Acceptance of Lesbian Love: Too Much to Expect?
By Syeda Samara Mortada for AlalODulal.org
Seema is a twenty something year old girl who is not sexually attracted to the opposite sex. When she finally understood this “problem” patent in her, she decided to keep it to herself. Since then, Seema has found many like-minded people around her, but whatever happens between them remains behind shut doors. ‘Living in Bangladesh as a lesbian is like living in hell’, says Seema.
The news of two girls being arrested in Dhaka for falling in love and getting married has become the talk of the town. The younger girl, Shibronty Roy Puja, is a Hindu of 16, and Sanjida Akter, is a Muslim aged 21. Puja’s father filed a complaint which confirmed she was missing after which the police searched and finally found them in a house in Mohammadpur. While many sneer at this recent incident, it by far remains the only reported case of lesbian love being talked about, rather becoming news in mainstream media. The fact that Puja was underage seems to come up as a reason for their marriage to be unacceptable, and of Sanjida using her ‘vice’ ways to lure the underage girl (added to the fact of it being an interreligious marriage). But, had it been a heterosexual marriage, arranged by the parents, the age of the girl, even if she were a ten year old would not have been cause for opposing their marriage.
Bangladesh, being a dominant Muslim country with a very conservative attitude towards social digresses is possibly a pothole for members of LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender) community. Lesbians (or Gays) have become synonymous to transgenders, more commonly known as hijras. That these are separate entities (even that transgenders are not the same as hijras) remains an alien concept to most. While members of such groups more often than not, come out in the open, they become objects of ridicule and jest if somehow spotted.
Many seem to think of same-sex relationships to be an influence of western culture, much like live-in relationships. The fact that gay-ism has been in the root of our society since time immemorial does not register in the minds of such bigots.
Thus, while a lot of work is being done on gender equality, violence against women, and even transgenders, lesbians remain a neglected entity. There are no laws or legislations to protect such women who are termed as being a ‘minority’. According to AsiaNews.it, ‘In Bangladesh, people belonging to the LGBT community (Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) range between 1.6 and 4.8 million. They are not recognized and receive no form of social, religious or legal support and are often victims of persecution’. Often, lesbians live their life without acknowledging this part of their identity; sometimes, overlooking it even when they do come to terms with reality.
According to Rainer Ebert and Mahmudul Hoque Moni, in a blog titled LGBT Community Calls for the Repeal of Section 377, published in bdnews24.com ‘The status of homosexuality as a social and religious taboo is also reflected in the Bangladeshi Criminal Code. Its Section 377, a legacy of British rule, refers to consensual oral and anal sex as “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” and subjects it to punishment up to imprisonment for life’. Effectively, this section makes homosexual intercourse illegal in Bangladesh’.
This does not go to say that there is a dearth of lesbians in the country. But social stigma and pressure make it extremely difficult, almost impossible for women to come out. Not that being gay is a walk through Ramna park, but gay men have an advantage simply because male bonding is common in our country as is male mobility which helps same sex male partners spend more time together unlike lesbians who are almost an unheard of and lesbianism a topic, that is in dearth of discussion. Under such circumstances (where it is safe to say that no research has been conducted on lesbian groups), it is possibly best to put lesbians and gays under a broader category and look at some of the work that has been done so far.
Starting out as an online group in 2002, an organization called Boys of Bangladesh (BoB) has become a central forum for gay and bisexual men in Bangladesh. BoB currently has more than 2000 registered members, including school students as well as Ph.D. holders. Their ages range between 16 and more than 50 years. BoB is run by around twenty young men and has increasingly become public in recent years. In November 2010, it conducted the second edition of a festival titled “Under the Rainbow”, in cooperation with the German Goethe- Institut in Dhaka. Under the slogan “accept diversity and end discrimination”, the five-day festival included movie screenings, art exhibitions and musical performances and brought together leading human rights activists from with the country and abroad.
Some movements in Islam, such as the US-based Al-Fatiha Foundation, accept and consider homosexuality as natural and work towards the acceptance of non-heterosexual love-relationships within the global Muslim community. Some argue that while the Quran speaks out against homosexual lust, it is silent on homosexual love.
On April 29, Bangladesh Foreign Minister, Dipu Moni in a United Nations meeting in Geneva said “On LGBT rights… […] we recognize the need for protecting all vulnerable groups of our population, given their constitutional equal rights and freedoms. Moreover, we do not condone any discrimination or violence against any human being on any pretext”. After the media starting publishing articles based on her speech, a press release was issued from the government saying that Moni rejects calls from the international community to repeal Section 377 (which criminalizes sexuality against “the order of nature”) as it clashes with Bangladeshi societal and cultural values.
According to an opinion based article on bdnews24 by Shakhawat Hossain and Rainer Ebert, titled Bangladesh’s LGBT community and the UPR 2013, the government did agree to train law enforcers and judicial officers on human rights, also suggested by UN members during the Universal periodic Review (UPR examines the human rights condition of all UN members), but as mentioned above, neglected the UN’s suggestion to drop the penal code of Section 377. Thus, it is safe to say that while the government acknowledges the fact that LGBT rights need to be protected (as gathered from Moni’s speech), nothing worthwhile is/will be done about it because of the country’s ‘’conservative’ attitude on such matters. Now whether Moni’s speech in the meeting was simply delivered due to pressure from the other UN countries seems to be another debatable topic.
But it is safe to say that in the midst of political turmoil, such issues become drawn to dust and lie at the bottom of the government’s to-do list. ( Note: To know more on the different types of sexual orientation, and what each of them entails, read, Society and the freedom of choice in the personal sphere, by Rainer Ebert on http://www.theindependentbd.com)
Yes, it is not enough; the work that has been done is inconclusive to say the least. It is de-motivating to think of the lack of concern to build a secure home for same-sex couples, amongst influential people: the government, court of law, and more importantly, society in general. Perhaps, educating the aforementioned groups on the existence of same-sex attraction can be a starting point.
Or maybe those two young girls already gave us the much needed start when they took on such a challenging venture. Which is why when the news of these two brave young girls was all over the media, I for one cheered for nothing more than their courage. The way they stood up for their love for one another, and more importantly for themselves deserves praise. Not that it did them any good, and God only knows what happened to them after they were arrested, (as the media did not think it was newsworthy to investigate what happened to them after that), but maybe it could open the mind gates of prejudiced people in our society who think of gay-dom do be an illness, an abnormality at best. Or maybe I am just being too much of an optimist.
I am a married heterosexual. not a member of the lesbian community. But I am a big fan of rights of all sorts: for men, women and even animals. I dream of a tomorrow where any living being will be allowed to live the life he/she desires for his/herself without being judged for their actions and without being called names. Yes ofcourse, there will be norms decided on by society. But those norms will not be inflicted on individuals; rather the option to choose which ones befit me best should be mine to decide.
Again, maybe I am being too much of an optimist!