Guyana's Hindus face Gay Quandary

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Title:
Guyana's Hindus face Gay Quandary
Physical Description:
6pp; part pdf of an article written by Vidyaratha Kissoon
Language:
English
Creator:
Hinduism Today
Publisher:
Himalayan Academy
Place of Publication:
United States
Publication Date:
Copyright Date:
2011
Edition:
April, May , June 2011

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords:
Caribbean Area   ( lcsh )
Guyana
Hindu

Notes

Subject:
When a constitutional amendment proposed to end discrimination against homosexuals, Guyanese Hindus asked themselves, “Where do we stand?”
Funding:
Support for the development of the technical infrastructure and partner training provided by the United States Department of Education TICFIA program.
Acquisition:
This article is published in Hinduism Today http://www.hinduismtoday.com and is shared by the author Vidyaratha Kissoon email vidyak1 (at) gmail dot com. The author Vidyaratha Kissoon has proposed the following corrections to the PDF version. Some corrections have been made in the print version and in the online edition. Errata Sheet for "Guyana's Hindus face Gay Quandary" Page 60 1) The caption on the photograph should be "Activists from the Caribbean at a human rights advocacy workshop in Guyana in August 2010" - 2) The line "After being ruled by the Dutch, the Spanish and finally the British ... " should read "After being ruled by the Dutch and the British".. 3) The line 'Revisions and amendments to the constitution are relatively common' to 'Revisions and amendments to the constitution are necessary to achieving this nationhood' 4) The phrase "Congress of Guyana" should be changed to "Parliament of Guyana" Page 61 4) The line "Hindu institutions were mostly absent from the 2001 debate except for a joint statement issued by a few organisations.." should read "Hindu institutions were mostly absent from the 2003 debate except for a joint multifaith statement which included a few organisations .." 6) The comments by Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan - referred to laws like those in Guyana (the British colonial Caribbean) 7) The last sentence should read "Freedom of worship is ... and each of the main groups has national holidays Christmas, Easter, Diwali, Phagwah, Eid ul Adha, Youman Nabi Page 62 8) The line "Pandit Dhanesar was not able.. " to "Pandit Dhanesar did not provide any specific reference in the Vedas. In Guyana, many Pandits sustain traditions a mix of oral and written traditions" 9) The line "Active in helping the gay and lesbian communities, he advocates acceptance." should read "He advocates acceptance .. " The corrected version of the article appears online at http://hinduismtoday.com/modules/smartsection/item.php?itemid=5172

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Guyana's Hindus Face Gay Quandry


When a constitutional amendment proposed to end discrimination against

homosexuals, Guyanese Hindus asked themselves, "Where do we stand?"


BY VIDYARATHA KISSOON
GEORGETOWN, GUYANA
F MODERN SCIENCE IS RIGHT-AND SOME-
times it is-there are more than 50 mil-
lion homosexual and bisexual people in
India, 15 million in the US and 30,000
in Guyana. The role, aspirations and rights
of this large segment of society (and, in the
minds of some, their wrongs) is a hot topic
throughout this tropical nation. Guyanese
Hindus, nearly one third of the population,
are pondering: is there a unifying Hindu
view on homosexuality?


The beautiful republic of Guyana, nestled
on the lush northeastern coast of South
America, is a young nation solidifying its
identity. After being ruled by the Dutch, the
Spanish and finally the British, the country
achieved independence in 1966, becom-
ing the only South American state in the
Commonwealth.
Guyana's ethnic heritage is varied-mostly
Indian and African, but also Native Ameri-
can, European and Chinese. It is a nation of
many peoples and traditions finding their
way toward harmony, and its laws reflect


this process. Revisions and amendments to
the constitution are relatively common.
In January, 2001, the Congress of Guyana
voted to pass a constitutional amendment
that would forbid discrimination based on
sexual orientation. However, this amend-
ment never became law; the president,
Bharrat Jagdeo (a Hindu), succumbed to in-
tense pressure and did not sign it. This left
in place legislation which is a legacy of the
British colonial period-legislation which
criminalizes consensual same-sex activ-
ity and cross-dressing. The United Kingdom


itself repealed such legislation in 1967, but
most former colonies retained these Victo-
rian laws. It was only in 2009, for instance,
that India's Supreme Court ruled that its
anti-gay laws were unconstitutional.
Guyana's proposed 2001 constitutional
amendment would not have repealed Guy-
ana's laws that male homosexual activity a
felony. But it would have, for example, pro-
tected an employee from being fired simply
because he or she is homosexual. Despite
its modest goal, the anti-discrimination
amendment has been languishing for a
decade.

Opposition and Another Chance
The debate is complicated by the country's
many cultures and religions and their varied
views on morality and justice. Who was ada-
mantly opposed to ending discrimination in
Guyana? Large groups are not homogeneous,
of course. But those against the amendment


We belong: Hindu activists meet
at the Organization ofAmerican
States, in a search for equality


used mostly religious arguments; therefore,
the numbers of the country's faithful play
a decisive role. Guyana's population is 57%
Christian (17% Pentecostal, 8% Roman Cath-
olic, 7% Anglican, 25% other denominations),
28% Hindu and 9% Sunni Muslim.
Most Protestants opposed the constitu-
tional change, while the Catholic Church
officially supported it. Muslim groups were
mostly either silent or against the pro-
posal. Hindus remained largely neutral or
undecided.
Several religious organizations, mostly of
Abrahamic faiths, took a dual stance. While
admitting that people have diverse sexual
orientations, they expressed concern that
the anti-discrimination amendment would
eventually lead to the legalization of same-
sex marriage, a prospect they abhor. Sup-
porters of the amendment tried to assuage
those fears, pointing out that the proposed
law preserves the constitutional definition
of marriage and family laws. The amend-
ment did include a provision to recognize
a common-law relationship, a step below
marriage, for both heterosexual and homo-
sexual couples.
Hindu institutions were almost absent
from the 2001 debate, except for a joint
statement issued by a few organizations-the
Guyana Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha, Guy-
ana Maha Kali Organisation, Gandhi Youth
Bhavan and the Guyana Sevashram Sangh-
stating that "sexual intercourse, an image
of God's own power of creation, should be
practiced only within the context of mar-
riage between members of the opposite sex."
It said nothing about legal discrimination.
Individual Hindus made more pertinent
statements. Mr. Vidyanand Persaud, the
representative for Hindu organizations on
the Constitution Reform Commission, sup-
ported the motion, reminding others that


