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Putting the Law in its place – analyses of recent developments in law relating to same-sex desire in India and Uganda
Since December 2013, there have been dramatic shifts in local and global discourses that connect sexuality, politics and law. In India the campaign against the anti-sodomy provision, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code has, in some sense, come to the end of the judicial route even as the explicit and formal politicisation of sexuality opens up new spaces and challenges. In Uganda, the long standing Anti-Homosexuality Bill has become an Act, close on the heels of another legislation – the ‘Anti-pornography Act’, which rearticulates a moral (read religious) notion of the nation. In Nigeria we have a similar law, which, although pegged on the criminalisation of same-sex marriage, has far reaching effects of criminalising public discourse around homosexuality. In each of these contexts we see the intersection of sexuality with politics, law, religion, and discourses of morality. At the level of ‘international’ discourse, however, rather shallow analyses lend themselves to the reinforcement of a barely-post colonial geopolitics, where the complex interactions of these factors in the politics of sexuality are elided.
This Newsletter has been jointly produced by Sexuality Policy Watch and the IDS Program on Sexuality and Development. The collection of analyses here presented juxtaposes the Indian and the Ugandan contexts with the intention of opening up new questions for struggles in both these places, but also with the objective of generating a deeper conversation amongst activists and academics about the peculiarities of Law and Politics as distinct (if connected) realms of action. One feature of various of these essays is to bring about the circulation of more nuanced analyses of the particular political-economic and cultural conditions for these dramatic developments in law , which take place at the intricate intersections between global economics, national politics and the so called ‘return of the religious’ (Derrida, 1998) in dogmatic manifestations. Another aspect examined by some of the authors regards the limitations and caveats of dominant juridical, economic and scientific rationales that currently pervade political struggles and advocacy in relation to human rights.
Lastly, most essays strongly remind us that, broadly speaking, we find ourselves in the midst of the formation of discourses of and on the nation that are enabled by the explicit exclusion of sexual and gender diversity from the body of the citizen. This simultaneously produces notions of normative and ‘acceptable’ forms of sexuality and gender, couches the nation in heteronormative terms through peculiar re-framings of history and often marks the body of the normative citizen in racial, ethnic and religious terms. This might be understood as the rise in ‘xenophobic homophobia’ (Bacchetta, 1999) in several parts of the world, where the question of homosexuality has become capable of being central to the processes of the construction of nation. In East Africa, Eastern Europe and in the Caribbean we thus see the state, or the political establishment, turning to the active use of the law as a distinctly homophobic tool. This must be considered a break from the post-colonial context of homophobia – thus far we have had, at best, a state homophobia by neglect, in allowing the continuation of colonial laws. We see, thus a moment where the Law and the act of law making has itself become a (cynical) political act, and the emergence of the Queer as that body upon which such Law might act.
The manner in which this peculiar twist in the post-colonial tale has been appropriated is most explicit in the aid conditionality response of western states, as most recently illustrated by the sanctions imposed by the United States of America on Uganda. As Sylvia Tamale, to whom we are grateful for this intervention in our editorial, argues:
“Some people have celebrated the recent imposition of sanctions on Uganda by the US government in the wake of the passing of the Anti-Homosexuality Act. While I’m totally opposed to the homophobic legislation, I am not one of those that popped champagne at the US government’s action. Apart from the fact that sanctions generally have minimum impact as a foreign policy tool, in this case they are bound to cause more damage than benefit to the cause of LGBT people in Uganda. Indeed, the sanctions reinforce the false idea that homosexuality is un-African and an importation from the West. Otherwise how would the US explain its turning a blind eye to all the other human rights violations that President Museveni has committed against Ugandans in the past 28 years? Tagging on corruption to the ban is also grossly cynical given that the Museveni regime’s kleptocratic and predatory acts against the Ugandan treasury have been public knowledge well before the anti-gay legislation came into force. The hypocrisy and opportunism behind the US move is clear in the exclusion of military assistance from its ambit, demonstrating that the Obama administration’s primary concern is security and not human rights.
Aside from appeasing a domestic constituency, sanctions are nothing more than a blunt tool of coercion in the global geopolitical game, squeezing the ordinary Ugandan (including LGBT individuals) and only symbolically affecting the dictator and his cronies. They will only lead to a renewed backlash against LGBT people as the general populace wag their accusing fingers, blaming them for their suffering. Moreover, as the sanctions against Russian president Putin and his lieutenants over the Ukraine demonstrate, in this day and age, such measures are easily ignored.”
We dearly thank the all the authors who have generously invested their intellectual energy and time to make this newsletter possible.
Sonia Corrêa and akshay khanna
:: The Queer body between the Judicial and the Political – reflections on the anti-homossexuality laws in India and Uganda
The article The Queer body between the Judicial and the Political – reflections on the anti-homosexuality laws in India and Uganda, by akshay khanna, examines the intersections between Uganda and India recent legal reforms and related queer politics.
:: The Paradoxical Geopolitics of Recriminalizing Homossexuality in Uganda: One of Three Ugly Sisters
The article The Paradoxical Geopolitics of Recriminalizing Homosexuality in Uganda: One of Three Ugly Sisters, by Stella Nyanzi, analyzes the intricate connections, continuities and paradoxes at play in relation to the recently approved anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda.
:: Moving foward, perhaps: The 2013 India Supreme Decision on Section 377
Moving forward, perhaps: The 2013 India Supreme Court Decision on Section 377, written by Gautam Bhan, critically reflects on potential unexpected effects of the December 2013 Indian Supreme Court decision that recriminalized same-sex relations.
:: “When the light of our century may blind us”
In the article “When the light of our century may blind us”, Nitya Vasudevan questions why Indian anti-sodomy law and the desire to abolish it has become the fulcrum of the queer movement in India and what are the implications of this trajectory.
:: The 2013 Indian Supreme Court decision on section 377: beyond the law
The 2013 Indian Supreme Court decision on section 377: beyond the law, by Jordan Osserman, is a reflection on the limitations and possibilities of law reform in the complex context of Indian politics and queer experiences.
:: The four figures of the law: Brief theoretical inquiries into the Queer movement’s relationship with law
Vqueeram Aditya Sahay’s article, The four figures of the law: Brief theoretical inquiries into the Queer movement’s relationship with law, is a theoretical explore of the figure of the law as it has been constructed by the Indian queer movement.
Staying positivist in the fight against homophobia, written by Rahul Rao, raises critical interrogations on the strategic resource to economic and scientific arguments to counterveil homophobia worldwide.
SPW Newsletters always include a section on expressions of art that either directly or indirectly dialogue with the conceptual and political content being addressed in each issue. For this collaborative SPW & IDS issue our choice is the images created by Baaraan Ijlal, a visual artist who lives and works in New Delhi, India. Ijal’ pictorical narrative style owes to many influences: from the tradition of dastans and epics to music and contemporary literature. Time is not a barrier on her canvas. Dialogue across space and time is encouraged, as we expect the articles included in this issue will also inspire.
To enjoy and read more about Baaraan Ijal visual art work check: