If you think it’s disgusting, too bad for you.

Harish showed me an interesting article. It talks about 10 food items from around the world which are considered delicacies in their respective areas, but which would be perceived as highly disgusting by people from almost everywhere else, even the most battle-hardened non-vegetarians. In that list are things like maggot-infested cheese and bat-paste, enough to make the toughest of us squeamish.

In other news, the highest court of the country spent the last month discussing whether Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (the word Penal there never fails to amuse me, and it’s particularly funny when you are discussing 377), which criminalizes unnatural sexual activity, is constitutional, or, as I like to put it, “whether it makes any fucking sense”.

Many people seem to feel that Section 377 is about homosexuality, but it’s not. While one obvious implication of the law is indeed that gay people are harassed by the police (not that you need to be gay to be harassed by the police; being a rape victim works just as well if not better), the law basically criminalizes instances of consensual sex based on whether they are against the ‘order of nature’. Countless people have pointed out that several ‘acceptable’ heterosexual activities can also technically be penalized under the ambit of 377, so wide and ‘general’ is this Neanderthal law. Here, I assume that most people don’t seem to mind anything as long as it goes on between a man and a woman behind closed doors after they have delivered the stipulated number of babies for the rest of the family to busy itself with.

And how do you define ‘natural’ anyway? Is wearing clothes natural? A lot of animal species have sex forcibly. Does that make rape natural and correct? Male members of many species often fight to death to win a female. Does that make killing for love natural? The black widow spider eats its mate after sex. Would Mr. P P Malhotra, the Assistant Solicitor General who passionately spoke about nature, advise that human females follow suit? The law of nature dictates that inferior beings be removed from the gene pool in the most brutal demonstration of winner-takes-it-all. Does that mean that we shouldn’t make efforts to make lives easier for disabled people because nature doesn’t seem to care much about them?

The hopelessness of using nature as an argument to justify or refute anything is so absolute that it is surprising that ‘naturality’ can manage to eat up so much of the Supreme Court’s time. The whole concept of civilization, of fundamental rights and of a legal system that you use to enforce these rights is quite against the fierce, blood-thirsty and no-holds-barred show that nature provides to us.

This is a common motif across several debates across the world which span a wide range of issues, from sexual activities to dietary preferences (sometimes, both at the same time). For instance, most people simply ‘inherit’ their dietary restrictions ([non]vegetarianism), but the level of hypocrisy I often see in the whole affair is staggering. People who would eat hens, turkeys, goats, sheep, fish, lobsters and what not without any qualms might criticize someone for eating dogs or insects. Or, considering that the majority of non-vegetarians don’t mind animals being killed to be served on their plate, it is funny that the same people suddenly find bestiality ‘wrong’. I find bestiality disgusting too, but, as a non-vegetarian, I don’t think I have any moral authority to consider it ‘wrong’, and worse, punishable, if someone indulges in sexual activity with a goat, when I wouldn’t bat an eyelid about the same goat being killed and placed on my plate to eat. What is it that makes it perfectly acceptable to brutally kill a goat but makes it wrong and illegal to put your dick in it (or its dick in you, or both—I have no frikking clue what people do with the goats they love, OK?) Whatever happens to the issue of ‘consent’ when you put the goat’s throat under the cleaver? Last I checked, the law meted out harsher punishments for first-degree murders than it did for rape. If I did what most like to do and ported this analogy onto animals, shouldn’t it be much more heinous to kill an animal than to have sex with it?

But these issues are not likely to be solved in the near future. And that’s because we refuse to THINK. The bottom line is that most of us haven’t given and will never give a lot of thought to why we do what we do before holding on dearly to things that we love to hold on dearly to. We inherit arbitrarily drawn lines and then defend them throughout our lives instead of stepping back and questioning them with any degree of logic or reason.

