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Shock Treatment, Black Magic, Violence: Ban Conversion Therapy on LGBTQIA+ Community

Despite the decriminalisation of homosexuality and the landmark NALSA verdict, conversion therapies are still widely carried out on members of the LGBTQIA+ community. We speak to victims who narrate shocking stories of this most dehumanising and abominable practice.

By Pragynesh
New Update

LGBTQIA+ Community Conversion therapy | Representative image | Photo courtesy: Special arrangement

“I am a transwoman, but I was assigned male at birth. I come from a conservative family. When I told my family about my sexual orientation, they couldn’t understand how a guy could feel like a girl, and they wanted me ‘fixed’ as if something was wrong with me,” says Jane Kaushik, a transwoman teacher from Delhi.

Sandian Khushary, President of Mobbera Foundation speaks to The Probe’s Pragynesh on conversion therapy

The term ‘fixing’ is often used in medical circles to carry out conversion therapies on members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Some call this ‘reparative therapy’ or ‘gay cure therapy’. The words ‘cure’ and ‘repair’ are often used during conversations by medical practitioners with parents who visit them to get their children ‘corrected’. Though medical science has rejected this abominable practice stating it is dangerously discriminatory, it is still widely practised in many parts of our country.

In Jane’s case, she was taken to an occultist, and he declared that she had a disease. But without flinching an eyelid, the occultist told Jain’s father that there was a ‘cure’. “As I was educated, aware and sensitive about my gender identity, I screamed at the ‘tantrik’ and left the place. I wondered how he could say that being trans was a disease. He was neither educated nor had the scientific evidence to back his claims. He did not just say it was a disease, but he also said he had a cure for it. That completely shocked me."

Jane Kaushik - Transwoman Jane Kaushik, transwoman teacher from Delhi | Picture courtesy: Special arrangement

In the course of this story, we spoke to many victims of conversion therapy. This abhorrent practice has existed for ages, but the disturbing reality is that even today, many small and big hospitals, clinics and nursing homes across India are indulging in illegal conversion therapies and subjecting victims to immense physical and mental cruelty. The range of treatment varies from mild, moderate to extreme therapies. While some people are subjected to counselling and prayer therapies, others are made to undergo shock treatments and exorcism, and many are beaten to a pulp so that they are fearful of their innate gender orientation.

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“I have been working for the community for the last eight years. We have received many cases in the past. But the difference between old and new cases is that it was not practised in major nursing homes on a big scale in the past, but that is not the case now. Having said that, numerous small clinics and nursing homes still practice these illegal conversion therapies widely. Two months back, we got a case of a lesbian couple where one of the individuals told us that her partner’s parents were forcing her to go for conversion therapy. We later understood that the partner was forcibly married to a man, and when the husband got to know that she was a lesbian, he subjected her to domestic violence for many months; then they spiked her drink, and she was taken to a hospital for conversion therapy,” says Sandian Khushary, President of Mobbera Foundation. The foundation focuses on LGBTQIA+ rights, racism, body shaming and discrimination.

Sandian adds, “As soon as we received the case, we contacted the hospital and demanded answers. But the hospital management told us that the patient was mentally ill. We wanted the girl to meet her partner. Even that was not allowed. That day was a Saturday. The courts were closed. So, we immediately decided to go to the police station, but by then, the conversion therapy had already begun. When the SHO called the hospital, the authorities told the SHO that this was a lesbian case, and then the SHO replied, saying, oh, this is a lesbian case, and he just hung up the call. Then the SHO started harassing us. He used homophobic language against us. He misbehaved not just with us but also with the lesbian partner of the victim”.

These therapies are practised in India despite the Supreme Court’s NALSA judgment of 2014 that led to the recognition of transgender persons as the third gender and affirmed that the fundamental rights granted under the constitution would be equally applicable to the community members. It also gave them the right to self-identify their gender as male, female or the third gender. These therapies are conducted even after Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) was repealed, and homosexuality was decriminalised in India in 2018.

