Homo sapiens is unique, individualistic, and distinctive in numerous ways. We have distinguished looks, perspectives, and choices, however, in our urge to live peacefully in a hollowed society with set standards and norms; we begin to lose the essence and try to disrupt the diversity and obligate individuals to align to the herd where distinct is deformed and humanity crushed.
On March 13, 2020, a few days before the lockdown was announced, Anjana Harish, a 21-year-old succumbed to death for her sexual preferences. Harish in a Facebook video narrated the dreadful conditions she had lived through since late December 2019, after informing her family that she was bisexual. Her life turned upside down post her confession and suicide seemed an expedient alternative to this young girl.
Her family sent her to a ‘de-addiction and mental health centre’ in Palakkad, Kerala where she was environed by ‘hallucinating schizophrenics,’ and allegedly her family spared no effort to ‘cure’ her by a violent, inhuman ‘Conversion Therapy’ — a pseudo-scientific attempt to ‘cure’ or ‘change’ people’s sexual orientation to the heteronormative norm.
The ‘Conversion Therapy’ sometimes known as the ‘ Reparative Therapy’ is a series of dangerous and discredited practices that falsely claim to ‘cure’ or ‘change’ a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
However, no such practices are backed by any mainstream medical or any other affiliated organisations. The reason behind the spineless practice is the continuing discrimination and bias against the LGBTQIA+ community prevalent in society. Notwithstanding the life-threatening repercussion, some practitioners continue to conduct ‘Conversion Therapy’.
The so-called Conversion Therapy can range from counselling, medicines, institutionalisation and hormone doses to rare but extreme methods like electro-convulsive therapy and hormonal castration. Outside the clinical context, there are many spiritual godmen and gurus available to cash the disbelief and ignorance and claim to “cure” homosexuality, usually through prayer, physical violence and mental conditioning.
The history of this therapy dates back to the early surfacing of the psychiatry itself. Early years of the 20th century when Sigmund Freud’s counterparts were already pathologising homosexuality as a mental illness with several inhumane — often cruel — methods practised as “gay cures”.
Distinctly, in 1952 Alan Turing, a mathematician and computer scientist was forced to undergo chemical castration in the UK for “gross indecency”, i.e. a homosexual relationship. The man who performed a pivotal role in deciphering Nazi Germany’s codes during World War II died two years later, apparently committing suicide.
In the wake of the Stonewall riots 1969, LGBTQ+ demonstrations against police cruelty that catalysed the gay liberation movement — forced the American Psychiatric Association (APA) to remove homosexuality from the 1973 edition of the Diagnostics And Statistical Manual Of Mental Disorders (DSM). It took a few more decades of active demonstration for the APA and other mental health institutions to repudiate “conversion therapy categorically”.
However, Indian psychiatry didn’t get the memorandum. The practice of ‘conversion therapy’ is postulated on the entirely fallacious belief that being LGBTQIA+ is abnormal and associated with poor mental health and is outlawed in Switzerland, Germany, and parts of Australia, Canada, and the United States.
The Indian Association of Clinical Psychologists (IACP) in an official statement issued on May 21 2020, called ‘Conversion Therapy’ a ‘dangerously harmful,’ ‘discredited,’ and ‘painful and traumatising unprofessional practice.’
There are various provisions in the law to prevent practices like conversion therapy from happening like the Mental Health Act, 2017, Article 14 of the Constitution (Right to Equality), Article 19(1) (a) (Freedom of Expression), among others. However, there is no provision which bans conversion therapy, but it is a clear violation of the Act.
The Supreme Court’s judgement in the case of Navtej Singh Johar vs Union of India also discouraged “conversion therapy,” while in the National Legal Services Authority vs Union of India (Nalsa) case, the court stated that nobody could be forced to undergo “any form of medical or psychological treatment…based on sexual orientation and gender identity”.
In the absence of a specific law banning “conversion therapy”, these Acts and judgements can be interpreted to debate that such practices are illegal and discriminatory.
In a country like India, which survives on prejudices, the stigma towards the LGBTQIA+ community is not going to go unless prohibited under stricter laws.
According to a BBC report, in Germany, the law against ‘Conversion Therapy’ stipulates that “those breaking the new law can face up to a year in prison, or a €30,000 fine.” In India, the Supreme Court may have struck down Section 377 of the IPC, but extreme homophobia still governs the heart of many Indians. We need collective conscious and stricter laws to ban such practices so that the community doesn’t have to live in constant fear of alienation and disapproval in society.
Such practices are rooted in the disbelief that a person’s sexuality can be changed or cured, which starts from their denunciations in the family itself. This sort of coercion and brutality leads to enormous mental health consequences, including internalised homophobia, self-hate, depression and suicidal ideation. Till such practices remain mainstream and agreeable to resort to, any activism is nullified plus struggle against such stigmatised practices will be a colossal task.