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Making a Liberat Stand

Scholars believe the demonisation of LGBT people is ‘un-Hindu’
Published: 
Wednesday, August 26, 2015
At the LGBT seminar by CIS, PhD student Krystal Ghisyawan pointed to Ardhanarishvara, a composite androgynous form of the Hindu god Shiva and his consort Parvati to show that within the Hindu faith, there is acceptance of the fluidity of gender roles.

While many politicians and the main political parties have decided to shy away from LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) issues, the Centre for Indic Studies (CIS) is dealing with the issues head-on. 

 At a conference held at the Divali Nagar recently the position on LGBT issues based on Hindu teachings were discussed.

Dr Arvind Singh’s presentation was titled LGBTH (where the ‘H’ stood for Hindu). Singh is the founding director of the CIS. He is also a lecturer at UWI in Electrical and Computer Engineering who has studied Sanskrit for over ten years. Singh, in his presentation highlighted the Hindu shruti-smriti paradigm of knowledge in which spirituality in the quest for the transcendent truth is not concerned in the least with gender and sexuality. 

“More importantly perhaps, it demands that societal laws be continuously updated with the state of knowledge in the world, to move toward a free and fearless society where people enjoy the maximum amount of control over their lives. So even though Hindu society, like all others, has seen many terrible biases through history, there is a more important meta-tradition of rootedness in the eternal with continuous renewal of the relative. This stands in stark contrast to popular belief of Abrahamic faiths that at times seem to follow a more binary rule based programme for getting into heaven or hell,” he said.

Singh drew from scriptural sources to show that in Hinduism, sexuality was seen as fluid and natural in all its manifestations. Consequently, he noted, the demonisation of and legislation against the LGBT community is simply wrong. 

“The continued denial of rights is categorically un-Hindu” he said. 

“Therefore to respond to the mass ‘religious’ outrage about immorality: It is the legislating against people’s fundamental nature and ways of being that is immoral and has no place in society. The continued demonisation of the LGBT community and their disenfranchisement in law is squarely against the Hindu spiritual tradition.” 

Krystal Ghisyawan, the holder of a double honours BA in Anthropology and South Asian Studies spoke about the real challenges same-sex loving women face trying to reconcile their sexuality with their religion and family life. Ghisyawan has recently returned from a fellowship at the University of Toronto and is currently reading for her PhD in Sociology at UWI. Her research focuses on same-sex loving women in Trinidad and their space-making practices within the state, families, religion and discourse. She also studies gender and sexuality in Hinduism. 

Ghisyawan said during her presentation: “They (same-sex loving women) often turn to a more personal, individual, less institutional form of the faith as they pull from several Hindu stories continuing to find sources of strength as well as inspiration in images of Aradhanarishvara, where both male and female properties form part of the whole, of Krishna’s play where he dresses and behaves as Radha, in Vishnu’s incarnation as Mohini. 

“Though mainstream Hinduism espoused by many pundits seems at odds with their sexual identity, the equally-valid Hinduism they find strength in, through which they negotiate, is supportive.” 

Also displaying her work at the conference was Shalini Seereeram—an artist who has been creating vibrant, undulating portraits of women and men for the past 14 years of her career.  She has been consistently illustrating for magazine spreads such as Caribbean Airlines In-flight Magazine and has been featured in Caribbean Belle, Maco Caribbean Living and more.  

She is a featured artist in The House of Angostura Gallery Book 2014, the National Museum and Art Gallery Book 2011 and has been awarded the ASTT—Art Society of T&T Prize for painting in 2000. Her work has been exhibited internationally in the USA and London.

Seereeram’s latest exhibition is titled Intimate Moments, which focuses on the intimacies between women. She chose to focus on the sensual, rather than sexual nature of female relationships where love is a spiritual as well as physical experience. She spoke of the cultural propensity of Indians to bottle up, suppress and not speak of hurt, pain, violence and how damaging this can be. 

“Through acceptance of that hurt and pain, one can transcend it and it can be a creative process” she said. She also spoke about the very real risk she was taking putting her exhibition out but the need to speak about her own experiences as a woman. She saw the work as necessary, saying “if it can touch just one young person’s life so they feel less ashamed, less afraid, more secure in being themselves then I would consider the work a success.”

More info

The Centre for Indic Studies (CIS) is a fledgling, non-profit organisation dedicated to developing a decentralised knowledge network to propagate traditional knowledge systems of India in the fields of Language, Philosophy and the Arts. The organisation has several initiatives including: Beginner and Advanced Level Sanskrit classes; Inndovation: an Innovation in Culture drive and most recently Social Issues in Hinduism. Check out the Centre for Indic studies on Facebook.​

 

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