Interview with Gopi Shankar Madurai by Prem Shanker (The Economic Times)

1. What is the significance of the Madrid Summit WorldPride and what is the importance of India’s participation in it?

The Madrid Summit is the biggest International Human Rights Conference ever made for LGBTQI issues, with more than 140 speakers, 52 panels and people from all over the world. The Madrid Summit 2017 and the Gay & Lesbian Victory Institute, invited me as one among other observers to the first Global LGBTQI Interparliamentary Plenary Session which will take place on Thursday, 29th of June, from 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm in the Senate of Spain, in Madrid. I am speaking on four panels.

It’s important for India to show its presence at World Pride Summit because the world should know our own Indigenous gender minorities and gender-specific rituals in India; such events bridge the gap between east and west. This will advance the rights of Intersex and LGBTQ community in India on various spheres of gender activism.
There is a gross misunderstanding about intersex people and the issues they face, not only in India but even in western countries. Many confuse intersex with transgender people. However, they are different since intersex people are born neither female nor male because of ambiguities in chromosomal patterns or genitals.

Gopi Shankar Madurai at Madrid Summit, World Pride 2017 with Paula Madrid Summit Director

2. What are your thoughts about the current situation of gender equality and sexuality rights prevailing in India?

Both present and past governments are not very sensitive towards the issues of Intersex people in India. In a reply to a letter from NHRC on behalf of me, the Health Ministry has only displayed its ignorance. And if you understand that sex and gender is not the same thing, you’d understand why it’s not right for doctors to surgically alter the genitals of an infant in order to fit social norms.

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, though, doesn’t believe there’s anything wrong with it. “The medical fraternity is well aware of the existence of Intersex persons in the community as they study this subject as part of the medical curriculum,” says the reply by Dr. Anil Sain, Assistant Deputy Director General in the Ministry. “Any kind of invasive medical procedure including sex reassignment surgeries are done only after thorough assessment of the patient, obtaining justification for the procedure planned to be conducted with the help of appropriate diagnostic test and only after taking a written consent of the patient/guardian,” the letter adds.

But exactly how a newborn can give written consent to the doctors is something activists have been wondering about.
We’re not talking about surgeries performed on adults with their consent. We’re talking about surgeries performed on intersex infants, who cannot give consent. Forced sex assignments of intersex infants can also cause long-term health issues. We as a country and individuals never bothered about the Medical Violations on Intersex people and Intersex infanticide is completely neglected.

Our social and political institutions still suffer from gender bias and colonial mindset of the Victorian era. Hence we demand that efforts be made and let the governments and institutions come out with what efforts have been already done in understanding and creating an awareness about the Gender-variants issues in any field, such as law, education, and medical sciences.

Generally, the terms gender, sexuality, and sex are taken to be the same. But they all mean different things. Sex is a biological definition and gender is the self-identity and it also means the sociocultural and behavioral perception, while sexuality refers to the sexual attraction towards a particular sex. That even within the mainstream LGBTQIA+ community in India, the existence of these many genders is largely unknown.

Gopi Shankar Madurai at Asian View Panel 

3. You are presenting a paper on Hinduism and Sexuality at Madrid, what will be the main points you will be making in this presentation and what will be the context in which this paper will be presented. By context I mean, will be your paper be talking mainly about the condition of rights in India or will it look at an international context?

To make it clear I am not presenting any paper on Hinduism but I am representing Hinduism and how inclusive it is. In India, thanks to the colonial legacy of shallow Victorian values, we have come to see this as a deviant behavior or violation. Indian culture is originally abundant with legends and mythologies where heroes and heroines have chosen various genders without guilt and their choices have been accepted and respected. Ironically, today the western nations are progressive in researching and educating about gender and sexuality expressions, while us, despite our rich cultural heritage respecting and accepting gender variations and choices are lagging behind and even lacking that sensitivity. , we certainly lack any basic axiomatic framework pertaining to gender and sexuality, while the foreign universities have even started their own departments and research activities. The most painful condition is that even psychologists are mostly unaware of Gender-variants and their localized issues pertaining to Indian conditions. India’s pre-colonial traditional as well as various localized folk traditions have taken a far healthier attitude in dealing with sex-education, that may surprise many people on both sides of the fence of sex-education who want to map Indian culture with dominant Victorian male value system. Various folk deities and traditions emphasize fluid nature of gender and mythologies have stories that reinforce this idea. So a child growing up will not have a strong shock value or guilt feeling in relating to one’s own sexuality or others as gender-variant. Devi Mahatmya and Mahabharata are two such examples. 

Koothandavartemple festival in Tamil Nadu is another example of local folk tradition organically linked to the pan-Indian culture in dealing positively with creating awareness for and empowering gender-variants. These cultural possibilities need to be taken up and explored to create democratic social space for gender minorities.

