As I sat waiting for a judgment that decided our collective fate for the future, I couldn’t help but think of ways to break the news to my parents. They were hopeful, they wanted their son to have a chance at life – a life like they had lived, together, in joy and sadness. I had thought of multiple ways in which I could break the news to them – be it positive or negative. Somewhere in my heart, I knew the SC verdict wouldn’t be affirmative, stemming from a knowledge of the society that I have lived in for the last 30 years. Even during an interview recently, when I was asked about the same-sex marriage judgement, I had said that I didn’t expect for anything to change. But, still a glimmer of hope existed within my heart – a what if – a joy that we were all seeking so desperately. Reeling through a breakup last week, the verdict, if affirmative, would also instill some hope for my future in this country, personally. But as the 5-bench judge announced their verdict and news outlets started flashing the headline: “SC refuses to grant legalisation to same-sex marriage”, my heart sunk. I won’t lie by saying that I didn’t cry, I let my emotions out, cried for my hope being crashed yet again.
The day before the verdict, so many queer friends had messaged sharing their aspirations and hopes with me. A 70-year-old queer friend messaged me expressing how he wants to get married quickly because he doesn’t know if there will be a tomorrow. I had jokingly said to him that he should, and that I will fly to any corner of the country to attend it. My 40-year-old gay friend and his partner were waiting in anticipation to legalize their union. They have been together for years and were hoping that a social and legal sanction would enable their families to explain their situation better. A few of my Gen- Z friends, in their early 20s, also shared stories on how they would finally be able to find someone and settle down, if they had the option to legally do so. My contemporaries, the millennials, are already tired of the dating patterns of the modern world, like me. Stuck somewhere between the old-school love of the generation before, and the instant gratifications of dating app culture, we just hoped that there would finally be an option for us to have what we have dreamt of, what we have seen growing up.
I don’t know if my 70-year-old friend would be alive to see the day when same-sex marriages would be a thing in this country, if it ever does. I don’t know if my 40-year-old friends would be together by the time the law and government of the country decides to give equal rights to all of its citizens or if they will succumb to societal pressures. I don’t know if the dating patterns for the Gen-Z folx would change knowing that they are only going to have a future in the privacy of their rooms, and not in the eyes of the law. I don’t know if I would willingly want to live in this country, knowing that in the next few years, I won’t have the option to call my partner, my spouse. It is not only about the marriage rights, it is not only about the legal sanction, it’s about basic respect as a human being, as a citizen. It is about having the choice to legally have a spouse, irrespective of gender, to have someone you can name as the beneficiary on your life insurance papers, to have someone as a nominee on your bank accounts. Marriage is not just a social tie, it is so much more than that and that’s what the leaders of this country fail to realize.
Marriage is not “qubool hai” or “saat pheras”, marriage is a legal paper that ensures that two people have a responsibility towards each other that they need to fulfill. Marriage is a legal document that gives me the right to avail medical insurance for my partner, a joint bank account with them, adopt a child together and so much more. Additionally, in a society where marriage is so intrinsically linked to societal acceptance, I think an affirmative judgment would have helped change the outlook on queer people in the society. Call me shallow, call me a dreamer, I believe in the institution of marriage, and I want to get married someday. I want to have a partner by my side as I grow old, have a house to ourselves, adopt kids, travel the world together, and perhaps, spend the last few days of our lives with each other as we crumble into eternity. Sounds romantic, right? So, if this country and its legal jurisdictions don’t allow me to have that dream, I must go, I must find another place that will allow me to at least have this option, even if I decide to not opt for it.
Most of my contemporary queer friends have left the country, but I decided to stay back because I love this country so much. It’s home – the food, the people, the places, the festivals, everything makes me feel like home and I didn’t want to leave it behind to just have a life with a partner. And though, out of anger and frustration, I have started thinking of applying to universities outside India and shifting so that I can at least plan a future for myself, in the end, I will end up living here. I know that in my heart, but I am also fighting it so badly, at present. If the queers leave the country, who will fight for us? The verdict is disappointing, it broke so many hopeful hearts, but this is certainly not the end, and we must continue to fight the fight, in the hope that even if we are not able to reap the fruits of the struggle, our future generations would have a better, equal society to live in. We must continue our fight, and radically speak about queerness at every opportunity we get. If we can afford to, we must visibilise ourselves, show the world that we exist in all our forms and variations. But that doesn’t mean that we won’t grieve what we were handed down today.
Coming back to where I began from: once I had processed the news, I went to break it to my parents, to my mama. It was a difficult conversation to have, they knew the legalization wouldn’t be so easy but like me, maybe they were also hopeful that it would somehow work out. And as I proceeded to tell them, they said, we know. They were almost apologetic about the fact that it didn’t work out for me, for people like me. The most heartbreaking part was that they always wanted me to stay with them in India, but they were the ones who said I should start looking for options outside where I can have a life that I want to have. The pain that a parent goes through when they ask their child to leave because they don’t see a future for their child in their own country… It’s heartbreaking, and I am heartbroken for my parents and for so many parents all over India who just want to see their child happy. I am heartbroken for myself, for my former lovers, for my queer friends and for every queer out there who were hoping for something positive to come out of this. A few words of empathy from the CJI or the other judge who voted in favor won’t do us any good at this point, and it surely won’t mend our broken hearts. Words at this point have little value, it is the actions that would determine the future for us, and that is all we will be looking at.
Oftentimes, the narrative on social platforms like Twitter, is that “So what the verdict was negative, we must continue our fight and not fret over what has happened already”. But stop. Is it really something we must start right away? Don’t we need time to process what has happened? Don’t we grieve the dreams and the hopes that have shattered all in a day? We must do that. We must grieve, we must be angry, we must be disappointed. Take time to recognise that the country you call home has rejected your right to be equal, process it like you would prefer. Don’t let others tell you how to feel. But when the processing is done, when the grieving is over, we must be stronger than before in approaching the changes that we want for ourselves. We must file petitions, we must take to the roads, we must ask for accountability from our politicians. We must love, we must fight and we must not forget that until all of us are free, none of us are free. We won’t accept being second-class citizens in our own country, no matter what you feel about us. We will, as Gloria Gaynor sang, SURVIVE!