Thursday, December 3, 2009

Sunil Pant: Nepal's rainbow revolutionary

via, by Nigel Collett’s Hong Kong correspondent, Nigel Collett, talks to Sunil Babu Pant, MP, founder of Nepal’s Blue Diamond Society and pioneer of the development of Nepal’s new human rights.

Quietly, unobtrusively, there’s been a revolution going on up in the Himalayas. It’s not the political turmoil that has engulfed Nepal repeatedly over the last decades of which I write, but a more astonishing social upheaval. Coming back from trekking in the hills of West Nepal, I sought out Sunil Babu Pant, MP, the man almost single-handedly behind this, and over tea at the Shangri-la Hotel in Kathmandu he spoke to me about his life and his successful struggle to bring change to what outsiders have traditionally regarded as one of the most conservative places in Asia.

Let me place his amazing work in some context with a few words about Nepal’s attitudes to diversity to illustrate where Nepal was before he started work only eight years ago in 2001. Sex, gender and sexuality were not something politely discussed in those days. Despite a very tolerant attitude to the sexual act itself, everyone got married and was expected to produce an heir. There was nothing approaching any recognition of the west’s current rigid differentiations of gay and straight and certainly no identifiable gay lifestyle. Instead, there was a much more traditional acceptance of a third gender of men who adopted women’s dress and who, in accordance with Hindu tradition, danced and sang at weddings, births and festivals to bring good fortune and to entertain. These could be either castrated hijeras, as in India, or uncastrated men from hill tribes, marunis in the hills of the west, notwas among the peoples of the plains, or metis in the hills of the east.

The traditions behind these stretch back for aeons; Hindu texts some 6,000 years old mention ‘persons of the third nature’. Alongside all these existed a fascinating custom of ritualised friendship called mit, in which men, though usually wed to women in traditionally arranged marriages, were able to choose a male life partner and to undergo a ceremony to mark their relationship, after which they shared most things in their lives, including a bed. These relationships were formally recognised by the families of both sides and brought honour, not disrespect, to all.

As a result, Nepal, despite the fact that exposure to western religious-based ethical systems has tended to submerge open discussion of local culture, has always had a more pragmatic view of human gender and sexual orientation than most of us would have supposed.

Read the rest.


Nepal MP offers honeymoon package to gay Indian prince via the Times of India

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