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From The Mahabharat to The Supreme Court

The Central government opposed the Delhi High Court's petition seeking recognition of same-sex marriage, saying, "our legal system, society, and values do not recognize marriage between same-sex couples." (Centre opposes plea for same-sex marriages)

The notion of "queer Identity" is considered as part of the identity politics of the postmodern era. So, is it the rich Indian cultural heritage was estranged from the idea of the concept of queerness? The bearing in this paper has been to trace queerness or queer sexuality in the Indian context.

The hypothesis is that queers existed and were well represented in several historical, literary, and cultural discourses. The conditions of Queers in Indian society have always been like that of Saul bellow's Dangling Man or Hamlet's dilemma 'to be or not to be.' Contemporary times which revolves around politics, analyses identity in the bloody crossroads of tradition, modernity, colonization, and globalization.

A trajectory from bad to worse?

Cultures worldwide teach about different aspects of human life, including virtues, vices and controversies through their myths and historical stories.

One of the most debated and discussed concepts is that of queer identity and gender fluidity. Queer sexuality, this paper postulates, has always existed in every part of the world. This article shall present evidence in the Indian context with myths and cultural ideas of ancient India and Hindu mythology.

Where it comes from:

"The term homosexuality appeared in print media for the first time in 1869 through an anonymous German pamphlet; paragraph 142 of the Prussian penal Code and Its maintenance; paragraph 152 of the Draft of a Penal Code for North German Confederation written by Karl Maria Kertbeny. This brochure promoted the repeal of Prussia's sodomy laws.

Thus, homosexuality is not a new appearance. Even instances of homosexuality are found in Hindu Mythology. The literature from Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim and modern fiction also testifies to various homosexual love and relationships. Ancient texts like the Manu Smriti, Arthashastra, Kamasutra, Upanishads, and Puranas refer to homosexuality.

Thus, homosexuality is available in historical and mythological texts the world over, and India is not an exception." (Parasar, "Homosexuality in India- The Invisible Conflict")

The encapsulated meaning:

Firstly, let us understand what queer identity means and what comes in the spectrum of genders outside the conventional binary ones. "Queer" is an umbrella term for sexual and gender minorities who are not heterosexual and cisgender.

It is defined as "of, relating to, or being a person, whose gender identity cannot be categorized as solely male or female." (Merriam-Webster)

I believe that queer identity has existed since time immemorial, but external pressure has kept it hidden from common knowledge leading people to think it is a modern concept.

An insight into the profundity of the issue:

Indian society treats Queer identity as an alien western or modern concept because of a lack of common knowledge of its existence; thus, people identifying as queer have never received the acceptance they deserve and have faced discrimination at every turn of life. This article aims to provide information on critical queer stories that have existed in the cultural and mythological stories but have been hidden or gone unnoticed. This shows how these concepts are not alien but an essential part of our values and not treat them differently.

Though the concept of homosexuality has existed earlier in every part of the world, this article shall present evidence in the Indian context with myths and sculptures from ancient India and Hindu mythology.

The underpinning evidences:

"The beginning of Mahabharata is from the beginning of the Chandravansha Clan to which the Kauravas and Pandavas belong. Moreover, most importantly, the entire Chandravansha clan was born out of a Transgender Union." Says Devdutt Pattnaik in his interviews on Queer stories from Hindu Mythology. (YouTube)

The idea of a spectrum of gender and sexuality is firmly rooted in the idea of the Tantras, and even the law-book Manu-smriti, which explains that male children are born when the male seed is more potent, female children are born when the female seed is more potent and queer children are born when both seeds are of equal strengths. Though not scientifically proven, it indicates a desire to explain the existence of queer people in physiological, not pathological terms. (Pattanaik, Shikhandi)

Shiva Purana tells us about the merging of Shiva with Shakti to become Ardhanarishvara. While the Vishnu Purana recalls Vishnu's taking the form of Mohini to enchant the Asuras. So, gods and goddesses changed their genders to and fro. Jain monks differentiate between the 'dravya shareer' (physical body) and the 'bhaav shareer' (psychological body). They said one could have a male body, but one could be attracted to a man and not just a woman.

So bhaav shareer is different from the dravya shareer. The physical body and the psychological body do not necessarily have to align with each other. They also differentiated between feminine and masculine homosexuals. However, we must not believe it purposely celebrates queer sexuality but keeps queers from the monastic order. The same ideas are prevalent in Buddhist scriptures, where queer people were not accepted into monastic orders, from homosexuals to transgender people.

Although we must acknowledge the existence of such sophisticated and well-explained ideas even 1500 years back. (Pattnaik, "Gender Fluidity in Hinduism")

The unacceptance of the society towards queer people, for example, the transgender people who live in unhealthy circumstances having light sources of incomes and other necessary facilities, shows how people who say that these concepts or ideas are not a part of our culture have ignorantly defied what our very own Lord Ram had wished for them.

The Ramayana tells us the story of Ayodhya's transgender people whom Lord Ram had blessed. They had no place to go back when Ram had requested the Men and Women following him to return to the city. On returning, he realized how they had been treated as Invisibles by him but had yet not left his side. He promised them equality and acceptance in the Kingdom of Ayodhya, and yet today, people belonging to this community live in slums and outskirts of the city.

