Social Issues

LGBT people in South Asia: between struggles for marriage or mere survival

By Alejandro R. Otero and Sangam Prasain

New Delhi/Kathmandu. Jul 21 (efe-epa).- The quest for legalizing marriage between persons of the same-sex has once again put Nepal at the forefront in terms of the rights of the LGBTIQ community in South Asia, which has faced deadly attacks and stabbings in Bangladesh, while in countries like Afghanistan being a homosexual can be reason enough for being legally punished or whipped.

Sunita Lama and Laxmi met at a Kathmandu bus stop 10 years ago, fell in love, and now live together.

Although the two would like to get married, Nepali law does not allow it, despite it being one of the most progressive country in the region for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer people.

“Laxmi’s family has not supported our relationship yet as they still believe it’s a sin to get two women married,” 44-year-old Lama told EFE, withholding her partner’s real identity. She hoped that the government would finally legalize same-sex marriage after years of delay.

On July 1, the National Human Rights Commission of Nepal reiterated the need for such a law, urging the government to recognize same-sex marriage and pass laws to protect the community from discrimination.

As an identified lesbian, Lama has been forced into prostitution and the president of LGBT non-profit Blue Diamond Pinky Gurung told EFE that “from banks to education institutions and from private business houses to government jobs, doors are still closed for the community. ”

In neighboring India, where the decriminalization of homosexual relations by the Supreme Court is set to complete two years in September, the priority of LGBT activists remains visibility and social normalization, even though they have not given up the struggle for rights such as marriage.

“Of course, we need the marriage law and other rights, but Indian society – especially in rural areas – is still very conservative and feels that homosexuality is something wrong,” said Anjali Gopalan, an activist with nonprofit Naz Foundation, which filed the lawsuit that led to homosexuality being decriminalized.

“We have to be visible because the society has to know that we exist, (…) and this visibility will make society more tolerant,” she told EFE.

Even as progress is being felt in countries like Nepal and India, in Afghanistan the LGBT community continues to be practically invisible.

“So we really don’t know about them (LGBT people), where they are living, under what circumstances and what problems they are faced with in Afghanistan,” Zabihullah Farhang, the spokesperson of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, told EFE.

There doesn’t seem to be much hope from any quarters for the community to come out of the closet, with the Afghan justice ministry claiming that homosexuality is a “moral crime,” while the only question for the Taliban is deciding what is a suitable punishment for these individuals.

“Afghanistan is an Islamic Country, here all laws should be Islamic. (…) (Homosexuality) is the most cursed and hated action and it can not be justified under any pretext,” Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid told EFE.

Under a strict interpretation of religious law by a Taliban regime, the punishment can range from whipping and stoning to being rolled down a slope.

Similar radical Islamist elements are also present in Bangladesh, where activism can cost one’s life, as in the case of the founder of Roopban, the only LGBTIQ magazine in the country.

The activist, Xulhaz Mannan, and his partner were hacked to death at their Dhaka home in 2016.

The pressure against advocating LGBT rights can also come from the police, as homosexuality is still listed as a crime under the Article 377 of the Penal Code – a law dating back to the British colonial era – and is punishable by prison sentences of between 2 to 10 years.

Although it was abolished in India, the article 377 continues to remain in force in other former British colonies such as Pakistan and Sri Lanka, although in the latter it carries another number.

“There was a chance in India. In our country there was no case (against the law),” Jotirmoy Burua, a lawyer in the Bangladesh Supreme Court, told EFE.

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