‘It will lead to the commodification of homosexuals’

Interview I conducted in 2009 after the Delhi High Court decriminalised homosexuality.

PURUSHOTHAMAN MULLOLI is general secretary of the Joint Action Council, Kannur-India (JACKINDIA) which intervened in the Section 377 case in the Delhi High Court. In an interview he explains his opposition to the case.

What is JACKINDIA?
We are a 35 years old organization working on HIV-AIDS. I have myself been involved for the last 22 years. We started in Kannur, Kerala, but have been based in Delhi for ten years now to fight our battle at a national level.

What is your main opposition to the 377 case?
Homosexuals are branded by foreign-funded AIDS NGOs, such as the petitioner Naz Foundation in this case, as ‘high-risk groups’. This is not based on any study or scientific evidence. In our appeal we asked for evidence that homosexuals are a high-risk group. NACO was supposed to conduct a study that is till date incomplete and unpublished. The judgement and the media attention to it has completely ignored that the case was about AIDS. Homosexuals are already a marginalised group. If you brand them as high-risk then you further marginalize and degrade them. This is a violation of their human rights! Secondly, the NAZ contention was that they’re unable to work with homosexuals on safe sex because homosexuals go underground because of 377. They provide no evidence that homosexuals are going underground.

But at any rate, all that the judgement does is decriminalize private consensual homosexual sex. You don’t seem to be against that?
I am not against that at all. But 377 does not criminalise it at all! Read 377. It does not mention homosexuality at all. This is a fraud campaign that has been unleashed on this nation.

But 377 does criminalise all sex it says is against the “order of nature”?
But to prove that you need a victim and a witness. If it’s consensual there’s no case. Sow hy this fuss?

They say it is used for harassment.
But they don’t provide any evidence. Instead this is just going to divide the nation on the lines of sexual preferences!

But the judgement talks of diversity, inclusiveness.
No, on the contrary it produces a new class of people. This is like a reservation programme on the basis of sexual orientation.

But the judgement makes no special provisions for them, only allows consensual private sex.
But if you’re doing it in your home consensually where’s the victim to file the case? If you do it in Nehru Park then even heterosexual sex would be book for obscenity.

In that case the reading down of 377 is insignificant. Why are you opposing it?
It will lead to the commodification of homosexuals. That is a huge market waiting to exploit the opportunity. It’s a 15 billion dollars business. It ‘s a sex industry waiting to be exploited.

Worldwide?
No, in India alone!

How did you get the figure?
It’s from a study that I will disclose at the right time.

But what will this business be like? And are you saying this was the motive of Naz Foundation?
Naz and others are the pimps of the sex industry. These are not GB Road like pimps but they pretend to be consultants. What will happen now is that they will open gay clubs and bars. That’s how the business will flourish.

But if there are straight clubs what’s the problem with gay clubs?
There will be prostitution all over. Gay sex is being allowed but there’s amovement of prostitutes demanding sex workers’ licence. If gay sex is being allowed why can’t prostitutes be given licences?

If prostitution is licensed then you will support the reading down of 377?
Then anything can happen. Then you can sit in your home and sell your father, sell your mother, negotiate the rates for your sister.

Coming back the AIDS argument, they say that this will help control AIDS by increasing awareness of safe sex amongst homosexuals.
But they don’t give any evidence. Five years into the case, NACO came up with a 21 pages long affidavit endorsing that homosexuals are a high-risk group but backed it with no study, no evidence. It’s a fraud of an affidavit. We have proven this in our report. NACO is anti-national.

But why is NACO doing this then?
Ask them. I am a villager and all I’m asking for is evidence of their claims. Do you know that till date there is no scientific reference of the isolation of the HIV virus, there’s no evidence that HIV causes AIDS, or that it is sexually transmitted? I’m just a villager. All I’m asking for is evidence of these claims.

But homosexuals are said to be high risk because of unprotected sex with multiple partners.
Give evidence.

You are virtually saying AIDS doesn’t exist, but you said you’ve been working on AIDS for 22 years. What have you been doing?
A lot. You will see when the time comes. Everyone’s clothes will be off, all the foregn-funded NGOs who make noise will be unmasked and their businesses exposed.

“It is male-to-male that is causing all the harm. Lesbians only end up in suicide.”

