Ardhanarishvara, is where Lord Shiva is depicted as a half-male, half-female figure, with one half representing Lord Shiva and the other representing Goddess Parvati. The Ardhanarishwara image is often interpreted as a symbol of the unity of male and female principles in the universe, as well as the fluidity of gender identity.
Mohini is depicted as a female form of Lord Vishnu who marries Lord Shiva. This story is sometimes seen as an example of same-sex love.
Our Indic wisdom is replete with narratives of Gods themselves and of great humans who have showcased gender identity and fluidity. And while not every narrative may have a positive connotation, yet the osmosis of the same happens quite easily in the observer of the Indic traditions where Ardhanarishvara and Mohini are revered. However, when it percolates to mere human beings the complexity and discrimination comes in play.
The great warrior prince, Shikhandi’s story, who was Draupadi’s brother, highlights this fluidity and complexity of gender identity and its relationship to social norms and expectations. So while he was a great chariot warrior and fought bravely on the side of the Pandavas in the Kurukshetra war, Bheeshma refused to take up arms against him and engage in battle citing that he does not fight with females. Thus, one sees the struggles, the trials and tribulations through the Yugas.
The common threads
Coming to the present, a lot is being said and done for the LGBTQIA+ community by themselves and by others too to help them get dignity in their identity and to give them their rightful place under the sun.
The statement just released and brought out by the Indian Psychiatry Society, where it reiterates that the individuals from the LGBTQIA+ society should be treated like all citizens of the country and once a citizen can enjoy all civil rights like education, employment, housing, income, government or military service, access to health care, property rights, marriage, adoption, survivorship benefits to name a few, is a landmark one indeed!
However, in this quest to acknowledge their differentness by themselves and by the larger society, somewhere are we all losing sight of one thing and that is the ‘Common Humanity’ that we are a part of? The concept of ‘Vasudaivakutumbakam’ encompasses this truth. We are all part of God’s family. Even for non-believers, it is easy to look at this concept of the whole human race as one family.
But when difficulty of any kind strikes, we tend to quickly veer away from this paradigm and start to feel isolated, not just for the difficulty per say but in general, thinking that I am the only one suffering or different. Here is where we lose sight of the fact that we are part of the larger human race, which means many of our experiences too would be common, shared experiences. One should not lose perspective that differentness may be one part of the story but sameness is the other.
So how does one build this perspective of Common Humanity within the self?
- Look around objectively and see with your heart and you will see that your life is just like others in many ways, because we all are humans and we all suffer. We are all made up of the same matter. We all need ‘Roti, Kapda and Makaan’ and strive for it. We all have our share of emotions and feelings. We all have our intellectual, physical, emotional and spiritual aspects to us. To put in a nutshell, largely we all tend to follow Maslow’s hierarchy.
And when I say we all suffer similarly, I mean that we all have bad relationships, we all fall ill, we all fail in exams or projects, or competitions, we all are imperfect and inadequate. This is our shared human experience. Understanding this lies at the core.
- Listen, as in really listen to people and you will know their stories, their narratives, their experiences. It will make you realise that life and its challenges is something common to all of us and it is not something that you are facing alone or I am facing alone. We all fight our battles, we all fight our demons. But just one word of caution here: while you see yourself and your problems as part of a whole (something so many others go through), at the same time don’t invalidate your personal experience or the impact it has on you. Understand that and work on that too.
- While the challenges faced by Gender Identity issues is real, one should guard against the tendency of overplaying the same to the extent where we tend to overlook the ‘person identity’, forgetting to focus on searching our core values, our strengths and areas of development, our goals and passions, on what makes us unique as a person and so on.
- Finally, remember we are all in it together… Actually that is what makes the rainbow, right? Seven different colours, but when it rises in the sky when the rains and sunlight merge, it is seen as only one beautiful, lovely Rainbow. Let us focus upon celebrating this sameness, as in, celebrating Being Humans first more than anything else.