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Queer Student’s Death In Goa Brings To Light The Horrors Of Conversion Therapy People Still Face

Posted: May 18, 2020
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The suicide of a queer student from Kerala after being forced into conversion therapy asks if we’d ever stop treating homosexuality as a disease!

Trigger warning: Contains details of suicide, some parts of sexual abuse and conversion therapy which may be triggering to survivors. 

Update – An article published in The News Minute stated that Anjana Hareesh’s cause of death. The post mortem report was released and certified the cause of death as asphyxia due to ante-mortem hanging.

“The cause of death has come as asphyxia due to ante-mortem hanging. Suicide due to hanging,” the North Goa Superintendent of Police Utkrisht Prasoon told TNM.

This recent update is important because of rumours on her death being a planned one were being circulated. It was speculated that Anjana was sexually assaulted and was forced to drink alcohol before her death. The latest development puts a halt to all these.

Twenty-one-year old Anjana Hareesh, a student from Kerala was found dead in Goa on May 12, 2020. Police believe she may have killed herself. According to a report in The News Minute Anjana made some videos that revealed her family forced her to undergo ‘conversion therapy.’ This was done in order to ‘treat’ her bisexuality. According to the report and a few of her friends’ statements this was what may have triggered Anjana to kill herself.  

Her family believed she was suffering from a ‘disease’

The report further stated that Anjana came out to her family as bisexual a while ago and this wasn’t taken particularly well by them. The family, then allegedly forced her to undergo conversion therapy, which is an illegal practice based on irrational beliefs. It makes preposterous claims that a queer person can ‘be made to conform’ to a heterosexual lifestyle after undergoing several spiritual, medical, and psychological interventions. 

In a Facebook video that Anjana posted in March, she said was forcibly taken by her family to de-addiction centres to cure her. When she retaliated and tried to convince her parents that she wasn’t suffering from a ‘disease,’ she was slapped and put on high medication. 

Following the forced conversion therapy, Anjana decided to leave for Goa with her friends for a change in scene. The news report also mentions that from past two months Anjana had been in touch with Sahayatrika, a humans rights organisation working for LGBTQIA+ people in Kerala. 

‘We intervened when she was forcibly taken away to a de-addiction centre. It has to be said that the police were not very helpful,’ said Ahana a community organiser at Sahayatrika.

For years the LGBTQIA+ community in India has been subjected to endless trauma, alienation and non-acceptance. From shock treatment to yoga, to conversion therapy our society tried it’s level best to somehow turn a homosexual to heterosexual.

Even after the Supreme Court’s landmark judgement that ‘homosexuality is natural’, and the Indian Psychiatric Society telling people that ‘it is not a disease’ our society still wants to cure them. 

Even in 2020, it people want to ‘cure’ it!

‘Straightening queer traits,’ ‘treating homosexuality,’ and ‘regaining purity’ are some practices that are common in the area of conversion therapy. In India, before Section 377 was ruled out, conversion therapy was a common practice done not so slyly.

After Section 377 has been ruled out conversion therapy is still a common practice still done slyly. Reports claim that conversion therapy is very much a reality in our country. 

When parents go to an educated medical professional who claim that their child’s homosexuality can be treated, parents will do almost anything to have their child ‘cured.’ A statement about treating homosexuality coming from a medical professional reassures them that their child is suffering from some disease. And this is exactly where the problem begins.

Many people from the LGBTQIA+ community forced to undergo conversion therapy, speak about a horrific and traumatic experience. Torture, severe medication, violence, sexual abuse and in, extreme cases corrective rape, is also employed to attempt to ‘change’ a person’s sexuality.

An incident narrated by a member from the community posted in The Hindu said that often the trauma is so severe that people have no option but to accept that they are ‘cured.’  

The question here is why people still align with ignorance rather than acceptance?

Lack of awareness

Conversion therapy is a practice that stems out of the deeply rooted homophobia present in our society. A belief that aligns to ignorance rather than acceptance. Our culture, media and stereotypes are one of the reasons that nurture this belief. 

