Last time I checked, there was nothing risky about dancing around trees wearing blingy clothes – after all, that’s so Bollywood, isn’t it? Yet, Celina Jaitley has received threats on her and her children’s lives for humming to the tune of “ta ra rum pum pum” (which, by the way, is her singing debut) because the video roots for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) equality.
The video has been produced by the United Nations as its first attempt to bring the Free and Equal campaign to India. The Free and Equal campaign aims to ” raise awareness of homophobic and transphobic violence and discrimination, and promote greater respect for the rights of LGBT people everywhere”. Celina Jaitley is one of UN’s Equality Champions and, hence, features in the video.
The video, entitled ‘The Welcome’ tells the story of a family preparing for the arrival of their son’s ‘special friend’ – “Aaj hamare bhaiyya aa rahe hain apne ‘un’ ko le ke.” When the son arrives, he steps out of the car with another man and, after the initial shock, the family embraces the couple.
Of course, there is a lot to be criticised in the video – the upper middle class glamorous elitist setting, reiteration of the need to conform to institutions such as marriage and failure to acknowledge India’s homoerotic cultural past (“Roop naya hai, dhang naya hai”, says Celina Jaitley to the grandmother to convince her to accept her grandson and his partner) – but I’ll leave that to this excellent post on Youth ki Awaaz.
Despite the video’s flaws, it’s worth noting that it has earned Celina Jaitley threats on her and her children’s lives. Celina Jaitley said, “It’s been a very, very long journey for me, both personally, professionally. Also I suffered a lot sometimes because there were people who would not want to work with me because I was supporting gay rights…[and there have been] threats from many opposing parties, threats to my children, threats to myself, character assassination.”
Secondly, it has sparked another discussion on the shameful situation in India. In a historic win, homosexuality had been decriminalised in India by repealing the colonial era Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) in 2009 by the Delhi High Court. But, sadly, this judgement was overruled by the Supreme Court of India in December last year, effectively recriminalising homosexuality. A common right wing argument is that homosexuality is a ‘foreign’/’Western’ concept, erasing the depiction and discussion of homsexuality and homoeroticism in ancient Indian art and texts.
As is said quite often but not often enough, India has sadly become a country where consenting sex between two adults of the same sex is a crime but non-consensual sex (i.e. rape) in marriage is perfectly legal.
However, there are some rays of hope – in April 2014, India’s Supreme Court recognised transgender people as a legal third gender and although there is concern about the new right wing government, the RSS (Rashtiya Swayamsevak Sangh – the ideological backing of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party) has said in muted terms that criminalisation of homosexuality is objectionable.