Inside Gayland is a crazy satirical play on the law criminalizing homosexuality in India. The absurdity of this outdated law comes out forcefully when seen together with a similar law criminalizing heterosexuality in Gayland. The mind-searing trauma of gays and lesbians in India shunned by society and criminalized by the law can be better appreciated in the light of the pathetic plight of heterosexuals in Gayland. The intention of the playwright is aimed at creating awareness in society in general and the law makers in particular to the grossly unfair and unethical laws to which homosexuals in India are subjected to. Talwar?s Inside Gayland is a pointer to the long path that India has yet to traverse to guarantee basic rights to all its citizens.
Rajesh gives an overview of the book:
The idea of writing this play came to me when as the lawyer for the Aids Bhedbhav Virodhi Andolan I filed a public interest litigation in the High Court of Delhi seeking various reliefs concerned with the control of the spread of the disease known as AIDS within the precincts of Tihar jail, Asia’s largest prison.
In 1992 at the time when this by now famous ABVA petition was about to be filed, several persons objected to the same. One of the arguments pressed against it raising the question of the constitutionality of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code was that ABVA was itself not a gay group. Though there were at that time some gay members in the group, most were not, and since ABVA was as such not a gay group the question arose as to whether such a case should be filed by it.
As Dr Paramjit Sahni, one of the senior members of the group however pointed out, did this mean that Hindus ought not to protest the killings of Sikhs during the 1984 riots and leave it to the Sikhs themselves. Or for example, did it mean, relating his argument to a more recent context, did it mean that the rest of society should sit silently over the savagery witnessed against Christian nuns in 1999. A second argument raised against the filing was that it might prejudice the Court against the AIDS related mandatory testing of prisoners issue.
At one point during these discussions, I stated that as the advocate on record for the case I would not accept any amendment which amounted to diluting or understating the challenge to Section 377. My undemocratic veto subdued all effective opposition - which was in any case not very substantial, but had only tentatively raised its head - since there was at that point of time practically no lawyer who would take up such a case anyway.
Thus it came to be that a crucial connected relief in the petition, which was strenuously opposed by Magsaysay Award winner, Dr Kiran Bedi, who was then Inspector General of Prisons related to the striking down of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.
The petition received a fair amount of publicity in the media and national press and most of our demands made in the petition were, in the course of the litigation, approved of by the Medical Establishment, including NACO (National Aids Control Organization) which was then, and continues to be, the nodal Governmental agency for the AIDS programme in India. It was of course intriguing why they had to wait for the case to be filed before they decided to support us in opposing life endangering policies due to be implemented in Tihar jail.
Be that as it may be, my experiences as a lawyer handling this case, confirmed me in the belief that there was no easy way to tackle mainstream prejudices against persons with a different sexual orientation. As a lawyer with a somewhat literary bent of mind, it occurred to me that it would be an interesting idea to write a play in which the audience would be quite literally put into the shoes of the gay community, and be forced to watch their own reactions and see how conditioned and intolerant they were. Morality plays are nothing new, but I must confess that I haven’t enjoyed most of the ones I’ve read or watched. However I’ve certainly enjoyed writing this one! Perhaps it doesn’t fit quite exactly into the genre of morality plays : I’ve certainly tried to retain a free tone in it, and keep it from sounding overly didactic. I do believe that as compared with most morality plays, it is considerably more free wheeling in its style and open ended in its conclusions. When the play was ready, I showed it to ABVA and after a consultation between the members they approved of it and it was brought out during the court case itself in a low price paperback edition which was sold at cost price and used as campaign material. It soon sold itself out. The play was favorably was well received by the gay community, was mentioned favorably by several dramatists and theater associations both in India and overseas, favorably reviewed by Bombay Dost and recently extracted in the Seagull Theater Quarterly, possibly the only journal of its kind in India, which comes out from Calcutta.
After a couple of years had passed by, a member of ABVA (who chooses to remain unnamed) suggested to me the possibility of extending the play in cover developments subsequent to the admission of the case by the Delhi High Court. I wasn’t very sure if this was worthwhile, as I was worried that it might possibly upset the balance and structure of the play.
In 1999, the all but last year of the millennium, the film ‘Fire’ was released, the CALERI (Campaign for Lesbian Rights) report came out, and my own ‘THE THIRD SEX AND HUMAN RIGHTS’ (Gyan Books, 1999) was released which focusses on the plight of the hijra community in India and compares their situation to that of transsexuals in the West. Besides this there were several other reports and publications such as the Resource Book taken out by Humjinsi, and more importantly, the year was full of campaigns and protests. It was in late 1999 that I began to review my decision about not extending the play, as I felt that here was further material which demanded incorporation within the play, if this could be successfully accomplished. However there was still an ounce of hesitation left about tampering with what had been written during a bout of inspired creativity.
My indecision finally came to an end because of two reasons. Firstly, my publisher said that the play could be published if the length was doubled. This was an undeniable attraction as the play in its earlier avatar had been circulated only in an informal fashion, and had been moreover out of print for more than three years. Seagull Theater Quarterly had overseas subscribers who may have read the extracts, but as yet the journal has a limited readership within the country. All hesitation however came to an end when a well known play director told me after reading the script that the play could be properly staged only if it was extended. In its original form (only half an hour long), it was too short to be properly staged. When increasing traffic, poor road conditions and distances in cities such as Delhi require people to travel sometimes upwards of an hour to reach a theater, it would be commercially unviable to stage a half hour production. The play had to be at least of an hours duration.