"Guyana's international treaty obligations en-
compassing civil and political rights enjoin
the government not to discriminate on the
grounds of sexual orientation."
A second opportunity to pass the law
came in May, 2003, when the constitution
was undergoing other reforms. The amend-
ment bill reached the Parliament, but there
was no vote; the National Assembly deferred
the discussion to a constitutional committee,
effectively placing it in a legal limbo.

National Pride
In truth, more was at play than just the
rights of a class of people. National pride
became a complicating issue when some
people started saying that acceptance of ho-
mosexuality was a Western imposition on
Guyana. Just last year, in 2010, this idea was
summarized by Cabinet spokesperson and
head of the Presidential Secretariat Dr. Roger
Luncheon: the "government is unlikely to
tamper with legislating homosexual activity
and cross-dressing. For these issues to be ad-
dressed, the government must be convinced
that it would be the desire of the people of
Guyana and not an agenda being foisted on
society by the developed world."
Also in 2010, Guyana participated in the
United Nations' Periodic Review of Human
Rights, which resulted in recommendations
that the government repeal all laws which
criminalize consensual same-sex activity.
Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan,
speaking in November, 2010, said that Guy-
ana's "discriminatory laws and prevailing
homophobic practices prevent gay men from
accessing the health services" and called for
the repeal of those laws. But as of January,
2011, those colonial-era discriminatory laws
remain still in full force.

Hindu Perspectives
Guyana is a religiously plural and tolerant
country. Freedom of worship is a constitu-
tional right, and each of the main groups has
its national holiday: Christmas, Diwali and
the last day of Ramadan.


60 HINDUISM TODAY APRIL/MAY/JUNE, 2011


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Hindu organizations are strong
and numerous, some of them dat-
ing back to the early 20th century:
Arya Samaj, Guyana Sevashram
Sangh (a branch of the Bharat
Sevashram Sangh), Sathya Sai
Baba association, Guyana Hindu
Dharmic Sabha, Guyana Maha
Kali Organisation, Guyana Pandits'
Council, Guyana Sanatan Dharma -
Maha Sabha and the Gandhi
Youth Bhavan. Beautiful mandirs
adorn cities and villages, serving
as centers for worship and seva,
selfless service. Hindu festivals
are widely celebrated.
But community debate has un-
covered a simple truth: there is no
unified policy in Hinduism about
homosexuality. In general, the
matter is ruled by common sense,
wisdom and tradition. But tradi-
tion can be a fluid concept, widely
dependent on regional practices
and collective memory; it shifts
from generation to generation.
One example is the strong influ-
ence of prudish British thought
on Hindu morals in the last few centuries
(see sidebar below).
"Indian culture has always had multiple ex-
pressions of gender identity and sexual ori-
entation," says Pandit Deodat Tillack, priest
at the Shri Samayapuran Mariamma Temple.
"The major festivals around Lord Aravan
and the worship of Bahucharia Mata, called
Murgi Mata in Guyana, reflect these views,"
he claims. The festivals to Lord Aravan, are
a favorite of the third-sex hira in India, who
attend en masse; Lord Krishna is believed to
have assumed the form of Mohini to marry
Aravan as a reward for his dedication. Ba-
hucharia Mata is a patron Goddess of the
hijra community.
Pandit Tillack's views are echoed by many
in Guyana. His colleague Pandit Rajin Bal-


-iau-7m I


gobind feels that non-heterosexuals, who
often question why they were born that way,
should recognize that their sexual orienta-
tion is part of who they are. "Hindu scrip-
tures do not discriminate against people;
we are to be respected as our own decision
makers. Everyone, including homosexual
people, should lead disciplined lives that ful-
fill dharma, contribute to the well being of
their society and do no harm to anyone." In
Balgobind's opinion, sexual orientation falls
into the category of kama (pleasure), one of
the four goals of life, called purusharthas.
Other equally qualified religious leaders
hold differing views. In an article in the local
newspaper Stabroek News, Pandit Dhane-
sar of the Guyana Central Arya Samaj stated
that "according to the Vedas, any form of ab-


S Pandits, priests and sevaks:
(clockwise from top right)
Amar Ramessar, president of
the Yuvaa Shakti Sangh; Pandit
Deodat Tillack, priest at the
S Shri Samayapuran Mariamma
Temple; Pandit Rajin Bal-
gobind of the Hindu Society
ofBerbice; Keeran Persaud,
president of the Cummings
Lodge Industry Hindu Society


normal sex is not right. Since ho-
mosexual sexual intercourse does
not bring forth children it should
not be permitted." Pandit Dhane-
sar was not able to provide a ref-
erence explaining where in the
Vedas one could find that dictum;
S he explained that a pandit's train-
ing is largely oral, often bypassing
written sources.
The Inter-Religious Organisa-
tion, an interfaith body that rep-
resents some of Guyana's religious
organizations, spoke against the
anti-discrimination law. It of-
ficially supported the view that acceptance
of homosexuality is a Western imposition on
Guyana. But Swami Aksharananda, one of
its co-chairpersons, vehemently disagreed.
Swami-a founder of the Hindu Swayam-
sevak Sangh in Guyana, the principal of the
Saraswati Vidya Niketan and a Ph.D. in Hin-
du Studies from the University of Madison,
Wisconsin-wrote an energetic rebuke: "We
have to be concerned about what is glibly
and uncritically invoked to be the position of
scriptures on homosexuality. There is hardly
any consensus here. While it is true that
some religious books consider homosexuali-
ty as an abomination, Hinduism, for example,
offers a much more nuanced and sophisti-
cated perspective on the matter. Hinduism
admits a wide range of sexual orientation