Gopi Shankar Madurai on Intersex & Medical Violations Panel

4. the Quasi Government handout – Ayush had recently mentioned that pregnant women should remain free of ‘sexual feelings’ and came under severe criticism. How do you view such instances? Do you think in the name of culture we are growing increasingly regressive on sexuality?

In the era where activists like us are defying the heteronormative gender roles what some insensitive politicians do in the name of Indian culture which is not really Indian at all.

Gopi Shankar Madurai on Religion & Sexuality Panel

5. How does Hinduism deal with sexuality? And what place do you see for sexuality in Hindutva?

Hinduism is all about indigenous traditions and none of the indigenous traditions are against Homosexuality and Gender variants. I wish the people who identify with Hindutva should first understand Hinduism. There is nothing wrong in being a Hindutva person too; Most of the LGBTQI friendly people I met are Hindutva people.

Madrid Summit Declaration

6. An RSS convention had recently worked on a draft to make India a Hindu Rashtra (country of Hindus) in the next five years. How do you view this and does your paper talk about the political context of Hinduism too? Especially when a right-wing government is in place.

As a person who respects RSS for its service to India, I believe any Philosophy which originates in the present and past geographical location which we refer as India is Hindu philosophy or Indic Philosophy so what they mean is an Inclusive India for Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs, Shaivas, Vaishnavas, Saktas etc. Abrahamic traditions like Christianity and Islam except Judaism were the biggest threat to both western and eastern indigenous traditions so we must create a healthy space based on Indic values to be more inclusive. My speech will throw light on how to advance the cause of LGBTQIA+ community in Hinduism.

Gopi Shankar Madurai with Zanele Muholi at Madrid Summit closing ceremony

7. We have seen instances of fringe right-wing elements questioning Valentine ’s Day and even attacking women in pubs asking them to wear decent clothes etc. In such a situation do you think the voice of the gender minorities will be heard? Do you think the BJP-led Modi government has to do more?

I don’t know how far these fringe elements are right wing, these extremists should know that artist Ravi Varma is a person who first painted the image of a Hindu goddess with Jacket. I personally don’t believe in Valentine’s Day but I believe Modi should decriminalize Homosexuality in India and also to pass a law to protect Intersex infants and people born, living, identified with Intersex traits in India.

Gopi Shankar Madurai with Paula at Madrid City Council Dinner Reception

8. Do you think global conferences such as the WorldPride Summit will have any impact on the political system and governments across the world? What impact do you think it will have on India?

Yes, definitely it will have an impact on advancing the rights on LGBTQIA+ community in western nations also it paves a path to have a dialogue on LGBTQIA+ in eastern countries.

Gopi Shankar Madurai with fellow guest at Madrid Summit 2017 

9. What do you think are the most important steps India needs to take to ensure gender equality and sexuality rights?

For over a century, women & queer people have undergone a lot of ill-treatment and abuse. We cannot expect the society to change but laws must change to protect the people irrespective of their expandable list of identities and differences, both left and right has lost its humanistic face and addicted to its own political or religious ideology are very dangerous.

The first thing they must have compulsory Gender, Sex, Sexuality education which deals with the diversity in it as a compulsory subject in schools, colleges and government and private spaces. We teach kids rocket science, life beyond earth, where’s America, etc., but we never teach them about their own bodies and these kids are future India.

Gopi Shankar Madurai addressing the closing ceremony of Madrid Summit 2017

10. Are you concerned about the present situation in India where beef ban and Hindu Rashtra is making news while many other issues including gender bias and sexuality rights are ignored?

Indian Government never banned Beef, when Beef is secular pork is secular too. But I am against killing any form of visible human life and animal around us. Respect for all forms of life is spirituality for me. People who talk about Palestine, Kashmir, and Myanmar never bother about Tibet, Yazidis and Red Terror like organ harvesting in China or freedom of speech in the Middle East. Another issue that I have faced and observed is that people have labeled a few political parties as non-supportive of our rights. This holds no truth. A few politicians who do not support LGBTQIA+ rights don’t mean that the entire party is against it. In order to spread our message, we will need to work together and to be able to do so; we must not politicize the issues and rather should focus on our work towards attaining our rights and spreading the awareness. For instance, my book on LGBTQIA was launched by Vanathi Srinivasan BJP Leader in the presence of RSS volunteers; she did help me with getting Justice for Santhi Soundarajan. I concern about people who kill each other in the name of political ideology and religious values they are separating them from the rest of our humanity. It pains me to see that different groups in our community itself fail to understand that there are sub-groups and categories, too. If we do not accept and embrace each other for who we are, how can we expect others to accept us? So knowing our sex, gender and sexuality will give us a right to own our body. We are living in a society where many of us don’t have the courage to own our body and opinions which is different and which makes us unique.

Gopi Shankar Madurai with Madrid Summit Back Stage Team

 Interviewed by Prem Shanker (The Economic Times)

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