Whether the experimentation be on your plate or in your bedroom, the underlying problem is the same—we assume that just because something sounds or feels disgusting to us means that it should be stopped. This was probably a tenable position a century ago when lack of adequate transport and communication facilities meant that most people were born and raised in more or less geographically (and hence, ideologically) isolated areas and when it was difficult to imagine that there could exist large-scale differences in ideas and lifestyles. It would make sense in such a society to consider deviant behaviour as wrong and punishable. But it is surprising that we continue to be a largely intolerant society even when things such as the internet and other forms of mass-media, coupled with easy and relatively cheap international transport, have brought people and ideas closer than ever before.

And this is something we imbibe right from our childhood. Anyone who’s been through the school system has usually either been on the perpetrating or receiving end of cruel ridicule or bullying just because someone was slightly deviant from established social norms. The social bonding that having these norms provides and the greater social bonding that comes from having a common enemy seem to be strong enough to make heartless beasts out of even pre-teen children.

I am not losing hope, though. The world does seem to be moving towards greater tolerance and understanding, and it is of course heartening to see that India is a part of this change too, even if a bit reluctantly. I don’t consider myself to be a champion of liberalism, but I just wish people (including me) sit back and think before trying to victimize people who’re minding their own business.

(P.S. This post is not about the individual debates that I have mentioned, but about a general trend. I am bored to death of the Veg/NV debate, and this post isn’t about that, so please do not write comments about why one should or shouldn’t eat animals.)

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  • Nitant Vaidya

    Excellent post. I was trying to get precisely this point across to a friend I was speaking to, just last night. Thank you!

  • Mehul Jain

    who’re is an interesting contraction :P
    My theory is that any order gets to a point of boredom/frustration and people try to get out of it. There is evolution, and possibly revolution. Neanderthals would have felt a need for a social order, people under monarch rule felt a need for democracy, socialist societies wanted capitalism. I am being inaccurate but the point is that currently we feel  a need for tolerance to disturb the social order. good or bad is not the right question here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sanyam.suhas Sanyam Suhas

    I would like to read that article !! Having eaten snails :P I am curious !!

  • Nivvedan Senthamilselvan

    I don’t think that the problem with bestiality is the “consent of the goat” or rights of the goat or whatever. I don’t think anyone gives a shit about the goat here (Sorry, animal rights folk!).

    It’s just criminal if you go against what I think is disgusting! The same would be the case with homosexuality or any other damn thing that 377 bans.

  • Guest

    Laws are made by majority (or by the majority with power). The majority finds bestiality disgusting and hence it is criminalized. Majority likes non-vegetarian food hence it is not against the law.

    Technically, of course, one can argue that killing animals and eating is worse than rape (if you want to call it that).

    As to people, deviating from social norms, being discriminated; that’s  just the law of nature and can be found even in the primitive animals. Unless this deviation establishes in a considerable amount of population and they are able to voice their opinion, they are likely to be discriminated against.

    • Anonymous

      My entire post is a reply to your comment.

      • Guest

        Your post says ”
        we assume that just because something sounds or feels disgusting to us means that it should be stopped ” as if it is a problem.
        I’m of the opinion that its not and majority rules (to simply put it)

    • Anonymous

      Well, that’s my whole point. ‘Majority is right’ made sense when the majority had no idea that there are other ways to be right because the majority hadn’t seen what the rest of the world does. 

      Now, it is clear that personal tastes should not trump individual freedom (if you think otherwise, I can’t help it and I have nothing further to offer). It makes sense to have the concept of human rights which we consider as ‘important’ and then make laws which seek to protect those rights. If two people are having consensual sex and are not harming anyone, there should be no ‘need’ to outlaw it. 

      That is what I hope the world will slowly understand. It is clear that it doesn’t understand this as of today.

      • Guest

        ” The world doesn’t understand it today ” …that was my point. So yea I agree with your above reply. Even though I may find things like consensual cannibalism disgusting, I too think there should be no ‘need’ to outlaw it.