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Impacting Personal Lives
ReT!ligious people ,:,t e who are homosexual wish-
msex-td I tperon feels como. F.:rtae wih his







.or her faith, the acceptance .of society still f -
:playset, a large role. One of the gay men intue
t!eith ,_-.:,rf to t ,, it! , !, t1le ;I e. T he ,:,d.1







viewed recognizes that the Hindu religionie:
in advocates tolerance, but he dares.i :i not test it, -
nta~. i -!.:.|.o .e u:, L *u:t .1,1- e: | e li feO1!.:,.[ L: e -






in practice. "Manyte negative stereotypes of ifu, ite
tgay and lesbian people lead 11.1 o prejudices he
1.d .:!-i : tne,.1 ,.. it -, :l f,! n:,l ,.
F'Te!i ti:n. tl i, :it, ;nd ._::i: t i .1i t :,i_

Religious people who are homosexual wish
to retain their religious ties. But even if a ho-
mosexual person feels comfortable with his
or her faith, the acceptance of society still
plays a large role. One of the gay men inter-
viewed recognizes that the Hindu religion
advocates tolerance, but he dares not test it
in practice. "Many negative stereotypes of
gay and lesbian people lead to prejudices," he
said. Another gay Hindu man, who also de-
clined to be identified, says, I have suffered
a lot of payn in trying to live an ethical life,
while not being able to sustain any personal
relationships. I feel out of place in Hindu set-
tings, where I am always under the threat of
being rejected; but I also feel out of place in
gay settings which do not share my spiritual
values."
According to Pandit Tillack, "Many gay
and lesbian Hindus enter into heterosexual
marriages to please society, sowing distress
and future sorrow." This is confirmed by one
of the gay men interviewed, who expressed
his strong desire to have a family: "My di-
lemma is wanting children and a family, but
how could I fulfill my marriage duties with


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Outcome
There is no consensus yet in the Hindu com-
munity, but the strongest voices supporting
the anti-discrimination law have come from
Hindus. Swamis, pandits and local leaders
are finding common ground-not in sup-
porting homosexuality, but in denouncing
society's oppression of that minority.
Keeran Persaud is a community leader,
president of the Cummings Lodge Indus-
try Hindu Society and a sevak of the Hindu
Swayamsevak Sangh. Active in helping the
gay and lesbian communities, he advocates
acceptance: "Hinduism calls on its follow-
ers to be compassionate, by educating them-
selves to overcome prejudices." Amar Ra-
messar, a member of the Bharata Sevashram
Sangha and president of the Yuvaa Shakti
Sangh at the Radha Krishna Mandir, agrees:
"I would urge any person to live a dignified
life, which leads to a peaceful coexistence
with the society. Prejudices are born out of
ignorance and fear; our work can help in the
education necessary to overcome them."
Pandit Nanda Sahadeo of the Triumph


Hindu Mandir, in a letter published in the
Stabroek News in May, 2008, reminded Hin-
dus that the exhortation of Lord Rama in the
Shri Ramcharitmanas Uttarkand Doha 87
included the napumsak as part of His cre-
ation. "Napumsak," she explained, "means
one who does not have the characteristics
of either man or woman-a man trapped
in a woman's body or a woman trapped in
a man's body." Scriptures can be interpreted
on many levels, and the debate will continue.
Swami Aksharananda calls for the use of
reason, believing the answer for a peaceful
and humane solution will lie with Hindu so-
ciety more than in religious exegesis. Biolo-
gist Ian Kissoon agrees, drawing on science
to point out many examples of diversity in
sexual orientation in nature, urging us to talk
openly and inquisitively,
Whether or not Guyana acts soon to pro-
tect the rights of its 30,000 homosexuals,
Hindus have a wonderful opportunity to
examine different points of view, exert toler-
ance, and gain strength by forging a union in
diversity.


A Scripture, a Sch)lar, Science and a SaLe:

Reviewing Homosexuality in Hinduism


O n the fifth day after a woman's pCe i:.1d. :,:,pL ii.! :i t- : [.- t'
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will be a homosexual.
Shiva Svarodaya. :i Hiiidliu .: !iLti ':t' !iiT
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Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami


