Thursday, May 10, 2007

Will India open the door as globalized moral standards knock ?

The Telegraph of Calcutta, in its issue of May 7, reports

"..A 145-year-old law that bans sex “against the order of nature” has landed the foreign ministry in a quandary. The Canadian high commission has requested Delhi to clear diplomatic spouse privileges for two officials, a man and a woman, each married to a partner of the same sex. Gay marriages, allowed in Canada, are not legally valid in India............Foreign ministry sources said that as Indian law does not recognise same-sex marriages, the Canadian requests cannot be granted.."

It is interesting that Canada should have made this request of India - one must assume that the Canadian authorities would have been aware of the Indian legal position on this issue. The story seems to have been ignored by the Canadian media.

The full report can be read here

The issue goes beyond the posting of the diplomats concerned of course. It is fair to point out that same-sex unions have only been legalised in a handful of countries, and is far from the norm even in Canada's neighbour the United States. The two Canadian officials would probably find it difficult to receive full diplomatic accreditation in many countries.

The broader question is how India's tolerance of public behaviour will keep pace with global norms. Realisation is dawning that globalisation is not just about economic parity but an acceptable common code of behaviour that will straddle a wide range of cultures, morals and religious taboos across both the developed and developing regions.

Just a few days ago, there was the cause celebre of the Richard Gere- Shilpa Shetty kiss, as extensively reported by the world's media, including CNN

The Gere-Shetty Kiss story is far from over. The Jaipur Court's warrant against the offending couple is still in force, and a hearing has been set for May 26. Potentially the couple could be imprisoned under section 294 of the Indian Penal Code.

At least India apparently got through St. Valentine's Day 2007 without the sort of major trouble - destruction of McDonald's oulets, etc. - that reportedly took place in February 2006 !


Abir said...

I am writing from Kolkata. I think you mistakely equal "India's" morality and its laws. The decision to keep or repeal this old law will say nothing about the morality of ordinary indians, or even elite Indians (who will be directly affected and will make the decision).
Like in every other country, Indian society is divided on the issue of same-sex unions.

Anonymous said...

Why didn't the nice Canadians try this first with their brothers in the South? Why India?

Kaisar Ahmad said...

Yes, Abir, you do make an excellent point. There is a major distinction between public law and private morality. For example it is illegal to drive on the right in India and Britain, but you would get arrested for driving on the left in the USA. But surely it is not "immoral" to take either of those courses.

I certainly was not making a value judgement on the issues, but just pointing out that globalisation will inevitably bring India and other countries in contact with different value systems. All countries have to take their own position on some of these behaviourial questions such as same-sex union. India particularly has to tread a careful path, in view of its multi-faceted cultural values.

And Mr. Anonymous, I too did wonder why India was chosen by the Canadians. Perhapsthey were not the only country approached.

Abir said...

Kaisar, I get your point but why choose such an unimportant example such as driving? Why not think of one where morality is at issue?

Kaisar Ahmad said...

Abir, I chose an "unimportant" but obvious example because no one could disagree with that. "Using a cannon to kill a mosquito" as we say in Bengal. Of course, there are more important examples where morality is at odds with the law.

For example, in the Christian West, adultery is not a crime but is specifically prohibited in the Bible by the Ten Commandments which are reproduced on the walls of many law court buildings in the United States.

Some Middle Eastern countries have laws making it a crime to publicly practice religions other than the national faith, although I (and I think many others) would say that particular law offends civlised moral standards.

I am sure you too could quote many other "important" examples of a clash between public law and private morality.

Anonymous said...

I think there is a problem in suggesting that the support for same-sex union in canada represents a "globalized moral standard". Canada is certainly not the globe, it is one society. So the question is can Indian accept Canada's moral standards. Second, I can't really see what morality has to do with it. It is not about right or wrong, but about a certain kind of politics. It is about rights, one can say, about toleration of values that may be different from ours. The problem preciely is that all this gets bound up with morality, as if the question is whether same-sex unions are right or wrong.

Anonymous said...

On the issue of morality, social values and the laws of the land - the recent controversies in India around an art exhibition at Baroda's MS University and the subsequent arrest of a few students for obscene paintings and the court notices to well known artist MF Hussain are examples of the complexities within the Indian social system today. On one hand, we're singing the globalisation mantra and on the other we want to gag art and culture and impose extreme moralistic standards. Questions as absurd as: should artists do only painitings of women clad in salwaar kameez & duppatta or should we ban exhibitions of well-known foreign artists in India, come to mind. The issues which had led to one of India's best known artists MF Hussain leaving India in self-imposed exile, is around paintings of Hindu gods and goddesses. Goddess Kali, who is among the most popular deities in Bengal, is often depicted incorrectly (specially outside Bengal) when it comes to her attire. Isn't that an example of imposing artificial moral values and taking away from the power and primal forces of energy and nature that she represents for a large number of people?