India must outlaw conversion therapy

GS 1 – Salient features of Indian Society, Diversity of India. Social empowerment.

GS 2 – Mechanisms, Laws, Institutions and Bodies constituted for the Protection and Betterment of these Vulnerable Sections.

Source : The Indian Express dated 10/06/2021

Context : On June 7, the Madras High Court explicitly called for an Indian ban on conversion therapy.
The court, in its ruling on S Sushma v Commissioner of Police, also demanded legal action against those who practise it.

What is conversion therapy?
  • It is an umbrella term for a diverse set of dangerous and discredited pseudo-scientific “treatments” aimed at changing a person’s sexual orientation or their gender identity.
  • These can range from counselling, medication, institutionalization and hormone injections to rare but extreme methods like electro-convulsive therapy and hormonal castration.
Historical background
  • Early 20th century – Sigmund Freud’s contemporaries were already pathologising homosexuality as a mental illness with a number of inhumane—often excessively cruel—methods deployed as “gay cures“.
  • 1952 – Mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing was forced to undergo chemical castration in the UK in 1952 for “gross indecency”, i.e. a homosexual relationship.
    • The man who played a crucial role in cracking Nazi Germany’s codes during World War II died two years later, apparently committing suicide.
  • 1969 – Stonewall riotsdemonstrations against police brutality that catalysed the gay liberation movement
    • This forced the American Psychiatric Association (APA) to remove homosexuality from the 1973 edition of the Diagnostics And Statistical Manual Of Mental Disorders (DSM)
    • But it took a few more decades of activism for the APA and other influential mental health institutions to categorically disavow “conversion therapy”.
In India
  • 1983 – The 1983 issue of the Indian Journal Of Psychiatry, the official publication of the Indian Psychiatric Society (IPS), includes a study of the “treatment” of six LGBTQ+ individuals conducted at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (Aiims), Delhi.
  • 2014- The IPS came out with its first “position statement on Homosexuality”, declaring that same-sex sexuality was not a psychiatric disorder and there was no evidence sexual orientation could be altered by treatment. 
  • 2018 –The IPS reiterated its stance in 2018, after the Supreme Court read down section 377 of the Indian Penal Code and decriminalized homosexuality.

Why should it be banned?

  • Health
    • Victims are subjected to various forms of physical and emotional abuse
    • A study by the UN’s independent expert on gender violence and discrimination found that a shocking 98 per cent of those who undergo such therapy experience lasting damage, including depression, anxiety, permanent physical harm and loss of faith.
  • Social
    • It entrenches the false belief that non-heterosexual orientations are somehow unnatural or immoral.
  • Constitutional/legal
    • Decriminalisation of section 377 – The Supreme Court in Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India  decriminalised consensual adult sex saying sexual orientation is natural and people have no control on it.
    • Conversion therapy also violates the rights to life, dignity and autonomy of personal choice under Article 21. 
  1.  Social and cultural attitudes to LGBTQ+ persons.
    • Ignorance and fear—of social censure, of the idea that their children may not get married or enjoy a decent quality of life.
    • Prevailing notion that being queer is an abnormality drives families to take drastic measures to “normalize” their children.
  2. Doctors and mental health professionals continue to offer such so-called treatment.
    • In 2015, Mail Today ran an expose of doctors and psychiatrists who claimed to “cure” homosexuality through medication, hormone replacement therapy, even electric shocks.
  3. Lack of a special legislative action
    • Current legislation, such as the Mental Healthcare Act, does not provide adequate protection against conversion therapy, since although the act bans medical treatment without consent, victims may consent to conversion therapy when administered by medical professionals
    • In addition, a person’s sexuality does not categorise them as mentally ill, making the act inadequate for protecting the rights of LGBTQIA+ people.
Way forward
  • The Supreme Court’s judgement in the case of Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India  discouraged “conversion therapy”,
  • In the National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India (Nalsa) case, the court declared that nobody could be forced to undergo “any form of medical or psychological treatment…based on sexual orientation and gender identity”.
  • Need of the hour – a specific law banning “conversion therapy“.
  • Other notable initiatives
    • In Kerala, LGBTQ+ community organization Queerala has started putting together a list of doctors and healthcare centres that practise “conversion therapy”, based on information from members of the community. The initiative hopes to use the list to lobby with state medical authorities to crack down on these practitioners.
    • Alongside legal efforts, activists and organizations are working to sensitize mental health professionals to the needs of LGBTQ+ patients.
      • Eg: The Mariwala Health Initiative, offers a certificate course in queer affirmative counselling practice for mental health professionals.
  • Update medical curricula
    • Comprehensive changes are made to medical education curricula that still stigmatize LGBTQ+ identities.
  • Global examples
    • State and national-level laws against the practice have already been passed in several countries, including Germany, Canada, Malta, Australia, and the United States.

Associated topic : Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019

Various provisions of the Bill

  • Defining Transperson
    • The Bill defines a transgender person as one whose gender does not match the gender assigned at birth.
    • It includes trans-men and trans-women, persons with intersex variations, gender-queers, and persons with socio-cultural identities, such as kinnar and hijra.
  • Prohibition against discrimination
    • It prohibits the discrimination against a transgender person, including denial of service or unfair treatment in relation to education, employment, healthcare, access to, or enjoyment of goods, facilities, opportunities available to the public.
    • Every transgender person shall have a right to reside and be included in his household.
    • No government or private entity can discriminate against a transgender person in employment matters, including recruitment, and promotion.
  • HRD measures
    • A transgender person may make an application to the District Magistrate for a certificate of identity, indicating the gender as ‘transgender’.
    • Educational institutions funded or recognised by the relevant government shall provide inclusive facilities for transgender persons, without discrimination.
    • The government must provide health facilities to transgender persons including separate HIV surveillance centres, and sex reassignment surgeries.
  • Grievances redressal
    • The National Council for Transgender persons (NCT) chaired by Union Minister for Social Justice, will advise the central government as well as monitor the impact of policies with respect to transgender persons.
    • It will also redress the grievances of transgender persons.
  • Legal Protection
    • The Bill imposes penalties for the offences against transgender persons like bonded labour, denial of use of public places, removal from household & village and physical, sexual, verbal, emotional or economic abuse.

There can be no doubt that conversion therapy, in which victims are subjected to various forms of physical and emotional abuse , is deeply harmful. 
Outlawing the practice in India would legally prevent the forced administration of medication and the physical and mental abuse that characterises conversion therapy. Fewer LGBTQIA+ people will be subjected to pain and anguish merely for being who they are.

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