62 HINDUISM TODAY APRIL/MAY/JtiE _.:.-


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Beware of Alien M


loral


Fears of damnation and extinction derive not

from Hinduism, but from irrational zealotry

BY SWAMI AKSHARANANDA

W HEN GUYANAS INTER-RELIGIOUS ORGANISATION IS-
sued a statement denouncing homosexuality, the
central argument was that unseen parties want to
influence and corrupt young impressionable minds
to promote homosexuality. The statement instructed us that
the scriptures of all religions condemn homosexuality, as
against the "natural law," violating the natural plan of cre-
ation, that will lead to the damnation of our nation and to our
extinction.
The most extraordinary claim, however, is that homo-
sexuality is a product of Western culture, a new form of
colonialism.
This statement reflects a host of irrational fears that can-
not be empirically supported by social reality anywhere in
the world. People are not converted to homosexuality in the
manner of religious proselytizers who, through unconsciona-
ble and despicable methods, unapologetically and deliberately target invoked when v
young and impressionable minds and prey on people's vulnerability. The fact of th
Of all societies in the world where homosexuality is accepted as itself. It has been
an alternative lifestyle, none has suffered the kind of the degrada- other, even in th
tion that our religious leaders fear may take place here in Guyana. for homosexual;
The Netherlands, for example, and particularly the Dutch city We must also
of Amsterdam, is perhaps one of the most liberal places in the invoked to be th
world. The city even boasts a monument devoted to the memory hardly any c(
of homosexuals who have been persecuted throughout the ages. books con;
There can be few places in the world that breathe such an air of example,
freedom, sophistication and culture, music, art and lit-A Itu !,. P- .: tive
much of it contributed by homosexuals themselves, !-:r,,.:sexu
as Amsterdam. ['-i:I ilitie
From Finland to Italy and across the Atlantic to anti-
United States and Canada, liberal, compassionate R
and enlightened attitudes towards diversity and oft
alternative lifestyles are an integral part of peace- on
ful, progressive, humane societies. In these nations, tur
the family continues to prosper. There are no signs of Hov
"extinction" and "damnation." g lght?
Such fears derive not from homosexuality, but from it I:Io :!- ord
ity and fanatic religious zealots of every stripe and star. 'f .:-.ri 4 God
those religious persuasions which claim to be the sole i p,:;i- i t-rnal
tory of the truth to which all else must be converted, a nd1 .:.i .o l \ Vhel
followers of such religions who do not have the patient : tc.: :i iptur
wait for unbelievers and homosexuals to be punished th I-- 'e gro
afterlife, as their teachings go, but who with awesome :-h.! ,-' I: impl
to do so here and now.

Ardhanarishvara: Hindu folk traditions believe mem- re Univer.
bers of the third sex are auspicious because, akin to Saras"
the Gods or a soul, they are not bound by gender


So, who or what poses the greatest dan-
S gers to society? Is it homosexuality, or is it
religious intolerance? The clear and unam-
biguous truth is that the greatest danger lies
among those aggressive, intolerant religious
creeds of the world that see unbelievers
and those whom they believe violate the
"natural law" as agents of the devil and en-
emies of God.
We must guard against the self-appoint-
ed arbiters of morality, the moral policemen,
who claim to derive their authority and in-
. ,, .... spiration from ancient and divine writs that,
implicitly and explicitly, leave no room for
toleration of religious differences-or other
diversities such as sexual orientation.
This brings us to the claim that having
a liberal and enlightened attitude towards
homosexuality means that we are giving in
S to Western influence and values. It is al-
ways intriguing when we hear uninformed
people speak of homosexuality as a form of
colonialism. Aren't they aware of the appar-
ent contradictions? Of all the institutions
we have inherited from the colonial past,
there is none more thoroughly colonial and
Western, heart and soul, than Christian-
ity-a religion whose scriptures are often
ilifying homosexuals.
e matter is that homosexuality is as old as humanity
n practiced for untold centuries, in one form or an-
lose societies where, today, death can be the penalty
s.
be concerned about what is glibly and uncritically
he position of scriptures on homosexuality. There is
consensus here. While it is true that some religious
sider homosexuality an abomination, Hinduism, for
offers a much more nuanced and sophisticated per-
on the matter. While Hinduism does not approve of
lality, it admits of a wide range of sexual orientation
is; therefore, the vehemence and stridency of loud
homosexual sentiments cannot be shared by Hindus.
rationality is all I am advocating. Religious people
en decide which things are right and wrong based
what they believe and imagine to be true, which in
rn is based on what is stated in their religious texts.
v does one know whether a religious scripture is
The answer is that it is the inviolable, unalterable
of God. And, how does one know that it is the word
I? The only answer is because God says so. Quite an
Conundrum!
n held beyond the scrutiny of reason, no religious
e, no matter how sacred we hold it to be, can ever be
und on which to decide important issues that may
ications in matters of life and death.

Swami Aksharananda, Ph.D. in Hindu Studies at the
sity of Wisconsin-Madison (USA), is principal of the
wati Vidya Niketan. He is also a founder of Guyana's
Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh chapter.


cannot sanction man-to-man marriages.


So Say Our Sadhus


Opinions are far from unanimous


OR MILLENIA, THE I(KUMBHA MELAS HAVE BEEN THE SUMMIT
gathering of Hindu leaders. A sampling of opinions from the
Mela sadhus carries great authority. Here is what they had to
say in 2004, in Ujjain, about homosexuality and gay marriage.
In India, questions about homosexuality are often met with anwers
about gay marriage, as if one was the inexorable consequence of the
other. This was a hushed subject at the time, before the Supreme
Court of India decriminalized gay sex in 2009 and hurled the topic
onto the public stage.

