Sex, religion and conformity in India

india religions87I have a question after reading the Henry Chu feature in the Los Angeles Times about the decision of Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil to come out of the closet as a gay man. The headline offers the setup from a secular point of view: "Prince is out but not down: In India, where being gay is a crime, a royal son was shunned when he told his secret. Now he fights to change the law and public mind-set."

And Chu gives us this summary of the challenges facing the brave prince:

In the uproar that followed, disgusted residents in Gohil's hometown flung his photograph onto a bonfire. His parents publicly disowned their only son, printing notices in the press that he was cut off as heir because of his involvement in "activities unacceptable to society." Gohil's mother has threatened contempt proceedings against anyone who refers to him as her son.

For scandal-mongers, the tale of India's gay prince is an irresistibly juicy affair full of details worthy of a tabloid tell-all: his teenage affair with a servant boy, a sexless marriage to a minor princess, a nervous breakdown.

For Gohil, his very public unmasking has brought him a bully pulpit from which to speak out against a law that makes him not just a pariah of noble birth but also a common criminal.

Once again, this is all handled as a social issue linked to his standing as the son of a maharajah.

But what is the origin of the law itself? That comes next:

Here in the world's largest democracy, home to 1.1 billion people, sex between two people of the same gender remains a punishable offense. Decades after India threw off the yoke of British rule, the country still clings to a Victorian-era statute established by its colonial masters nearly 150 years ago, which demands up to life in prison for anyone committing "carnal intercourse against the order of nature."

Ah, this is a problem with those old ways of the Christians in the Victorian era, before the liberation of Anglicanism and the West.

However, Chu also stresses:

Despite India's high-tech wizardry and its rising affluence, this remains a highly conservative and conformist society where most young people undergo arranged marriages, the pressure to produce children is enormous and no gay role models or TV shows like "Will & Grace" exist to offer a hint of an alternative.

indiaI am including all of these block quotes for a reason.

This story contains lots and lots of information about the prince, his life and his nation. But there seems to me to be a rather large hole.

So, are we to assume that the core of the story -- the foundation of this "highly conservative and conformist society" -- is essentially a British hang-up? It's strictly a Christian thing?

Last time I checked, India was still a pretty religious nation, one of the most faith-drenched lands in the world. Yet, last time I checked, Christianity was a pretty small player on the religion scene in modern India.

This raises a very basic question for me: Wouldn't it have been good thing to include some material -- a paragraph or two, perhaps -- that told us something about where Hinduism and Islam stand on issues linked to homosexuality? Perhaps the teachings of the major faiths are linked to this issue in modern India, perhaps just as much, or even more, than that old-time religion from Britain?

I have heard that there are pretty strong social customs in India linked to class, family, marriage and sex. Do these have anything to do with the religious beliefs and customs of the actual people in modern India?

Just curious. It would be nice to know.

Map from the University of Texas Libraries.

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