Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Overcoming Fear and Prejudice

I just watched 8, a play directed by Rob Reiner and written by Dustin Lance Black. It was broadcast live on YouTube on 3rd March. The interesting part about this play was not its star cast (a veritable who's who of the top brass of Hollywood), but it's subject matter - the landmark Perry vs. Schwarzenegger case where United States District Court Judge Vaughn R. Walker deemed Proposition 8 as unconstitutional. In a nutshell, Proposition 8 aims to prohibit same-sex marriages. Though Proposition 8 has been overturned, there is still a stay on the ruling pending further appeals, during which time same-sex marriages would still be considered illegal.

8 is a powerful piece on the fear and prejudice that run through society against anything that the majority consider abnormal or against the "natural order".

India is still far away from the day when same-sex marriage will even be considered a legal right. Even though the Delhi High Court had decriminalized consensual gay sex, there are still a number of fearful and prejudiced people fighting against the ruling. Their arguments that decriminalizing gay sex would lead to the breakdown of society or even to the rise in HIV/AIDS has no real proof. If the incidence of HIV/AIDS is high among gay people, then it is because of the stigma attached to it, which causes them to follow unsafe sex practices. In fact, by decriminalizing gay sex, society would be able to provide a safer environment in which to follow safe sex practices.

But in reality, that is easier said than done. We all know that even though Section 377 has been amended, the majority of Indians look upon same-sex relationships with abhorrence. A survey carried out by Bangalore Mirror found out that more than 50% of Bangaloreans do not agree that a homosexual relationship is a "valid form of relationship".

Putting homosexual relationships aside, majority of Indians today still do not accept inter-caste or inter-religious unions. They are still caught up in "What will society say?" "We will be ostracized by our family and friends!" "Will she be able to adjust to our customs and food habits?" and so on.

For someone at the receiving end of the above comments and struggling to get married to her boyfriend since the past year and a half, 8 really resonated with me - because at the end of the day the plaintiffs, Kristin Perry and Sandra Steir, and Paul Katami and Jeffrey Zarrillo just want to be a family, to enjoy the legal rights that are a part of a legal union, to not refer to their significant other as their "partner", but as their "wife" or "husband", to live with dignity.

It saddens me that as the earth grows older, we as a people are not becoming any wiser. We are still narrow-minded, prejudiced, fearful, bigoted, knocking down anything or any person who is seemingly different, not giving people a chance to live as they wish to.

At the end of the day, how does it matter if your neighbours are a same-sex couple raising children or if your son is in love with a girl from a different religion or caste? You might be surprised to learn that you share the same child rearing beliefs as the same-sex couple, or the girl belonging to the wrong religion might surprise you by trying her best to adapt to customs she was not raised with or introduce you to an entirely different world, which might be similar to yours in more ways than one.

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