Anjali Gopalan talks about why she chose to address the issue of homosexuality and what made her realise that one set of rights is not above another. She is the founder of the NAZ Foundation and has been featured in Vodafone Foundation’s book, Women of Pure Wonder.
“Homosexuality is against India culture…it is both immoral and unnatural. It goes against our values and is a behaviour imposed by the western world.”
This is just a sample of the kind of comments I receive from the media and the public at large. I am constantly questioned about why I waste my time and energy addressing the issue of homosexuality, when there are so many important issues that India has to deal with.
I am constantly amazed at how quickly people can become judgemental and look down on something that is a very natural way of being for many.
As an Indian woman I have challenged stereotypes all my life, not only in this country but also when I was working abroad. When a young man came to me because he had been administered electric shock aversion therapy to “cure him” of his homosexuality, I was appalled to know that something like this was happening in my country. I felt that something had to be done to stop this type of practice that violates the very being of an individual. And this was where the journey to challenge Section 377 of the India Penal Code that criminalises consensual sexual relations between same sex adults, began in partnership with the Lawyers Collective. My own organisation, Naz Foundation (India) Trust, was established on the bedrock of humanity – to care for people living with HIV, who had no voice and very less rights in the early 1990’s in India.
I was very disappointed in December 2013 when the Supreme Court ruled homosexuality to be a criminal offense, setting aside the 2011 judgement that had decriminalised it. This year, a batch of curative petitions against section 377, has been referred to a five judge Constitution Bench for the hearing. We have to continue to wait for a ruling that will impact millions of lives in India.
I have spent a major part of my working life challenging issues around human rights, including HIV/AIDS. One of the things that combating a global epidemic does is that it forces you to understand the common linkages that impact all humanity, regardless of class, caste, nationality or religion. It also makes you realise that one set of rights is not above another, and this led me to my next passion. I have been described erroneously in the media as “a voice for the voiceless” and the true reality of that led me to work for animal rights.
I don’t deny that it has been a long journey and there are times when I feel quite exhausted. But when people ask me where I get my energy and inspiration from, I always say that I am lucky enough to do what I have always dreamt of doing, which is to be surrounded by the love of rescued animals. All Creatures Great and Small (India) was set up as a tribute to my first crush, Dr. James Herriot, one of the most incredible veterinarians on this planet.
My message, quoting the Beatles, is – “All you need is love” and that love should be all encompassing and non-discriminatory.