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From 'Immoral' to 'Not a Crime': How RSS Stand on Section 377 Has Changed Over the Years

By: Suhas Munshi


Last Updated: September 08, 2018, 12:40 IST

File photo of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. (PTI)

File photo of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. (PTI)

The softening stance of the RSS towards homosexuality was announced in 2016 by Dattatreya Hosabole. He had said that the Sangh's approach to homosexuality should be 'no criminalisation', but at the same time, it should not glorify the act.

New Delhi: Within minutes of Supreme Court scrapping section 377, the RSS issued a statement clarifying that while it did not consider homosexuality a crime, it considered homosexual relations ‘unnatural’ and so wouldn't support gay marriage.

“Like the Supreme Court's verdict, we also do not consider this (homosexuality) as a crime…[but] These relationships are not natural, so we do not support this kind of relationship,” Arun Kumar, RSS spokesperson said in a statement on Thursday.

Interestingly, the statement reflected, at the same time, a calibrated and cautious progress of RSS' views towards homosexuality. In one way, the statement sounds surprisingly clearer and more progressive than the absolute silence adopted by BJP, which since the announcement of the judgment hasn’t officially said a word on the subject. It also reiterates the views Sangh had already declared more than two years ago.

The actual, formal, softening of stance of the RSS towards homosexuality was announced in 2016 by the then joint-secretary of the organisation (who recently was promoted to the rank of general secretary) Dattatreya Hosabole.

While attending a media event in Jaipur in March 2016, Hosabale had declared RSS’ “approach to homosexuality should be no criminalisation; no glorification either”.

He added that he didn’t “think homosexuality should be considered a criminal offence as long as it does not affect the lives of others in society… We, in RSS, never discuss personal preferences”.

Hosabale’s statement created a huge wave and perhaps, for the first time, showed a reformative strain in the RSS. As the organisation was asked to clarify statements made by its senior worker, Hosabale took to Twitter the following day and clarified that homosexuality was a “psychological case” which did not need to be treated as a criminal offence. But, he added, “Gay marriage is institutionalization of homosexuality. It should be prohibited.”

That is where Sangh drew the line, as far as its attitude towards acknowledging non-conformist sexual orientations was concerned – marriage between two people from the same sex was not acceptable. This is the stance that it reiterated on Thursday.

“Approach to homosexuality should be no criminalisation; no glorification either,” as Hosabale said two years ago.

In their book on the organisation, ‘RSS: A View to the Inside’, authors Shridhar Damle and Walter Anderson, talked in some detail about the changing attitude of the Sangh as far as issues like homosexuality and food preferences were concerned.

In one section of the book they write, “An additional consequence of India’s rapid economic development is the steady move away from traditional social values, many of which are rooted in Hindu religious views and practices. Such a shift is clearly evident in the more neutral attitude towards homosexuality recently expressed by some senior leaders of the parivar.”

At another place, they bring up the subject of there being ‘contrary views’ within the Sangh over such contentious subjects. “This growing variety in the RSS shows up in contradictory statements of senior figures of the sangh parivar on subjects such as ghar wapsi (conversion), homosexuality and caste reservations as well as in debates on how deeply it is to engage in the political process,” the authors wrote.

While it may not seem so, this seemingly inert attitude of ‘no criminalization, no glorification’ towards homosexuality is a huge progress over the stance that some of its former members publicly professed.

Rajnath Singh, who has never shied of boasting his RSS credentials, in 2009, shortly after the Delhi High Court struck down section 377, said, “We support section 377 because we believe that homosexuality is [an] unnatural act that cannot be supported.” He was the then President of the BJP.

But even more acutely sympathetic view towards section 377 was expressed in an article published by the Organiser, considered by some to be the mouthpiece of the RSS, in 2014 when Supreme Court brought 377 back, striking down the earlier Delhi High Court judgment.

“The recent bold stand taken by the Supreme Court on gay sex rejecting UPA government’s review plea is a milestone in preserving the values of the country,” said the article.

“The majority country has rightly announced homosexuality an unnatural act. Even animals do not indulge in it. It is also immoral...If everybody in the world goes for same sex marriage, no children will be born, hence this life style is against the plan of human existence...it is obligatory to put a stop in further expansion of homosexuality...In India family life is based on mutual faith, love and respect for the entire life. The couple derives great happiness from their children which same sex couple cannot comprehend,” the article went on to claim.

And somewhere, before concluding that India shouldn’t emulate America of whose leaders, “we hear disgusting stories of sexual adventures,” it said, adding that that “People like LGBTQ and others, who want to have that sexual enjoyment facility in India, are working towards that end [gaining more sexual freedom] with the result that dirty sex like rape is playing around in the country, with increasing rapidity.”

While RSS seems to have covered a lot of distance since then, it is unlikely to budge from its position of gay marriage being unacceptable any time soon.

first published:September 08, 2018, 09:01 IST
last updated:September 08, 2018, 12:40 IST