Homosexuality not a Taboo in Jharkhand Tribe (India)

Well, here is some fine news, for a change, from the July 6, 2009 Hindustan Times, that is not full of oppression, homophobia, anti-gay sermons or discriminatory political statutes.

Turns out that “among the Ho tribe of Jharkhand (a state in Eastern India ) homosexuality has always been socially accepted. Homosexual men are called Kothi Panthis in the region. There is no shame attached to being one.”

And it’s obviously known around that these men folks get conjugal with each other to the point where a survey was done about their behavior. An NGO called Citizens Foundation studied a 20 km area and indeed found that Chaibasa town has a higher incidence of homosexual activity. (Compared to what other finding? I wonder if the donors to Citizens realize their funds are used to study the consensual sexual behavior of adult men, as if it were some kind of rare exotic phenomenon!)

The men—apparently not in the closet about their desires– are reported to have their own social network and meet in the evening at ten different gathering places to gossip and tell stories. Reportedly there are two couples who say they are married to their partners. (Now that would be an interesting story in itself. Who performed the ceremony? Was there a wedding? Were heterosexuals invited? And since is India, was a dowry given and from whom to whom?)

The Times story went on: “The numbers of Kothi Panthis has been constantly increasing. Some attribute this to the near total absence of women in and around the numerous mines in the area, where a large number of males are at work all day and night.”

But surprisingly, the same-sexers were not, as one might expect, all miners who were situationally gay because they lacked female access.

“Homosexuals here embrace all professions: some are farmers, some workers, some businessmen, some even government officials. If they are of the Ho tribe, they face no social censure.”

Of course, like any sexually active population there are medical problems in the form of disease: two Kothi Panthis have died of AIDS, while two others are known to have contracted the disease. Given the increasing numbers of this community as well the general poverty rate and low education among manual workers, issues such as safe sex are barely on the horizon of their awareness.

Citizens Foundation was called in last year to address this health issue and educate the men about the risks of unprotected sex and to intervene with treatment programs with assistance from Jharkhand State AIDS Control Society.

As the agency moved among the Ho tribe workers they noticed some unusual aspects of the homosexually inclined community.

Said one Citizens official, “most of them have developed relationships with their partners from their childhood… It’s tough convincing them to stop practicing homosexuality because their tribal society has no hassles accepting gay marriages. It has been happening amongst them since decades.”

Citizens encourages the men to come to monthly meetings to learn about health as well as financial matters and domestic conditions. “We even arrange bank loans for them to start business and lead dignified lives,” said a staff member.

Most of the Kothi Panthis did not know about the recent historic Delhi High Court ruling that struck down the old criminal laws against homosexuality, but one of them did hear about it and said, “now maybe at least, the police will not harass us.”

This is a remarkable ‘finding’ – a homophiliac culture where same-gender affectional behavior is a community norm. How is this possible, I wonder?

A bit of research reveals what I think are important contributing factors. First, over 90% of the Ho tribe subscribe to tribal ‘other’ religions than the mainstream ones, which means these people have been blessedly removed from the homophobic dogma of Christianity.

Second, the fact that most of the Kothi Panthis were unaware of the recent Delhi court decision (which was broadcast worldwide) suggests the remoteness and disinterest in contact with the larger Indian society, which has been polluted by 150 years of antique British laws that criminalized “unnatural’ behavior.
Third, the lower labor class in some cultures tends to be more tolerant of differences within their ranks; they don’t have status reputations to uphold as there is a feeling of ‘we’re all the same’ in their impoverished condition. Few if any feel better than their neighbors.

Fourth, of course, is that any number of the Kothi Panthis are indeed homosexually inclined, including bisexual males who, lacking other choices, shift comfortably toward same-sex affiliations both for social and sexual reasons.

Whatever the real ‘cause’’ of this Kothi culture’s easiness with variant sexuality, a veritable truth is that homophobia is clearly the ‘unnatural’ aspect of human sexuality, which, when not imposed on a society, is comfortably absent from their norms and allows truthful expression of self. It allows people to be themselves within a wide range of affection styles. No bible-thumpers need apply for jobs in Chaibasa town.
It makes me ponder how many native tribes in Asia, Africa and other continents could today be free of the disease of homophobia had not the European armies and god-fearing Christian missionaries not desecrated these tribal religions and societies.

At what cost does ‘civilization’ march allegedly forward?

by Richard Ammon, GlobalGayz.com