Gender Violence - The Probe Gender violence | Representative image | Photo courtesy: Special arrangement

Sandian talks about another case of a 14 year old boy who was subjected to shock treatment after he told his family that he was gay. “They took him to a psychiatric facility, and he was continuously subjected to shock treatment, and he was also given hormonal tablets so that his sexual orientation could be switched from a homosexual person to a heterosexual individual. When I met this boy, I found that he looked too old for his age, and he almost looked like a grown-up man, and that’s when he told me this entire incident about shock treatments and hormonal tablets”.

These therapies are so common and widely practised that Sandian tells us, “My partner is also a victim of this shameful practice”. When Sandy’s partner told his family about his gender identity, he was taken to a hospital for conversion therapy. “I still remember. He was dragged to a hospital in Hyderabad. The hospital authorities asked the family to get my partner admitted for two to three days, and they also charged a fee of 1.5 lakh rupees. They said my partner would be given such strong treatment that he would never return to his ‘homosexual ways’. But my partner ran away from the hospital because he was courageous. What about people who don’t dare to stand up to this kind of gender and sexual violence?” asks Sandy.

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In 2021, in a significant ruling, Justice N Anand Venkatesh of the Madras High Court issued a series of interim guidelines and urged the authorities to ensure that action is taken against professionals involving themselves in any form or method of conversion therapy. But India is yet to formulate a stringent law banning conversion therapy, although the National Medical Council (NMC), the apex regulatory body of medical professionals in India, wrote to all State Medical Councils directing them to ban conversion therapies. Calling it ‘professional misconduct’, The NMC asked the state bodies to take disciplinary action against medical practitioners who indulge in such dehumanising practices.

Ankan Biswas, a transman and the first transgender advocate to be empanelled with the West Bengal Legal Services Authority states that he has come face to face with many clients who underwent such corrective therapies against their will. “These clients were from suburban areas. They were subjected to corrective therapies after they came out in the open about their sexual orientation.”

Ankan adds, “What identity I choose is part of my innate human nature and a matter of my right. No one can force me to change my gender identity, which is utterly degrading and a violation of my human rights, but unfortunately, we still don’t have a national law or guidelines regulating a ban on such violative corrective therapies”.

In 2020, the United Nations (UN) called for a global ban on conversion therapies. Calling for the ban, the UN told the Human Rights Council that practices such as conversion therapy inflict severe pain and suffering on LGBT persons, often resulting in long-lasting psychological and physical damage.

Speaking to The Probe, Dinesh Walunj, a Project Manager with The Hamsafar Trust, states: “We have often come across cases wherein victims narrate incidents where the doctors claim to their family that they can cure homosexuality with treatment and that it is a disease. There are also cases where some victims are taken to occultists, where black magic is performed on them to ‘fix’ their sexual identity. The challenge with conversion therapy is that there is no legal framework to act against the parents”.

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Dinesh has some solutions for victims. “Within our existing framework, certain things can still be done. For instance, we can approach the National Medical Council, report the doctor, and get the doctor’s licence cancelled. As a matter of fact, the Indian Psychiatric Society has been very vocal about this. The other method is to file a police complaint. But it’s not always practical as there are no provisions in the IPC to directly deal with conversion therapies though the police can press various other charges.”

Zoya Lobo - Trans photojournalist - The Probe Zoya Lobo, trans photojournalist from Mumbai | Picture courtesy: Special arrangement

Zoya Lobo, India’s first trans photojournalist, says we must change the narrative around conversion therapy and call it acceptance therapy. “The parents need to be counselled when the children come out in the open and affirm their gender identities. We should call this process acceptance therapy. Many trans people are harassed to such an extent that they commit suicide. When I came out in the open about my gender identity, my sister refused to believe me, and she asked me to stop ‘faking’ it. She even threatened me and said she would file a police complaint against me. I still remember a retired army officer who knew me from childhood literally interrogated me after my transformation into a trans community member. He said I was doing a natak (drama). Our constitution clearly says that we all have the right to live and live with dignity. I want society to just let us be. Live and let live.”

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