Swami Pragyananda Maharaj, Mahamandaleshwar of the
Awahan Akhara: Gay marriages do not fit in our culture and heri-
tage. All those who demand the approval of such marriages in India
are doing so under the influence of the West. Incorrect Western
practices have no place in our culture; we should not blindly follow.
Sanatana Dharma has no place for this and we do not even discuss it.
Shri Mahant Madhusudan Giri, Awahan Akhara: This issue
is connected not just to Hinduism, but to the whole human civiliza-
tion. Today, people are changing their religions and nationalities;
they are even changing their sex. We have to allow people to live
their lives in their own way. If they choose to live in a particular way,
out of the consent of two grown-up people, how can we stop them?
Religion has no role in this.
Mahant Baba Ram Puri, Juna Akhara: These questions are
contemporary in nature and context. To somehow project that to the
Vedas, Rama Kathas or the Mahabharata and look for answers there
is not appropriate. The rule books back then described a society with
different goals, ideas, costumes, diets and everything else. We do not
have a final rule book in Hinduism. Even
the Manu Smriti says that local traditions
can overrule its guidelines. There has nev- A CORRESPO I
er been a single authority to represent all
Hindus and guide them on morality. Ours T WAS 2004, AND I
is a pluralistic society, and the community to ask the Mela's co
has to exercise its wisdom. "How does Hinduisr
Maharishi Sarkhandi Mahatyagi, ality? What about g
from Gujarat: This is just adharmic. If retrospect, I realize th
these relations were to be accepted, then was ahead of its time.
why was creation created? When Brahma debated topic in India
directed Manu to create the world, Manu Raising the subjects
clearly said that the creation could not be ity and gay marriage v
made without women. Hindu dharma holy men hardly enjoy


APRIL/MAY/JUNE, 2011 HINDUISM TODAY 65


BRONZECREATIVE.COM


64 HINDUISM TODAY APRIL/MAY/JUNE, 2011


a-0 -- --, -:L


Pandit Shailendra Shri Sheshnarayan Ji Vaidyaka,
Digambar Sadhu of the Simhastha Samiti: Whatever is done in
hiding becomes a wrong act and is treated as a sin. But whatever is
done openly invites criticism for some time but ultimately may gain
acceptance. People who are bent upon doing something would do
it anyway. Why not give them the liberty to live in their own way?
Our scriptures have no reference to homosexuality; therefore, we
have nothing to say.
Nirvanpeethadheeshwar Shri o18 Devananda, Mahaman-
daleshwar of the Mahanirvani Akhara: Gay marriages definitely
would pollute our society. Such perverted activities used to be
carried out by a few. To give legitimacy and social acceptance to it
would be a big injustice to our social life. This is an activity which
people do not do openly, therefore it is a social crime. It should stay
secret. Scriptures may or may not give a guideline, but if we see this
in the context of society, we find it to be absolutely wrong. It por-
trays a very dark side of our society.
Acharya Mahamandaleshwar Swami Avdheshananda,
Juna Peethadheeshwar: Homosexuality is unnatural, uncommon and
unusual. It is not marriage, because it is just connected to the body, it
is only fun. This is sheer madness that comes from the West where
they use the Bible. Our scriptures, which are superior, are against it.
Shri 1oo8 Kapalik Mahakaal Bhairavananda Sarasvati,
from New Delhi: Certainly this is going to give people bad diseases
which will be a great problem to gay-friendly USA in the times to
come. US Government should also take action against such people
immediately. India does not have such issues. The day a demand for
gay unions is raised in India will be a black day for the country.
Mahamandaleshwar Swami Banwari Puri, Juna Akhara:
Our tradition does not approve of gay marriages. But our scriptures
do not outline a clear direction. The Bhagwat has a story, which I
have read nowhere else, in which King Bhagirath was born out of
physical union of both his mothers. Same-sex marriage is against
the laws of God. Now, whether such marriages can keep such cou-
ples happy and peaceful should be answered only by gays-not by
us, who have no idea what it is all about.


DENT'S ADVENTURE byRajivMalik
HAD BEEN ASSIGNED contentious subjects amongst the crowds.
nstellation of saints: Some sadhus briskly asked me to switch off
n view homosexu- the tape recorder. They inquired the reasons
;ay marriage?" In behind my inquiry; did I have any agenda?
at HINDUISM TODAY But the revered spiritual leaders slowly
This became a hotly opened up, at times hesitantly, and eventu-
a few years later. ally spoke with candor. Once they became
, of homosexual- convinced that our idea was to inform and
vas not easy. Hindu educate Hindus, they gave their consent to
yed discussing these go ahead and ask these difficult questions.