This made sense, and I remembered reading in some book, during my student days, a letter from George Bernard Shaw, that great playwright to Henry James, an equally great novelist, in response to a play the latter had written, that it was by far too short, and a play in order to qualify as a full length play should be at least eighteen thousand words.
An important suggestion regarding any possible changes (improvement) in the play came from a few friends who felt strongly that in the scene where Kala and Swasthi are sitting in the public park preparing their case, the legal arguments which could actually be used in such a case should have been brought into their conversation.
After much reflection I came to realize that they were right. Having been a practicing lawyer for a decade and a half, and having taught in two central universities for six years, I had become so tired and bored with legalese that in the process I had forgotten that had I not been overexposed to legal stimuli, I too might have wanted, indeed required, the play to provide me with a wider legal perspective on various legal arguments, issues and positions connected with the rights of sexual minorities.
While tinkering with this scene with a view to its extension, I decided that I would considerably enhance the scope of the discussion were I to extract and invert the arguments from the relevant paragraphs not only from the ABVA petition but also from landmark judgements delivered by the European Court of Human Rights in the Dudgeon Case (Ser A, No 45, 4 EHRR 149, 1981) and in Norris (Ser A, No 142, 13 EHRR 186). To provide balance and scope for dissenting views within the overall context of affirming sexual minority rights, I have also briefly quoted from the judgements in Bowers versus Hardwick, (478 US 186 106 S.Ct. 2841), classified by a prominent writer on legal issues as one of the ten worst ever decisions of the American Supreme Court, together with the judgement upholding slavery. I drew the line at these four cases, one Indian, two European and one American, because while providing a legal perspective was necessary, at the same time I did not want to diminish in any way the overall lightness of the play by overburdening the reader with case law. There are currently more than a hundred connected and relevant judgements from various jurisdictions, including notably Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Europe and the US.
Plays sometimes require (at least for readers if not a theater audience) explanatory notes, explaining the context more fully to those who may not be aware of it. In this play too it made a lot of sense to add as annexures not only a copy of the original petition filed in the High Court of Delhi by ABVA, but also the full judgement of the European Court of Human Rights in Dudgeon and Norris, two of the cases which are explicitly referred to and quoted from in the body of the play.
The play is not focussed on engendering any great ‘understanding’ in the sense of talking down to sexual minorities or ‘curing’ them ; rather the emphasis is on portraying gays as ‘People Like Us’ (incidentally one of the titles of an ABVA report). Most of us are ‘good’ people irrespective of our sexual orientations. Some are ‘bad’. As they say, with an ‘evil’ bent of mind. Just as there are heterosexual rapists in society, so also there do exist homosexuals who are rapists. Just as there are heterosexuals who delight in sadism,[i] so also there exist homosexual sadists. To sum up, sexual minorities are neither better nor worse than the rest of us, though a recent study carried out in England came to the conclusion that gay fathers are more caring.[ii]
The connected point I wish to raise is that gays too suffer from the same prejudices as the rest of society. Thus there are gays who look down upon and are prejudiced against bisexuals and dub them as ‘traitors’ to the cause. Furthermore there are gays and bisexuals who treat transgendered individuals with barely concealed hostility. It is not at all the case that owing to societal oppression sexual minorities will necessarily look to help other disadvantaged sections. This was indeed the case with Siddharth Gautam to whom this book is dedicated, and many other gays as well, but there are also some who inevitably will not hesitate to vent their anger and hate on ‘minorities within the minorities’ - for instance the hijras.
I hope not to sound pompous, but while the larger and distinct purpose of writing the play is certainly to conscientize the large heterosexual majority in our societies, one of the lesser though significant objectives, in writing this extended version, is to raise the banner of tolerance within the community. Let sexual minorities not squabble amongst themselves and unite to fight intolerance.
I found it appropriate therefore to incorporate some reference to the transgendered issue in the play (which has only recently begun raising its legal head in India). In a conversation with Swasthi in Act 1,Scene 4, Kala speaks with Swasthi of the legal problems faced by transgendered individuals. The facts of the XYZ case have been suitably inverted, and the judgement delivered by the European Court of Human Rights has also been included herewith as an annexure in the book, (even though the judgement in that case went against the petitioner) together with the earlier cited judgements on gay rights delivered by that Court.
The play having now been extended to a suitable length (it has crossed by a few thousand the minimum word count standard suggested by GB Shaw) I hope it will find favour with the reading and theater watching public. I trust that a dispassionate reader will find that the purity, humour and flavour of the original has not suffered much. My own view is that these qualities have been enhanced.
[i]. Following publicity given to the Brown case, the Law Commission in the UK was asked to carry out an extensive enquiry into the issue of consent in criminal law with special reference to sado-masochistic conduct. (Law Commission Consultation Paper No 139, Consent in the Criminal Law, HMSO, 1995, Appendix C.) Mr Paul Roberts, advising the Law Commission on the philosophical foundations of consent and the criminal law concluded that ‘there is no intelligible answer to the question (or riddle) : to what level of injury should consent be effective in protecting the injured from criminal liability.’ In a recent decision the European Court of Human Rights has upheld the verdict in Brown of an English Court that irrespective of consent, sado-masochistic conduct would go against the criminal law of the land.
[ii]. Report titled ‘Gay Fathers Make Better Dads’, published in The Times Higher Education Supplement, Dec 31, 1999.
Rajesh Talwar is mainly a writer. He has practised law for many years, taught at University and worked for the United Nations in Somalia, Liberia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and now Timor-Leste. He writes fiction (novels, plays, children's books) and well as non fiction (human...