Beyond the Lens of Rigid Stereotypes and Biased Perceptions

Ayush Sharma

June 29, 2020

“A wild wish has just flown from my heart to my head, and I will not stifle it, though it may excite a horse-laugh. I do earnestly wish to see the distinction of sex confounded in society, unless where love animates the behavior.” – Mary Wollstonecraft

An excerpt from a polemic against the 18th-century society rife with gender prejudices resonates, rather sordidly, with our 21st-century world, yearning still for empathy and humanity.

Five decades ago, in a small Manhattan inn, a handful of people stood defiant against a police crackdown on their slice of liberty, a place of refuge for LGBTQ patrons. The protest that spilled into streets as riots for days, famously known as the Stonewall Uprising, became a galvanizing force for gay rights activism across the US. Its first anniversary on June 28, 1970, witnessed America’s first-ever gay pride parade. The echoes of the voice raised against social discrimination, and institutional oppression reverberate across the globe. We observe June as the ‘Pride Month’ vowing to make it ever so louder each year.

Closer home, our country has had a long history of acceptance as well as persecution. Ancient scriptures of Rigveda proclaimed “Vikriti Evam Prakriti,” meaning what seems unnatural is also natural. We also see non-binary representations like Ardhanarisvara avatar of Lord Shiva or Shikhandi in the tales of Mahabharata. However, contemporary times have not been so kind. WHO declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1990 and the same global prejudice reflected in the Indian legal system of the time. Our fight against the archaic Section 377 of IPC could start only after a public interest litigation was filed in 2001. After a short-lived victory in 2009, courtesy Delhi High Court, the real change came later. The Supreme Court affirmed the fundamental rights of transgender people in 2014, recognized right to express sexual orientation as inherently protected by the Indian Constitution in 2017, and eventually decriminalized homosexuality in 2018. Considering the nascence of legal recognition, we must be more mindful of translating these changes to our collective conscience. So when Mumbai’s historic CST lit up in the rainbow colors of Pride last year, it illuminated the lives of the LGBTQ+ community, even if fleetingly.

We cannot continue to see people from the lens of rigid stereotypes and bigoted perceptions. The tyranny of the majority must be checked. History has taught us repeatedly. Defining someone by what clothes they choose to wear or who they choose to love or how they choose to identify, should not be the norm. Biology may very well have preordained classifications, but we know better than to believe that individuals are just the sum of chromosomes and hormones. A society worth living in ought not to ostracize its members if they fail to conform to conventions or instill fear in someone for being true to themselves. The societal structure should be such where the agency of individuals, in the mainstream or the fringes, is acknowledged. If we want to progress collectively, we must let everyone flourish individually; and to ensure that one of the critical cogs is affording respect. When we respect people around us for who they are, they can become who they are meant to be.

We are taught about ‘Unity in Diversity’ since childhood, but its dimensions cannot be restricted only to languages or geographies or cuisines. There must be diversity in our understanding of diversity as well. Sexuality is a spectrum, and just like being left-handed is not a “phase” or a “disorder,” neither is homosexuality or gender fluidity.

The flip side of celebrating diversity is inclusion. It is the only way to expel the feeling of otherness; it is the path from ‘them’ to ‘us.’ In the spirit of inclusion, which is one of our core values of IIM Udaipur, the Institute had the pleasure of hosting Ms. Naaz Joshi, Miss World Diversity, for a Leadership Talk. It was an opportunity for our community to get an account of tribulations of a trailblazer of LGBTQ+ cause. A small step in providing the due representation, we hope it was a harbinger of a culture of speaking up and embracing empathy.

About the Author

Ayush Sharma is a management scholar at IIM Udaipur and wishes to make a career in Marketing. As a Student Representative in the Council of Student Affairs, he manages multiple portfolios, including ‘Health, Women & LGBTQIA+’ and ‘Clubs and Committees.’ He is a movie buff, Liverpool fan, and an avid reader of anything from old magazines to Gogol’s of the world and everything in between.