CONVERSION THERAPY

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INTRODUCTION

Even though section 377 has been decriminalized by the Supreme court in Navtej Singh Johar[1] judgement in 2018, time and time again there have been instances where queer people are made to undergo conversion therapy so that they can be cured of their “mental illness”. One recent case in the news was of Anjana Hareesh[2], 21yr old girl who identified herself as bisexual was forced without her consent to go for conversion therapy by her own family and was put on heavy medications by the mental health professionals. She later developed depression and unable to cope with it, committed suicide. Conversion therapy has been linked to depression, anxiety and suicidal tendencies. Therefore, it is highly imperative to address such practices.

MEANING OF CONVERSION THERAPY

 Conversion therapy or CT means interventions which attempt to change an individual’s sexual orientation; however, latest research[3][4][5] shows that gender identity and gender expression can be included in the definition of conversion therapy. Therefore, we can outline CT as the forcible process of attempting to change, suppress, or divert one’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.[6]

CONVERSION THERAPY IN INDIA

In 2014, the India Psychiatric Society reiterated its position on homosexuality and expressed that homosexuality is not a psychiatric disorder. It stated that homosexuality just like heterosexuality and bisexuality is a normal variant of human sexuality and that there is no scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be modified by any treatment and there is a high risk that self-esteem of the person[7] will be lowered.

  • Conversion therapy is practiced because homosexuality or different sexual orientation than heterosexual orientation is considered to be a kind of disease and hence, it needs to be converted or changed to that sexual orientation which is considered normal in the eyes of the society. They believe that they need counselling to regain their presumed heterosexual, cisgender identities.
  • Some people consider homosexuality as a sin because they think their religions said so. Therefore, under the garb of religious reasons they seek to convert one’s sexual orientation. For example, Christianity and Islam consider homosexuality as a sin. However, Hindu religion and its mythology showed how LGBT+ are mentioned in it contrary to what is told to the people.[8]
  • Many godmen and religious “healers” provide programs that aim to “treat” LGBTQ+ people for their “mental illness,” including children. Baba Ramdev is one such godman, who has asserted in the past that through yoga[9]he can “cure” homosexuality. This further created the misconception that homosexuality is a disease and needs to be cured.
  •  Corrective rape is often practiced in India which attempts to change the sexual orientation of a person from homosexual to straight.
  •  Forced marriage is another way which the family uses to affirm the belief that sexual orientation would get changed after they get married.
  •  In India, some health practitioners used to practice aversion therapy. As the name suggests, aversion means to hate and this hatred is created towards same-sex attraction (in case of homosexual) by using electro-convulsive as well as a behavioral therapy programme. Patients would be given pornographic same-sex photographs that they had chosen themselves. While viewing them, they would be given electric shocks. That way, their brain would associate a negative meaning with it. Opposite sex photographs would be given as the electric shocks subside.

DOES CONVERSION THERAPY REALLY CHANGES ONE’S SEXUAL ORIENTATION?

Many organizations like Indian Psychiatric Society, the American Psychiatric Association, and the World Health Organization (WHO) do not consider homosexuality as an illness. LGBTQIA+ identities are a normal variant of human nature. Since being queer is not a disease, there is no need to convert, cure[10], repair or fix it. Conversion therapy’ is based on the false idea that being LGBTQIA+ is a mental illness.

Research[11] suggests that conversion therapy does not succeed in altering a person’s sexual orientation. Moreover, it is harmful both physically and mentally to the person on whom it is conducted. The study, conducted by the Ozanne Foundation, showed that approximately 70% of people who had experienced conversion therapy had suicidal thoughts.

Hindu religion evidences instances

LEGISLATION

There is no specific law in India which criminalize conversion therapy but Supreme court have discouraged the practice of conversion therapy in some judgements.

Supreme Court’s historic NALSA[12] judgement states that no person may, on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, be forced to undergo any sort of medical or psychological care, procedure, testing, or be confined to a medical facility. The sexual orientation and gender identity of a person are not medical disorders must not be treated, cured or suppressed.

Supreme Court’s judgement[13] on Section 377 states that instead of pushing them to change, therapy practices may have to concentrate on offering help to homosexual clients to become happy with who they really are and embrace their sexual orientation. The counsellors have to follow a more progressive perspective that represents the changed medical situation instead of attempting to treat something that is not even an illness or disease.

The Mental Healthcare Act[14], 2017, Section 106 states that no professional or medical practitioner in the field of mental health shall discharge any obligation or perform any role not approved by this Act or specify or recommend any medicinal product or treatment not authorized by his profession.

On 22nd April 2019, in the Arunkumar and Sjeera vs. The Inspector General of Registration & Ors[15], a decree to ban unnecessary medical procedures on intersex children in the state of Tamil Nadu was issued by Justice G.R. Swaminathan of the Madras High Court. Within 8 weeks, the state government was directed to comply with the instructions. This judgement clearly stated that the consent of parents/guardians is not equivalent to prior, free and fully informed autonomous consent. It also stated that only under life-threatening situation of the intersex infant concerned that parents would have a say in sex reassignment surgeries because every person has the right to self-determination of gender identity. The judgment stated that “the consent of the parent cannot be considered as the consent of the child.” The state of Tamil Nadu banned medically unnecessary “normalizing” surgeries on intersex children.[16]This landmark decision provides other states with a solid basis for doing the same.

In Common Cause v. Union of India[17], the Supreme Court recognized a person’s right to self-determination and autonomy in the context of medical and health care decisions. This includes their right to determine whether or to what degree a person chooses to voluntarily undergo medical procedures or treatments or to choose between alternative treatments available or not available at all.