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PAGE 1

itself repealed such legislation in 1967, but most former colonies retained these Victorian laws. It was only in 2009, for instance, that Indias Supreme Court ruled that its anti-gay laws were unconstitutional. Guyanas proposed 2001 constitutional amendment would not have repealed Guyanas laws that make homosexual activity a felony. But it would have, for example, pro because he or she is homosexual. Despite its modest goal, the anti-discrimination amendment has been languishing for a decade. Opposition and Another Chance The debate is complicated by the countrys many cultures and religions and their varied views on morality and justice. Who was ada mantly opposed to ending discrimination in Guyana? Large groups are not homogeneous, of course. But those against the amendment By Vidyaratha Kissoon Georgetown, Guyana f modern science is rightand sometimes it isthere are more than 50 million homosexual and bisexual people in India, 15 million in the US and 30,000 in Guyana. The role, aspirations and rights of this large segment of society (and, in the minds of some, their wrongs) is a hot topic throughout this tropical nation. Guyanese Hindus, nearly one third of the population, are pondering: is there a unifying Hindu view on homosexuality? The beautiful republic of Guyana, nestled on the lush northeastern coast of South America, is a young nation solidifying its identity. After being ruled by the Dutch, the achieved independence in 1966, becoming the only South American state in the Commonwealth. Guyanas ethnic heritage is variedmostly Indian and African, but also Native American, European and Chinese. It is a nation of many peoples and traditions finding their way toward harmony, and its laws reflect this process. Revisions and amendments to the constitution are relatively common. In January, 2001, the Congress of Guyana voted to pass a constitutional amendment that would forbid discrimination based on sexual orientation. However, this amend ment never became law; the president, Bharrat Jagdeo (a Hindu), succumbed to intense pressure and did not sign it. This left in place legislation which is a legacy of the British colonial periodlegislation which criminalizes consensual same-sex activity and cross-dressing. The United Kingdom used mostly religious arguments; therefore, the numbers of the countrys faithful play a decisive role. Guyanas population is 57% Christian (17% Pentecostal, 8% Roman Cath olic, 7% Anglican, 25% other denominations), 28% Hindu and 9% Sunni Muslim. Most Protestants opposed the constitutional change, while the Catholic Church mostly either silent or against the proposal. Hindus remained largely neutral or undecided. Several religious organizations, mostly of Abrahamic faiths, took a dual stance. While admitting that people have diverse sexual orientations, they expressed concern that the anti-discrimination amendment would eventually lead to the legalization of samesex marriage, a prospect they abhor. Supporters of the amendment tried to assuage those fears, pointing out that the proposed of marriage and family laws. The amendment did include a provision to recognize a common-law relationship, a step below marriage, for both heterosexual and homosexual couples. Hindu institutions were almost absent from the 2001 debate, except for a joint statement issued by a few organizationsthe Guyana Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha, Guyana Maha Kali Organisation, Gandhi Youth Bhavan and the Guyana Sevashram Sangh stating that sexual intercourse, an image of Gods own power of creation, should be practiced only within the context of mar riage between members of the opposite sex. It said nothing about legal discrimination. Individual Hindus made more pertinent statements. Mr. Vidyanand Persaud, the representative for Hindu organizations on the Constitution Reform Commission, sup ported the motion, reminding others that Guyanas international treaty obligations encompassing civil and political rights enjoin the government not to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation. A second opportunity to pass the law came in May, 2003, when the constitution was undergoing other reforms. The amendment bill reached the Parliament, but there was no vote; the National Assembly deferred the discussion to a constitutional committee, effectively placing it in a legal limbo. National Pride In truth, more was at play than just the rights of a class of people. National pride became a complicating issue when some people started saying that acceptance of homosexuality was a Western imposition on Guyana. Just last year, in 2010, this idea was summarized by Cabinet spokesperson and head of the Presidential Secretariat Dr. Roger Luncheon: the government is unlikely to tamper with legislating homosexual activity and cross-dressing. For these issues to be addressed, the government must be convinced that it would be the desire of the people of Guyana and not an agenda being foisted on society by the developed world. Also in 2010, Guyana participated in the United Nations Periodic Review of Human Rights, which resulted in recommendations that the government repeal all laws which criminalize consensual same-sex activity. speaking in November, 2010, said that Guy anas discriminatory laws and prevailing homophobic practices prevent gay men from accessing the health services and called for the repeal of those laws. But as of January, 2011, those colonial-era discriminatory laws remain still in full force. Hindu Perspectives Guyana is a religiously plural and tolerant country. Freedom of worship is a constitutional right, and each of the main groups has its national holiday: Christmas, Diwali and the last day of Ramadan. google maps nigel maithlin We belong: Hindu activists meet at the Organization of American States, in a search for equality hinduism today april/may/june, 2011 april/may/june, 2011 hinduism toda y rfrntbWhen a constitutional amendment proposed to end discrimination against homosexuals, Guyanese Hindus asked themselves, Where do we stand? SOCIETY