  • Sidd Sarangdhar

    Good post. May be you can write about more such issues (pick them up from Boston Legal :P )

  • Ankur Tulsian

    I am all for liberalism and personal autonomy. However, I am not sure if that can be unrestricted. As individuals, we hardly understand the macro effect of our actions. I mean, you can always argue that what happens in the bedroom is private. But I am not so sure. The very fact that the society has a ‘sense’ of the kind of things that happen behind close doors means something. Ideas slowly gain popularity and become norms. Hence, I think some caution is justified.

    Also, another thing being that the consent is questionable a lot of times, because we don’t know enough and don’t understand enough! Should a  State not want to intervene in such situations?

    I don’t think the question is so much about choosing between liberalism or conservatism. We need a balance. And, the balance will not be perfect. But since India is willing to discuss sexuality in court is testimony enough for striving towards a balance. No one said nation-building is an easy job.

    Sorry for a long comment.

    • Sumakar

      Why should a state intervene in something consensual that is happening in a person’s bedroom in his own private space. The focus instead should be on trying to create an environment where people have enough faith in the system to report anything non-consensual. That is the balance that needs to be brought in.
      If you care enough about a person and that person has some weird fantasies, it should be upto you to decide whether you want to participate. This decision should be yours and not taken for you by your government.

  • Harshvardhan

    Well Antariksh, how natural is it for an animal to indulge in sexual activities with the same sex member of that specie. 

    • Roshan

      Seriously? In your sense of the word natural, there are many species in which homosexual relationships have been recorded and are known to be a commonplace. I’m not going to write down instances here, help yourself with google. But the case of Bonobos or pygmy chimpanzees is worth mentioning. Sexual relationships play a primary role in Bonobo societies and it is very interesting that the frequency of homosexual relationships easily dominates that of heterosexual relationships. And, one doesn’t have to either derive/deny moral rules from observations of animal behavior just blindly. We have to get over the “natural” argument to see things in a better perspective.

  • Pranjal

    Jisko jiske saath rehna/jeena hai, bhai, rehne/jeene do. Khaana peena apan idhar discuss nahi karenge.

    On the other hand, to ask someone to shut up because he/she thinks something is disgusting is wrong. Everyone has right to express his/her opinion.

    • Anonymous

      The title was in jest. I have not curbed any freedom of speech in the article. Everyone is free to speak what they want, but not free to outlaw what they don’t want. Peace.

      • Pranjal

        Awesome word  : jest. Was always looking for something like this! :D

        • http://www.facebook.com/antariksh.bothale Antariksh Bothale

          :D

  • Anonymous

    I believe that the moral turpitude regarding bestiality stems from the same moral concerns associated with rape – lack of consent. 

    As for killing of animals, the issue of consent doesn’t come up at all. However, it is fascinating how humans tend to think of humans as an elevated class, whose lives are collectively more precious than that of the animals they kill. Societies which extend such concern to animals are protective of animals and therefore, vegetarian, I presume. And societies which do not have a problem with killing humans for the same purposes they kill animals are cannibals. Such contradictions are always the source of one society considering itself to be superior to the others, be it on the basis of culture or food habits or even sexual preferences. 

    Those in power dictate what is right. Consider the case of democracy around the world, for example.

  • Jyotim Maheshwari

    well.. to correct you .. it is Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code and not Article 377… Articles are found in the Constitution of India, 1950.
    Secondly, while Section 377 of the IPC deals with the offence of unnatural sex, Section 376  addresses the question of rape. So, a lot of this comparison is irrelevant , given that two separate sections of the IPC deal with these two distinct offences..

    There is also a recent judgment by Additional Sessions Judge Kamini Lau addressing how Sec. 377 is different from Sec. 376.

    • http://www.facebook.com/antariksh.bothale Antariksh Bothale

      Thanks, I have corrected it now.

      As far 376, I never said that 377 has anything to do with rape. Which part of the post are you referring to?

