Why Missionaries Of Charity’s Protest Against India’s New Adoption Rules Is Anti-LGBT

ONE OF EIGHT PHOTOS BY PHOTOGRAPHER JOHN MOORE-- Sister Leatrice smiles as she is is hugged and kissed by orphans under her care in the Shishu Bhavan orphanage in Calcutta, Thursday, Sept. 11, 1997. Most of the children from the home are placed in Indian families, others are adopted by Europeans. (AP Photo/John Moore)

The Mother Teresa-founded organisation’s argument can be exploited by right-wing groups to strip the LGBT community of their already negligible rights.

Last week, Missionaries of Charity (MoC) decided to close down the adoption centres run by the Mother Teresa-founded organisation to protest against the new rules the government has notified on adoption.

As per this Times of India report: “The move comes after revised guidelines were notified in July making single parents (separated, divorced, unwed mothers) eligible to adopt through online registration of prospective parents. The women and child development ministry had recently said they would identify those child care homes which are not complying with the revised guidelines of the Juvenile Justice Act, one of which includes orphanages run by the Missionaries.”

The Indian Express quoted Sister Amala, in charge of a Delhi-based home run by MoC (known as Nirmala Shishu Bhavans): “We had four babies who were up for adoption, we have moved them out. Since August, we have closed down all our adoption agencies around the country. The new guidelines hurt our conscience. They are certainly not for religious people like us; maybe they are for secular people as the minister says. But we are concerned about children and their future. What if the single parent who we give our baby turns out to be gay or lesbian? What security or moral upbringing will these children get? Our rules allow only married couples to adopt.”

The “secular” reference in the above quote pertains to the statement by Union Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi who has raised reservations about the decision taken by MoC. She had questioned the adoption home’s unwillingness to “come under a uniform secular agenda”. Meanwhile, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has supported the MoC stand.

The faultline opened by MoC – a generalised, insensitive statement on the morals and values of the LGBT crowd — should nudge the government to change its policy on LGBT parenthood. As per new rules notified by the Women and Child Development Ministry, single women can adopt a child of either gender but single men can adopt only boys. This would mean that lesbians and gay men can raise children in spite of not being married (to the same sex), a provision denied them by the law.

However, the stand taken by MoC has introduced a new dimension to the question. For gay people wanting to raise children, MoC’s argument can be exploited by right-wing groups looking to strip LGBT persons of their (already negligible) rights. The organisation has sought to frame its argument as a necessity for the protection of to-be-adopted children, and has thus played into vicious stereotypes that portray gays as incapable of being responsible adults, or worse, pedophiles.

MoC’s statement inadvertently highlights another dissonance, that between the government’s desire to see an increase in adoption rates in India versus the anachronism that is Section 377. The ministry wishes to introduce more egalitarian adoption standards in order that more children find homes. Gandhi has expressed outrage over India’s poor adoption statistics.

Addressing a meeting of CARA (Central Adoption Resource Authority) in February this year, she said, “When I joined [the government of the time] in 2000, the adoption rate was 1,500-1,200 which tumbled to 400-800 per year. In a country which has got 50,000 orphans that can be adopted, it is shameful that the number is 800 to 1,000… and it continues to come down.”

Given the scenario, the government can do worse than encourage LGBT couples to adopt — even if only one parent will have legal rights over the child, since gay marriage is outlawed in this country. Ideally, the government should move to decriminalise homosexuality so that LGBT persons could adopt children while identifying as gay. But in the absence of this, the government can –and so far it seemed it had — leave out any explicit anti-gay bias in its adoption norms.

To be sure, this absence of an anti-gay bias may be an error of omission. In 2013, the then UPA government issued guidelines denying surrogacy to gay men and couples who travelled to the country to have children. When the NDA government came to power last year, the hope for any reform in this regard was dashed due to its politics. Contrast with the US, where the foster care system has ensured that in the absence of adoption, children can be placed in homes and be provided an ecosystem that is better than institutional care.

With poor adoption rates, the government should do everything in its power to ensure that more interested parents are able to adopt. LGBT couples make a natural choice in this regard. But perhaps this is hoping for too much. When different voices emanating from the government – pro-adoption versus anti-gay – delay important human rights questions, space opens for the kind of statements made by MoC.

This article has been republished from Newslaundry.com.

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