SUGGESTIONS

In June, the UN Human Rights Council received a report on conversion therapy by an independent expert on gender and sexuality with 98% reporting that it had caused them psychological or physical damage.

 Like we have enacted a law called Pre-Conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) (PCPNDT) Act in 2004 which prohibits the killing of the girl child by the doctors, in the same way, we should make law explicitly to criminalize conversion therapy to prevent those mental health practitioners who carry out such unethical practices.

The reason as to why family consider such practices because homophobia still exists in the mindset of the society which needs to be changed. The programme should be conducted in order to make people aware of the devastating consequences of conversion therapy.

According to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture[18], CT is tantamount to “torture”, and has called for states to ban such therapies and give LGBTQIA+ individuals specific protections against such practices. Although the Supreme Court has insisted that an individual sexual orientation is protected under the Right to Privacy enshrined in Article 21[19], the lack of specific legislation against CT has made it significantly more difficult for individuals to seek legal recourse against the practitioners of these therapies.

CONCLUSION

The word “therapy” is derived from the Greek and it means “healing”. Conversion therapy methods, however, are just the opposite: they cause serious pain and distress, leading to long-lasting psychological and physical harm, concludes the Independent Expert in his study.[20]

Research suggests that conversion therapy does not succeed in altering a person’s sexual orientation.  Moreover, it is harmful both physically and mentally to the person on whom it is conducted. After Navtej Johar judgement in 2018, homosexuality is not a criminal offence but social acceptance of homosexuality still remains a bigger problem which needs to be tackled by removing the stigma attached to LGBTIA+. Society needs to be sensitized regarding LGBTIQ+ issues.

India lacks legal or technical laws protecting LGBTIQ+ citizens from conversion therapy and its treatment. Mental health practitioners performing such conversion therapy violates the right to privacy of the concerned person having a different sexual orientation. In addition, the forceful implementation of such therapies is indeed against the very concept of justice, and it is high time that this method is criminalized to bring about a necessary socio-cultural reform, along with due attention on gender and sexuality-based education.


[1] Navtej Singh Johar & Others v. Union of India (2018) 10 SCC 1.

[2] “Kerala student dies in Goa, death puts focus on inhuman ‘conversion therapy’ on queer people”, The News Minute, May 16, 2020, available at https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/kerala-student-dies-goa-death-puts-focus-inhuman-conversion-therapy-queer-people-124683 (last visited on Feb. 4, 2021).

[3] Amie Bishop, “Harmful Treatment: The Global Reach of So-Called Conversion Therapy, p.no. 7 (Aug. 12, 2019).

[4] Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “Ending Conversion Therapy: Supporting and Affirming LGBTQ Youth”, p.no. 15,64 (Oct., 2015).

[5] National Center for Lesbian Rights, “Ending Conversion Therapy in Child Welfare”, p.no. 2,64 (July 7, 2018).

[6] Amie Bishop, “Harmful Treatment: The Global Reach of So-Called Conversion Therapy”, p.no. 7 (Aug. 12, 2019).

[7] “Homosexuality not an illness: Indian Psychiatric Society”, The Hindu, Jul. 12, 2018, available at https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/homosexuality-not-an-illness-indian-psychiatric-society/article24401307.ece (last visited on Feb. 5, 2021).

[8] Devdutt Pattnaik and Jerry Johnson, I Am Divine So Are You p.no. 119,120,122 (HarperCollins India, 1st edn.,2017).

[9] “Homosexuality is a disease, yoga can cure it: Ramdev”, Deccan chronicle, Dec 12, 2013, available at https://www.deccanchronicle.com/131211/news-current-affairs/article/homosexuality-disease-yoga-can-cure-it-ramdev (last updated on Mar 18, 2019). 

[10] Jeet, “Several Indian Mental Health Associations Oppose ‘Gay Conversion Therapy, Youthkiawaaz, May 22, 2020, available at https://www.youthkiawaaz.com/2020/05/several-indian-mental-health-associations-oppose-gay-conversion-therapy/ (last visited on Feb. 4, 2021).

[11] Ellen Hoggard, “Survey Reveals Impact of Conversion Therapy on Mental Health”, Feb. 21, 2019, available at https://happiful.com/survey-impact-conversion-therapy-mental-health/(last visited on Feb. 4, 2021).

[12] National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India & Ors. (2014) 5 SCC 438.

[13] Navtej Singh Johar & Others v. Union of India (2018) 10 SCC 1.

[14] Mental health Act, 2017 (No. 10 of 2017), s. 106.

[15]Arunkumar and Sjeera vs. The Inspector General of Registration & Ors (2019) 4 Mad LJ 503.

[16] Kyle Knight, “Indian State Bans Unnecessary Surgery on Intersex Children”, Human rights watch, Aug. 29, 2019, available at https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/08/29/indian-state-bans-unnecessary-surgery-intersex-children (last visited on Feb. 6, 2021).   

[17] (2018) 5 SCC 1.

[18] Juan E. Méndez (UN Human Rights Council), Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, UN Doc. A/HRC/22/53, (2013).

[19]“Right to privacy judgment: SC says sexual orientation essential attribute of privacy and must be protected”, The Indian Express, Aug. 24,2017, available at https://indianexpress.com/article/india/right-to-privacy-judgment-supreme-court-says-sexual-orientation-essential-attribute-of-privacy-and-must-be-protected-4811358/ (last visited on Feb. 6, 2021).

[20] Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, “Report on Practices of so-called ‘conversion therapy’” (May, 2020).

Author: Aadi Kushwaha

Editor: Kanishka VaishSenior Editor, LexLife India.

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