutionalized murder of a queer person.
In her live video, she recalled incidents of solitary confinement at a mental health centre because her family believed that they could “cure bisexuality.” She had been a subject to domestic abuse and mental torture resulting in depression and suicidal thoughts. Hence, other than scepticism of foul play, queer activists are also accusing Anjana’s family of causing her demise due to their systematic homophobia.
Unfortunately, this is not a rare scenario in the queer community. Young people who come out or are forced to come out as queer are subjected to bullying and homophobia. Our society’s obsession with compulsory heterosexuality has lead to several people committing suicide. Psuedo psychological evaluations, religious pressure and conversion therapy are often used by families to “fix” their children instead of accepting them. In India, where every second thing can be easily banned, there are no legislated actions against these practices. Conversion therapies violate the fundamental rights and are illegal under the Mental Healthcare Act 2017 and in contempt of the Supreme Court’s decision in Navtej Johar. However, conversion therapy is still a monstrous reality.
The unethical practice is based on a set of irrational beliefs that a queer person can be “fixed” and “made straight” by undergoing several spiritual, medical, and psychological interventions. Queerness, though, is neither a pathology nor something that has to be fixed. If anything, it is a violation of human rights.
Widely practised by cosmic healers, priests, godmen, and even licensed medical professionals, conversion therapy includes methods like shock therapy, surgical procedures like ovariectomy, clitoridectomy, physical castration, vasectomy, and lobotomy, exorcism, hormone replacement therapy, antipsychotic drugs used for treatment for schizophrenia and bipolar affective disorders, chemical castration, aversive conditioning, aura cleansing, meditation, and corrective rape under the guise of sterilising ‘degenerates’. Despite psychology not considering homosexuality to be a mental disorder anymore, practising psychiatrists still practice conversion therapy to feed their own bigotry and homophobia. Celebrated Godmen wishing to appear as messiahs claim that people’s sexualities can be fixed.
Baba Ramdev, known for popularising Yoga and his “made in Bharat” brand Patanjali, claims that he can “cure homosexuality” through yoga. After the Supreme Court in 2013 re-criminalised gay sex, Baba Ramdev said that homosexuality was a disease, a mental health problem, it needed a cure, it’s not genetic, the Congress leaders are all gay, and so on. (I desperately want to add a sly “okay, boomer” here but never mind).
Another example of appalling homophobia is the case of Dr Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras, professor at Aligarh Muslim University. His door was locked on February 8, 2010, when local cable TV journalists secretly filmed him having sex with a rickshaw puller before barging into his house to confront him. He pleads them to stop, they ask him if he is ashamed. He says yes.
They keep the camera rolling.
Instead of filing a complaint against those who trespassed and violated Siras’ privacy, the University suspended him. There was a campaign by a group of students, faculty members and university officials. Apparently, he had acted against AMU’s ‘history of culture and tradition’ and ‘such acts give rise to AIDS’. Siras fought the university in court and won. Less than a week after the judgment he died, mysteriously, on 7 April 2010. The poison in his system raised questions, but the police closed the suicide case simply because his door was closed from the inside.
I went through conversion therapy at age 13 by catholic priests and nuns who wanted to direct me to “God’s right path”. The experience was traumatizing and dehumanizing, made me feel like a failed experiment. It threw me into a terrible depression and self-harm for almost three years. I pushed everyone away, adapted toxic coping mechanisms and indulged in harmful things to at least feel numb to the disgust I was made to feel in my own skin. Had I not been supported by my friends and family, I would have been with Anjana today. Homophobia and the mention of conversion therapies still trigger me for days, if not weeks. The trauma remains, the nightmares remain. Will I, though?
There are unnamed many who have been victim to such hate. Many I cannot name, and many I do not know. But all of them are just like all of us. Dr Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras, Avinshu Patel, Anjana Harish and others did not deserve to die. They did not deserve the way that they did. Their stories are neither new nor rare. These are real atrocities that a lot of LGBTQIA+ community members face even after the Supreme Court has decriminalized homosexuality. At Pride meets, amidst “gaybies” jokes and laughter, there comes a hollow silence when life stories are being told. They are stories of bravado, heartbreak, hate and forcefully forgiving those who caused trauma just to move on. They are familiar stories, they are sad stories.
Anjana deserves justice, the mental health facility and her family should be punished for pushing her towards a never-ending nightmare of a life that ended in her end. The authorities are not doing enough to punish those who caused this murder. It is yet another case of yet another queer person finding solace in their end.
Why aren’t more people talking about it? A tree, a poison bottle, a locked door, a hanging lungi- a deafening silence. Why is this okay?
Raging and mourning in solidarity.
Rest in Power, Anjana.