Bharatendu Prakash Singhal was a Hindutva ideologue, a retired IPS officer and a former BJP Rajya Sabha MP. On a Sunday afternoon in 2009, I visited him to discuss his opposition to the decriminalization of gay sex by the Delhi High Court. He was preparing to appeal against it in the Supreme Court.

Singhal, brother of VHP leader Ashok Singhal, passed away in 2012. A shorter version of this interview had appeared in Open magazine.

Photo credit: Salman Usmani

So the judgement has not come in your favour.
What can you do when the judge does not even taken notice of what you have put forth as evidence? There is just one paragraph in connection with the averments made by us. There is massive propaganda from the other side, that they are being harassed under 377. In my 35 years in the IPS I saw not a single case registered under 377 and no case of police harassment. Continue reading ““It is male-to-male that is causing all the harm. Lesbians only end up in suicide.””

The Edifice Complex

By Shivam Vij

First published in Open dated 4 April 2009

On a Friday evening, Ajay Kumar Singh has driven his family to a tourist spot in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. It is quite some spot, this. It is not a relic of the Awadh Nawabs or the British Raj; it is a statue of UP Chief Minister Mayawati alongside that of Kanshi Ram, founder of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). On the other side of the road are similar gargantuan statues of Bheem Rao Ambedkar and his wife Ramabai. Singh is visiting the Samajik Parivartan Prateek Sthal or the ‘Site of the Symbol of Social Change’. Continue reading “The Edifice Complex”

A Uighur refugee in Delhi longs for home

(First published in Open magazine on 16 July 2009.)

Ey pekir Uighur, oyghan! (Hey poor Uighur, wake up!)
— Abduhalik Uyghur (1901–1933), killed by a Chinese warlord for inciting Uighur nationalism through poetry

Kashmir ke peechey hamara mulk hai (Beyond Kashmir lies my homeland),” says Abdullah Dawood, 49, seated at a guest house in Nizamuddin. It is a room rented by a fellow Uighur on a visit to Delhi from his place of exile, Istanbul. “Just beyond the Karakoram Pass,” specifies the visitor, Osman Uzturuk.


Uzturuk speaks in Turkic, and Abdullah translates: “In the olden days, much before India’s independence, we had great links with India.”

As Uzturuk fills us in about the riots in China’s western Xinjiang province that began on 5 July, Abdullah’s mind returns to that night 12 years ago in the old city of Ghulja, officially known as Yining. It was 5 February 1997: Abdullah, who ran a grocery store, gave up both prudence and silence on politics. He joined a freedom rally. The protests were sparked by the regime’s execution of 30 Uighur independence activists, accompanied by a crackdown on attempts to revive banned elements of Uighur culture (such as traditional gatherings called meshrep). The People’s Liberation Army moved in swiftly to crush the demonstrations, killing nine.

What drew Abdullah to join those protests was China’s enforcement of the two-child norm. Abdullah had four daughters and had just adopted a son, and though he could get away with bribes, those who couldn’t had to see their children put to death, he claims. Any kind of public dissent in China is dangerous, all the more so if exercised by people tagged as separatists for their distinct culture, ethnic origin (Turkic), religion (Islam) and yearning for lives less suffocated by Communist Party impositions.

The 1997 sloganeering, Abdullah knew, would not go unpunished. Plain-clothes men had made videos and taken pictures of the rallies, and he got wind that soldiers would come to pay him the customary midnight knock. Chances of escaping an ordeal were not estimated to be high. Abdullah would be just another statistic, someone who had ‘disappeared’, on some dusty noticeboard. Disappear he would, he resolved, but on his own terms. So he fled. First to Ürümqi (pronounced Oroomchi), the province’s capital 800 km away, and then to Tibet, and from there to Nepal. In 2003, while Nepal was threatening to deport him to China—despite his refugee certificate from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)—he came to India.

AS FAR AS XINJIANG

Xinjiang is Mandarin for ‘new territory’, and has been inhabited by followers of Islam for centuries. Uighurs, who call themselves ‘Turki’, have a separatist movement calling for a free East Turkestan. The province is part of a vast swathe in Central Asia, once called Turkestan, that lay along the ancient Silk Route and is currently divided among Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan—countries that were once part of the Soviet Union. Culturally, the Turkic-speaking Uighurs of Xinjiang identify with their neighbours to the west. “All the nations Russia had captured are free today,” remarks Abdullah, “Only we are still chained.”