PAGE 2

possibilities. Therefore, the stridency with which the Inter-Religious Organisation has expressed its anti-homosexual sentiments cannot be shared by Hindus. (Read his OpEd on page 64.) Impacting Personal Lives The lives of tens of thousands are deeply affected by these discussions. For Guyanese who are gay or lesbian, the reactions of sotheir comfort with who they are. The old, colonial-era laws impose an onerous choice: in order to be a law-abiding citizen in Guy ana, a homosexual must observe lifelong celibacy. The alternative is to willfully violate the laws of the land and risk being arrested and charged with a felony. Religion, ethnicity and social traditions strongly shape the identity of each Guyanese. Religious people who are homosexual wish to retain their religious ties. But even if a ho mosexual person feels comfortable with his or her faith, the acceptance of society still plays a large role. One of the gay men inter viewed recognizes that the Hindu religion advocates tolerance, but he dares not test it in practice. Many negative stereotypes of gay and lesbian people lead to prejudices, he said. Another gay Hindu man, who also dea lot of pain in trying to live an ethical life, while not being able to sustain any personal relationships. I feel out of place in Hindu settings, where I am always under the threat of being rejected; but I also feel out of place in gay settings which do not share my spiritual values. According to Pandit Tillack, Many gay and lesbian Hindus enter into heterosexual marriages to please society, sowing distress of the gay men interviewed, who expressed his strong desire to have a family: My dilemma is wanting children and a family, but a woman? The criminalization of their actions is a heavy burden on homosexuals in Guyana. Many of them have otherwise conservative ideas about family and relationships, aspiring to monogamous long-term commitments and living together. Pushed to the shadows, most seek their happiness in secret, hoping to avoid legal consequences through leniency, anonymity or luck. Outcome There is no consensus yet in the Hindu community, but the strongest voices supporting the anti-discrimination law have come from Hindus. Swamis, pandits and local leaders are finding common groundnot in supporting homosexuality, but in denouncing societys oppression of that minority. Keeran Persaud is a community leader, president of the Cummings Lodge Indus try Hindu Society and a sevak of the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh. Active in helping the gay and lesbian communities, he advocates acceptance: Hinduism calls on its followers to be compassionate, by educating themselves to overcome prejudices. Amar Ramessar, a member of the Bharata Sevashram Sangha and president of the Yuvaa Shakti Sangh at the Radha Krishna Mandir, agrees: life, which leads to a peaceful coexistence with the society. Prejudices are born out of ignorance and fear; our work can help in the education necessary to overcome them. Pandit Nanda Sahadeo of the Triumph Hindu Mandir, in a letter published in the Stabroek News in May, 2008, reminded Hindus that the exhortation of Lord Rama in the Shri Ramcharitmanas Uttarkand Doha 87 included the napumsak as part of His creation. Napumsak, she explained, means one who does not have the characteristics of either man or womana man trapped in a womans body or a woman trapped in a mans body. Scriptures can be interpreted on many levels, and the debate will continue. Swami Aksharananda calls for the use of reason, believing the answer for a peaceful and humane solution will lie with Hindu so ciety more than in religious exegesis. Biologist Ian Kissoon agrees, drawing on science to point out many examples of diversity in sexual orientation in nature, urging us to talk openly and inquisitively, Whether or not Guyana acts soon to protect the rights of its 30,000 homosexuals, Hindus have a wonderful opportunity to examine different points of view, exert toler ance, and gain strength by forging a union in diversity. Hindu organizations are strong and numerous, some of them dat ing back to the early 20th century: Arya Samaj, Guyana Sevashram Sangh (a branch of the Bharat Sevashram Sangh), Sathya Sai Baba association, Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha, Guyana Maha Kali Organisation, Guyana Pandits Council, Guyana Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha and the Gandhi Youth Bhavan. Beautiful mandirs adorn cities and villages, serving as centers for worship and seva, selfless service. Hindu festivals are widely celebrated. But community debate has uncovered a simple truth: there is no homosexuality. In general, the matter is ruled by common sense, wisdom and tradition. But tradi dependent on regional practices and collective memory; it shifts from generation to generation. ence of prudish British thought on Hindu morals in the last few centuries (see sidebar below). Indian culture has always had multiple expressions of gender identity and sexual ori entation, says Pandit Deodat Tillack, priest at the Shri Samayapuran Mariamma Temple. The major festivals around Lord Aravan and the worship of Bahucharia Mata, called he claims. The festivals to Lord Aravan, are a favorite of the third-sex hijra in India, who attend en masse; Lord Krishna is believed to have assumed the form of Mohini to marry Aravan as a reward for his dedication. Bahucharia Mata is a patron Goddess of the hijra community. Pandit Tillacks views are echoed by many in Guyana. His colleague Pandit Rajin Balgobind feels that non-heterosexuals, who often question why they were born that way, should recognize that their sexual orienta tion is part of who they are. Hindu scrip tures do not discriminate against people; we are to be respected as our own decision makers. Everyone, including homosexual people, should lead disciplined lives that fultheir society and do no harm to anyone. In Balgobinds opinion, sexual orientation falls into the category of kama (pleasure), one of the four goals of life, called purusharthas. hold differing views. In an article in the local newspaper Stabroek News, Pandit Dhanesar of the Guyana Central Arya Samaj stated that according to the Vedas, any form of ab normal sex is not right. Since ho mosexual sexual intercourse does not bring forth children it should not be permitted. Pandit Dhane sar was not able to provide a reference explaining where in the Vedas he explained that a pandits training is largely oral, often bypassing written sources. The Inter-Religious Organisation, an interfaith body that rep resents some of Guyanas religious organizations, spoke against the anti-discrimination law. It ofof homosexuality is a Western imposition on Guyana. But Swami Aksharananda, one of its co-chairpersons, vehemently disagreed. Swamia founder of the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh in Guyana, the principal of the Saraswati Vidya Niketan and a Ph.D. in Hindu Studies from the University of Madison, Wisconsinwrote an energetic rebuke: We have to be concerned about what is glibly and uncritically invoked to be the position of scriptures on homosexuality. There is hardly any consensus here. While it is true that some religious books consider homosexuali ty as an abomination, Hinduism, for example, offers a much more nuanced and sophisticated perspective on the matter. Hinduism admits a wide range of sexual orientation A Scripture, a Scholar, Science and a Sage: Reviewing omosexuality in HinduismO the birth of a child through the union of the womans lunar (left) subtle breath and the mans solar (right) subtle breath. If the element earth predominates, a daughter will result; if water domiwill end in miscarriage; and if akasha (ether) is dominant, the child will be a homosexual. Shiva Svarodaya, a Hindu scripture on ida, pingala and the pranas of the bodyIntersexuals, in whom male and female aspects are combined, are considered holy in India because they invoke the primordial an drogyneity. They have special functions within society other than the transmission of the genetic code by procreation. Even today, the presence of a hijra, the last vestige of the androgynous shaman, Saxon puritanism has meant that the anglicized groups in modern India pretend they do not know of the sacred aspect of the Third Nature and homosexual practices. Alain Danilou, French IndologistThe American Psychiatric Association stated in 1973 that homosexuality is not a disorder and implies no impairment in judgment, stability, reliability or general social or vocational American Psychological Association adopted the same stance in 1975, and urged all mental health professionals to take the lead in removing the stigma of mental illness that has long been associated with homosexual orientations. The Supreme Court of the State of California used these opinions in a key case, adding that Mental health professionals and researchers have long recognized that being homosexual poses no inherent obstacle to leading a happy, healthy and productive life, and that the vast majority of gay and lesbian people function well in the full array of social institutions and interpersonal relationships. Sexual intercourse is a natural reproductive function. It also serves through its intimacy to express and nurture love. It is love which endows intercourse with its higher qualities, transforming sonal matters of sex are not legislated, but left to the judgment of those involved, subject to community laws and customs. Hinduism neither condones nor condemns birth control, sterilization, masturbation, homosexuality, petting, polygamy or pornography. It does not exclude or draw harsh conclusions against any part of human nature, though scripture prohibits adultery and forbids abor tion except to save a mothers life. Advice in such matters should be sought from parents, elders and spiritual leaders. The only rigid rule is wisdom, guided by tradition and virtue. Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami vidyaratha kissoon Hindu presence: The distinctively Indian ar chitecture of Guyanese temples is a common sight vidyaratha kissoon courtesy pandit tillack vidyaratha kissoon courtesy pandit balgobind Pandits, priests and sevaks: (clockwise from top right) Amar Ramessar, president of the Yuvaa Shakti Sangh; Pandit Deodat Tillack, priest at the Shri Samayapuran Mariamma Temple; Pandit Rajin Balgobind of the Hindu Society of Berbice; Keeran Persaud, president of the Cummings Lodge Industry Hindu Society april/may/june, 2011 hinduism toda y hinduism today april/may/june, 2011

