Image: Rosanna Flamer-Caldera.(frontpage.lk)
by Rosanna Flamer-Caldera.
Ceylon’s colonization by the British rule had a sizeable impact on what we now deem as cultural and social norms in Sri Lanka today. When the British established themselves in this country, they brought in their morals and culture which contrasted dramatically with what we Sri Lankans practised pre-colonization. With colonization, the British forced upon us Victorian Christian morals and laws and almost completely wiped out our own social and governance structures without any consultation with the local population!
One such law, the British brought in 1883 and which still exists today, is Sections 365 and 365A of the Penal Code which criminalizes homosexual sex as “Unnatural offences and gross indecency between persons”. In its original form, the Penal Code only spoke of male homosexuality referring to any male person with another male person.
“They are bullied and discriminated in schools verbally, physically, emotionally and sexually by older children or staff members. They are often expelled from schools or forced to quit due to the extreme bullying. Family members and others verbally, physically, emotionally and sexually abuse them and discriminate against them often punishing them with beatings and rape”
These provisions are very similar to the Penal Codes of India, Singapore, Zambia and Fiji all former colonies. In 1995, 365A of the Penal Code was amended and the word ‘male’replaced with the word ’person’thus including both LGBTIQ and non-LGBTIQ persons within the purview of this law.
The actual meaning of the words Carnal Intercourse against the order of nature and acts of gross indecency is yet to be determined and the law remains a vague and ambiguous piece of legislature. What exactly constitutes Carnal Intercourse against the order of nature? Using a condom for example while engaging in intercourse (even heterosexual) is technically against the order of nature, but is this a criminal offence? Would a man having anal intercourse with his spouse be committing an act of gross indecency? Should the State be allowed into our bedroom to force upon us, extreme conservative structures that dictate who we love and how we love?
Since Independence, no person has been convicted under Sections 365 and 365A but the very existence of these laws has given society, law enforcement and government the authority to violate the rights of LGBTIQ persons with impunity.
This is a little picture of what LGBTIQ persons go through on a daily basis. They are bullied and discriminated in schools verbally, physically, emotionally and sexually by older children or staff members. They are often expelled from schools or forced to quit due to the extreme bullying. Family members and others verbally, physically, emotionally and sexually abuse them and discriminate against them often punishing them with beatings and rape. They are forced into heterosexual marriages which are particularly traumatizing for lesbians as they are sexually abused throughout their marriage They are routinely arrested with no charges and are sexually and financially exploited, blackmailed and in many instances subject to sexual abuse and beaten by police officers.
Job opportunities are a few and far between. Those who have been unable to finish schooling due to harassment and bullying particularly, face issues finding employment due to their lack of qualifications. Once employed, many of them are often verbally, physically, emotionally and/or sexually harassed if they are found to be LGBTI or Q. In many instances, they are sacked from their jobs for no apparent reason other than their sexual orientation or gender identity or their perceived sexual orientation. When seeking health care, they are often treated with disrespect and are subject to rudeness and name-calling, long waits until all the heterosexual persons have been seen by the doctors and so on. Walking on the street or using public restrooms are very difficult to many of LGBTIQ persons. They very often fall prey to verbal, physically, emotional, and sexual harassment and violence.
“This has been the norm for the past 134 years. Enough is enough! It is time Sri Lanka moved into the future with dignity and pride and embraced diversity. We are all citizens of this country. We all deserve to live in freedom and dignity without being criminalized for who we love”
These are just some of the violations and discrimination that take place. All these examples have been reported to ‘Equal Ground’, the only organisation advocating for the LGBTIQ community in Sri Lanka. However, it is only the tip of the iceberg, as most LGBTIQ persons here hide their sexual orientation and gender identity and refuse to complain about their abuse. In fact, even the few out and proud LGBTIQ persons mostly do not report their experiences, their discrimination and abuse because they fear reprisals. Those who have had the courage to report their issues have often faced retribution for daring to speak.
It is interesting to note that although the law criminalizes any person; if they are found to be suspected of Carnal Intercourse against the order of nature and acts of gross indecency it is common practice in Sri Lanka to only view homosexuality as a crime and not heterosexuality! While the human rights of every single LGBTIQ person in this country are being violated, the Govt cites culture and social norms to continue to outlaw the LGBTIQ community and continue the vicious cycle of homophobia, violence and discrimination. This has been the norm for the past 134 years. Enough is enough! It is time Sri Lanka moved into the future with dignity and pride and embraced diversity. We are all citizens of this country. We all deserve to live in freedom and dignity without being criminalized for who we love.
No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they could learn to hate, they could be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.
- First published in the Daily Mirror