Uighurs have a long history of political assertion. Under the Qing dynasty, even before the formation of the People’s Republic of China under Mao, Uighurs had staged a series of armed uprisings to free themselves of Chinese overlordship. In recent decades, Communist China’s strategy to quell separatism involves a mix of co-option and coercion vis-a-vis Uighurs, and demographic alteration across the landscape; the majority Han Chinese are given incentives to settle in Xinjiang. Given the army presence, the Uighur sense of being under siege has given rise to further unrest. There are an estimated 7 million Han Chinese in the area today, and 8 million Uighurs. The capital Ürümqi is three-fourths Han Chinese now, and only 16 per cent Uighur. “These Chinese census figures are lies,” insists Abdullah, “There are only 2.5 million of us left there.”

There are other figures that the man in exile contests. “The Chinese government says only 184 died,” he says, “But my friends in Istanbul say it was 3,000.” The recent violence began in Ürümqi, when local police tried to squash a rally protesting the alleged lynching of a couple of Uighur workers—accused falsely of rape—in a toy factory in faraway Guangdong. The rallyists turned on not just the police but Han civilians as well, which brought down a still mightier force. In Abdullah’s telling, the Han backlash was severe.

OLD ANXIETIES AND NEW

Abdullah refuses to be photographed, fearful that his family back home might have to pay the price for his outspokenness in Delhi. Even otherwise, he constantly worries about his family’s safety, though they live 800 km away from Ürümqi, still tense. Over the years, there has been little contact, and Abdullah is unfamiliar with the Internet. Between the violence that led to Abdullah’s exile and the riots last week, there have been many such instances. Says Abdullah, “There have been instances when they deliberately organise rallies by their informers amongst us to see who comes out, and then those persons disappear. Bodies are found months later. All this never comes out.” He speaks incessantly of Chinese brutality, of zulm, claiming that Uighurs are not even given the right of assembly, their human rights routinely violated and culture crushed. When the Olympic torch arrived in Delhi on 17 April 2008, says Abdullah, Tibetans were allowed to voice their protest, but he, a lone Uighur in Delhi, was detained at a police station in Seelampur in North-east Delhi. “The Chinese had told them that Uighurs are terrorists. But the police were very nice to me. I called a friend and got addresses of websites that document Chinese torture on us. The officer couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw those images,” he says.

Given the atheism of communist dogma, religion is frowned upon in China. Beards were disallowed, says Abdullah, while the syllabus in Islamic schools was regulated and the Quran could be published only under state supervision. Since 9/11, he complains, repression has found a new cloak with Uighurs branded as terrorists. It only adds to their alienation.

“There’s a reason why Chinese oppression is so brutal,” assesses Abdullah, “They don’t believe in God and fear no one. They eat rats, frogs, dogs and monkeys!” The disgust changes to ridicule as he adds: “Even donkeys!”

Abdullah’s friend from Istanbul is similarly exiled, and both say that life under Chinese rule would be unbearable. And it is dangerous to talk too much, no matter where they are. All it took was a snap in a Kathmandu paper in 2003 for the Chinese to bring pressure to bear on the Himalayan kingdom. Four Uighurs were rounded up for repatriation to China. Abdullah got away. Along with seven others, he escaped to Delhi. They have since been resettled by the UNHCR in Sweden. It’s been years and Abdullah is waiting for his turn too. It’s the heat in Delhi that gets to him. “My home was colder than Kashmir,” he says, cutting coriander leaves.

“In Nepal we got enough money from the UNHCR to live by, but here we get only 2,245 rupees a month,” says Abdullah. India does not allow employment for international refugees. He survives on Uighur and Turkish businessmen from Istanbul who come to buy scarves, shawls and cushion covers, selling them in Istanbul at thrice the price. Abdullah, who has picked up enough Hindustani, helps them with translation and bargaining, in lieu of a commission. That’s how he pays for accommodation in Delhi.

Doesn’t he long to be among his own? When friends from Istanbul bring him traditional naan and cook mutton without Indian spices, he finds nostalgia taking over—he asks them to take him away. It is from one of them that he got the number of Washington-based Rebiya Kadeer, head of the World Uyghur Congress, whom China has accused of fomenting trouble these past few days. “I keep calling her and she has promised help in resettling me,” he says, “India is good, but there’s no Turki here. I get very lonely.” Freedom, he concedes, will never come in his lifetime. “I am prepared to die here.”