Conversion therapy, also known as reparative therapy or sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE), refers to the practice of trying to change a person's sexual orientation or gender identity through psychological, and spiritual interventions or medical procedures. It is a highly controversial practice that has been widely discredited by medical health organizations [including the World Health Organization (WHO), the American Psychological Association (APA), and the Indian Psychiatric Society (IPS)]. and human rights organizations for its harmful and ineffective nature.
History of Conversion Therapy:
The origins of conversion therapy can be traced back to the late 19th century when homosexuality was first classified as a mental disorder. In the early 20th century, in the United States, psychoanalysts attempted to "cure" homosexuality by using techniques such as hypnosis, aversion therapy, and even lobotomies. The practice gained widespread attention in the 1950s and 1960s when behaviorism became the dominant psychological theory, and aversion therapy was developed to treat homosexuality.
Aversion therapy involved exposing individuals to images or experiences related to their same-sex attractions while simultaneously subjecting them to unpleasant stimuli such as electric shocks or nausea-inducing drugs. The goal was to associate same-sex attraction with negative feelings in the hope of suppressing it. This practice was widely used until the 1970s when it was discredited by medical professionals and human rights organizations.
After a resurgence in interest in scientific treatments for homosexuality around the world, the first known medical use of aversion techniques in India occurred in the 1970s and was described in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry. At the same time frame, several doctors in India reported that their patients “showed a desire to develop heterosexual behavior” because they were “extremely concerned about their future married life”. Indian practitioners relied more heavily on a set of “additional behavioral programs” to develop “social skills” that would help patients navigate their newfound heterosexuality, in contrast to their western counterparts who in the 1970s
And 1980s primarily used a combination of aversive techniques with some behavioral therapy. For Western practitioners, the primary goal was to eradicate same-sex impulses, but, in India, the goal was to reorient sexuality so that it was heterosexual and capable of procreation.
Current Status of Conversion Therapy:
Today, conversion therapy is widely recognized as harmful and ineffective. Medical organizations such as the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the World Health Organization have all issued statements condemning this practice. In addition, several countries have banned conversion therapy including Brazil, Ecuador, Malta, and Germany.
Despite being discredited and rejected by mainstream psychology, conversion therapy has continued to be practiced in many countries, including India. India has a complex history with conversion therapy, as it has been both promoted by some religious and cultural groups and opposed by human rights advocates and mental health professionals. Conversion therapy in India gained national attention in 2018 when the Indian Psychiatric Society (IPS) issued a statement declaring that homosexuality is not a mental illness and that attempts to change one's sexual orientation are unethical and should be avoided. However, the statement did not explicitly mention conversion therapy, leaving room for confusion and misunderstanding. In 2020, the Indian government proposed a bill called the "Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill," which included provisions to ban conversion therapy. However, the bill has been criticized for being insufficient and not providing enough protection for transgender people.
In Tamil Nadu, the ban on conversion therapy was passed in 2018 by the state assembly. This landmark decision has far-reaching implications for LGBTQ+ people in India and around the world. The law prohibits any person from conducting any kind of treatment or counseling with an aim to change someone's sexual orientation or gender identity; it also prohibits advertisements that promote such practices. The punishment for violating this law is imprisonment for up to two years with a fine of up to INR 50 lakh. This move by Tamil Nadu represents an important step forward in protecting LGBTQ+ rights in India.
Despite these recent developments, conversion therapy continues to be practiced in India, often in the guise of religious or spiritual practices. In some cases, individuals are forced to undergo conversion therapy by their families or communities, leading to severe mental and physical health consequences. The Indian government has yet to take a firm stance on conversion therapy, although there have been calls for a ban on the practice.
The Need to Outlaw Conversion Therapy:
Conversion therapy is a harmful practice that has been outlawed in many countries, including the United States. It's time for India to follow suit and make conversion therapy illegal. The mental health implications of conversion therapy are well documented: it can cause severe depression, anxiety, and suicidality among those who undergo it; it also increases their risk of developing PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Conversion therapy also violates human rights because it involves medical professionals forcing patients into treatments against their will or consenting to them under pressure from family members or religious figures. In addition to violating individual autonomy, this practice has been linked with higher rates of suicide attempts among LGBTQ+ youth who have undergone such treatment compared with those who did not receive any form of conversion therapy at all!
India's legal framework for conversion therapy:
According to the case of Laxman Balkrishna Joshi v Trimbak Bapu Godbole, the Supreme Court ruled that doctors who agree to treat patients are implying that they possess the necessary knowledge and skills for the purpose, and owe the duty of care regarding whether or not to accept the case. Failure to fulfill this duty can result in medical negligence. As the practice of conversion therapy lacks scientific proof or medical research supporting its effectiveness and has been deemed unethical and improper by the medical community in India, doctors who undertake such cases can be held liable for medical negligence in accordance with the aforementioned case.
The Supreme Court, in the case of NALSA v The Union of India, recognized the Yogyakarta Principles of the UN as part of Indian law. As a result, conversion therapy would constitute a violation of Principles 17 and 18, which affirm that individuals have the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health without discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity and that no one can be subjected to any medical or psychological treatment, procedure, testing, or confinement based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Likewise, in Common Cause v Union of India, the Supreme Court held that individuals of sound mental faculties have the right to make their own decisions concerning their medical treatments and health. Consequently, forced conversion therapy would directly contradict this decision of the apex court. However, even when consenting adults make an informed decision to undergo conversion therapy, factors such as societal conditioning, internalized homophobia and transphobia should be taken into account before considering it acceptable.
Providing Conversion Therapy can be considered as a form of consumer fraud. This is because there is substantial evidence indicating that Conversion Therapy is ineffective and has been medically debunked. Therefore, offering a service that cannot deliver the promised results would constitute consumer fraud.
The need to outlaw conversion therapy in India is evident, but there are many challenges ahead. The first challenge is that it is difficult to determine the exact number of people who have undergone conversion therapy and how many are still undergoing it. This makes it difficult for us to understand the scale of this issue and take appropriate action against it. Secondly, there is little awareness about LGBTQ+ issues among the general public in India; therefore, most people do not know what "conversion therapy" means or why it should be outlawed by law. In addition to this lack of awareness about LGBTQ+ issues among society at large, there are also several misconceptions about homosexuality that contribute to making members of this community feel alienated from their families and society at large due to their sexual orientation or gender identity (SOGI). conversion therapy is a harmful and unethical practice that has no place in modern society. It is crucial for governments, medical and mental health professionals, and religious and cultural leaders to take a stand against conversion therapy and protect the rights and well-being of LGBTQ+ individuals. While progress has been made in India, there is still a long way to go to ensure that conversion therapy is banned and that LGBTQ+ people are accepted and supported in their communities.