Voices From The Community: Fighting for Human Rights or Battling Ethnocentricism?

I come on Queeristan to read for news on Section 377. I notice a lovely debate posted by a fellow blogger (http://queeristan.blogspot.com/2008/09/getting-ball-rolling.html). It made me question myself and my thoughts on decriminalising homosexuality in India.

I would love to say I am for human rights, but I’m also a huge fan of respect. Sometimes I find myself making very ethnocentric remarks, like “In Canada, such discrimination is illegal, I don’t see why they do that here” or “North America has a different opinion on this topic and it seems to work better for us”. They really are ethnocentric remarks, because my experiences are solely Canadian. And those experiences temper my judgement and consequently my actions.

Human rights are important to me, but to what extent can I fight for them in another country? It reminds me of those groups worldwide boycotting the Olympics in China, or even the US’s War in Iraq. Granting democracy in another country is a very ethnocentric ideology, because the ‘if it works in my country, it will work in yours too’ phrase is reverberated exponentially to prove ‘my country works better than your country’.

What I’m trying to say here is that as much as I would love to see my Indian homosexual brethren to live happily as who they are in their own country, the laws must reflect society. The video posted by Samsaricanu featured a panellist who said: “in 2000, there was a survey conducted in 41 countries that should homosexuality be accepted in society… in India the results were 7% for [decriminalisation of homosexuality] and 63% against [decriminalisation of homosexuality]…” If 63% of responses believe that homosexuality should not be legalised, then why should I say that they are ‘wrong’? Laws should reflect society’s views. Human rights, as much as I hate to say it, differ from country to country. What I see as a human right back in Canada or here in Germany could be different from that in India or China or any other place for that matter.

With my background and environmental upbringing, I can see, as a Canadian through our legal and freedom system, that decriminalising homosexuality is undoubtedly the way to go, hands down, no doubt about it, etc. But I’m not Indian. I am not a citizen and I really do not know exactly how culture is, how it is defined, and how the overall population feels about certain issues. So when I make a comment that “homosexuality should be decriminalised in India”, am I making a statement for human rights? Or am I just being ethnocentric?


libhom said...

I think looking at queer issues along national lines puts queers at a huge numerical disadvantage. If we show solidarity across national boundaries, we are much stronger.

MusingAloud said...

As much as I hate to say this but the original comments of the poster make me realize why the liberal/progressive setions of the West are so often labelled as 'weak' or 'effete'. Basically what the poster is saying is that he/she is too cowardly to stand for something he claims to believe in; that something like rights for gays and lesbians is not a universal right but more a western luxury !!

I cannot differ more strongly with this extremely weak and pathetic argument. If we were to follow this to its logical end it means that its OK for the Nazi's to kill Jews because the majority of germans were against the Jews anyway. Its OK for female genital circumcision because thats what the majority are for. And, ist ok to have an institutionalized caste system because thats what a majority of Hindus beleive in and want. I men who are we, the privileged folks in the US and Canada to argue ?

C'mon man--stamd up for what you believe in and stop hidng behing the veil of democracy and 'social customs'. What is wrong is wrong for ALL people and basic rights like the right to be free of persecutions is not only for those who live in canada. Remember, thats the meaning of fundamental human rights -- its something that all humans MUST have no matter the society or religion they live under. And, if it means telling conservative societies that they are wrong and that they just have to deal with it -- then so be it. Remember many reforms like widow remarriage and anti-sati laes in India were done in the face of opposition of the local Hindu customs and society --are you saying those should not have been done ?
I for one am glad that the lgbt movement in india is alive and well and is pushing ahead despite pissing off conservatves and those who find it offensive. Groups like Bombay Dost and Indusgay are doing amazing things in providing an avenue for LGBT people to lead a fuller and more normal life. More power to them !!

Silent said...

Must laws actually reflect the society? That too a majority? Can a majority be trusted?

It's possible that the majority did not know too much about homosexuality and considers it a perverted act. I am inclined to say that I can't blame THEM for this idea (since they don't care too much anyway to get to the depth, only homosexuals will and acquaintances of homosexuals would care to venture (majorly) ).

We don't know 'why' most of the country voted for retaining the criminality of homosexuality in India. If people were exposed to the idea of it being natural, then they'd probably say something different.

When you fall into a line of thought, you explore it, try to justify it, expand on it. But then, at the same time you may lose touch with other more primary and basic ideas. I don't dislike you post or idea; 'tis but natural to get such ideas, but then I think it may be necessary to look into them every once in a while.

Humans are never fully-righteous at any moment. They should look at themselves every once in a while and reflect that there are changes needed.

Silent said...

And then again, despite the fact that something that appears to be a 'Human rights' issue isn't necessarily distinguishable from 'Battling Ethnocentric' at all times, it's not always indistinguishable. I get the feeling that it IS distinguishable in this case(Not for the defense of my argument). Sometimes, both of them can run parallely too, without a person knowing it; that he's thinking he's 'fighting for human rights' and then suddenly somewhere in his subconscious he's being ethnocentric, but then the argument proceeds in a certain direction which may lead him to discard off the ethnocentric corner and see it only from the human rights perspective.

It's okay to question it, although don't trust either of the conclusion too much. One may need to take more time to actually get a full persepctive of what should be done.

Thakki Patang said...

I agree that thinking what is right for you is right for everyone else is egocentric/ethnocentric, but you can't be culturally relativistic about everything.

That is the whole premise of human rights. Certain things are about a human beings right to survive, live and love the way they want, without being punished for it. It's a human right to be free to do what they want as long as they aren't infringing on other human being's rights. It is not a culturally relative issue.