To liberal minded people everywhere, a rainbow doodle from Google on the morning of the Winter Olympics opening in Sochi, Russia, was a welcome wake up call. The doodle had silhouettes of athletes in coloured boxes in the pattern of the gay pride flag, with a line below it from the Olympic Charter: “The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind…”
This was Google's way of expressing solidarity with gays. There had been protests over holding the Olympics in a country where it's a crime to provide information on homosexuality to anybody under 18. Activists drew a parallel with the Olympic Games held in Nazi Germany, with banners reading “Berlin 1936 = Sochi 2014″, and Google threw its weight behind them with its doodle. YourStory applauds the Google initiative, and here's why.
Google, India needs you too!
In India, we pride ourselves on living and working in a country that is more open and liberal than China or Russia. And yet, on the very day that Google came out with its rainbow doodle, the Bangalore Press Club was hosting the heads of various religious organisations under the banner of Karnataka Dharmika Sauharda Vedike. Their agenda? To “express their feelings against the social evil of homosexuality”. They were urging the central government not to strike down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, a 19th century relic from British law, which criminalises homosexuality in this country.
Is this the modern India in which we dream of innovating, starting up and changing the world? Is this the globalised, liberalsed, inclusive society where individual enterprise can flourish? Do we identify with nations of the world which have not only accepted homosexuality but even same sex marriage, or with countries like Russia with anti-gay laws? In fact, legally speaking, India is even more repressive than Russia, because homosexuality is punishable here, even if this is rarely enforced – whereas the Russian law essentially restricts talking about it openly.
The campaign to remove or amend Section 377 catches media attention sporadically, and suffered a setback when the Supreme Court left it for the legislature to resolve. We have got used to seeing colourful pictures in the papers, when there is a gay pride march. Other than that, most people think the issue has nothing to do with them.
Actually, it does have everything to do with all of us. Very much so. Because it is fundamentaly about the kind of environment in which we want to live, work and start up. Each one of us should ask oneself if a society that violates the basic human rights of LGBTs, and discriminates against them, is what we identify with. And if it isn't, then it's time to support LGBTs, and say three cheers to Google.
A medieval law in a 21st century India
Maybe it will take another doodle from Google to draw the world's attention to the discriminatory Section 377, and then our legislators will wake up and do something about it. Companies like Amul, Tanishq and Fastrack have done ad campaigns against Section 377, but obviously it will take a much bigger push for India to shed its medieval law.
LGBT activist Shyam Konnur is heartened by Google’s symbolic message of support. “A big company like Google doing this will influence the mindset for a lot of people. We are looking forward to other biggies following suit,” Shyam told YourStory.
“Google is one of the most powerful brands today. When such a brand backs us, it will definitely help,” said Dolly Koshy, a Bangalore-based LGBT activist who has been batting against Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.
Indian gay rights supporters on social media are hoping that Google would come out against Section 377 too. “Google had pitched in for gay pride activities in Bangalore and Chennai,” pointed out Shyam.
Social media is abuzz with kudos for Google, with #takethatputin trending. Protesters have targeted the major Olympic sponsors, telling them to keep out of a country that is constitutionally anti-gay. Richard Branson, who heads the Virgin Group, had also come out earlier in support of the LGBT community, calling on companies to boycott Uganda because of its anti-gay law.
For the time being, the global giants – Coca Cola, McDonald and Visa, to name a few – have responded to the protests with lukewarm statements. “We do not condone intolerance or discrimination of any kind anywhere in the world,” Coca-Cola, one of the International Olympic Committee’s 10 top sponsors for the Sochi Games, said.
Back in the US, though, Coke kicked up a storm recently with an inclusive ad in which people from different ethnic backgrounds sang 'America the Beautiful' in multiple languages. The ad also featured gay dads.
So there's hope.