It would seem that there are differing opinions regarding homosexuality within both Sikh and Hindu religious traditions. The more strict attitudes appear to have arisen more recently than the original times of the establishment of these Faiths.
In Sikhism the Guru Granth Sahib indicated that this was a matter of personal conscience. In Hinduism gender issues were mostly accepted as normal with the recognition of a “third gender” since the very early times.
It is understood that the Prime Minister of India and his Supreme Court have pronounced a ban on same-sex marriages only recently, reversing a previous decision to allow them, a judgement that had de-criminalised gay sex in the country.
There was considerable anger on the streets of India when an ‘unexpected’ Supreme Court decision reinstated the 153-year-old law which was based on 16th-century English legislation, stating that “carnal intercourse” between consenting adults of the same sex is “unnatural” and punishable by up to ten years in jail.
Now India has re-joined 70 other countries, mainly in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, where homosexual relations are still illegal.
Perhaps Prime Minister Narendra Modi could be prevailed upon to reverse his decision and that of the Supreme Court on this matter during his visit to the UK? Perhaps his visit could provide a timely opportunity for him to rethink his attitude and views, especially in the light of both the Westminster and Scottish Governments’ decisions in favour of same-sex marriages during the last year. Now that he is going on to visit Canada he will, of course, find that the Sikh leaders in Canada are also against same-sex marriage. Perhaps Narendra Modi could contrast the differing views of the respective governments, weigh them up and reach a more lenient view.
It would be good to think that he could, perhaps, retract the recent re-criminalisation of homosexuality. A petition on change.com called for David Cameron to discuss LGBT rights with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, although it is not known whether LGBTQI issues did feature in conversations between the two leaders.
The relationship between religion and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people can vary greatly across time and place, within and between different religions and sects, and regarding different forms of homosexuality, bisexuality, and transgenderism.
Some authoritative bodies and doctrines of the world’s largest religions view these in negative ways. These may range from quiet discouragement, explicitly forbidding same-sex sexual practices or sex/gender reassignment among adherents, actively opposing social acceptance of LGBT identities, to execution of people engaging in homosexual acts while tolerating sex/gender reassignment in specific cases.
Liberal and progressive voices within these religions tend to view LGBT people more positively, and some liberal religious denominations may bless same-sex marriages, as well as accepting and marrying people who are transgender. Historically, some cultures and religions accommodated, institutionalised, or revered same-sex love and sexuality. Such mythologies and traditions may be found elsewhere around the world.
Elements of religious and cultural incorporation of non-heterosexual practice may still be identified in traditions which have survived into the modern era.
The Guru Granth Sahib is the spiritual authority on all Sikh matters. Sikhism has no specific teachings about homosexuality. The Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib, does not explicitly mention homosexuality and the universal goal of any Sikh is to show no hate or animosity towards any person, regardless of race, caste, colour, creed, gender, or sexuality.
Some modern Sikh leaders have condemned homosexuality. Giani Joginder Singh Vedanti of the temporal Sikh authority (Akal Takht), has condemned homosexuality while reminding visiting Sikh-Canadian Members of Parliament (MPs) of their religious duty to oppose same-sex marriage. The Sikh religious body has issued an edict condemning same-sex marriage.
Other Sikhs point out that Sikhism does not condemn homosexuality or same-sex marriage but reminds them that the Guru Granth Sahib leaves this as a matter of personal conscience.
Homosexuality in scripture
The Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib details what behaviour is expected of all Sikhs. It is seemingly silent on the subject of homosexuality, while it frequently encourages married life.
Marriage in Sikhism is seen as a union of souls, and the soul is seen as genderless, with the outward appearance of human beings (man, woman) being a temporary state. Same-sex marriage advocates refer to this fact.
Hinduism has taken various positions, ranging from positive to neutral or antagonistic. Referring to the nature of Samsara, the Rigveda, one of the four canonical sacred texts of Hinduism says ‘Vikruti Evam Prakriti’ (perversity/diversity is what nature is all about, or, what seems un-natural is also natural), which some scholars believe recognizes homosexuality as natural, if not an approval of homosexuality. Sexuality is rarely discussed openly in Hindu society, and LGBT issues are largely a taboo subject — especially among the strongly religious. A “third gender” has been acknowledged within Hinduism since Vedic times. Several Hindu texts, such as Manu Smriti and Sushruta Samhita, assert that some people are born with either mixed male and female natures, or sexually neuter, as a matter of natural biology. They worked as hairdressers, flower-sellers, servants, masseurs and prostitutes. Today, many people of a “third gender” (hijras) live throughout India, mostly on the margins of society, and many still work in prostitution, or make a livelihood as beggars.
Ancient religious texts such as the Vedas often refer to people of a third gender, who are neither female nor male. Some see this third gender as an ancient parallel to modern western lesbian, gay, transgender and/or intersex identities.
Several Hindu religious laws contain injunctions against homosexual activity, while some Hindu mythologies speak favourably of lesbian relations and some third-gendered individuals were highly regarded by Hindu legends. Hindu groups are historically not unified regarding the issue of homosexuality, each one having a distinct doctrinal view.
Please – Prime Minister Narendra Modi, will you reconsider your recent decision to re-criminalise same-sex liaisons? Love really should be equal between all people, male and female.