On the 6th of September, 2018, I was flying back to Mumbai, to reunite with my girlfriend after four months of working on a documentary project in Kashmir. I knew that the Section 377 judgment was due to be announced that day, and like I had conditioned myself always, I had no expectations from it.
While stuck in the line for a security check, my phone screen lit up with notifications, with rainbow stickers on social media, and brand logos changing themselves to a rainbow colored theme. My Whatsapp, Facebook, and Instagram were all flooded with recent messages from friends who were congratulating me. And then I saw the news updates floating in.
I think my heart stopped for a second right there, what with the whirlwind of emotions running altogether at once through my brain. If I am being completely honest, I still cannot believe it, even now.
My girlfriend greeted me at Mumbai airport, flowers in hand, and along with my overwhelming joy on seeing her again, there was an added sense of relief and security when I finally held her in my arms. I was home, finally accepted, finally a complete citizen.
The Supreme Court verdict on Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code not only validates a section of the Indian population who were previously outlawed due to it, but also paves way for a lot of good things to come. With the current domineering wave of right-wing politics throughout India and the world, I for one, had almost given up hope on ever settling down in my own country and fostered dreams of fleeing to Canada or somewhere LGBT friendly. But the recent verdict not only reinstilled my faith in the Indian justice system, it also gave me hope that same sex marriage and partnerships are probably not a distant dream anymore in the Indian landscape.
Around two years ago, when I met one of my closest friends, who was studying law at the time, she told me that a five judge bench had been constituted by the Supreme Court and that things could change very soon (and for the better) for the Indian LGBTQ community. I had scoffed then, the skeptic that I am. There have been way too many ups and downs when it comes to the legalities of Section 377, and the last time homosexuality got recriminalized in 2013, I remember breaking down in front of my TV screen and locking myself in my room so that my parents would not notice. I was heartbroken and devastated to say the least, and my skepticism had dialed up to its worst all time high.
I wish this change in the law had happened a little sooner, but I am hoping that young children are not bullied the way I was back in school for my identity. I am eternally grateful that this verdict came when I am still young, and that I get to have a legitimate chance at having a relationship with my loved one, without fear of any legal prosecution. Life has been a roller-coaster journey when it comes to my sexual orientation, and I am so glad that it happened the way it did. From being a clueless kid who was basically a social outcast at school, to a scrappy young adult who started a LGBTQ collective at her college, to shooting her first photo story at a pride parade, to writing for Gaysi, while also managing to find the love of her life, and now this – it’s been nothing but amazing. I would joke with my girlfriend that Canada is the place to go to for tax benefits like any other heterosexual couple, but I guess we won’t have to move anywhere now. And I sleep better at night knowing that.
The passing of this law does not guarantee that hate crimes against LGBTQ individuals are going to stop, but it can at least lessen the magnitude and range of it for starters. More provisions for the community have to follow, and I am hoping that this judgment changes the way people look at us, so that children growing up right now in these homes are taught to be more inclusive and more tolerant of people who have a different sexual orientation and/or gender identity, so that they do not associate the word “gay” with something derogatory. My faith has been restored in the Indian judiciary, and my belief in our community and its activism has only gotten stronger. Even though no notable politician has come forward to celebrate the verdict, with the exception of Shashi Tharoor and a few others, this means that we have one powerful institution in the country that still has the best interests of its citizens at heart.
This law might not mean that acceptance is going to happen overnight. There are still religious and political bodies in the country that will oppose this judgment. There are still homophobic spaces in the most urban of our cities; there are huge, underdeveloped, rural parts of India where people have not had the opportunity to educate themselves, where basic human rights are still not being met, where gender and caste crimes are still rampant, which means that LGBTQ people in those areas still have a long way to go, but at least there is a sense of security and a new hope for their futures now. Bullies will not go away overnight, neither will mindsets change that quickly, but this verdict means that the process can be quickened.
I am hoping that the Indian film and TV industry takes note of the recent verdict, and that there is more of LGBTQ representation in our onscreen characters, so that gay and trans youngsters do not have to look to foreign Netflix shows for the same. And I am so happy that if tomorrow another film like Deepa Mehta’s Fire is released, with two actresses playing love interests to each other, there will be none of the slew of violent protests, poster-burning, gross censorship, or a ban on the film for showing “inappropriate” content, like it happened in 1998.
On a personal level, I cannot help but indulge in some wishful thinking and wonder if the 2009 Delhi High Court judgment had not been overturned at all, would I still have had a better relationship with my parents? When I came out to my parents, I was denounced in almost every sense of the word, and told to my face that what I essentially was, what I was doing with my girlfriend was unacceptable, in society, in our culture, religion, and even law. And that if I were legally implicated because of it, I was basically, “asking” for it. Fast forward to a couple of years later, and my mother sends me a text congratulating me and pretending that this rather heated argument never occurred at all at our dining table. There was a sense of hollowness and no remote feeling of joy when I saw the notification, and I did not have the heart to read the rest of the message. Because where was this acceptance when I needed it the most? And now, I think it probably would not have been worth it.
Which brings me to this, I for one, am sort of pissed at the marketing tactics that every damn major company and brand has been employing of late. Everywhere I see, logos and symbols have been changed to a rainbow themed motif. Perhaps if this thing had happened after the 2013 judgment, or even the 2009 judgment, it might have helped the situation better. The 6th September verdict isn’t going to magically change the workplace conditions for people, neither is the branding that most companies are trying to do. The last multinational corporate I worked at wasn’t the most inclusive place in the world, and I never came out there owing to the barely disguised misogyny and homophobia that was replete in that space.
I think after legalizing and legitimizing the LGBTQ community in the country, the next step forward is workplace equality. The way from here on is only forward, so maybe after workplace equality and much needed healthcare acts, same sex marriage could be another step. But most of all, I hope that this law changes things for the kids and teenagers who are struggling with their sexual and gender identities right now. I hope that this judgment helps people to accept themselves, and not wonder if there is something fundamentally wrong with them, and to help them come out to their friends and family without fear of being ostracized, and that their loved ones continue to stand by them.
To all the homophobes out there, to all the people who bullied me in school, to all those people whose religion or politics have blinded them towards love, to parents who wished their kids weren’t gay, look at me now, look at us now. This community is filled with love, wherever you look. There is an understanding, a kinship amongst all of us. I have found some of my closest friends, teachers, and coworkers in this community and its allies, friends that I can call family now. It has been a blessing, and I am so, so thankful for being a part of it. It has taught me the importance of love, feminism, equality and acceptance like nobody else could have. It taught me never to give up, even in the worst of adversities, and to keep fighting for what is right. And fight we did, to get this new chapter in our lives. I am so proud of my community, and for being the reason for the change we wanted all along. So come over to the queer side now, we have rainbows, unicorns, everything fabulous, but most importantly, we have the power of love.