We cannot support oppression

Published on Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Why should it be different for individuals of a sexual minority?

Soon after the spreading out of the news, that Bangladesh has sided with twelve other member states, most of which are considered as oppressive regimes including Donald Trump's America, to vote against a UN resolution condemning capital punishment for homosexuality, I have received a call from Peter Knibbs, a human rights activist friend of mine.

Peter was among one of those persons, who just a few weeks ago were overwhelmingly showering Bangladesh and our Prime minister Seikh Hasina with compliments and gratitude for the compassion and leadership during Rohingya crisis.

Apparently, for valid reasons, not this time. But, however more than disgraced, he was disappointed and in disbelief, that how quick Bangladesh was to ruin her hard-earned reputation of the lighthouse of humanity to an oppressor.

He had a very rational point. What Bangladesh have gained by appearing in every major media of the world to be levelled as a country supportive to oppression?

Surely, Bangladesh could have done better, given that the option of refraining from voting is always there open for consideration when international diplomacy takes a critical turn.

But being a typical Bangladeshi heterosexual man, my immediate defensive response was to point out, that in regards to policy and law Bangladesh government is obliged to take into consideration the mindset of the citizens it governs.

And if it is to be believed, that policies are the reflections of the perceptions of the stakeholders of the society, governments cannot just ignore the overwhelming opinion of the people they are elected by.

Firm belief on the universal code of human rights has long been hailed by both of us as the ground of our mutual admiration, therefore, we both knew that I was wrong. And he was prompt in pointing out, that I was speaking nonsense.

A person who really believed in the concept of fairness in accordance with the universally accepted code of human rights, that equality of all human being regardless of how they live or whom they proclaim love to, in the modern era is a universally accepted human rights practice, would certainly believe that even such policies are widely backed by the community, they are wrong in terms of fairness.

While accepting, the opinion of a society is indeed a crucial consideration, and at a time difficult to ignore in democracy, it was never to be the only consideration, especially when it involves human life and an individual's right to live with dignity.

Because policies and provisions are not only shaped by the values of the society but also in many cases help to shape a society for good.

The negative image of Bangladesh, that was portrayed in international media since this voting has taken place rings an alarm bell, that it is high time for Bangladesh to reconsider its policy position and legal provisions, by which I mean section 377 of the penal code, in relation to the rights of the homosexual community of the country, that, whether we accept or not, exists.

Being a responsible member of the global community, it is in our interest to understand, that legal protection of rights and equality cannot rest at the whim of populist sentiment.

India, a country that has identical legal provisions, culture, and society as ours can serve as an example for us in this regard.

In the landmark verdict in relation to LGBT rights, the Supreme court of India directed, "Discrimination against an individual on the basis of sexual orientation is deeply offensive to the dignity and self-worth of the individual. Equality demands that the sexual orientation of each individual in society must be protected on an even platform."

This is about modernization and becoming a more accepting society.

Will a democratic society, supported by a constitution which enshrines all the virtues of equality, fairness, and progression such as ours ever think of policies and laws that discriminate among people on the basis of minor in number, whether it is gender, race, or religion?

Then why should it be different for individuals of a sexual minority?

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