Tim Cook’s memo is not what will play on the minds of gay Indians this week

In support.
In support.
Image: Reuters/Adnan Abidi
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It’s a tale of two companies and of two worlds disjointed in their treatment of sexual minorities. This week, Tim Cook of Apple finally confirmed what had long been known in technology circles. In a signed piece in Businessweek, Cook came out as gay, as he lent his support for marriage equality in the US. As that battle moves languidly from one state to the next, Cook’s support will add much weight to the fight for gay equality.

Back home too there was much action. As reported in Bangalore Mirror on October 29, a finance executive at Infosys was arrested by the Bangalore police after his wife furnished evidence of the man’s homosexuality. The Mirror story begins thus: “Lip gloss, foundation, innerwear in ‘girlie’ patterns and colours, and a passion for all things pink—these are just some of the traits that set off alarm bells in a dentist’s head, almost a year after marriage, that her husband could be gay.”

Leave aside the inappropriateness of this blatant prurience, for that is just how the media, most of it anyway, works in this country. Look instead at the details of the case. For any woman to realise that her husband is gay is no less than shocking, but when the society that she belongs to is as patriarchal as ours, the risk of who the blame is pinned on for the dissolution of the marriage is a threatening prospect. The woman in question tried remedying matters by seeking the services of a marital counsellor, but neither the husband nor his parents showed any interest. What was she to do?

She went away to her parents’ house for a week and installed a hidden camera in her husband’s room. When she returned, she discovered that her husband had had sex with another man in her absence. She went to the police with the tapes and the man was promptly arrested under Section 377.

The whole business leaves one depressed. First, the man who, like so many others, goes ahead and marries a woman. It’s all very well to raise the banner of revolt against his cowardice but we live in a country where everything from the law onwards looks askance at homosexuality. Where young boys and girls, men and women are thrown out of their home, village, community for being true to themselves. Why would anyone in their right mind be out, live out?

Two, the woman, who learns a few days/weeks/months into the marriage that her husband is gay. Perhaps he likes to dress up. Perhaps he trawls gay websites. Perhaps he has a collection of gay erotica on his smartphone. Each of these discoveries takes her deeper into the abyss that is her flailing marriage. She faces a post-marital family that refuses to acknowledge her concerns. She faces a society that looks down upon divorced women. What is she to do?

Three, the law. In a supreme irony, the same law that goads men to stay in the closet, is foisted upon them when their truth is out in the open. It makes for a messy affair.

One hopes that the woman can outlive the trauma. One hopes better sense prevails among the man’s parents. One hopes the man himself will find the space to pick up his life and start again. There are no happy outcomes here and try as one might, nobody on his side comes out looking good. But it would be a greater tragedy if we blamed the whole sordid affair on some individuals’ malice when all of us—our society, our media and our laws—contrive to produce this dastardly cocktail.

For the out Indian man, it is impossible not to feel slightly bipolar about the events of the week. One moment, he is high in the clouds celebrating the rapid advancement of gay rights, albeit in another part of the world; and the next, he is brought crashing to the ground by the reality around him.

Picture this man. He, who perhaps belongs to a tolerant, even welcoming family, has, in his mind, crossed the distance between his coming out and the post-facto banality of his situation. He is like everybody else, and this realisation that hit him like a ton of bricks when he came out, has now nestled inside him as a benign presence. He does not even care all that much for his homosexuality, truth be told. It is there, simply.

But the world at large will not let him be. The world will conspire, daily, to marinate him in the sadness and shame of those like him, still at the fringes, still battling for acceptance. The world will force him to face every day, not the random joys of his state, but the vicarious suffering of it.