The spectrum of queer identities, be it asexual or bisexual or gay or lesbian or transgender, has again been depicted in this country's myths and historical tales.

The birth of King Mandhata from the Mahabharata who was conceived by his father and whose side was cut open to deliver the baby and who drank milk from the slit thumb of God Indra also raises queer questions asking is King Yuvanashva is his father or mother and as a mother can Yuvanashva sit on the throne as traditionally women did not become kings. How would modern society treat a man if he uses medical science to bear a child and lactate? (Pattanaik, Shikhandi).

In Mahabharata, the great Bhishma refers to a certain King Bhaganvansha when Yudhishthira asks him whether a man or a woman receives greater pleasure in this world. Bhishma replies that only King Bhaganvansha can answer this as he has lived both as a man and a woman.

On reading his story, queer people may see Bhaganvansha as a bisexual person who has had the pleasure of both the man and woman's role during intercourse. They would see him as a married gay man who considers both his children and his lover's children as his own, relating himself to be both other and father.

Those uncomfortable with queer sexuality would prefer seeing the tale literally, rejecting all attempts to rationalize it. (Pattanaik, Shikhandi)

Rebuttal against reality? Till which level can we stoop down to :

People who disagree with my stance try to omit such contradictory stories while retelling them and passing them on through hear-say or erase the intricate details and depict them as unimportant anecdotes.

However, we must not forget how vital the entry of Shikhandi in the Mahabharata was. She is born with a female body but knows all her life that she is a man. Later in life, with a yaksha called Sthunakarna's help, she becomes a man. Then Shikhandi enters the battlefield of Kurukshetra, enabling the downfall of Bhishma.

It is Shikhandi who helps the Pandavas win their war against the Kauravas. The fact that a queer human's entry tilted the entire battle in favour of the Pandavas is systematically erased by retellers. Although the story of Shikhandi is what modern queer vocabulary would call a female to male transsexual, as her body goes through a particular change genitally; retellers portrayed him as a eunuch or male to female transsexual, male to female transgender, or merely a man who was a woman in his past life.

Thus, also revealing a patriarchal bias in the queer space (Pattanaik, "Gender Fluidity in Hinduism"). People who do not accept these concepts of Indian origin believe that these concepts came from the West with modernization and liberalization.

However, the Mahabharata's earliest retellings, Ramayana, seem to be about 2500 years back, while modernization and liberalization ideas dated about 100 years. Thus, we can see that queer identity has been a part of our myths and cultural learning since Indian Civilization was established.


Mythologists like Devdutt Patnaik have extensively researched queer identity in Hindu mythology and other cultural mythologies worldwide. He has tried to link these concepts

and gods from different cultural mythologies based on similarity and has given evidence from Greek, Persian, Shinto, Egyptian mythologies, and many more.

Thus, trying to provide a database of all possible queer stories from myths and oral traditions worldwide. Even though there is much information available on queer stories from the historical culture of the Indian Subcontinent as a whole, this information has not received the audience it should have and has failed to be motivating or persuasive enough to bring about a change in the social perception of people identifying as queer.

The review papers:

This paper aims to boost the acceptance of queer people in society who have been marginalized and discriminated against based on non-Indian or culturally alien ideas and identity. We have seen how integral queer people are to Indian society, and it is not unknown how irrationally people have been prejudiced against them. We must not overrule the play of gender politics and ignorance towards the history of one's own culture as factors that have led to this situation today.

Politicians have used this as a means for vote bank politics and keeping the issues from being resolved as a weapon against the ruling government. Such pressure could also be why the judiciary system in our country is taking so long to solve this issue. This article proves that same-sex marriages are not alien or non-cultural to India, and there are many stories from Indian Mythology that one can refer to.

For example, Ratnavali became a companion to her female friend, and Chudala, who became a man to enlighten her husband. The story of King Bhagavansha, who gets 100 sons from his wife and then, due to a curse, turns into a woman and delivers 100 sons himself while still having a wife, shows that his marriage does not break due to his change of sex and that same-sex marriages were not seen as illegitimate back then.

Re-urgency on a bigger screen -

The knowledge of such ideas and stories becomes even more critical in these times due to uneducated decisions like criminalizing same-sex marriages based on being non-Indian and alien to our land's culture and values and many such irrational decisions.

This sort of widespread unawareness and ignorance of queer history shall only make lives difficult by the day for people of the community, and those stereotyped against them shall render them even more helpless than they already are and eventually outcaste them. This biased discrimination socially marginalizes them and deprives them of standard means of livelihood, income sources, and necessary medical facilities due to poverty.

These people also carry a massive social and mental burden and end up having severe mental health issues. They live their lives battling continuously for their existence. Thus, it is a violation of their human rights, right to self-determination and right to livelihood, among many others, and our society is responsible for it.

Immediate call for action -

Even though we cannot do anything drastic and immediate to give the queer community equal status in society, we can accept them more.

We can educate ourselves about derogatory and discriminatory terms that might psychologically affect them and be conscious of using them around a queer person. We must see them as humans and make choices based on merit and not sexuality.

We can accept them in educational institutions and workplaces to grow in a healthy environment as others. We can do our bit to increase awareness, nullify unfounded prejudices, and give them the respect they deserve.

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