11.12.13 – A Wednesday in December 2013 sent a cold knife through my heart. The Supreme Court of India overturned a glorious judgment of The Delhi High Court from 2009 on the Indian Penal Code 377. In effect, the highest law of my land criminalized homosexuality yet again. In my opinion, this development is the most regressive in the history of Indian legal rulings. I experienced many things once I heard the news. I felt tears on my cheeks, experienced stunned disbelief and finally, an overwhelming and vicious sense of anger. I was finally left, as many are in the LGBTQ and Queer community, with one question – What can be done now?
The rational part of my brain sought answers by poking holes in the judgment and how it would play out. It doesn’t mean a thing, I told myself. India is a country of laws and we, its citizens, are quite brilliant at ignoring them. We usually have a law for everything and don’t care that most of them exist. So, why should section 377 of the Indian Penal Code be any different? Yes, there have been instances of harassment and exploitation of individuals from the LGBT community. Yet, isn’t that more a societal problem rather than a legal one? A problem that stems from a sociological aversion to alternative gender, sexuality, hairstyle…anything? Truth is most of us could get along just fine. Having “illegal sex” with every other citizen who partakes in oral or anal pleasure and anything other than what the British considered natural. However, this is just insular thinking on my part – my Indian consciousness saying, “Chalta hai!.”
My queer self, on the other hand, the one that has sought acceptance, validation, understanding and safety for years, was scared. I wondered what would happen when we’ve brought back such an evil law to a society that doesn’t need legal precedence to torture, thrash or harass a community. Will right wing parties think twice before barging into a safe space and causing disruption in the name of morality? Do they even know what penile-anal or unnatural intercourse is? It was easy for the court to pass a ruling that made gay sex illegal. Yet, what the legal class forgot was that through this act they made criminals out of an entire section of their country’s citizens. What was supposed to be a Supreme Court judgment on a judgment instead became a failure of the judiciary to protect the private lives of its citizens. When I hear arguments from the supporters of 377 about how homosexuality is a western concept, I can but laugh. The only thing “Western” about homosexuality are the laws that ban it.
On Sunday the 15th of December 2013, a mere 5 days after the Supreme Court ruling, something amazing happened that gave me hope and courage. I took part in the Global Day Of Rage – a series of protests against the reinstatement of 377 across 38 cities around the globe. Yelling the slogan “No Going Back” at the top of my lungs, I along with members of the Indian community (and not just queer) fought for our freedom. I realised my sitting in a park in Mumbai was not for naught, for with the hundreds of people who had gathered there I felt safe yet again. The verdict became a blessing for it paved a path for us all to meet and stand up for our rights and dignity. All of us together with the media, online, offline have made the fight for queer rights as the fight for human rights. Our stance alone has exposed conservative middle class households who turn on the evening news to our existence. More than constitutional acceptance, we’ve made an incredible leap over the past few days towards social acceptance. Did we ever imagine back in 2009 that the ruling party of the nation and the grassroots competitor would both come out and voice their support at the same time over an issue that even remotely speaks to sex and sexuality? This just happened and the cynicism about elections and votes aside, it’s a remarkably progressive development for India. We are very much at a turning point in the history of all of India. We still believe in the power of our voice. We will continue to use it till the custodians of our democratic country mute every voice that opposes us and question our right to live, exist and love.