Before going to India we were provided with a list of all the organizations available to us. Already at the first reading my eyes were drawn to SCOHD – Sahodaran Community Oriented Health Development, who is working with gay- and transgender rights in India. In this country, being homosexual is not a crime, but “unnatural” sex is, meaning that it is okay to be in love with someone of the same sex but it is not okay to sleep together. Many homosexuals are also victims of violence, assault and sexual abuse, and some of them also lack the important ID-card needed for almost everything in the daily indian life. This is due to the fact that many families deny the existence of their gay child. Being homosexual in India therefore brings with it large difficulties in the daily life.
SCOHDs main area of work is the health of homosexuals, how to practice safe sex, use condoms and avoid HIV/AIDS/STIs. But they also work with advocacy, trying to change laws and create a better life for the homosexuals. Their office is a place which people can visit and be themselves at. Many pretend to be hetero out in society and in their villages to avoid attention, but at SCOHD they can live out their feminine side and express their true sexuality without being judged.
The difference between India and Sweden in this matter is large. Even though many swedish homosexuals still are met with prejudices, assault and violence, they have a whole other support from decision makers and face a very different attitude from society than their indian likes. The biggest difference coming to my mind is that homophobes in Sweden are frowned upon whilst in India being a homophobe is fully accepted. This is a crucial difference in attitude that to a large extent affect the lives of many people.
I am convinced that a society in which not all people are equal and not everyone is allowed to show and use their potential is not a sustainable society. In order to develop a country, all its resources must be used in a positive way. Excluding for example women, homosexuals or disabled people leaves a too small workforce to be able to develop in a sustainable way and create a efficient living standard for all. Social exclusion of minority groups, when rights such as ID-cards is withdrawn can easily lead to large social problems such as poverty and unemployment which will hinder development in general and sustainable development in particular.
I have been making a new brochure for SCOHD during our stay here in India, and as help in my work I have been using their old brochure. One of the things I kept from it is the slogan on the first page, saying “You have the right to be yourself!” It is a simple slogan, and to many of us it is obvious. Of course everyone has the right to be who they are! But for homosexuals and other minorities in India and many other countries, this is no reality but only a dream for the future. We all need to work together to make this dream come true. It is not just a matter of the rights of the homosexuals. It is also a matter of human rights, cooperation towards a better world and a sustainable society.
By Ronja Ekström, Linnaeus University