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Rarely do India's diverse religious leaders close ranks. The natural instinct is to fight each other. But Hindus, Muslims and Christian believers joined hands last month to oppose a Delhi High Court ruling, struck off an archaic law enforced by India's British colonial rulers which made gay sex between consenting adults a criminal offense liable to 10 years in prison.

The judge argued that the current law denied the basic right of individual freedom which was enshrined in the Indian constitution. The ruling created a furore in a deeply conservative and religious society with the most vocal opposition coming from religious leaders.

In the forefront of the movement to denounce the judgment is a celebrity Indian guru, popularly known as Baba Ramdev. He appears in a zillion television channels teaching yoga and has a flourishing business dispensing traditional herbs as medicine and commenting on every issue under the sun. He claims to have a cure for most diseases including cancer and prevention for the swine flu pandemic that is sweeping the world.

This Baba claims homosexuality is a disease and he also has the cure for it. Here arte some of his thoughts on the subject. "[Homosexuality] can be treated like any other congenital defect", he claims "Such tendencies can be treated by yoga, pranayam and other meditation techniques". The high court ruling offends the structure of the Indian value system, Indian culture and traditions, as derived from religious scriptures, he says.

Indian's are naturally proud of their ancient culture, but have a tendency of using the culture argument without basis. Baba Ramdev, who we presume has read extensively the Hindu epics, should know that homosexuality was a way of life in the old days. No body was punished for it. The epics are filled with references of love between male adults and no one batted an eyelid over all this. Regarding homosexuality as a crime is much more a western concept, introduced in India over 100 years ago by British rulers.

"Homosexuality is like a virus and if it affects you, you have nowhere to go, they (gays) are like animals who don't realize what brings happiness." Taking up cudgels against the Baba is Bollywood starlet Celina Jaitley, a gay rights sympathizer. The yogi attacked the actresses for her promiscuity and said she knew nothing about Indian culture. She lived away from her parents and changed partners every month.

Not one to take it lying down Jaitley asked the Baba why a so called spiritual guru was keeping tabs on her sex life. She also challenged his claims of being a doctor. Ramdev has also previously been challenged by Communsit Member of Parliament Brenda Karat for his questionable medical practices.

The opposition of the religious leaders like Ramdev as well as Muslim and Christian preachers has put the brakes on the government's political will to push it through even if the court allows it.

The Congress-led government which instinctively supported the landmark judgment with the law minister saying the archaic law had to be struck down, faltered when various religious leaders condemned the move. Fearing this would spill over into anti-government votes in provincial elections, the ruling party beat a hasty retreat. Minsiters started talking of evolving a consensus before making a decision.

The case is not up in India's Supreme Court and due for a long haul there. It is also doubtful whether politicians of all pursuations will have the courage to go against religious leaders who can influence the voters against progressive legislations.

By and large the media has welcomed the path breaking judgment and so have a large number of people in the country who see it more as a case of individual freedom guaranteed to every Indian by the constitutional.

But what is shocking is the kind of fear and ignorance prevalent in this country over the gay rights. Those opposed to the move thrashed the same old argument which the American Right has popularized. Homosexuality is "perverse sexual behavior". It is «un natural» the sacred institution of marriage will be under attack.The purpose of marriage is to have children, what happens when gay couples tie the knot.

The other spurious argument put forward by the religious leaders is that Indians are just following trends in the West. To these I want to say it is the other way round. Baba Ramdev and co have become througly exposed to Western ideas of morality and want to uphold a law brought in by our colonizers. After 62 years of independence it's time to shake off our colonial yoke.

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