    • Also A. (B.A., LL.B)

      A bare perusal of the relevant portion clearly indicates that the author wishes to elaborate upon S. 377 as covering many unnatural sexual activities, including activities carried out by heterosexuals. 

      Then, the author, in tangential black humour (which is clearly lost upon the above reader and therefore I deign to explain in many words), notes that the police harass a variety of people, thereby bringing homosexuals and rape victims within the inclusive definition of ‘people harassed by police’. 

      [Just as a measure of abundant caution, imho, I do not think the author intended to include rape among 'acceptable heterosexual activities'  where he uses the phrase.]

      The author then moves on to an elaborate discussion on what constitutes natural behaviour. While elaborating upon the hopelessness of using nature as an argument, the author draws analogies between the animal and human world and contemplates on whether the practice of forced sex among animals makes rape a natural and correct practice among humans.  

      Now that we have established the logical flow and form of the post and the two distinct, yet related discussions on Section 377 and the argument on whether nature is to be taken as a benchmark, pray, how is the fact that it is Section 376 that addresses the question of rape and not Section 377, of any importance here?

      • Troll Max

        In other words, ‘Whether it makes any sense?’ ;)

  • http://www.facebook.com/singhvishwesh Vishwesh Singh

    Great take on the topic.

    But I think a deeper look into why some activities are restricted is required. In every society laws are molded very much in agreement with social norms, which have evolved over the ages, for good reasons which may or may not be redundant now (some may seem redundant, especially int the short term, but that’s why they have evolved over centuries, where perhaps people could observe effects (social/physiological/psychological/moral) in the long term, may not be true in this case). Though that is no reason to not question them, but as I said a deeper analysis may be required to actually give out a verdict.

    Many laws are formed to protect people from ‘themselves’, so even if you might think what happens behind closed doors between consenting adults is not anybody’s business, a line may have to be drawn or may not, but I doubt if it’s such a straight answer as we think.

    As for the term ‘unnatural’, that is open to interpretation by the juror I suppose? It’s not an easy distinction between natural and unnatural, natural simply does not mean that if there is any instance present in nature outside humans it will be termed as ‘natural’ and otherwise ‘unnatural’, I feel certain that it wasn’t the intended meaning that one look at the animal world.

    • http://www.facebook.com/antariksh.bothale Antariksh Bothale

      “In every society laws are molded very much in agreement with social norms, which have evolved over the ages, for good reasons which may or may not be redundant now.”

      That’s right. I don’t blame society for evolving with these norms. But the truth is that our understanding of the world around us, and of ourselves, and our ability to deal with these things, is far far far advanced compared to the ad-hoc understanding that led to these norms. It should also be pointed out that not only norms but even human evolution itself is far behind.

      ‘Protecting people from themselves’ is _sometimes_ a reasonable point, but homosexuality is not some emerging thing. I mean, it’s well established that there is no real harm in being homosexual, it’s been declassified as a disease decades ago, and anti-homosexuality law only claim to prevent things from happening that can happen in heterosexual sex/relationships too.

      The truth is, it’s nothing but bigotry. It’s not logic or rational thought. Homophobia is just an archaic gut instinct. And it needs to be gotten rid of.

  • sujeetgholap

    “It would make sense in such a society to consider deviant behaviour as wrong and punishable.” Hmm… I don’t really see, how, even in this case, it would make sense.

    • http://www.antarikshbothale.com/ Antariksh Bothale

      The idea is that it is often difficult to calibrate your sense of morality when you have no exposure or education.

  • Rahul Gandhi

    Such profound thoughts!!!n I thought apathy existed in the lowest strata of society (criminals)!!! U r a part of the revered race called IITians!!!
    Even I’m in favour of homosexual rights, but atleast I have better arguments to support my viewpiont. I’m sorry for this comment. Delete it if you want. Just wanted to tell you that I found your article very disturbing.