#IDAHOBIT2020: A Call to End Discriminatory Practices based on Sexual Orientation
A public statement in light of the passing of Anjana Hareesh
May 17, 2020
The Gender Security Project works to expand the scope of the global understanding of gender at the policy, legal, and institutional level through research, advocacy, and education. Today, as we observe the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexism, and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT), we register our deep sadness, horror, and rage at the death of Anjana Hareesh, a 21-year old bisexual person who was found dead in Goa on May 12, 2020 as reported by thenewsminute.com. This is a big loss for the LGBTQIA+ community in India, and for humanity at large.
While the police have filed a case of unnatural death, there is reason to believe that this may be a case of death by suicide. Originally from Kerala, she was a student of the Brennen College in Thalassery. Her live videos, and statements made by her friends, indicate that she had come out to her family some time ago. However, this act of courage had not been received well by them. They pushed her without her consent, to undergo ‘conversion therapy’. We believe that this is a euphemistic term for brutal violence done unto LGBTQIA+ people in institutional settings such as family and marriage in order to ‘change’ their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Anjana had accused her family of physical and mental abuse, as reported on edexlive.com. In a video posted on Facebook on March 13, she recalled incidents of forced solitary confinement in a mental health facility at the insistence of her family because they believe that this ‘treatment’ would ‘cure’ her of her bisexuality. We assert that this attempt to violate her personhood, erase her bodily autonomy, and take away her dignity cannot be called therapy. It is merely a desperate act of ensuring conformity in a cis-hetero-patriarchal society.
Anjana was put on heavy medication, as mentioned in a report on gaylaxymag.com. This affected her physical well-being and her mental health. We register our protest against mental health professionals who offer conversion therapy services in collusion with misguided family members. Instead of supporting LGBTQIA+ clients who experience structural violence, they use their position of expert knowledge to reinforce normative ideas about gender and sexuality.
A grave violation of basic human rights
In the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics, Suravi Patra, Assistant Professor at the Department of Psychiatry, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Bhubaneswar, writes, “Trying to change the sexual orientation of people against their wishes is a serious breach of their autonomy as homosexuality per se does not cause any life-threatening risk to justify overriding the principle of autonomy…conversion therapy is known to adversely affect mental health in terms of generating feelings of shame, which can further aggravate negative affective states such as depression and anxiety.” Bisexual people experience even greater stigma since they resist the heterosexual-homosexual binary.
The opening words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are unequivocal: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” This position has been confirmed repeatedly in resolutions, reports, documents, and resources offering general guidance issued by several treaty bodies, such as the United Nations Human Rights Committee, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Committee against Torture, and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. The UN Human Rights Council through resolution A/HRC/RES/32, called for the protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Article 21 of the Constitution of India guarantees the right to life and personal liberty. The provision reads: “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.” The right to life has been interpreted to mean something more than a mere animal existence, and to include the right to lead a healthy life in order to enjoy all faculties of the human body in their prime conditions – and includes the right to protection of a person’s dignity.
Chief Justice Dipak Misra, in Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India, the decision that decriminalized consensual same sex relations in September 2018 recognized the extension of the right to life to the LGBT community to lead their lives with dignity, and noted that this constitutes the essence of liberty and freedom. He noted: “The rights of the LGBT community inhere in the right to life, dwell in privacy and dignity and they constitute the essence of liberty and freedom.” In effect, the decision ruled that any form of discrimination on the basis of one’s sexual orientation is a violation of the Constitution of India.
Acknowledging that conversion therapy is a grave violation of human rights and disrespect of one’s freedom to pursue and lead a life that enables each individual to achieve their full potential, and that such violations of human rights can impact the mental well-being of individuals and lead to suicide, the Gender Security Project appeals to parents, guardians, and society at large to acknowledge and action the truth that conversion therapy (and other discriminatory actions and conduct that targets an individual’s sexual orientation) is a violation of human rights, and to both refuse to partake in and call out the practice actively. The Gender Security Project also appeals to service providers — lawyers and therapists in particular — to invest in queer affirmative approaches and practice.