PAGE 3

hinduism today april/may/june, 2011 april/may/june, 2011 hinduism toda y When guyanas inter-religious organisation issued a statement denouncing homosexuality, the central argument was that unseen parties want to to promote homosexuality. The statement instructed us that the scriptures of all religions condemn homosexuality, as against the natural law, violating the natural plan of creation, that will lead to the damnation of our nation and to our extinction. The most extraordinary claim, however, is that homosexuality is a product of Western culture, a new form of colonialism. the world. People are not converted to homosexuality in the manner of religious proselytizers who, through unconscionaOf all societies in the world where homosexuality is accepted as an alternative lifestyle, none has suffered the kind of the degradation that our religious leaders fear may take place here in Guyana. The Netherlands, for example, and particularly the Dutch city freedom, sophistication and culture, music, art and literature, as Amsterdam. From Finland to Italy and across the Atlantic to and enlightened attitudes towards diversity and alternative lifestyles are an integral part of peace ful, progressive, humane societies. In these nations, the family continues to prosper. There are no signs of extinction and damnation. ity and fanatic religious zealots of every stripe and star, from followers of such religions who do not have the patience to to do so here and now. So, who or what poses the greatest dangers to society? Is it homosexuality, or is it religious intolerance? The clear and unamamong those aggressive, intolerant religious natural law as agents of the devil and enemies of God. We must guard against the self-appointwho claim to derive their authority and in spiration from ancient and divine writs that, implicitly and explicitly, leave no room for toleration of religious differencesor other diversities such as sexual orientation. homosexuality means that we are giving in ways intriguing when we hear uninformed people speak of homosexuality as a form of ent contradictions? Of all the institutions we have inherited from the colonial past, there is none more thoroughly colonial and Western, heart and soul, than Christianitya religion whose scriptures are often invoked when vilifying homosexuals. The fact of the matter is that homosexuality is as old as humanity for homosexuals. hardly any consensus here. While it is true that some religious example, offers a much more nuanced and sophisticated per homosexuality, it admits of a wide range of sexual orientation Rationality is all I am advocating. Religious people word of God. And, how does one know that it is the word eternal conundrum! a safe ground on which to decide important issues that may have implications in matters of life and death.For millenia, the kumbha melas have been the summit Court of India decriminalized gay sex in 2009 and hurled the topic Swami Pragyananda Maharaj Mahamandaleshwar of the Awahan Akhara: tage. All those who demand the approval of such marriages in India Sanatana Dharma has no place for this and we do not even discuss it. Shri Mahant Madhusudan Giri, Awahan Akhara: This issue they are even changing their sex. We have to allow people to live their lives in their own way. If they choose to live in a particular way, out of the consent of two grown-up people, how can we stop them? Religion has no role in this. Mahant Baba Ram Puri, Juna Akhara: These questions are contemporary in nature and context. To somehow project that to the Vedas, Rama Kathas or the Mahabharata and look for answers there different goals, ideas, costumes, diets and everything else. We do not the Manu Smriti says that local traditions can overrule its guidelines. There has nevis a pluralistic society, and the community has to exercise its wisdom. Maharishi Sarkhandi Mahatyagi, from Gujarat: This is just adharmic. If why was creation created? When Brahma directed Manu to create the world, Manu cannot sanction man-to-man marriages. Pandit Shailendra Shri Sheshnarayan Ji Vaidyaka, Digambar Sadhu of the Simhastha Samiti: Whatever is done in have nothing to say. Nirvanpeethadheeshwar Shri 108 Devananda Mahamandaleshwar of the Mahanirvani Akhara: people do not do openly, therefore it is a social crime. It should stay trays a very dark side of our society. Acharya Mahamandaleshwar Swami Avdheshananda, Juna Peethadheeshwar: is only fun. This is sheer madness that comes from the West where Shri 1008 Kapalik Mahakaal Bhairavananda Sarasvati, from New Delhi: come. US Government should also take action against such people immediately. India does not have such issues. The day a demand for Mahamandaleshwar Swami Banwari Puri, Juna Akhara: Our tradition does not approve of gay marriages. But our scriptures do not outline a clear direction. The Bhagwat has a story, which I the laws of God. Now, whether such marriages can keep such couthomas kellybronzecreative.com Beware of Alien MoralsFears of damnation and extinction derive not BY SWAMI AKSHARANANDA hinduism today april/may/june, 2011 Ardhanarishvara: Hindu folk traditions believe mem bers of the third sex are auspicious because, akin to the Gods or a soul, they are not bound by gender Swami Aksharananda, Ph.D. in Hindu Studies at the University of WisconsinMadison (USA), is principal of the Saraswati Vidya Niketan. He is also a founder of Guyanas Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh chapter. So Say Our SadhusOpinions are far from unanimous a correspondents adventure by Rajiv Malik It was 2004, and i had been assigned retrospect, I realize that Hinduism Today holy men hardly enjoyed discussing these the tape recorder. They inquired the reasons But the revered spiritual leaders slowly opened up, at times hesitantly, and eventuconvinced that our idea was to inform and