Sexuality of an individual is a very private matter: Priya Dutt, Congress leader

OneWorld South Asia: Why is it important for men who have sex with men (MSM) in India to come out of the closet?

Priya Dutt: It is not necessary that they have to come out and tom tom that they are gay. But at the same time they should not be hiding out of fear. Hiding builds more frustration. Why do they have to hide? It is very important that they don’t feel the need to hide.

Sexuality of an individual is a very private matter. Sexual preference of an individual is a personal affair. But they today live in great fear of who they are because of the lack of acceptance and criminalisation.

OWSA: How do cultural arguments infringe on the rights of sexual minorities like the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people?

Dutt: I don’t believe in those arguments because our culture, tradition and society are very inclusive. We say that our country is unique because of its diversity. This is also an example of diversity and we have lived together in harmony for thousands of years.

No religion talks about violence against another human being. Both Hinduism and Islam talk about acceptance. God does not discriminate between human beings then who are we to stand in judgement and discriminate.

OWSA: What kind of steps can government take to rectify certain laws that encroach upon the basic rights of sexual minorities?

Dutt: The government just needs to follow the constitution. Unfortunately, we have not. Every Indian lives by the constitution of the country. Yes, there are laws which are redundant and must be taken out. Article 377 is an age old-law.

When society evolves and progresses we have to even look at what laws have been there for the last hundred years which may not even apply today. We need a political will to ensure that everybody in our country lives by the constitution.

Our constitution is about equal rights and equal opportunities to every citizen. Can we deny that the MSMs and LGBTs are not citizens of this country? If they are citizens of this country they are entitled to the same rights as anyone.

OWSA: How do stigmatisation of LGBTS and MSMs deprive them of their educational and economic rights?

Dutt: The stigma takes off all kinds of rights from these communities. Without any education or health cover we are exposing them to more exploitation. There are barricades but we need to start step-by-step.

We need to bring in civil society to mainstream them. They should be allowed to share larger platforms with the heterosexual or so called ‘normal’ people.  It is not just LGBTs or MSMs but sex workers are also marginalised and criminalised.

Why these can’t people get work opportunities instead of leaving them alone to beg on roads. LGBTs and MSMs should not face segregation in our society which is the most dangerous trend. The stigma is also more harmful to those infected with HIV.

OWSA: Amnesty International advocates decriminalisation as the only way to protect sex workers. Do you agree?

Dutt: Decriminalisation will do away with child prostitution and forced prostitution which is illegal. When you are brought into the legal ambit you are licensed. This will create better systems in place and give some dignity to these people.

You like it or not, this profession exists. Therefore, you rather have a legalised way as it will empower sex workers. If you legalise sex work, people who are already in this profession will get a health cover, security. Legalising sex work will do away with trafficking.

Those who are there in this profession are due to some kind of compulsions. They are there to feed and educate their children. Nobody likes to be in prostitution out of choice.

OWSA: How can we tackle crimes related to women?

Dutt: Sensitisation begins at home right from childhood. Look at our perception of women in this country today.

Why are rapes increasing? It is very important to begin sensitisation in our schools and homes. Sex education is very important in our schools. It is being able to know what your body is. Children should know the dos and don’ts as they are growing up.

Once, I had a small interaction with girls from municipal schools in Mumbai during a medical camp in the presence of a gynaecologist. Pubescent girls had no idea about reproduction or reproductive organs. When you talk about rapes or domestic molestation these kids can’t differentiate between right and wrong. When you talk about rape, many a times it is the closest person doing it to you in your home.

These children who are growing up with these issues are completely confused till they reach a certain age which is very detrimental to the new generation.

OWSA: How does guidance to children assumes importance in the internet era?

Dutt: Children today get maximum information from the internet. Yes, there is more awareness but we are not sure how appropriate or important it is.

Children should know about a ‘good touch’ and a ‘bad touch’. You should also know about your own sexuality. It is a very sad thing that adults don’t even speak on these issues to their children.