TW: Mentions of self harm, d*ath, s*icide, r*pe, assault
The fact that queer deaths by suicide have become a tag to themselves on the websites of news portals should be enough for this tragedy to be treated like something that needs to be taken seriously, but it seems to be having the opposite effect. The Trevor Project reports that queer youth are almost five times as likely as their heterosexual peers to attempt suicide seriously- bullying, familial rejection, and sexual and physical abuse being just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to issues that go unaddressed or undealt with in their lives for a variety of reasons.
In 2018, two lesbian partners who died by suicide in New Delhi clearly stated ‘corrective rapes’ (the practice of male family members raping LGBTQ+ women to ‘cure’ them) and familial pressure as the reason that drove them to death- but again, there is hardly any follow-up on what the police did with this information. Did they investigate the family and those near to them? Did they try to figure out the rapists? Did they actually do anything other than close the file and call it a day because it is the family personal business what they do with their adult child and a partner that they are in a consensual relationship with?
The reason addressing this case from before the decriminalization of article 377 is important is that just because queer sexual acts were criminalized does not mean that it was legal for a man to rape a female relative for any reason whatsoever- or for families to harass two grown women to the point of death by suicide. Are we not taking the crime of abetment to suicide seriously when it is queer couples because the generation that runs the media houses and is more represented in law and order spaces sees the families as the real victims?
When you think of this in the Indian context where ‘what will people say’ has historically trumped an individual’s mental and social well-being, it is unsurprising that even after the article 377 judgement, conversion therapy camps, familial abuse, and individual and couple suicides in the queer community are very much a reality. But just because we aren’t surprised doesn’t mean we should be comfortable being passive towards the issue instead of taking active action to support individuals.
The latest in the cases being reported of queer couples dying by suicide is one that has taken place earlier this month itself. It is a case of two gay men from Assam whose families were against the same-sex nature of their long-term relationship, and even claimed that their relationship was the reason why one of their mothers passed away, two weeks before the couple’s death. But the reporting stops there. Even though the family is openly and genuinely claiming that the love between the two was the reason for a parent passing away and that they were absolutely against this relationship- as if that is not enough proof of the harassment that the two endured while they were alive- there is no follow up about any investigations being done about the family subjecting the two lovers to any mental abuse or more that could have led them to take this step.
It is as if as a country we acknowledge that queer couples passing away is a tradgedy, but not as big a tragedy as a family finding out their child belongs to the community and is in a relationship with someone they don’t approve of. The lack of follow-up investigations genuinely probe the question: is addressing familial harassment and abuse not worth it if it is a queer person or their partner that is being subjected to it? Have we normalized familial rejection and abuse and the consequent impact on a queer person’s mental health to the point where it seems so normal that it is not even worth investigating or addressing?
While complacency and passiveness on the part of the police is an easy conclusion to reach, the question that is more important is why the media is not publishing a follow-up reports in cases where harassment and abuse of queer couples is clearly cited. If the police aren’t doing anything, tell us so that we can raise our voices and demand justice. If the police is doing something, tell us so that the perpetrators who think they can get away with torturing their children and their partners to the point of suicide know that action is being taken. What is the difference between the honour killing and the death of queer couples by suicide driven by familial rejection, abuse, and torture? In both cases, the families are systematically getting rid of their ‘shame’- just the fact that they did not actively murder them does not mean that they have no responsibility. Decriminalizing parts of article 377 means nothing if the actions of those who harass and abuse individuals for their queer identities and partnerships are not criminalized or atleast questioned in the public sphere.