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This day in 2018: Malaysia saw a lesbian couple caned publicly for the first time in its history

A year has passed since the shameful public caning of the two Malaysian women and in the space of a year, they have become mere specks of dust in the sands of time.

Today is the one year anniversary of the first public caning of a lesbian couple in Malaysia for the crime of attempting to have sex in the car. It was the first instance of conviction for same-sex relationships in the country and the sentence was carried out in public in the Malaysian state of Terengganu.

It is pertinent to mention that the women were caned not for actually having sex but only for attempting it. The public caning attracted widespread condemnation from rights groups and also from certain sections of the Malaysian polity.

The unnamed women, aged 22 and 32 at the time, were caned six times at a courtroom in front of family members and officials. The couple admitted to a charge of “sexual relations between women” and were also fined 3,300 ringgit (£633). More than 100 people witnessed the degrading punishment.

Reportedly, they were seated on stools facing the judges and were struck six times on their back by female prison officers with a light rattan. The women were dressed in white Hijabs and apparently, they did not cry or scream but “showed remorse”, said Muslim Lawyers’ Association Deputy President Abdul Rahim Sinwan.

“The punishment was shocking and it was a spectacle,” Thilaga Sulathireh, an activist from the Malaysian rights group Justice for Sisters told the Guardian, “For all intents and purposes it was a public caning.” “This case shows a regression for human rights,” she said, “Not only for LGBT people but all persons because corporal punishment affects all people.”

The verdict, according to Graeme Reid, director of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender program at Human Rights Watch, was the “latest blow to Malaysia’s LGBT community, which had hoped for better protection under the new government”. “This prosecution and punishment,” he said in a statement, “will only fuel the recent wave of homophobia and transphobia in Malaysia.”

The Women’s Aid Organisation, a Malaysia-based society which campaigns for gender equality, called it a “sad day” for the country. “We are outraged and appalled by this grave violation of human rights,” it said in a statement. It added, “Sexual acts between two consenting adults should not be criminalised, let alone punished with whipping, which is inhumane and degrading.”

Rachel Chhoa-Howard, Amnesty International’s Malaysia Researcher, said on the matter, “This is a terrible day for LGBTI rights, and indeed human rights, in Malaysia. To inflict this brutal punishment on two people for attempting to engage in consensual, same-sex relations is an atrocious setback in the government’s efforts to improve its human rights record.”

She added, “The caning of the two women is a dreadful reminder of the depth of discrimination and criminalization that LGBTI people face in the country. It’s a sign that the new government condones the use of measures that amount to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment, much like its predecessor.”

The public caning of the women was symbolic of the terrible human rights record of Islamic countries. And yet, despite the terrible atrocities that are committed far too frequently by the Islamic regimes, they are often given a free pass by LGBT rights oranizations. The Indian state doesn’t commit any crimes remotely at par with such atrocities and yet, attracts far wider condemnation. It does betray the hypocrisy that dominates such organizations.

Multinational corporations, too, which virtue-signal immensely on issues pertaining to human rights and bigotry strangely keep a mum when it comes to the atrocities perpetuated by Islamic regimes. Zomato, for instance, which got into a controversy recently after its founder tried to make money off the existing fault-lines in our society, has never had anything meaningful to say on the religious bigotry that permeates Malaysian society, despite the fact that it operates in the country as well.

It only goes on to show that ‘Woke Capitalism’ treats people from the LGBT community as commodities they need to sell their products to in order to increase their own profit margins. They don’t really care about their rights. Zomato founder Deepinder Goyal may claim he is comfortable with losing customers for his values, but his actions say quite clearly, not really.

The LGBT community itself, across the world, is more tolerant of radical Islam and has, in fact allied itself with it in the West and in India despite the fact people from the LGBT community are persecuted in the worst possible manner in Islamic regimes. The consider Christianity in the West and Hinduism in India to be more of a threat to the LGBT community despite the fact that homosexuality is legal in these countries and hardly anyone is persecuted for their sexuality alone.

A year has passed since the shameful public caning of the two Malaysian women and in the space of a year, they have become mere specks of dust in the sands of time. The atrocity that was committed against them has been conveniently forgotten by the very people who would claim to be their allies. And as more things change, more do they remain the same.

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K Bhattacharjee
Black Coffee Enthusiast. Post Graduate in Psychology. Bengali.

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