If you just ask in an average Indian household about their thoughts on homosexuality, the answers will stun you. There will be some who aren’t even aware of it, however, a vast majority, despite awareness won’t accept it. All this simply because being a homosexual has been considered unnatural for a very long time, it is considered as something that goes against God and the Hindu culture.

Though the Rig Veda does that ‘Vikrati Evam Prakriti’ (unnatural is natural), our so-called godmen and influential people propagate homosexuality as unnatural. These self-proclaimed saviours of our culture even deign it a disease. 

‘It is a crime against scriptures’

In 2013, the UP’s current Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath said, “Homosexuality is dangerous to social morality.” This was followed by yoga Guru Baba Ramdev claiming he can cure homosexuality. 

In 2018, BJP MP Subramaniam Swami said, “It (homosexuality) is not a normal thing. We cannot celebrate it. It’s against Hindutva. We should invest in medical research to see if it can be cured.” A lot of religious and cultural leaders have also blatantly propagated homophobia. 

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s vice-president Om Prakash Singhal once declared, “Homosexuality is against Indian culture, against nature and against science.” Maulana Madni of Jamiat Ulema agreed saying, “Homosexuality is a crime according to scriptures and is unnatural.”

Due to such leaders propagating homophobia, many people tend to agree that homosexuality is a disease. Lack of proper awareness stems discrimination against the LGBTQIA+ community. This leads to the community suffering hate, discrimination, torture and absolute ignorance. 

Lack of representation 

Representation of a particular community on the big screen influences how they are treated in real life. So far mainstream Bollywood has failed to provide proper representation to the members of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Movies like Kal Ho Na Ho and Maztizade portray gay men as constantly horny. They are ridiculed by the entire cast. And the movies also always show the gay person with only one mission in life- to hit on random people.

Dare we forget the unfunny catchphrases by men spoken in high squeaky voices, while wearing female clothing! All this in order to get some laughs is a common Bollywood trait. Remember Bobby Darling? Or Suresh Menon from Mastizade? Remember the jokes made at their expense?

And it is not just in movies, quite often, online content creators on YouTube, Instagram and TikTok also use homophobic slurs to insult one another. Because, being gay or a transperson is nothing but an insult, isn’t it?

With total disregard to the trauma that people go through, creators cross-dress, use homophobic slurs and unfunny one-liners. They call people Chaka, meetha, and what not for content and make all of this sound okay.  

Although things have started to change with progressive movies like ‘Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhan,’ representation in all forms of media has not changed. It still influences how people treat each other. Using homophobic slurs and making it sound okay in the name of jokes leads to people doing the same in real life. Sadly when this is done in real life it’s no longer a ‘majak,’ it becomes trauma.

When a person from LGBTQIA+ community sees how the community is ridiculed, they question their decision of coming out. They question their identity. And this trauma, might trigger them to kill themselves. It may lead them to take extreme measures simply because the society cannot seem to accept them. 

No proper means to reach out

Our country legalised homosexuality in 2018. However, the taboo is such that even today, we barely have any counselling centres, suicide prevention helplines or even rehab centres for the people who underwent traumatic experiences.

No one talks about the 19-year old boy who killed himself because he was being bullied and wrote, ‘Not my fault that I was born gay.’ Neither does anyone talk about the fact that LGBTQIA+ adolescents are more likely (than other young people their age) to try to kill themselves. It’s ironic how we don’t talk about these actual issues, but are eager to get something that isn’t even a disease, ‘cured.’ 

If you or anyone you know is feeling suicidal, here are some of the helplines available in India. Please call. 

Aasra, Mumbai: 022 27546669

Sneha, Chennai: 044 2464 0050

Lifeline, Kolkata: 033 2474 4704

Sahai, Bangalore: 080 25497777

Roshni, Hyderabad: 040 66202000, 040 66202001

Picture credit- The News Minute

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